The Rajasthan itinerary that covers all the highlights - Wapiti Travel

Why Visit Rajasthan? Rajasthan is also called “Land of Kings” and is one of India’s most colorful states. It’s full of history, impressive fortresses, castles, and palaces.  The last are now often transformed into beautiful luxury hotels so you can not only imagine but also experience how it feels to be a king or queen. Your voyage through Rajasthan will often feel like a fairytale of a thousand and one night. This Rajasthan itinerary is more extensive than the classical golden triangle travel plans.  You will not only discover the classic historical places in Rajasthan such as the Taj Mahal and Jaipur but also explore less visited areas such as Mandawa,  Bikaner, and Jaisalmer.  You will see fortresses and palaces that are even more beautiful than the ones in Jaipur and you will have the chance to overnight in a luxury tent in the Thar desert during your Rajasthan trip. So keep reading.

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Women Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Best time to visit Rajasthan 

Rajasthan can be visited all year round but the best time to visit Rajasthan is from October to March.   During these months it is generally cooler and therefore more pleasant.

Summer

Rajasthan’s summer starts in April and ends in June.

We wouldn’t recommend visiting Rajasthan during this time of the year as summers are hot and humid with average temperatures up to as high as 48 degrees.

If you have no choice but to go during this period then we recommend planning your visits early in the morning and in the late afternoon and evening.  You can take a siesta next to the swimming pool of your hotel during the hottest period of the day.  The best part about traveling in this period is that you can get fabulous five-star hotels at amazing prices. 

The summer months are the best months to see tigers in Ranthambore National park. It’s hotter and dryer and therefore there are fewer waterholes.  That makes it easier for the guides to locate the tigers.

 

Monsoon 

July to September is monsoon season in India. Rajasthan is one of the driest areas of India and monsoon showers are quite sporadic but it will still be hot and humid.

The monsoon season can be a great time to visit Rajasthan as tourist attractions aren’t crowded and hotels are much cheaper at that time of year.

Keep in mind that national parks such as Ranthambore park are closed.

 

Post Monsoon

The monsoons usually end around mid-September and are followed by about 2 more months of unpleasant hot and humid days.  The humidity and temperatures gradually decrease as the months pass by.

When we visited Rajasthan in October the temperatures averaged 35 degrees with peaks up to 43 degrees.  The heat was bearable in the morning and again as of 4 PM but we were happy we could relax by the pool for the rest of the day.

We would advise booking hotels with swimming pools if you travel early in this season. It will allow you to chill after a sweaty morning exploring the country.

Read also: Omg facts you need to know about India

Winter 

Winter ( December-March) is considered the best time to visit Rajasthan.  Day temperatures ranging around 25 to 30 degrees are certainly more pleasant to walk around in the fortresses and palaces.  The temperatures drop considerably after sunset and may even dip below zero at night.

Winter is the peak tourist season in Rajasthan, you can expect more tourists and higher prices.

Festivals

India is a very spiritual country.  We noticed this almost anywhere we went. The greatest prove can be found in the temples where the daily ceremonies are massively attended and everybody participates in the chants.  Many temples have become overly touristic but if you can sneak inside a lesser known temple during the ceremony (don’t worry, the Indians really don’t mind, they even encouraged us to come inside) you can see how intensely they experience their faith.

Festivals form another central aspect of their culture and faith.  There are numerous festivals during the year, many of them are held in the autumn months.  The most popular festival is without any doubt Diwali, the Hindu festival of light.  Another festival called Ganesh celebrates the Hindu god Lord Ganesha and then there is also Dahi Handi which commemorates the birthday of Lord Krishna.  It can be fun to participate in the celebrations and some hotels even organize special events for their guests.  

Each festival is celebrated in its own way. Diwali is all about fireworks and candles. During the Ganesh festival, lavishly decorated statues of Lord Ganesha are placed in all squares and paraded through the streets accompanied by a lot of singing and dancing.

Indian man in traditional clothing

India travel tips

What to wear

There’re 2 important aspects that you should take in mind when you pack your clothes for India.  One of them is the climate.  Secondly, you will be visiting many temples and palaces and an appropriate dress is required to enter these places.

Cotton or linen clothing is recommended to better endure the temperature.

Appropriate clothing for the temples would be anything that covers your shoulders and knees.

Women are also advised to avoid any tight fitting clothing that reveals their shape. Particularly in rural areas, this might draw attention and stares from dicey men.

A scarf is very handy to cover your shoulders when necessary.

 

Tipping in India

Tipping in India is not straightforward and it took some time before we got a hold about when and how much we should tip.  Tipping, in India known as Baksheesh, is not common and didn’t exist before tourism became popular in India.  It’s very uncommon for Indians to give a tip.

Westerners introduced the custom of tipping, maybe because poverty can be confronting, but our driver was quick to remind us that we didn’t need to be overly generous. The Baksheesh has already found its way in the culture. Staff in restaurants that receive many tourists now seems to expect tips from foreigners. We sometimes noticed how we got treated differently than an Indian couple sitting at the table next to us when it came to the bill.  We got the exact same service but when we ordered the bill they would put on a whole show about the fact that the tip was not included.  Locals, who often were much more demanding, did not get such a sermon.

We usually tipped about 10% in restaurants.  Make sure to check the bill for a service charge before you tip.  Some restaurants will add this automatically, others don’t.  We did try to hand the tip subtly to our waiter because we often noticed how restaurant managers were quick to collect the tips that were left on the table and they just disappeared in their own pockets.

The tipping policy was not any more clear in hotels.  We noticed how luxury hotels seemed to have a no-tipping policy.  We had some small rupees handy (the guideline is 50 rupees per bag) each time we arrived in a hotel but the porters in most luxury hotels were very fast to leave the room. We often didn’t have the chance to hand over the tip.  On the occasions were we did they were overly grateful.   The opposite was true in less luxurious hotels.  Hotel porters in these hotels would put on a whole show and acted like our bags weighed at least 50kg each.  They clearly expected a tip and did not make a start to leave the room until we handed them the Baksheesh.  We tipped the first group with pleasure.  The second group gave us a bad feeling due to their ridiculous behavior and they also didn’t show much gratitude.

