Rajasthan or Kerala? Palaces or beach? Bustling cities or relaxed backwaters? The choice between these two beautiful states is a frequently asked question – particularly as both North and South India have fabulous heritage hotels. So, to help you make your decision (or you could always just combine the two), here, Rajasthan and its magnificent forts and palaces go head to head with the scenic beauty of Kerala in what each can offer.
Rajasthan is a real powerhouse when it comes to things to see and do. The big attractions are the magnificent forts and palaces, from the stunning Taj Mahal to Jodhpur's imposing Mehrangarh Fort. Then there’s the vast Thar Desert, where you can survey the incredible scenery from atop a camel. Further wildlife awaits with a safari in Ranthambore National Park, home to the rare Bengal tigers. The kaleidoscope of colour is another highlight and there are many fascinating festivals in Rajasthan throughout the year.
Kerala’s leisurely pace is the main draw. Seen as South India's most serenely beautiful state, this soul-soothing coastal strip is the perfect place to relax. Soak up the sun on the warm sands of glorious beaches, cruise Kerala’s network of glistening backwaters on a traditional kettuvallam (houseboat), indulge in an Ayurvedic treatment or head to the spice- and tea-covered hills of the Western Ghats, dotted with wildlife reserves. The port city of Kochi is a must-visit, too, home to the iconic giant cantilevered Chinese fishing nets.
Known as India’s most colourful state, Rajasthan is the quintessential land of maharajas. There are numerous magnificent forts and lovingly-restored palaces, once home to the many Rajas (kings), to explore – and even stay in. Stunning handicrafts and fine arts were also developed and nurtured through patronage by the maharajas. Many of these crafts are still practised today. Village life remains steeped in tradition – and a trip to rural Rajasthan is a fascinating step back in time.
A world away from the dazzle of Rajasthan, palm-shaded Kerala will slow down your subcontinent adventure. Characterised by winding emerald rivers, idyllic beaches, exotic wildlife, spice plantations and lush landscapes, this south Indian state exudes tranquillity and beauty. An amalgamation of many ethnicities and religions, its classical culture is best expressed in its distinctive performing arts, the most famous being the Kathakali, a riotous dance-drama featuring colourful make-up, costumes and face masks.
Rajasthan ranks as one of the best restaurant destinations in the country, with scores of establishments serving up everything from butter chicken to international fusion cuisine. Influenced by the desert, North Indian curries are known for their heat. Many dishes are made with milk rather than water and cooking here uses plenty of ghee, sugar and spices to build flavour that packs a punch. Most importantly though, a meal is not complete unless it comes with a bountiful supply of roti, little discs of unleavened bread.
Known as the ‘land of spices’, Kerala was one of the major spice shipping hubs for the globe and is still a major grower and exporter of spices to this day. Their green cardamom is regarded as the world’s best; you’ll find it in savouries, desserts and warming chai. Kerala is also the biggest fishing state which makes this line of coast a seafood-lover’s paradise. With dishes full of tropical flavour, coconut is a common ingredient, along with tamarind. Enjoy a meal served on banana leaves for a true authentic dining experience.
There is a wealth of places to stay in Rajasthan. Known as the ‘Land of the Kings’, there are many beautifully-restored palaces, now transformed into hotels such as Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhawan Palace, still lived in by the maharajah. Fabulous family-run heritage hotels such as RAAS Devigarh, a fort just outside Udaipur and Devshree, a lakeside haveli, dot the state. Many of these heritage hotels are in rural Rajasthan and often run by the owners themselves, giving a homely feel and fascinating insight into life in a real Rajput home.
One of Kerala’s many highlights is its languid backwaters and there’s no better way of experiencing them than staying on a traditional houseboat. Alternatively, you can stay beside the lake – Kumarakom Lake Resort with stunning views is a great option. There are some lovely heritage hotels here in this coastal state, too, including Brunton Boatyard, a former shipyard in British times. For something more modern, go for the Taj Malabar Resort & Spa, perched at the tip of Willingdon Island.
Alongside the magnificent monuments, Rajasthan is a shopper’s paradise. The maze of street bazaars, awash with colour and energy, make sure that you don’t go home empty- handed. Glittering gemstones, lavish jewellery and a rainbow of textiles sit alongside traditional crafts such as hand-made leather goods. Dhurries are another Rajasthani must-buy, made using looms in the local villages. Jaipur in particular is excellent for shopping – check out the lively Choti Choper bazaar.
Kerala is the perfect place for snapping up spices (just make sure you check quarantine restrictions before you buy). Rich in aroma, taste, and colour, tea and coffee are also great purchases, both grown in Kerala’s luscious highlands. In addition, Kerala is a great place to pick up unique handicrafts made by skilled local artisans, including wood, metal and woven items. Furthermore, the state is known as the ‘land of the coconut’ and there are some beautiful souvenirs – such as rugs, carpets, mats – to buy made of coconut husk.
It’s a tricky choice between Rajasthan and Kerala. Whether you choose the awe-inspiring north or the laid-back south, each offers a distinct taste of India’s vibrant culture. For the perfect holiday mix, we suggest combining the two, starting in Rajasthan before making your way down to Kerala. However, if you do have to choose, go with the vibe you prefer. Either way, we can guarantee that you will have an amazing time.
These ideas are just a starting point for what your trip to India could include. To start planning your luxury tailor-made holiday to India, please contact us. Each trip designed by Rajasthan Tours is created uniquely for you, working to your budget, style and interests with an absolute commitment to quality. We take the work off you to allow you to enjoy the most memorable holiday experience.