Rajasthan is one of India’s most vibrant and iconic states – and is usually the places that most visitors to India choose to make their first time stop. It is a magic state, with welcoming locals, delicious food, a rich and varied wildlife, beautiful forts, palaces and havelis, colourful and exciting fairs and festivals and a rural heartland that should absolutely not be missed.
Here is our definitive list of where you should not miss while travelling in Rajasthan.
The capital of Rajasthan, and known as The Pink City because of the hue of the stone used to build the city. It is one of the most visited places in India, and is in the heart of the Golden Triangle. A bustling, busy city, with formidable city walls, beautiful forts and palaces and famed for its buzzy bazaars and a collection of beautiful heritage hotels. The old city is definitely worth a morning cycle tour round it’s narrow lanes, enjoy an up close and personal experience with an elephant at Dera Amer Camp, take a kite making and flying workshop on the city’s rooftops and enjoy a cooking class to learn some of Rajasthan’s most tasty dishes, or attend the world famous Literary Festival which happens every January.
Jodhpur is the second city of Rajasthan, and is known as The Blue City because of the blue painted buildings of the old city. Looming over the city is the beautiful Mehrangar Fort, one of India’s best preserved forts, and which offers the best views of the city. The city is home to one of our favourite hotels, the stunning RAAS, a beautiful and elegantly converted haveli. While staying in Jodhpur we highly recommend a private tour of the Mehrangar Fort with the museum curator followed by a candlelit dinner, or for the more adventurous, how about flying over the fort via zipline with Flying Fox or why not head out into the nearby countryside on a jeep safari to visit local tribal villages.
Possible the most romantic city in Rajasthan, Udaipur is the City of Lakes, and has a much more relaxed atmosphere than Jaipur and Jodhpur. The City Palace complex is a stunning example of Rajput architecture, and sits overlooking Lake Pichola, and is still the home of the royal family of Mewar. Like a mirage in the middle of the lake sits the Taj Lake Palace, a must stay for honeymooners! Famed for its miniature painting and indigo making textiles, Udaipur is a great place to get to know the arts and crafts of Rajasthan and for the best sunsets head for sundowners at The Sunset Terrace, at Fateh Prakash Palace
The Golden City of Jaisamler with it’s impressive fort, rises up from Rajasthan desert, like a something from a fairytale. The second oldest fort in Rajasthan, and the oldest continuously inhabited fort in India, Jaisalmer Fort was built in 1156, and within its ancient sandstone ramparts are beautiful havelis, temples, bazaars and the royal palace. Sitting on the edge of the Thar Desert, it is the prefect place to head out and do a camel safari for a sunset experience out on the dunes of Rajasthan.
One of India’s most popular National Parks, Ranthambhore is home to a healthy population of Bengal Tigers, as well as the 10th Century Ranthambhore Fort. Jeep safaris have to be organised in advance because of a new, welcomed, restriction on vehicle numbers inside the park. There are a selection of really wonderful tented lodges who have some of India’s best naturalists for guiding in and outside the park. Keep an eye out for the other residents of Ranthambhore though: leopards, hyena, wild dogs and jungle cats, sambar and spotted deer, chinkaras (Indian gazelles) and blue bulls all can be seen here, and there are enough bird species to fill entire guidebooks, making it ideal for birders.
One of Rajasthan’s hidden gems, Bundi has remained off the main tourist trail despite all that is has to offer. Bundi is dominated by the towering Taragarh Fort, dating back to 1354, and Bundi Palace, with its stunning murals which are incredibly well preserved. The town has a sleepy feel, unchanged by time, and it’s a real joy to wander they narrow lanes, meeting the local shop keepers and artisans in their tiny alcove shops. Don’t miss out on visiting the grand royal cenotaphs while here. The town also has over 50 baoris or ancient step wells, the most impressive being the Ranji ki Baori, or the Queen’s stepwell, dating back to 1699, and is 150 ft deep.
The Shekhawati Region is a treasure trove for art lovers – and the region is known for its painted havelis, and is often referred to as the world’s largest open air art gallery. A prosperous region in the 18th century, and on the caravan trade route, wealthy merchants built opulent mansion houses (havelis) with intricate, colourful and beautiful frescoes which were dine to demonstrate their wealth. This practice continued throughout the Shekhawati for over 300 years, and now the many of these havelis have been abandoned by the families. To see the finest examples of frescoes travel to Mandawa and Nawalgarh where dozens of nicely preserved havelis to be visited.
Ranakpur Temple and Kumbhalgarh Fort
The exquisite temple complex at Ranakpur is surely one of India’s most beautiful temples, and the largest and most important Jain temple – built in the 15th century entirely out of white marble it has 29 halls, 80 domes and 1444 intricately carved pillars. Just two hours from Udaipur, it can be easily combined with a visit to Kumbalgarh Fort on a day trip. The fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is perched high on the Aravali hills, and the fort walls are second only to the Great Wall of China in length. Hike along the walls and enjoy a spectacular sunset from the ramparts over Kumbalgarh National Park.
A desert outpost in the north of Rajasthan, Bikaner is known for it’s many camel farms, and is a great place to explore the desert landscapes on camel-back safari. The old city is charming, and it’s fort a downscale and less tourity version of other Rajasthanu cities. The nearby Karni Mata Temple is a must-visit, dedicated as it is to rats, which overrun the temple and is quite unique. Every January a camel fair which is a lot more authentic and less crowded than the Pushkar Fair, it features camel beauty pageants, camel racing and camel dancing!
No visit to Rajasthan is complete without spending some significant time in the rural heartland of this state. We offer many destination hotels which are located in the countryside and where you can have meaningful, authentic and un-exploitative interactions with local villagers and tribal communities. The Bishnoi are considered the original environmentalist, and their villages can be visited on 4×4 jeep trips from Jodhpur, while the red-turbaned Raika, who have been nomadic pastoralists for centuries, can often be seen tending to their camel herds as you drive through the countryside. A visit to Jawai not only offers stunning landscape, a chance to meet local village artisans and Rabari shepherds, visit animist temples but also see leopards in the wild. To quote Gandhi, “the soul of India lies in its villages” and this is a sentiment we 100% agree with.