If you have a car with a driver it is also expected that you tip your driver for good service.  Our driver was always on time and even acted as a guide whenever he could.  He would tell us more about the places that we visited and would always offer suggestions about the places where we could go to.

If you’re happy with the services of your driver the suggested tip is Rs 200. per day per person.  If you’re sharing a driver with a larger group you can lower these amounts, a tip of Rs 800 per day/group is very generous.

Scams

We encountered quite some small scams. Unfortunately, tourists seem to be seen as an easy target for all kinds of scams.  It may be of little comfort but our driver told us that this is in their culture.  You need to be alert at all times.  Sellers will always try to get the lion’s share of the deal and some really seem to have no conscience.

Just some small piece of advice for the best experience.

Try not to be annoyed too much by the many scams. You will be confronted with them in all public and touristic places. Let it go and move on. It’s not worth to ruin your trip over it.

Know how much you need to pay

We experienced how Indians shamelessly dared to ask a twentyfold of the official price for snacks or drinks.  Another case where it proved useful we had looked up the entrance fee in advance was the Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi.  Because we looked it up in advance we knew the entrance was free and we could confidently walk past the scammers who had lined up outside acting as ticket sellers.  They were selling fake entrance tickets for 300 INR each while there is only a camera fee of 300 INR.

All drinks and snacks should have the price printed on them (see pictures below).  If the package is not showing the price or the price has been barred just move on and find a trustworthy seller.

If you plan on visiting any monuments look up the price online before you go.

 

Price of the entry tickets to public monuments

We visited most sites with our driver and when we did he told us the entry fees we needed to pay.  Usually, these were also clearly indicated at the ticket offices.  We were slightly disgusted by the fact that foreigners pay the fifteenfold or twentyfold of locals but this is common in India. The government does this for the various sites it manages and the other touristy places have just taken over the same practice.

The government tries to fight corruption by limiting the number of cash payments and has introduced a small discount to those who pay the entrance fee electronically (Visa and Mastercard are accepted).

Foreigner tickets India

See what the locals do when visiting temples

There’re some rules to follow when you visit a temple.  Firstly, you have to remove your shoes. (Funny enough they also demand you to remove your shoes when visiting a church.) Secondly, it is also not allowed to take pictures of the holiest figures in the temple.

Some temples have a very organized shoe storage system comparable to the cloakrooms we know in theaters.  When temples have such a system everybody makes use of it.  Other temples that have no such thing usually have some people that have rolled out a carpet and pose as ‘shoe guards’ for tourists.  You will see how they address tourists and impose that they leave their shoes with them despite that all locals just walk inside with their shoes in their hand.  You can safely ignore these people.  I wouldn’t necessarily call this a scam, if you want to leave your shoes with them and pay for it you can do so,  but there certainly is no rule that you’re not allowed to take your shoes inside.

Some temples have lockers to store your camera.  They’re safe to use if you see that the rules apply to everybody.  A good example is the Akshardham temple in Delhi that offers free lockers and nobody is allowed to take any cameras inside.  Unfortunately, there’re also temples were scammers only target tourists.  They will tell you that you cannot take your camera inside and will offer to store it for free.  Only, once you come back you will have to pay a, sometimes hefty, fee to get your stuff back.

Ignore the lockers if you see that locals are not using them.  We met some people that finally gave in to the scammers because they got really aggressive and really wouldn’t let them in but they lost a lot of money that day.  There’re many temples in India and they all look alike.  Just skip one temple if you think something is fishy.

Jama Masjid, New Delhi, India

Jama Masjid

Adapter for electrical appliances

India uses a mix of electrical plugs type C (also known as Europlug), D and M.  The type C plug is similar to what is used in most European countries.  The type M plug has three round pins in a triangular pattern and looks similar to the Type D plug, the only difference being that its pins are much larger. Type M pins are used for bigger appliances.

Since we are from Belgium, we did not need an adapter.

If you have problems to use type C plugs in Type D sockets you should try to insert an object with a fine tip into the top hole while inserting the plug.

Stay healthy

Although it can be really difficult to completely avoid the famous Delhi belly, here are some tips that should limit the damage.

Avoid drinking any tap water or brushing your teeth with it.  Try to steer clear from any food that may have been washed in it like salads and order any soda’s without ice.

Indians have the lowest rate of meat consumption in the world. India has 500 million vegetarians, that are more vegetarians than the rest of the world put together.  The country offers perhaps the world’s most fabulous choice of vegetarian food so it may be a good choice to go veggie for the duration of your stay in India.  Undercooked or rotten meat can do a lot more harm than a badly prepared vegetarian dish.

Indian Food Tandoori

Cash

When paying cash double-check the amount you hand over to the cashier and double-check the notes you get back.  Shortchanging is, unfortunately, a common practice in India, also by officials at monuments like Humayun tomb.  The chances are smaller that they will try to pull short-changing tricks on you if you mention how much cash you give them.

Also, check the quality of the notes you get back.  It doesn’t matter so much for all notes of 100INR or less but do not accept any notes over 100 that are damaged or have been written on.  We had one 500 rupee note with some yellow marks on it and it took us a while before somebody wanted to accept it.

Lallgarh Palace Bikaner, India

Hotels

We stayed in both 3, 4 and 5-star hotels.  The level of service in all of them was excellent but we noticed how the cleanliness was significantly lower in 3-star hotels.  We found dust on the shelves, old worn towels, raffled carpet in the corridors, sticky tables in the restaurant and pigeon poop all around the pool.  What we didn’t find was toilet paper in the public toilets. 😊 Not what we would expect from a 3-star hotel but you have to keep in mind that the standards for cleanliness are different in India.

Indian cities are often very hectic and noisy and the hotels were always an island of tranquility amidst the chaos that never seemed to stop outside.

