Patting a cobra is one of the highlights of a Jaipur visit, along with the questionable act of donning the snake charmer's turban. Known as "the Pink City," because of its rosy, wedding-cake architecture, Jaipur also amazes with a sprawling 18th-century astronomical observatory -- the Jantar Mantar -- that resembles a stunning contemporary sculpture garden. Giant sinuous, sandstone sundials reach for the stars with their own staircases and are accurate to two-tenths of a second. The world's largest sundial -- several stories high -- could be a piece of I.M. Pei's architecture.
Just outside the city, the spectacular Amber Fort doubled as a luxurious palace for the maharajah and has it's own "great wall" spanning miles of local countryside. Visitors ride elephants or Jeeps to the hilltop fort. A hot-air balloon ride offers a bird's-eye view of the fort, countryside and this fascinating city, which is the capital of Rajasthan, India's largest state.