The allure of Rajasthan, the land of the Regal Rajputs, Registhan desert and their Royal monarchs has charmed many a traveller who visit this exotic Indian destination. Moustached men sporting colourful turbans complementing the womenfolk in their bright sarees, slender camels meandering in the desert with the background of a majestic hill-fort, one of the many that dot the landscape, giant havelis that portray masterpieces on their walls, streets and communities adorning a single colour, exuberant and tasty food from the nooks and crannies of cities, and architecturally significant temples – these may sound like stuff of legend, but they are the everyday sights that define the myriad of things that Rajasthan is. From luxury Rajasthan tours on the Palace on Wheels to budget tours, there are plans and itineraries to suit every type of traveller regardless of the budget and here, we present the highlights to help you with your itinerary planning.
Best time to visit Rajasthan:
Rajasthan is hot throughout the year, there are merely varying degrees of hot that change through the year, but that is hardly surprising for a desert region. However, that being said, the best time to visit is between the months of September and March, with the tourist season starting from November and continuing till February. We suggest visiting in September or October to avoid the crowds that descend starting November. You can check out this link by the Rajasthan Tourism Department for a helpful description and temperature ranges.
Rajasthan Tour Planner
Rajasthan is a huge state and the of the many tourist places here, we are cherry-picking the best places for your Rajasthan tour itinerary.
While many capital cities in tourist places are merely points for getting in and out or perhaps a stopover after a tedious journey, the capital city of Rajasthan, Jaipur, is a jewel in its own right and hence 3 days would do full justice to this wonderful ‘Pink City’. Being a cornucopia of cultures, the city provides a great introduction to what one could expect in Rajasthan in terms of culture and food whilst offering plenty of shopping opportunities for all things Rajasthani.
Plan a day-trip to the three forts at Amber – Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort and Nahargarh Fort. Explore the Panna Meena ka Kund, which is a beautiful step-well in the vicinity of Amber Fort. Also, in the vicinity is the Anokhi Museum, which you can totally give a miss, the place was literally devoid of tourists and once we went inside we pretty much understood why.
While you are on your way to Amber, make sure you make a stop over to admire the beauty of Jal Mahal. You can also stop for a photo op in the evening or night too when returning from Amber.
On your second day, explore the City Palace, Hawa Mahal and Jantar Mantar, which are at walking distance from each another. Head over to the Albert Hall Museum after covering these three attractions.
In the evenings, based on your schedule plan to visit the Birla Temple and Jawahar Circle and explore the popular Bapu Bazaar and Jauhari Bazaar for a plethora of Rajasthani stuff – dresses, jewellery, handicrafts, etc.
We have reserved the third day for places that are a day’s trip from Jaipur – Sisodia Rani ka Bagh, Galtaji Temple, Bhangarh Fort, Chand Baori, Ajmer and Pushkar.
Shekhawati: 2 days
Indian Havelis are famed across the world, for their stunning architecture combining utility with aesthetics. Some of India’s most famous havelis can be found at Shekhawati, renown for the art that is on their exterior walls, no wonder Shekhawati is also referred to by some as the open-air art gallery of the world. Shekhawati, a region to the north-west of Jaipur, has within its jurisdiction, many many towns that once lay along the prosperous trade routes that flowed from China to the Middle East. With the trade caravans also came the knowledge and tales from far and beyond. The artists, stunned by such tales, chose to convert their thoughts into paintings, ones that could be seen and admired by the public as well. And that is the story of Shekhawati and its beautiful painted Havelis.
The most popular towns here Mandawa, Nawalgarh, Fatehpur, Ramgarh and Jhunjhunu. Ideally, you should dedicate an entire week to explore this region, but as most travellers do, we too covered the region in two days, with one day for each circuit. The first circuit covers the towns of Sikar, Nawalgarh, Dundlod, Mukundgarh with night-stay at Mandawa. The second day starts with Mandawa, and then Jhunjhunu, Churu, Ramgarh and Fatehpur in that order. Do not attempt to change the order as the routes have been plotted keeping in mind the road conditions. Also, it is best to book a local tour operator as the shortest routes are not the easiest ones here.
Often overlooked by travellers, the quiet and charming city of Bikaner was once home to the affluent merchants of Rajasthan, who built their sprawling mansions known as havellis to showcase their grandeur and splendour, and if you thought that this city was only about the Bikaneri Bhujia, we have a two-day itinerary to get you amazed by its magnificence.