It was always great to retreat to the hotel and escape the chaos but we would recommend taking 4-star hotels or better for a truly great experience.

Visa requirements

You will probably need a visa to visit India.  Only citizens of Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives can enter the country without a visa.

Recently the country started offering e-visas.  You can find out if you’re eligible to apply for an e-visa on the governments e-visa website.  The website also lists the fees which vary by country. You can find a link to the rate sheet in point 4 of the “instructions for the applicant”.

Note that the Indian government charges the fee regardless of your approval status.  The fee is seen as a processing fee and therefore non-refundable.  It’s always charged, even if your application would be rejected due to an unclear picture or unreadable scan of your passport.

This made us a little uncomfortable and we decided to apply for our e-visa through a visa agency. The advantage of a visa agency is that they will give the data that you have submitted a final review before they send it to the government.  We decided that the small extra fee was worth the certainty that our application was all correct.

Apply for a travel visa with VisaHQ: VISA

When you want to apply for the e-visa yourself make sure that you use the official government website.  Ignore sites that call themselves official like the one below, they add significant service charges to your application, more than the VisaHQ visa agency.  The official e-visa site run by the government is https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/.

This is NOT the government’s website



 

 

Take a car and a driver

We always prefer to explore a country on our own. Primarily for the freedom that it gives us but also because it feels more authentic if you mingle with the locals on public transportation and in the streets.

We started by creating a whole itinerary that involved several train rides.  When we were making our planning and looked up the train schedules this brought us some doubts.  Many trains departed around 10 or 11 PM to arrive at 5 or 6 AM in the morning.  We also didn’t manage to create a profile on the IRCTC website, where you need to buy your tickets, and our various messages to their support channels remained unanswered.

Because we already had our doubts about whether we would be able to sleep on the trains we decided to stop our efforts to contact the Indian Railway company and we started looking for a private chauffeured tour.

Looking back we are glad that we did this. For one, trains are apparently often late (even more so than what we’re used in Belgium).  In one situation we met somebody whose train was 6 hours late…

Moreover, the scams that seem to be common practice in all stations, are scandalous.  We met several people that had been ripped off, sometimes for several hundred euros. Scammers seem to be very inventive and professional at the same time.  Scams often involve fake train ticket offices where they take you to buy a new ticket as your train is supposedly canceled.  Another story we heard was somebody who was taken to a fake police station where she was shown images of riots in the street in front of her hotel.  She needed to book and pay for another hotel.  Both people lost a lot of money at that time and the stories turned out to be untrue in the end.

Everybody said that in hindsight it was so obvious that they were being told lies but at that time they were a little numb after a bad night sleep.

India Agra Train Station

I’m not sure how I would react in such a situation but I know that I don’t like to negotiate every single aspect of my vacation.  In India we needed to negotiate the price of every taxi we took and every can of soda we bought.  Even though we needed to negotiate the price of a taxi or tuk-tuk just a few times we noticed how the initial asking price was often a twentyfold of the correct price.  This makes it very hard to get the price down to fair levels.  We’re happy that we didn’t need to negotiate more often, certainly not with a half-sleepy head after a tiring train ride.

If you’re not a fan of negotiations or just prefer a comfortable journey we recommend you to have a look at the various private tours that are offered.  It will make your trip so much more comfortable because you just need to arrange your plans with your driver and only in very exceptional cases you will need to negotiate the price for a taxi or tuk-tuk.  You can also freely choose any hotel, even away from the city center or main sights, knowing that your driver will be there to take you there and will pick you back up in the morning.

We also found our driver a good and trustworthy source of information to know the local prices for drinks, snacks and food.  And he could tell us the correct price for the tuk-tuk the few times that we needed one because the streets in the old city where too narrow for our car.

If you have arranged a chauffeured car your driver will be waiting for you at the airport in the arrivals hall.  The overall itinerary is arranged in advance as the price not only depends on the number of days but also the kilometers that you will do. Most companies will be able to book your accommodations as well but you’re free to choose your own hotels as we did.

You do have all the freedom about how you fill in the days once you’re there.  We were well prepared and had a list of things that we wanted to see and do.  Usually, our driver gave us some additional tips about the places that we were going to visit in a few days so we could have a look in advance to see if we wanted to add those to our travel plans.  Each evening we made the final arrangements with him for the next day.

It worked out really well and turned out to be a comfortable way to visit the country in October.   It was still very hot and we were always happy to jump back in the air-conditioned car after we had spent a few hours in the summer heat

We booked our personal driver with Swagatam Tours and we were very happy with this decision. Our driver was always on time, he drove us safely through Rajasthan and gave us a lot of information about India and the local customs.

Insurance

Last but not least… As you might expect health care in Japan is excellent but it comes at a high cost.  Make sure you have some sort of insurance before you leave for Japan.  We never had anything serious happen on any of our journeys around the world but you know what they say, better safe than sorry…

Check for insurance at World Nomads:WORLD NOMADS

 

Our 3-week itinerary in India

We started this 3 weeks in India itinerary in Delhi.

Delhi can be quite overwhelming.  That’s why we only spend one night in Delhi at the start of our trip.  We reserved 2 more days to explore Delhi at the end of our trip.  At that point, you will be acclimatized to the busy Indian city life and you will be able to truly enjoy the sights in old Delhi.

Humayun tomb, New Delhi, India

Humayun tomb

Event iconDay 1- Delhi 

Things to do in Delhi

It’s possible to visit many of Delhi’s highlights in one day although you may prefer to travel at a slower pace and spread your visit across several days.  We wrote a  detailed post about Delhi here. 

Most information about the sights in Delhi is in our detailed post about Delhi but we will also briefly summarize them here.

The key sights in central New Delhi are situated around old Delhi.  Here you can visit Chandni Chowk which once used to be the largest market in India. Close by you will also find the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid mosque.

You get a completely different picture of New Delhi in the government district.  The Rajpath Marg avenue runs straight through this district stretching from the President’s palace in the West to the India gate in the East.  You should definitely pay this district a visit but as it is quite extensive you may be better off with a rickshaw.

