KOTA, 230km south of Jaipur on a fertile plain fed by Rajasthan’s largest river, the Chambal, is one of the state’s dirtier and less appealing cities. With a population nudging 700,000, it is one of Rajasthan’s major commercial and industrial hubs, with hydro, atomic and thermal power stations lining the banks of the Chambal, alongside Asia’s largest fertilizer plant, whose massive chimneys provide a not-very-scenic backdrop to many views of the town.

Foreign visitors are adequately unusual here to attract stares in the street, but Kota is worth a visit if only for its city palace, which houses one of the better museums in Rajasthan, while the old town has a pleasantly stimulating commercial hustle and bustle which makes a nice contrast to drowsy Bundi, just down the road. Greatly prized saris from the village of Kaithoon, 20 km southeast of Kota, are sold in all the bazaars. Made of tightly woven cotton or silk, and often highlighted with golden thread, they are known here as masooria and elsewhere as Kota doria saris The huge walls of Kota’s fort, built in 1264 by Rajkumar Jait Singh of Bundi, rise above the flat eastern bank of the Chambal, encircling the old town centre (although they’ve now been largely swallowed up by modern buildings). At the southern end of the fort, around 2 km from the bus station, lays the City Palace, a well preserved cluster of royal residences painted an incongruous mixture of very pale sky-blue and fleshy salmon pink; construction on them began in 1625 and continued sporadically until the early years of this century. The palace now houses the excellent Maharao Madho Singh Museum.

Kota’s hotels provide mainly for passing business travelers, and the cheaper places reflect the neglect that prevails in the town; if you can’t afford to stay in one of the places below, it’s better to base yourself in Bundi. For eating, the modern Venue pure veg. restaurant, attached to the Navrang hotel, has a good selection of north Indian veg mains (most around Rs50) plus dosas, pizzas (South Indian dishes) and Chinese dishes.