Set out early to explore the Junagarh Fort on the first day, followed by Rampuria Havelli, Kothari Haveli, Puran Chand Haveli, Dadda Haveli, Bhanwar Haveli and Bhandasar Jain Temple. Finish off these places by around 3 in the afternoon and head over to the National Research Centre on Camel, which is around 10 km away from the main city. In the evening, you can chose to visit the Kot Gate and shop at the local markets around it.
Start your second day with a visit to Deshnok where the famous Karni Mata Temple, also known as the rat temple is located. Pay obeisance to the erstwhile rulers of Bikaner at Devi Kund Sagar Cenotaphs. Also, visit Ganga Museum and Sadul Museum at Lalgarh Palace.
Gajner: 0.5 day(s)
The former hunting grounds of the Bikaneri royalty, the Gajner lake and its surroundings are just 30 km from Bikaner. Now part of a protected zone, the Gajner palace offers splendid views of the Gajner lake and is replete with lawns and lovely gardens. The palace has been turned into a heritage hotel featuring palatial suites and open-air courtyards befitting royalty. A European styled bar is among their dining options that also include eating by the lakeside, taking in the breeze that is so pleasant during winters when most bird-spotting can also be done. And of course, there is always an option of boating in the Gajner Lake. There are 3 ways you can do Gajner:
- On your third day in Bikaner, drive to Gajner, explore the Gajner Palace, eat at the palace restaurant and come back to Bikaner. It is advisable to visit in the evening and enjoy the dance show along with the dinner, when the palace comes alive like a dream with lighted dangling lanterns.
- Check into the Gajner Palace Hotel, spend a day at Gajner and set out to explore the Phalodi town early the next day after checking out.
- Set out to explore the palace early and head off to explore Phalodi the same day. Stay at Phalodi overnight and head off to Jaisalmer the next day, covering Pokhran on the way.
Phalodi: 1 day(s)
This tiny, obscure town has been put on the map due to its proximity to Khichan, another equally obscure town, that is the feeding ground of thousands of demoiselle cranes. Bird-watchers and tourists alike flock this place where the villagers feed nearly 15,000 migratory demoiselle cranes. There is amazing coordination among the birds, as they feed in batches of 400-500 strong, with the rest waiting patiently for their turn. The villagers feed the cranes twice a day and it is suggested that one plan their trip taking this into account. You could stay at the heritage hotel Lal Niwas in Phalodi where they would gladly plan your trip for you.
You could also explore the town of Phalodi which is home to a number of havelis and the beautiful Lal Niwas Palace which is now a heritage hotel. The abandoned Phalodi fort lies in a state of ruin now and offers very little to see, we would not suggest visiting it unless you have time to kill. You could instead spend time roaming the streets of Phalodi near Lal Niwas to click a few photos of the havelis. The havelis of Phalodi are not decorated with paintings such as those in Shekhawati, but are beautiful nevertheless, with their intricate sandstone architecture. These havelis are a great introduction to the architecture of the region and the type of havelis you will find in Jaisalmer.
Pokhran: 0.5 day(s)
Literally, Pokhran means ‘place of five mirages’ which denote the 5 salt-hills that were used for mining salt. A small, insignificant town, unknown to many, it was but a welcome pitstop for travellers on their way to Jaisalmer. However, the events of 1974 catapulted Pokhran into international spotlight and suddenly the Pokhran Fort and the nearby markets were cast into the spotlight of tourists. A major part of the Pokhran Fort has now been turned into a heritage hotel which can be visited either by staying there or for a nominal charge. While the fort, by itself offers not much, it can be done as part of an excursion from Jaisalmer or on the way to Jaisalmer, as we did. The road from Pokhran to Jaisalmer is an easy one and contains just one attraction along the way: the Jaisalmer War Museum, which is definitely worth a stopover.
As goes the old saying about reaching the desert city of Jaisalmer – ‘One must ride a horse made of wood, have skin made of leather, feet made of stone, a torso made of iron, and only then can one hope to dream of reaching Jaisalmer’. While today’s Jaisalmer can be reached in a matter of hours, the Jaisalmer of before was a place that could be reached with great difficulty. This remote desert city sits in the middle of the desert, away from the rest of the country, preserving its culture and tradition.
One of the best ways to spend the first day at Jaisalmer would be visiting the Golden Fort in the morning, and by noon, navigating the narrow lanes to find the splendid havelis that decorate them. The Golden Fort should take up 3 hours of your time, after which the Patwon Ki Haveli and Nathmal Haveli can be visited. The post-lunch session would have one visiting the Mandir Palace and the Gadsisar Lake for a good winding down, a boat ride, perhaps, to help. The nearby Desert Cultural Centre and Museum is the best place for an enjoyable Puppet Show, just like the one you have always imagined. For dinner, we recommend Ker Sangri with Bajra Roti at Desert Boy’s Dhani.