South of New Delhi are various impressive sights. If you don’t have a car with a driver you can book an organized tour or arrange a tour with a taxi.  You should be able to negotiate a price where the taxi takes you to the various sights and waits for you at each stop.

You would typically start your tour in the Lotus temple, head to Qutub Minar and afterward to Humayun’s tomb.  Qutub Minar and Humayun’s tomb were 2 of our favorite sights in New Delhi.  You can unwind in the Lodhi gardens after your visit to Humayun’s tomb.

The Lotus temple is a temple of Bahá’í faith. This temple has received numerous awards for its outstanding architecture and design.    

Lastly, there is the Akshardham temple, a recently built Hindu temple complex.   It is situated East of New Delhi close to the border with Noida. It is an impressive large temple complex that undoubtedly must have cost a fortune. We were greatly impressed by the level of detail with which this temple was crafted both inside and out.

Full day organized tours

If you have a chauffeured drive you can arrange a tour with your drive to take you along these sights.  If not you could arrange a tour with a taxi or book a private tour online.  We selected some of the most recommended tours:

Where to stay in Delhi

Although Delhi is immense most of the city’s tourist attractions are located within walking distance of old Delhi.  To the South of the city are some other places that are worthwhile visiting but to visit these you will need to arrange a driver or other means of transportation.  You can take the blue metro line to get to the Akshardham temple.

If you have a driver you don’t have to worry that much about where you stay but otherwise, you might be best to stay near Old Delhi.  We discuss the best places to stay in detail in our Delhi post.

Hotel iconCrowne Plaza New Delhi Mayur Vihar Noida

Crowne Plaza New Delhi Mayur Vihar Noida New Delhi IndiaWe ended up picking this hotel as we could stay for free with our IHG points.  We didn’t really think about the location as we had a driver. Looking back at our stay I would certainly recommend the hotel. The location is not all that bad and they surpassed our expectations by allowing us to check in as early as 9 AM and even threw in free breakfast.

After a red-eye flight, we arrived at the hotel around 7 o’clock in the morning.   There was no room available at that time but they offered us breakfast while they prepared our room. Around 9 o’clock our room was ready and we could freshen up before we went out again to get our first impression of New Delhi.

The rooms are very big and have a comfortable bed and the rooftop pool is excellent to take a refreshing dive in the evening.

The hotel is located close to the Akshardham temple and it’s just a few minutes to the Yamuna Expressway, the fastest route to Agra.  You can use the metro to reach Old Delhi.  The blue metro line stops next to the hotel and you can change for the orange line in Connaught Place.

Read reviews and check prices here: BOOKING AGODA

If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other hotels in our where to stay in New Delhi section. 

 

Event iconDay 2-3 Mandawa

The next day we drove to Mandawa, a small town in Northern Rajasthan.

Bus iconDriving time: 260 km- approximately 6 hours.

 

Things to do in Mandawa

Mandawa is your first stop during our 3 week in India.

In the past, it was a  prosperous town because it was a trading post on the caravan trade tour from China to the Middle East.  Due to the thriving trade in this region, many merchants settled down in Mandawa and built richly decorated havelis.  A haveli is a medieval townhouse often adorned by murals, intricate artwork or paintings.

The trade routes have disappeared and today Mandawa is just a sleepy little town.  Some of the havelis are dilapidated but others have been fairly well preserved. Most prominent among these havelis are the Saraf Haveli, the Jjhunjhunu haveli, or sometimes called Golden Haveli, and the Snehi Ram Ladia Haveli which is now also turned into a hotel.

Others are Hanuman Prasad Goenka Haveli, the Goenka Double Haveli, the Murmuria Haveli and the Gulab Rai Ladia Haveli. Mandawa also houses a fort but this fort is smaller and less impressive compared to other forts that you will see later during this trip.

Some of the art can be seen from the street but the havelis also often have one or more ornately decorated rooms. Most havelis charge an entrance fee to see the rooms, these range from 50 to 200 rupees.

Our driver arranged a guide that showed us around town but I think it will be even more fun to explore the town on your own.  It’s hard to get lost and it’s just that kind of town that invites to wander around freely. Lonely Planet has an overview of the different havelis and with their little ma,p it’s easy to arrange your own tour.

Where to stay in Mandawa

Hotel iconRadhika Haveli

Radhika Haveli Mandawa, IndiaRadhika Haveli was the first haveli we stayed in. It’s located in the old town within walking distance of all the other havelis. We had a beautifully decorated clean room with a basic bathroom. We enjoyed the food in the vegetarian restaurant. The very friendly owner gave us 2 colorfully dressed puppets as a souvenir.

A beautiful hotel in Mandawa.

 

Read reviews and check prices here: BOOKING AGODA
If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other hotels in Mandawa on Booking.com: BOOKING

 

Event iconDay 4-5: Bikaner

From Mandawa, we continue our road trip to Bikaner which is also called the red city. Bikaner is still a relatively quiet city which is not inundated by tourists.

Bus iconDriving time: 190 km- approximately 4 hours.

 

Things to do in Bikaner

We started the morning with a view on the Lallgarh palace and a visit to the small Shri Ssadul museum. From there we went to the impressive Junagarh fort. This was the first fort we visited during our Rajasthan itinerary and I think it is one of the most beautiful. With a tuk-tuk, we explored the small old town which houses some beautiful havelis and the colorful Bhandsar Jain temple.

We also paid a visit to The National Research Centre on Camels and the Karni Mata temple which is commonly known as the rat temple. 

Where to stay in Bikaner 

Hotel icon Narendra Bhawan Bikaner

Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner, IndiaWe stayed in Narendra Bhawan Bikaner. It’s an old palace that’s completely renovated and transformed into a luxury boutique hotel. The entire hotel has been put together very thoughtfully. The hotel interiors are Instagram worthy and we took plenty of pictures. We had a beautifully decorated room and loved the outside dining area.

