Rajasthan is the largest state in India area wise. It also has incredible diversity when it comes to geography – Thar desert on the one hand, Aravalli mountain range on another, beautiful lakes and gentle rivers – the landscape has it all. Of course, when it comes to history, the diversity in forts and temples is also mind boggling. So, if you are a traveller, what to do? Where should you go? Having seen quite a bit of Rajasthan (not all of it), below are my recommendations.
Arrive at your destination in the evening. Explore the city the next morning and then head out to your next destination in the afternoon. It is difficult to keep track of closing times of places worth seeing and beat sunset at the same time. A lesson I learnt during our last few trips. I will definitely be more mindful.
While there are many incredible hotels in Rajasthan that give you amazing experiences, there are also many 3-star hotels that give you a clean, comfortable, safe place to stay. When exploring options on online sites like Trivago and Tripadvisor, make sure you check the low rating reviews and understand what they are trying to say… I am definitely going to do that going forward.
For example, in Ajmer, we learnt that Hotel Merwara is an event driven hotel. So, even if you have a fully paid reservation, there is a 50% chance you won’t get a room at that hotel if you arrive when an event is taking place. In Chittorgarh and Udaipur we learnt that if your hotel is on the main road, then noise from buses and trucks might disturb your sleep if you are a light sleeper and you get a room facing the road. In Jaisalmer we learnt that there are some amazing boutique hotels inside the fort. You can actually experience the living fort in a very different way.
You will find decent “dhaba” style eateries at regular intervals. However, if you have a sensitive stomach, then research your rest stops ahead of time and carry plenty of simple foods like bread and jam, fruits to tide you over any difficult days.
Picking an airport
There are quite a few airports in Rajasthan. Most of these airports are about 30 to 45 min away from the main city they connect to. Recent experience shows that Jaipur has the best connectivity with the rest of India. Udaipur appears to come next. Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Ajmer and Jodhpur are smaller airports that have connectivity with Jaipur in most cases. Of course, check on-line for the most up to date information.
Itineraries – Google maps is your friend!
Itineraries from Jaipur
Jaipur is a well developed and popular tourist destination. As part of the “Golden Triangle”, it pulls in a lot of tourists. If you plan to start your exploration of Rajasthan from Jaipur, here are some suggestions, with minimum days suggested in ( ):
(A) Jaipur (2 days) – Bharatpur (1 day) – Fatehpur Sikri – Agra (1 1/2 days) – Delhi (2 days) – One of the most popular versions of the Golden Triangle, you will get to see everything from the Taj Mahal to Amber Fort and get a glimpse of history from the ancient to the modern. It is no wonder many people choose this option.
(B) Jaipur (2) – Ajmer – Pushkar (1) – Nathdwara – Udaipur (2) – This version has the history mixed in with the divine. In Jaipur and Udaipur you will get an opportunity to visit forts and palaces while Ajmer, Pushkar and Nathdwara will give you a glimpse of the religious aspects of India.
(C) Jaipur (2) – Ajmer & Pushkar (1) – Kumbhalgarh – Ranakpur (1) – Udaipur (2) – This is a slightly modified version where you will be able to see the 2nd longest wall in the world and get a glimpse of beautiful Jain Temples as well.
(D) Jaipur (2) – Ajmer & Pushkar (1) – Chittorgarh (1) – Kumbhalgarh – Ranakpur (1) – Udaipur (2) – This itinerary adds in Chittorgarh which is another UNESCO World Heritage site. Loaded with forts and lots of walking, you are sure to get quite the workout, especially if you allocate enough time at each destination!
(E) Jaipur (2) – Ajmer & Pushkar (1) – Jodhpur (1 1/2) – Ranakpur – Kumbhalgarh (1) – Udaipur (2)– Instead of Chittorgarh, adding in Jodhpur. How does this matter? In Jodhpur, you will get to see Mehrangarh Fort and Umaid Bhavan Palace and get a glimpse of the blue city…. However, you will miss out on an UNESCO World Heritage site
(F) Jaipur (2) – Ajmer & Pushkar (1) – Jodhpur (1 1/2) – Jaisalmer (2) – Another popular itinerary, you will get to see the many sides of Rajasthan. From the forts in Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer to the beautiful religious sites in Ajmer and Pushkar and gorgeous Jain temples inside Jaisalmer Fort. You will also get a chance to explore the great Thar desert, including tent stays under the stars in Jaisalmer if you are so inclined.