The next day is bound to be tiring, so we advise you to get an early start. Visit the Vyasa Chattri and Bada Bagh Chattri complexes; they are huge complexes of cenotaphs dedicated to the royalty and nobility of Jaisalmer. Since they are open places, they tend to get heated up rapidly during the day, an early start would be for the best. From here, head over to Lodurva on the banks of the Amar Sagar lake, an architecturally appealing site that was the capital before Jaisalmer. Kuldhara, an abandoned village site that is considered haunted is close by and can be visited before heading over to Khuri sand dunes. Jaisalmer offers two options in terms of camping: one is the popular and touristy Sam Sand Dunes and the other is the Khuri Sand Dunes, which is slightly less touristy, but offers lesser variety and convenience. If you are looking for the conventional package, Sam Sand Dunes would be the better option, offering luxurious Swiss tents in addition to the normal budget ones. The stays here include a meal and a cultural programme as well, additionally, camel rides and adventure sports could be included.
Jaisalmer offers visitors a good chance to explore the desert lifestyle up close and a good way to do this is to visit the Desert National Park, just outside Jaisalmer, towards the border. One day can be dedicated to visiting the Desert National Park which is on the way to the Tanot Mata Temple and Longewala War Memorial. These places are near the border, which itself can be visited with permission from the Indian Army. Visiting all these places would take up at least a day’s time and so would end the third day at Jaisalmer. When heading out from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur, do remember to visit the Akal Wood Fossil Park on the highway.
Having seen the Pink City and Golden City, you can complete the circle by visiting the Blue City, Jodhpur. Built around one of the most magnificent forts of the country on a hilltop, Jodhpur certainly finds its way into the itinerary of travellers for on display in Jodhpur is an array of colourful blue houses that dazzle every visitor. Much of the places to see and eat at are near the fort, which saves quite a bit of trouble.
Visiting the creme de la creme, The Mehrangarh Fort at the beginning is a great idea to begin the day; as with most forts, it is important to reach early and finish the sightseeing much before noon. Do remember to spot the blue houses from the top of the fort so you can decide the area that you want to visit and the gate you wish to exit from. Whichever be the area, do remember to enjoy the wide range of items available at the Gypsy Restaurant when you order the Rajasthani Thali. Alternately, as we did, you could choose to skip lunch and enjoy the many delicacies along the streets of Tripolia Bazar near Ghanta Ghar. Do not forget to spend some time at the step well nearby, Toorji ka Jalra before heading out to the markets for some shopping. When you are done shopping here, head over to the Jaswant Thada and Rao Jodha Desert National Park, both of which are on the same hill as the fort. It should be evening now and you must be tired, which is exactly why the garden by the Balsamand Lake would be a great destination to wind down after a tired day.
Since the next destination is slightly away from the city, we suggest getting a head start, in fact some people suggest even getting a view of the sunrise, such is the beauty of an oasis near Jodhpur, Osian. Watching the sun rise amidst the erotic temples of Osian, which are considered some of the most architecturally significant temples of Northern India, is a treat. You can also choose to watch the sunrise here by riding a camel out into the sand dunes nearby. If you missed the adventure activities at Jaisalmer, then you could always choose to enjoy these here, although the activities at Jaisalmer seem much more authentic. On your way back, you can visit the cenotaphs of Mandore, before heading into Jodhpur. Once back in Jodhpur, you can visit the museum at the Umaid Bhavan Palace and if you feel like it, even lunch at the fabulous (and extravagant) restaurant here. If you skip out on any of the places given here and decide to explore an offbeat destination, then the Bullet Baba Mandir near Pali is just the place for you.
Udaipur: 4 days
After travelling through Rajasthan’s arid landscape and desert regions, one could hardly ever imagine that a city such as Udaipur, very aptly named the ‘City of Lakes’, could be present in Rajasthan. Udaipur offers a welcome change from the desert and adds to the variety that is Rajasthan, whilst still being strictly ‘Rajasthani’ per se.
Visiting the 11 palaces that comprise the City Palace complex should take up the first half of your first day, but believe us when we say that these hours would be spent well. After this, head over to the Vintage Car Museum nearby and then return by noon for a ride in the picturesque lake, Pichola. There are two islands on the lake, one of which contains a Taj Hotel and is out of bounds for visitors. The other contains the Jag Mandir, which was once the royal temple and certainly warrants a visit. Situated on the waterfront of the Lake Pichola, the Bagore Ki Haveli museum is certainly the best place to experience the culture of Rajasthan in an authentic Haveli setting. The museum itself should take around an hour, while the cultural show in the evening should take another. Do not miss the cultural show at any cost, it showcases a variety of dances, each representative of a region of Rajasthan and is the perfect way to end your first day at Udaipur.