This was one of the best hotels we stayed in during our India trip.

 

Read reviews and check prices here: BOOKING AGODA
If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other hotels in Bikaner on Booking.com: BOOKING

Event iconDay 6-7: Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer is also called the golden city and is known to be one of the hottest towns in India. 

Bus iconDriving time: 190 km- approximately 4 hours.

 

Our Jaisalmer itinerary

We started our day with a visit to the Gadi Sagar Lake.  Next, we wandered through the narrow alleys of Jaisalmer fort which is one of the few “living forts” in the world. One-fourth of the city’s population lives within the fort.

If you visit the fort in the early morning or late afternoon you can avoid most of the tourist masses.

After our visit to the fort, we explored the area around the fort in search of beautiful havelis. Jaisalmer has some very large havelis. Mandawa’s havelis pale in comparison.  Especially the Patwa-ki Haveli and the Nathmal-Ki Haveli are worth a visit. Other havelis worth a detour are Salim Singh-ki-Haveli and Mehra haveli.

After our afternoon siesta we headed to the royal cemetery of Bada Bagh.

This is truly a magical place. The timing turned out to be perfect, the warm light of the sun just before sunset made the yellow sandstone cenotaphs even more picturesque.

You could stay here until sunset but our driver took us to another vista where we could see the sun setting over the fort.  The fort is beautifully lit at night and as it sits on a mountain and rises high above the city you can see it from just about everywhere.

 

For our second night, we went to the nearby Thar desert.  The Thar desert is a popular tourist destination.  As soon as you are a few kilometers in the desert, you see one tented camp after another.

Most offer all-inclusive packages that include all meals and an evening dance performance.  You can expand the package with all kinds of extra experiences like camel rides, jeep dune bashing, balloon flights, and sand dune surfing.  We jumped onto a camel and enjoyed the sunset from one of the bigger sand dunes near our camp.  A very zen experience that was occasionally disrupted by the jeeps with screaming people that were rushing past us.

The possibilities in the Thar desert are endless.  Those who want can make multi-day camel treks although we should warn you that a camel ride is definitely fun but not comfortable.

Where to stay in Jaisalmer

Hotel iconMarriott Jaisalmer

Marriott Jaisalmer IndiaWe loved our stay at Marriott Jaisalmer. We had a modern and comfortable room with a huge bed. The staff was very friendly and accommodating. The buffet breakfast offers a good mix of Indian and western dishes. We also enjoyed the large outdoor pool.

Beautiful hotel with great amenities.

 

 

Read reviews and check prices here: BOOKING AGODA Marriott
If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other hotels in Jaisalmer on Booking.com: BOOKING
Hotel iconPrince Desert Camp

Prince Desert Camp Jaisalmer IndiaThere are lots of desert camps in Jaisalmer. We chose to stay in the Prince Desert camp as it lies further away from the road and other camps.  It promised to offer a more peaceful stay.  It may not be the cheapest camp but some of those seem to attract party squads.

The rooms of the Prince Desert Camp are quite basic but offered all comfort like a queen size bed, 24hrs running water (hot water between 7.30am-9.30am), electricity and air conditioning.

The evening entertainment program had already started when we returned from our camel ride.  It consisted of traditional music and dancing and the occasional magic act.  Once the show was over dinner was waiting for us.  The buffet was not really elaborate but the setting totally made up for this, it’s not often that you can enjoy a meal under a starry sky.

We had a truly memorable night in the Thar desert.

 

Read reviews and check prices here: AGODA
If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other desert camps on Booking.com: BOOKING

Event iconDay 8-10: Jodhpur

Bus iconDriving time: 280 km- approximately 5 hours.

 

Jodhpur has many different names. It is often referred to as the ‘Gateway to Thar’ because it is located right on the border of the Thar Desert.  It is also popularly called the ‘Sun City’ because it experiences mostly bright and sunny days throughout the year. Another name for this city is ‘Blue City’ because the houses around the Mehrangarh Fort are all painted blue.

Our Jodhpur itinerary

We started our discovery of Jodhpur with a visit to the Mandore garden. Mandore was once the capital of the Marwar region before Jodhpur was founded. The park is full of beautifully carved temples and offers excellent picture opportunities. The Mandore park is also home to lots of monkeys.

From here we went to take a look at the ancient Clock tower in Ghanta gar.  The Sadar market surrounds the Clock tower and we took some time to stroll through some of the narrow alleys.  Vendors are selling anything from textiles to handicrafts and sweets.  The place is crowded and hectic and mopeds were passing by awfully close.  It was a little early in the trip to buy souvenirs so we hopped back in our car and headed to the next sight, Jaswant Thada.

The mausoleum Jaswant Thada is also called the Taj Mahal of Jodhpur.  That is because it is also entirely made of white marble. The intricately carved monument is a spectacular sight, just like the garden next to it, which has 3 more small cenotaphs.  Both are also very well maintained, Jaswant Thada is certainly one of the top things to visit in Jodhpur.

The Jaswant Thada is located next to the main road that heads to the Mehrangarh Fort.  After visiting the mausoleum we continued our way to the fort which is situated on a cliff and offers a nice view of the city.  This fort is one of the largest of whole India and the tour in the fort takes several hours.

Being nature lovers, we also loved our visit to the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park. This botanical Park borders the fort and has several hiking trails.  All trails shouldn’t take longer than a few hours although this might depend on the time of day and your fitness level.

We advise going here around sunset as it’s less hot and you will have a beautiful view on the Mehrangarh Fort which turns deep brown as the sun sets.

We also saw plenty of birds and other wildlife during our hike. This is a great place if you love hiking but the park is already worth a visit if just for the view of the fort.

As you walk through the park you will notice the ziplines of the Flying Fox.  They advertise their zip lines as if you would fly over the fort but in reality, you zip over the eco park.  You start in the fort and then alternately fly away from and towards the fort.

We were initially somewhat disappointed because we did not fly over the fort but the 3 zips towards the fort offered stunning views and more than made up for it.

