Before we left England people warned us that Rajasthan would be an ‘assault on our senses,’ they said; the stench of burning rubbish, children begging in the streets and for a clean freak like me – the lack of basic hygiene. Daily life in India is a world away from our home land in England. We had originally planned four weeks in Rajasthan, but in reality India hasn’t been the easiest of countries to navigate. So we crammed five cities into just three weeks. Looking back I think this is the perfect amount of time needed to enjoy this unique place.
Highlights of this 3 week itinerary in Rajasthan:
- Discovering the Golden city of Jaisalmer including an overnight camel safari in the Thar Desert.
- Wandering the blue alleys of Jodhpur and dining at the world famous RAAS hotel.
- The BEST homestay in Jaipur (and for our fitness readers, the best gym we discovered in the whole of India).
- The dazzling white carvings of the Taj Mahal in Agra.
- Why you shouldn’t waste your time in Delhi.
It’s likely that you’ll be flying into Delhi or Mumbai as those are the big international airports. For the purposes of this guide, the adventure starts in Delhi.
Why you shouldn’t waste your time in Delhi
Delhi is the second most populated city in the world. The pollution is suffocating and rain falls as black droplets against your skin. ‘Get in, get out’ is what I would recommend.
You’ll only need one day to get a taste of the city. The tourist attractions and sights aren’t that memorable and won’t keep your attention for long. If you are keen to do some sightseeing then look out for the colourful market in old Delhi called Chandni Market, the war memorial at India Gate and the largest mosque in India – Jama Masjid. But you can easily miss these. Avoid any forts or palaces, you’ll find more interesting ones across Rajasthan.
Length of stay: 1 day, 2 nights is enough, but you could easily choose to skip this completely.
Where to stay: There are two options here, you can either stay in one of the luxury 5 star hotels, which are like mini cities that you never have to leave (price £150 per night and up) or choose a cheaper option that will leave you wishing you’d paid for a touch of luxury! If you’re on a budget, look for hotels around Connaught Place, anywhere else and westerners may struggle to find restaurants clean enough for our sensitive stomachs.
Take in the beauty of the Taj Mahal in Agra
From Delhi make your way to Agra. As this is a busy route, a taxi may be just as affordable as the train so do your research.
Wake early to visit the Taj Mahal before the crowds come. Take your camera, wallet and water bottle – leave the rest of your belongings in your hotel. You won’t be allowed them inside as in the past people have graffitied the walls.
The Taj Mahal is by far the best kept monument I saw in India; the gardens are watered and pigeons are at a minimum. On certain days entrance is free for foreigners. Sunrise and sunset are excellent options, although weren’t possible for us because of the smog.
Visit the Agra Fort, your first experience of the lavish homes of mughal emperors. Again leave your bag at home as you won’t be allowed to take it inside.
Make your way to the Mehtab Bagh for sunset over the Taj Mahal. This well kept garden was going to be the building spot for the legendary Black Taj, but the Emperor died before its completion.
Length of stay: 1-2 full days is ideal. Beside the attractions mentioned above, Agra has little to offer and the town is almost as smoggy as Delhi.
Where to stay: We stayed at Tara Optimum Palace, just 500m from the East Gate. It wasn’t my favourite hotel, but the location was amazing. Oh and avoid the breakfast. We ate a few times at the Crystal Sarovar Premiere, the rooftop tandoori grill is amazing and the lunch buffet pretty good too.
Experience the BEST homestay in Jaipur
From Agra take a train / taxi ride to Jaipur (appox. 5hrs).
This is where you can experience the BEST homestay in India with hosts Kavita, Ramen and their family. The rooms are tastefully decorated and bathrooms modern. Taste the home cooking by chef Bala. Each day she serves a different breakfast from regions all around India. Book your stay here.
Jaipur is known as the textile and jewellery capital of Rajasthan and a great place for a touch of shopping. Take in its many famous bazaars (shopping streets). If you’re a fan of block printed fabrics then a visit to Anokhi is a must, the adjoining café is highly recommended.
In the 1800s when Prince Albert of England was touring the region, the town was painted in its iconic terracotta pink colour to celebrate his visit. From this Jaipur earned its name as the Pink City and it is now a legal requirement for all buildings inside the historic city walls to be painted in pink.
For a taste of Bollywood culture take in a film at the Art Deco inspired Raj Mandir Cinema.
A city tour with Hidden Jaipur is a good option for an in-depth look at real life in the city.