There could be no better way be to start off your second day in the City of Lakes, with a visit to another lake the Fateh Sagar Lake, the one next to Pichola, but slightly smaller. A boat ride to the three islands on the lake is highly sought after, as much as a stroll along the banks of the lake, although the evening would be better suited for a stroll. Quite nearby is the Saheliyon Ki Baari, which was the official hangout spot for the royalty a couple of centuries ago. The park has aged since then, but the spot still remains a hangout spot for the womenfolk nearby. From here, head over to the Ahar Museum and Royal cenotaphs, which are slightly farther off from the main city. On your return, visit the Bhartiya Lok Kala Mandal, an institution that provides stiff competition to the Bagore Ki Haveli in terms of preservation and depiction of culture and as expected, it also offers puppet show and folk dance programmes at regular intervals. Once you are done with this place and wish for some authentic street-food, head over to the Sukhadia Circle where you can gorge on street food from an assortment of carts.
While Mount Abu definitely requires one entire day and most people opt to stay there as well, one can choose to visit it as an excursion from Udaipur as well. The white marble-rock-cut temples are simply flabbergasting and make the visitor wonder about the type of architecture that existed centuries ago and the finesse and attention to detail in every sculpture. The sheer volume of the number of such sculptures is enough to stun the most apathetic of people. Do note that these temples do not allow photography though. Other than the temples, you could also visit the Nakki Lake and the temples at Achalgarh. Considering the schedule of the next day, you could either stay at Mount Abu or at Udaipur.
The last day is another excursion from Udaipur, this time in the opposite direction, to the towns of Nathdwara and Ranakpur. Often overlooked upon as tourists mostly visit the temples at Mount Abu, these small towns provide some exquisite examples of Rajasthani architecture. The first destination would be Nagada, which contains the temples of Adbhutji Shantinath and Eklingji. Further down the road is the town of Nathdwara, famous for Pichwai, a world-renown traditional handicraft. An hour’s ride from Nathdwara would lead you to the UNESCO World-Heritage site of Kumbalgarh, an indomitable fort that offers an insight into the might of defensive structures that the Rajputs built. Reaching Kumbalgarh, however, is a tremendous task, considering the road conditions, you will need to hire a four-wheel drive from Charbhujaji or Kankroli. If time permits, you could also head over to the temples at Ranakpur, although they are quite similar in architecture to those at Mount Abu. From here, people choose to go to either Chittorgarh or Ajmer.
Chittorgarh: 1 day(s)
The imposing Chittorgarh fort is the backdrop of many ballads and popular folk-lore, including the epic ballad ‘Padmavat’. Popularly known as the ‘Home of the Brave’, the mighty fort was capable of withstanding sieges that went on for months and has its seen its fair share of battles. The fort boasts of Jain and Hindu temples, palaces, lookout posts and even a Jauhar room. It would take you at least a good six hours to tour this place in detail. We suggest getting a good guide to understand the history behind the fort and also to point out the various places mentioned in the ballads.
Ranthambore National Park: 2 day(s)
If there is one place in India, where you could be assured of a tiger sighting, it would be Ranthambore National Park. One of the most successful conservation projects, Ranthambore is a great example and reminder as well as to how humans can survive and let survive. The luxury hotels here make Ranthambore a great getaway from the busy metropolitans of Delhi and Gurgaon, not just for nature enthusiasts but also for people just wishing to get a breath of fresh air.
Ajmer – Pushkar: 1 days
The twin-towns of Ajmer and Pushkar are both sacred towns, with Ajmer being the site of an Islamic Shrine and Pushkar being the site of a rare Brahma temple. Ajmer is home to Dargah Sharif, site of burial of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, a Sufi saint. Also of interest here are the Adhai Din Ka Jhopda, a mosque and the Soniji Ki Nasiyan, a Jain Temple. At Pushkar, the Anasagar Lake and the Ghats at Pushkar Lake are worth visiting in addition to the Brahma Temple. The twin-towns are very close to Jaipur and can be visited easily as a day-trip from Jaipur as well.
Rajasthan is the largest state in India and covering all the places in one go becomes somewhat cumbersome, to the risk of being repetitive, one may say. As with most of our lists, this is a rather long list highlighting the major places, but is not an exhaustive list. A few noteworthy mentions that we have missed here are Alwar, Barmer, Bundi, Jhalawar, Neemrana, Kota, Nagaur, Sawai Madhopur and Tonk; all of these are on our list of places to visit and we hope to cover these soon. What about you?