Just as with the Rao Jodha park we would advise to book your zip line adventure around sunset.

 

Where to stay in Jodhpur

Hotel iconRaas hotel

Raas Hotel Jodhpur IndiaThe Raas hotel is situated perfectly in the center of Jodhpur.  The hotel has beautifully designed and spacious rooms and is run by super friendly staff. The only negative aspect might be that the hotel is located next to a mosque so you hear the prayer calls by the Muezzin. The hotel offers earplugs but if you are a light sleeper you might want to consider staying somewhere else.

Read reviews and check prices here: BOOKING AGODA
If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other hotels in Jodhpur on Booking.com: BOOKING

Event iconDay 11-12: Udaipur

Our next stop on our Rajasthan itinerary is Udaipur. On the way, we made a stop at Ranakpur to visit the renowned Jain Temple.

It is said to be one of the most striking Jain temples.  The numerous pillars are indeed beautifully carved as well as all domes.  This temple is not in a city but amidst a lush green forest that houses many monkeys.  That makes him extra picturesque.

The temple is commercially run and that feels a bit odd as the audio guide mentions how the underlying principles of Jainism are to conquer the materialism needs.  The same is true for the priests that hang around in the temple and offer so-called blessings in exchange for money.  Those blessings just seemed like one more scam.

To visit the temple you need to make a small detour.  The road becomes more scenic with every turn you take as you approach the temple.  It is a magnificent temple but if by now you have become allergic to the intrusive Indian selling practices and scams you might consider skipping this temple.

Beware of the priests who are chasing you to offer a blessing if you do not want to pay for it.

Bus iconDriving time: 200 km- approximately 4h30.

 

Our Udaipur itinerary

Udaipur was one of our favorite cities in Rajasthan. We spend 2 wonderful days here.

We started by visiting the City Palace which is built on the banks of Lake Pichola.  We thought this was the most beautiful palace we visited on our trip.

After our visit, we did a sunset boat trip on the lake.  This was the absolute highlight of our visit to Udaipur.

The boats leave at the Lake Pichola Municipal Boat Ride Point and cruise around the lake for about one hour.  The golden hues the sun casts on the lake palaces are absolutely stunning.

City Palace Udaipur, India

We noticed how a ceremony was going on in the Jagdish temple while we were strolling back to our hotel after our diner.  We heard many musical instruments and chants and curious as we are we approached the temple to take a closer look and were even invited inside.  It was a fascinating experience to attend this ceremony and the hospitality we were shown here was in stark contrast to the experience we had earlier on in the Ranakpur Jain temple.

Where to stay in Udaipur

Hotel icon The Neem tree

The Neem Tree Udaipur IndiaWe stayed in the Neem tree,small boutique hotel with only 8 rooms in the middle of the old city.  The location is great, just a 5 minute walk to the beautiful City Palace and lots of shops and restaurants. The hotel has spacious rooms.  A simple breakfast is served under the neem tree. We enjoyed the small pool. But the best is the rooftop terrace from which you have a fantastic view of the palace. 

Beautiful boutique style hotel in the heart of Old Udaipur.

 

Read reviews and check prices here: BOOKING AGODA
If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other hotels in Udaipur on Booking.com: BOOKING

Event iconDay 13: Pushkar

Pushkar, our next stop, counts over 500 temples and is a local pilgrimage site for Hindus and Sikhs. The small town is also famous for it’s Camel fair that takes place every year in November.

Bus iconDriving time: 135 km- approximately 3h30

 

Our driver dropped us near the city center from where we made a small walk to the holy lake. It’s a serene place and you can see how the pilgrims perform their holy rituals.  Other people are bathing in the lake and we saw how some priests were performing the puja ceremonies.

Beware of such called local priest who will offer you flowers or insist that you need to attend a puja ceremony if you want to enter a ghat. These puja ceremonies are not obligatory and just another scam that will cost you anything from 1000 rupees to a multifold of that.  Firmly say ‘NO’ each time they offer you something.  Just move on if they refuse to let you into that particular ghat, there are many other ghats and they all look the same.

We leave the lake behind us and continue our way through a shopping street towards the famous Brahma temple.  The Jagatpita Brahma Mandir is one of few Hindi temples that is dedicated to the god Brahma. The striking red spires and domes make the temple stand out from most other temples you see in India.

We ended up not going inside as they wouldn’t allow us inside with our camera or mobile phone.  They wanted us to leave our cameras and mobile phones in a free locker but we had just met another couple that told us how they had to pay more than 1000 rupees to get their stuff back at this temple.  The supposedly free lockers turn out to be rather expensive once you want to collect your belongings. The fact that Indian people could just take their cameras inside made us even more suspicious so we decided to skip this temple.

We read some of the reviews of the temple that night and some of them describe the scams that are going on at this temple.  Be sure you don’t fall for them.

Pushkar counts one more famous temple, the Savitri temple, which is located on a mountain outside the temple.  It’s worthwhile to go up the mountain with the cable car,  not so much for the temple itself but rather for the view of Pushkar. You can also hike up or down the mountain, they have recently created a new pathway.

We did not find Pushkar that special. The fact that we were almost everywhere bothered with scams has certainly played a part in this.  It was worth seeing the holy lake but the lake in itself is not enough to wholeheartedly state that Pushkar is an absolute must.  If you’re short in time Pushkar might be something you want to skip.

Where to stay in Pushkar

Hotel iconWestin Pushkar 

Westin Pushkar IndiaWe absolutely loved our stay in the Westin in Pushkar. We had a wonderful villa with private pool. The bed was super comfy. The dinner was perfect and we loved the breakfast buffet. The only downside is that the hotel is quite far away from the center but since we had a driver this wasn’t a problem for us.

Excellent property to pamper yourself a few days.

 

Read reviews and check prices here: BOOKING AGODA
If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other hotels in Pushkar on Booking.com: BOOKING

Event iconDay 14-15: Jaipur

Bus iconDriving time: 280 km- approximately 5 hours.