Visit the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds, short for windows) where the King’s many wives would look down on the street below. You can pay to go inside, but the building façade is the real highlight.
Located 13km from Jaipur is the Amber Palace. Of all the forts and palaces in Rajasthan, this is by far the most beautiful and is a must see.
Take a moment to breathe at the Jantar Mantar – a fascinating look at an early astronomical observatory. The park is a wonderful place to take a moment away from the busy streets outside.
Length of stay: 3 days would allow for sightseeing and a touch of shopping.
Where to stay: Kavita and Ramen’s homestay is a must. It is centrally located near the Raj Mandir cinema.
Where to workout: Just around the corner from the Raj Mandir Cinema is the BEST gym we discovered in the whole of India – an Anytime Fitness franchise. Great equipment and its clean – what a relief!
Discover the desert city of Jaisalmer
Take a train / plane to Jaisalmer. We opted for the plane with SpiceJet which took around 1.5hrs and cost around £40 each, as opposed to a 13hr train ride.
Jaisalmer is the last major town before the border with Pakistan. Known as the Golden City, the buildings have been crafted from local sandstone. It was one of our favourite places in Rajasthan, as it had a relatively calm and tranquil feeling to it compared to the chaos of Delhi and Agra.
High upon a hill in the centre of the town is the Fort. It is believed to be one of the few remaining ‘living forts’ in the world with around 4,000 inhabitants. Walk through the narrow alleys and ask a local for the lookout point to take in an aerial view of the city below. Spot children flying kites from the rooftops.
Hire a tuk-tuk to take you to the Royal Cenotaphs of Bada Bagh, which translates as ‘big garden’. Located 6km out of the city, this is where the Kings and Queens of Jaisalmer were buried from as early as the 16th Century. Visit at sunset for the best views.
An overnight stay in the desert is a must. There are tons of desert camps so do your research. Avoid camps which are clustered together, instead try to find one that is remote. We stayed at Prince Desert Camp which was fabulous. Combine your stay with a camel safari and watch the sunset over the dunes. If you’re feeling adventurous, I’ve heard the best way to experience the desert is a stay out in the open under the stars. Contact the Secret House for details of how to arrange.
Length of stay: Take some time to relax and enjoy a night in the desert, 4 days should be enough.
Where to stay: An absolute must is The Secret House. Owners Naru and his Spanish wife Slyvia have decorated this house to perfection and it comes with fabulous views of the fort from the rooftop. Prince Desert Camp is highly recommended for a desert stay.
Where to eat: The Secret House serves a fabulous Biryani. If Italian is your thing, visit 1st Gate Hotel – the coffee is the best in found in Rajasthan.
Where to workout: We paid to use the gym at the local Marriot hotel – at 700 rupees (around £8) it wasn’t the cheapest, but included use of the pool! Or if budget allows, 1st Gate Hotel has a decent gym.
Wander around the blue alleys of Jodhpur
From Jaisalmer, travel east towards Jodhpur (approx. 6 hrs by train).
Jodhpur is a photographers dream. You can easily pass a day or two wandering through the wonderful blue alleys. To help you navigate them and to learn about this unique city, hire a guide for just 500 rupees per person (approx. £6).
A climb to the fort will get our heart racing (it’s steep!) You’ll be rewarded with fabulous views over the rooftops. By this stage we had seen out fair share of forts and palaces so did not pay to go inside.
Head to the city Stepwell for a taste of Indian engineering at its best. This stepwell used to supply water to the entire city, now it mainly serves as a tourist attraction. Enjoy a refreshing drink on the balcony at the Stepwell Café, perched high above the stepwell.
Length of stay: 2-3 days should be sufficient.
Where to stay: We stayed at Singhvi’s Haveli which had fabulous views from its many balconies. Alternatively, look for somewhere to stay nearer the RAAS as there are plenty of restaurants in that area.
Where to eat: If budget allows book a table at the world famous RAAS hotel, with the most magical setting just underneath the fort. For a daytime option, head to the Cafe Royale at the Clock Tower and sample the best spiced chai I had in the whole of India, and a toasted cheese pav bun – yum!
3 weeks in Rajasthan: Delhi to Jaisalmer
This brings you to the end of my suggested itinerary through Rajasthan. There are a number of other recommended stops along the way including Udaipur and Pushkar. You may also like to include a stay in a more remote farming or village community. We met one couple who spent some time on a horse ranch outside Udaipur and loved it.
From here we flew down to the beaches of Goa, but you can easily fly / take a train towards Mumbai and Delhi for your trip home.