(G) Jaipur (2) – Ranthambore (1) – Jhalawar (1) – Chittorgarh (1) – Kumbhalgarh (1) – Jodhpur (1 1/2) – Jaisalmer (2) – Cover the UNESCO World Heritage sites (Hill forts of Rajasthan) in one go!
Itineraries from Udaipur
(A) Udaipur (2) – Mount Abu (2) – Ranakpur – Kumbhalgarh (1) – Udaipur (1) – With this itinerary, you will get a chance to explore Mount Abu as well. Mount Abu is a special place and no wonder it is a very popular destination for local tourists. If you are coming from overseas, do not limit yourself to thinking Mount Abu is only about Brahma Kumaris. It is a very nice tourist destination and definitely worth considering.
(B) Udaipur (2) – Kumbhalgarh – Ranakpur (1) – Jodhpur (1 1/2) – Jaisalmer (2) – From experiencing the second longest wall in the world, to amazing forts and palaces, gorgeous lakes, to experiencing luxury, to beautiful Jain Temples to playing in the sand dunes and experiencing desert life, you can have it all … all you need is adequate time to enjoy it all!
and the options where you can travel between Udaipur and Jaipur as shown above
Itineraries from Jodhpur
(A) Jodhpur (1 1/2) – Jaisalmer (2) – Bikaner (1) – We found out this is also a popular choice depending on what people like to see. All three places have pretty cool forts and palaces. Not as crowded, these cities give you a great idea of the essence of Rajasthan’s desert history. In Jodhpur, the palace and the fort will leave you mesmerised. You will get an opportunity to try the nomadic life in Jaisalmer and if you are up to it, you can go up to Tanot, close to the India / Pakistan border. On the way to Bikaner you can visit Ramdevra and Kolayat temples. In Bikaner, you get a chance to explore the famous Karni Mata Temple and the camel research centre (where you can try camel milk) while also enjoying the famous Junagarh Fort . Bikaner has a decent airport, so, exiting back to Delhi is quite easy.
Top places in Rajasthan
Sincere apologies for overwhelming you with all the different options. As a former quality engineer, let me slice the data another way… choose the itinerary based on what your core interests are. Here are some of the slices.
(1) UNESCO World Heritage sites – The hill forts of Rajasthan include the forts of Jaipur, Ranthambore, Jhalawar, Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh and Jaisalmer. If you enjoy keeping track of your UNESCO travels, then this is perfect!
(2) Religious curiosity – If you are interested in exploring unique religious sites, Rajasthan offers many. Few include: Dargah in Ajmer, Brahma Temple in Pushkar, Krishna temple in Nathdwara, Eklingji and Ranakpur Jain Temple near Udaipur, Brahma Kumaris World Headquarters, Dilwara Temple, Kali Temple and Dattatreya Temple in Mount Abu, Tanot Mata temple near Jaisalmer, Ramdevra and Kolayat temples between Bikaner and Jaisalmer and Karni Mata temple near Bikaner. Interesting temples also reside inside Chittorgarh fort and Kumbhalgarh fort (both Shiva temples).
(3) Nomadic life – Sam dunes near Jaisalmer, camel research centre in Bikaner, camel fair in Pushkar – can’t get any more nomadic than that!
(4) Swim in luxurious experiences – Jaipur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur – see and experience a side of India in a way very few people can.
(5) Hiking experiences – Mount Abu and Jaisalmer have some really nice options to consider. All the forts give you quite a bit of a workout as well.
(6) Wildlife sanctuaries – pretty birds, some wildlife, good insight into Indian landscapes – Mount Abu, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Bharatpur and Ranthambore have some pretty cool ones… just remember – don’t have high expectations about seeing many wild animals.
(7) I want it all – if you are like me, then take the time and experience and digest Rajasthan one city at a time : )
Hope you enjoyed reading this post. While exploring Rajasthan, I have learnt that to enjoy travel, you need time, access to clean hotels, safe water and food and be in good health more than anything else in the world… Happy travels and be safe!