 

We continue our journey to Jaipur, the pink city.

Bus icon

Driving time: 145 km- approximately 4 hours.

 

Things to do in Jaipur

We felt like a maharaja in the city palace and learned about astronomy at the nearby Jantar Mantar observatory. We also wandered through the gigantic Amer fort and almost got lost in it’s maze of winding narrow corridors.  From the Amer fort, we headed to the nearby Panna Meena ka Kund medieval stepwell.  These medieval stepwells are known for their picturesque symmetrical stairways.

It’s normally not allowed to take your picture on the stairs but you can try to make arrangements with the guards.

From here we made our way back to the city.  Be sure to make a photo stop at Sagar Lake on the way back to Jaipur. In the center of the lake is the Jal Mahal palace which effectively means Water Palace.  The palace is a 5-story building but usually, 3 or 4 of the floors remain underwater.

We also made a photo stop at the Hawa Mahal, commonly known as the palace of the wind.  The exterior can best be described as the honeycomb of a beehive.  It contains hundreds of small windows and each of them is meticulously decorated.  These windows, called jharokhas, allowed the royal ladies to follow the festivals that happened on the street without being seen by the public. They were strictly forbidden to appear in public without face coverings as stipulated in the “purdah”.

The palace is incredibly beautiful from the outside but according to our driver, the inside is not nearly as spectacular.  If you do want to visit the palace you could combine it with the nearby city palace.

Photo tip: You can take great pictures of the palace when the sunlight just hits the beehive-like wall in the morning.

The Galwar Bagh, among tourists known as the Monkey temple, is located slightly outside Jaipur in a narrow gap in the mountain range that borders Jaipur.  It’s officially called the Sita Ram-ji temple and is part of the Galta-ji pilgrimage site.  We visited this temple on the afternoon of our second day in Jaipur.

Here you can find our detailed 2 day Jaipur itinerary.

 

If you are traveling with kids, here you will find a list of great places to visit with kids while you are in Jaipur. 

Pilgrims bathe in the sacred baths that are filled by the river that flows through the temple complex.  There is, of course, a reason that the temple is called the Monkey temple.  Nowadays more monkeys than pilgrims wander through the temple complex and they also enjoy the baths.

At the temple entrance, some people may offer their services to protect you from the monkeys.  This is absolutely unnecessary. Nowhere have we met more well-behaved monkeys than here.   🙂 They didn’t bother us at all.

If you go all the way up to the Sun temple you might get a good view of Jaipur if there is not too much haze or smog.

There is no entry fee for the temple but they charge a camera fee of Rs 50.

 

It was a lot of fun to watch the monkeys jump and play in the temple’s baths.

Where to stay in Jaipur

Hotel iconITC Rajputana

ITC Rajputana Jaipur IndiaThe ITC Rajputana is a very beautiful hotel with clean and spacious rooms. Friendly and wonderful staff. Excellent buffet breakfast. 

 

 

 

Read reviews and check prices here: BOOKING AGODA

If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other hotels in Jaipur on Booking.com: BOOKING

Event iconDay 16-17: Ranthambore

Rajasthan is not all about temples and fortresses. These beautiful monuments are unlike anything we have ever seen before but our visit to Ranthambore was another highlight of our trip.   The national park of Ranthambore is famous for its tigers and we certainly hoped to spot at least one but as soon as we entered the park we were impressed by its beauty.  The park in itself is already worth a visit just for its scenery, certainly shortly after the monsoon season when everything is lush green and in full bloom.

Bus iconDriving time: 265 km- approximately 6 hours.

 

Ranthambore national park is open from October first to 30th June. The rest of the time the park is closed to visitors.

Things to do in Ranthambore

Ranthambore is one of the best national parks to spot tigers in India. Besides tigers, the park is also home to sloth bears, lots of deer, peacocks and plenty of colorful birds.

We visited the park early in October shortly after the monsoon season and it was a lovely green oasis.  We found this park’s scenery to be more beautiful than the arid landscape of Kruger in South Africa.  Kruger Park is a wide stretched-out dull plain with some bushes and low trees.  The park in itself wouldn’t be worth a detour if it weren’t for the animals that live there.  Ranthambore is something completely different.  Over the course of our 3 game drives, we visited 3 different regions and saw beautiful lagoons, impressive cliffs, waterfalls, an overgrown palace and, of course, a fortress.

The downside of this season is that the lush green scenery provides many opportunities for the animals to hide.  The chances to spot tigers in October are a mere 20 percent.

The best time to visit Ranthambore and spot tigers is during summer from April to June.   There is less water in summer and the activity of the animals will be concentrated around the few watering holes that remain.  The greenery will also be less dense.  Both make it easier for the guides to find the animals.

The park can only be explored with an organized safari. These can be booked through the hotel or a tour organization but by far the cheapest option is to buy your tickets yourself online. You can do this on the official government site.  The booking process will also allow you to choose the zones where you want to do your safari.

You will need a lot of patience as it took us almost a day to complete our order. Here are the instructions on how to do this.  Don’t wait too long to book the tickets because the tour organizations book large packs of tickets in advance to resell and this limits the number of available seats available to regular clients.

Tickets that you book with your hotel or with a tour organization are significantly more expensive and you will not be able to choose the zones.

The park has been subdivided into 10 zones to spread the number of tourists over the park.  Each zone only allows a limited number of gypsy and canters.  The sightings of tigers are different in the different zones so it is certainly in your advantage to be able to choose your zone yourself.

Ranthambore tiger, India

It seems that over the past years zones 2 to 6 have been the best safari zones but this could change overnight.  We would advise doing some research on the different zones before you book your safari.  Going through the many discussions on the TripAdvisor forums should give you a good idea about the recent sightings.

The safaris are done in either a gypsy (6 seats) or a canter (20 seats).  A gypsy is an open jeep.  These have the advantage that they can reach more areas in the park and they can also react very fast when they hear about a tiger sighting somewhere in your zone.  The drivers will rush to the spot in real Paris-Dakar style.  In addition to what we stated already, we also found that the canters are less comfortable and it goes without saying that you have less contact with the guide.

