The state is hilly and rugged in the south-east and barren in the north-west.
Jaipur, Rajasthan's vibrant capital, is known as the pink city because of the colour of the buildings in the old town. On a dry lake bed in a rather arid landscape, it is surrounded by barren hills with forts and crenulated walls. It buzzes with contrasts: people in brightly coloured clothes, camel carts laden with vegetables, rickshaws and bicycles.
The city was laid out in rectangular blocks by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1727 when he moved from his hillside fort. He used the architectural principles set down in the Shilpa-Shastra, an ancient Hindu treatise. In 1728 he built the remarkable Jantas Mantar observatory, one of the town's important attractions.
First-time visitors are surprised by the prominence of western fast food outlets and the amount of pollution, but are rarely sorry to have made the journey. A majority return.
Sixty-five kilometres north-west of chaotic Jaipur is the quiet village of Rajaliya. Thanks to Australian company Antipodeans Abroad's new Journeys program, you can stay there while helping to improve life for the villagers.
You will become immersed in village life and see daily events such as harvesting, cooking and festivals while contributing towards development maybe assisting with seasonal planting, preparing a cricket pitch, installing a stove in the home of a poor family or building a new school. Eighty percent of Rajasthani women are illiterate, the lowest rate in all of India, so it is critical that more schools are built.
All assistance is gratefully received and villagers are delighted to have visitors, not only because of the assistance they give, but because they love the opportunity to entertain. People dance, snake charmers ply their talents and there's plenty of music as you enjoy an unforgettable meal in the middle of the Rajasthani desert by an open wood fire.
Accommodation is in comfortable carpeted tents which have hot and cold running water.
Rajasthan projects are co-ordinated by Mahendra Singh Rathore, a young man from a noble Jodhpuri family. Thanks to inherited wealth and status, no one in Mahendra's family has ever needed to work, but he took this project on to encourage tourism and particularly to attract visitors who could help his people to be educated.