We really recommend booking a gypsy whenever you can as we strongly believe that this will increase your chances to see a tiger.

Our tips to spot a tiger

Do as many safaris as you can.  Even if you’re lucky enough to see a tiger on your first safari you still can get a better sighting on your subsequent drives in the park.

Chances to spot tigers are higher on the morning safaris.  It is still cooler and the tigers will be more active. If you need to skip one safari, make it an evening safari

Book a gypsy for your safaris

Do some research on which zones have the most sightings before you book.

You must collect your tickets for a morning safari the day before. When you have an afternoon safari, you must collect your tickets on the morning of the same day. We are not sure how this works as our hotel took care of this.  We paid the hotel 100 rupees per collected ticket.  

If you go on a morning safari bring a warm jacket, gloves and a cap or hat.

Where to stay in Ranthambore

Hotel icon Ranthambhore Heritage Haveli 

Ranthambhore Heritage Haveli Ranthambore IndiaThe Ranthambore heritage Haveli hotel is located very close to one of the Ranthambore park entrances. The hotel has very friendly staff that is keen to help for any request. The location of the hotel is very far from the central area, you will not be able to go outside the hotel without a car.  Not that you will miss something. When we drove through the city it looked like a long row of hotels and there didn’t seem to be many restaurants or bars.

Good value for money.

 

Read reviews and check prices here: BOOKING AGODA
If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other hotels in Ranthambore on Booking.com: BOOKING

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Event iconDay 18-19: Agra

Today we drive to Agra. On your way from Jaipur or Ranthambore to Agra, you can make a stop in Fatehpur Sikri a fortified ancient city which was for a short time the capital of the Mughal empire.

Bus iconDriving time: 265 km- approximately 6 hours.

Things to do in Agra

Visiting The Taj Mahal at sunrise was one of the highlights of our India trip.  The colors of the first sun rays on the white domes of the Taj Mahal are fabulous.

The monument opens at sunrise and people will already be queueing well in advance.  Still, these lines are nothing compared to the masses that visit the Taj during the day.  We managed to take some nice pictures before it got really crowded.

It is very easy to buy tickets for the Taj Mahal online.  If you have tickets you no longer have to queue at the ticket office and you can directly join the line at the entrance.

Buy your tickets for the Taj in advance online (Click the link on the left, scroll down and click on ‘online ticket’).

Picture tip:  Most people stop as soon as they passed the main entrance and get a first sight of the Taj Mahal.  It is indeed tempting to start a complete photo shoot at this point but just hold on a few more minutes and continue straight towards the Taj.  In front of the Taj head to your right and walk to the Eastern Square.  This offers the best views at sunrise and the square is not crowded at all. Most people will follow the normal guided route and it will take them at least an hour to reach this point.  Once you’re pleased with the pictures you have you can leave the square and do the normal tour.

We also visited the Tomb of Itimad Ud Daulah, better known as the Baby Taj, and got a glimpse of the Agra Fort.

Where to stay in Agra

As you have to wake up early to see the Taj Mahal, we recommend this hotel that is relatively close to the entrance.

Hotel iconITC Mughal

 

 ITC Mughal Agra IndiaWe loved our stay in the ITC Mughal. Besides, that is only a 10-minute drive to The Taj Mahal we stayed in a very beautiful and comfortable room. The hotel also serves a very tasty breakfast. The hotel’s pool is an excellent place to relax a few hours after an awe-inspiring morning at the Taj.

We really recommend this hotel. It was like a beautiful oasis in a quite dirt city.

Read reviews and check prices here: BOOKING AGODA
If you aren’t convinced of this hotel, you will find a lot of other hotels in Agra on Booking.com: BOOKING

Event iconDay 20-21: New Delhi 

Bus icon

Driving time: 205 km- approximately 4 hours.

 

The Yamuna Expressway is an expensive privately managed toll road that connects Agra with New Delhi. Because of the high tolls, the road is almost only used by tourist buses.  This highway is different in all respects from the roads you have traveled in the past 3 weeks.  It is well maintained, there are no animals on the road and there’re no traffic jams.

We have discussed all the sights of Delhi during day 1.  Personally, we had kept Chadni Chowk, the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid mosque for our last day.  These are the busiest sights and afterwards we were glad that we planned our visit as such.

Conclusion

Most people spend about a week in Rajasthan and visit Jaipur, Agra and New Delhi, the so-called Golden Triangle.  This tour is much more extensive and takes you to other beautiful places such as Udaipur and Ranthambore (two of our absolute favorites).

The Taj Mahal in Agra is of course one of the highlights of this trip and therefor we have arranged the tour counter-clockwise so we can save the best for last.  You will spend a lot of time in the car as you go from one city to the other.  The distances are often not that big but the road conditions and the horrible traffic mean that you generally drive not more than 40 km/hour.  Domestic flights could be an alternative, tour operators will be able to arrange another driver to pick you up at the airport each time.

Regardless of whether you are flying or driving, you will have enough time to view all the sights.

Most tour operators will cram this itinerary in 14 or 15 days but we prefer to take it slow.  We took in mind the heat and the fact that you might prefer to spend some afternoon hours by the pool rather than in a sweaty sultry temple.

We haven’t visited Varanasi and cannot give any advice about this place.  It seems that either you hate it or you love it.  From what we heard it’s the summum of Indian culture and it will attack all of your senses.  If you want to visit Varanasi you can add it to this itinerary between Agra and New Delhi.

Rajasthan is the cultural hotspot of India.  The many beautiful palaces and fortresses are remnants of a rich but long-gone era.  All of them are worth a visit but the trip can be monotonous.

If you want some variety you should have a look at our itinerary that combines Kerala or you could extend this trip with a 7 day Kerala itinerary or with a visit to the Himalaya region.

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Rajasthan itinerary

 

 

 

Categories: India

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