For the quintessential Rajasthan experience—packed with forts, food, and shopping—Jaipur is the best place to start. Hike around Amber Fort and the Jantar Mantar observatory, near the City Palace. Stock up on bandhani-printed saris and dupattas, comfy cotton Jaipuri quilts, and colourful mojaris at bustling markets like Bapu Bazaar. And when the hunger pangs begin, dig into laal maas, bajra roti, and pyaaz kachoris at its many restaurants. Jaipur is filled with hotels across budgets. Samode Haveli and 28 Kothi are great boutique options.
Getting There Jaipur is approx. 12km/30min from Jaipur International Airport and approx. 2km/10min from Jaipur Junction railway station.
At Suryagarh, have dinner on the dunes or take a night-time tour of cemeteries and abandoned towns closeby. Photo courtesy Suryagarh
Suryagarh hotel offers a luxurious, Rajasthani experience. Located on the outskirts of Jaisalmer, the hotel occupies a sandstone fort and has large rooms furnished with handwoven fabrics in earthy tones. The food is especially good, and guests can start the day with parathas, kachoris, samosas, or the heart-stopping halwai breakfast. The kitchen is adept at serving both traditional Marwari and Western fare. Suryagarh also curates a number of heritage and wildlife tours—go birdwatching in Desert National Park, near Jaisalmer, home to the critically endangered great Indian bustard. The sanctuary is also on UNESCO’s tentative list of world heritage sites. Read more here.
Getting There Suryagarh is approx. 300km/5hr from the city of Jodhpur, which is home to the closest airport and railway station.
Udaipur, which translates to “city of dawn”, grew along the banks of Lake Pichola. Photo: Jose Fuste Raga/Premium/Dinodia Photo Library
Udaipur hugs the fringes of the shimmering Lake Pichola. Named after its founder Maharana Udai Singh II, the city has fairy-tale palaces, havelis, and streets lined with stores selling jewellery and miniature Mughal paintings. There is plenty of sightseeing to do—its City Palace was built by various Mewar rulers over four and a half centuries. But Udaipur has smaller charms too, like the many rooftop restaurants that serve all-you-can-eat thalis and have dinner-time screening of Octopussy, the James Bond film that was shot in the city. The Maharaja’s vintage car collection, displayed at Garden Hotel includes a 1934 Rolls Royce Phantom II in mint condition. For more ideas, use our Udaipur guide.
Getting There Udaipur is 20km/30min from Maharana Pratap Airport, and approx. 4km/10min from Udaipur City railway station.
Among India’s best-preserved forts, Mehrangarh has a museum with a priceless collection of miniature Mughal paintings. Photo: Aaron Su/Flickr/Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
The stoic Mehrangarh Fort towers over the blue city of Jodhpur. No visit to the city is complete without exploring the sprawling sandstone structure, and there are numerous ways to do this. Take a walking tour with one of their moustachioed guides, zipline over it for top-down views of its gardens and lakes, or visit the fort during one of the three music festivals that are held here: World Sacred Spirit Festival, Rajasthan International Folk Festival or the Jodhpur Flamenco Gypsy Festival. Mehrangarh has one of the country’s finest museums but Jodhpur city is fun too: great for textile shopping and rich thalis. The Bishnoi tribe, a semi-nomadic tribe known for their indigenous conservation methods, live about 45 minutes by road from the fort; visiting them is an eye-opening excursion.
Getting There Jodhpur is approx. 6km/15min from Jodhpur Airport, and approx. 8km/20min from Jodhpur Junction railway station.
Frescoes from a home in Shekhawati depicting scenes from Krishna’s raas leela. Photo: Neha Dara
Shekhwati is a region in north-eastern Rajasthan known for its heritage havelis. Homes in towns such as Mandawa and cities like Churu bear frescoes that date back to the 19th century, and though most are weathered by the elements, they are still rich in detail. Check into a haveli stay like the Vivaana Culture Hotel near Mandawa, for a glimpse of a well maintained haveli. Mandawa is now famous for its appearances in Bollywood films (more here), while Churu, not too far away, has a lively market and havelis with vibrant paintings in the Bikaner style. Use our guide to navigate your way through Churu. For an edgier haveli experience, time your visit with the annual Magnetic Fields music festival (December 9-11, 2016), which takes place at the regal Alsisar Mahal.
Getting There The region of Shekhawati comprises towns like Mandawa and cities like Churu. The closest airport is in Jaipur, approx. 185km/3hr10min from Mandawa and 216km/3hr30min from Churu. Jhunjhunu is the closest railway station in Shekhawati.
Nights at Osian Sand Dunes Resort Camp are spent swapping stories around a bonfire, or spotting constellations in the sky. Photo courtesy Osian Sand Dunes Resort Camp
For the complete desert experience, check into Osian Sand Dunes Resort and Camp, which has 15 well-appointed tents. The resort offers camel rides, tours of nearby villages, and wildlife trips to see Indian gazelles and migratory birds like the demoiselle cranes. Osian is called the Khajuraho of Rajasthan, for its temples that date back to the 8th century, and have elaborately carved erotic sculptures. The Marwar Festival is held here around September and October each year, featuring folk performances depicting the region’s myths and legend.
Getting There Osian is approx. 65km/1hr20min from Jodhpur Airport, and approx. 5km/10min from Osian Railway Station. (+91-98111 37625 / +91-99298 18060)
Once a maharaja’s hunting grounds, Ranthambore National Park has been instrumental in tiger conservation in India. Photo: Bernard DUPONT/Flickr/Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Peacocks, jackals, deer, nilgai, and a host of other animals call Ranthambore National Park home. But the park is most famous for its tigers. Whether you see one or not, it’s unlikely you’ll return without a tiger story. Safaris are par for the course but Ranthambore Fort that can be explored on foot, is also worth an excursion for its views of the surrounding grasslands. There are a range of accommodation options from no-frills RTDC hotels to luxury camps like like Sher Bagh and Khem Villas. The park is open from 1 October to 30 June. April-May is considered the best for tiger-spotting, but it is also the hottest time of year.
Getting There Ranthambore National Park is approx. 157km/3hr from Jaipur International Airport in Jaipur, and approx. 14km/30min from Sawai Madhopur Junction railway station.
Dig into Bikaner’s deep-fried goodies at tiny shops like Bishanlal Babulal Bhujiawala. Photo: Nagarjun Kandukuru/Flickr/Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
There’s more to Bikaner that its famous bhujia, which even has its Geographical Indication tag. The city, located near the India-Pakistan border has fantastic street food, havelis, and the National Research Centre on Camel, where you can get up close and personal with the lanky creatures. Pet baby camels, sample camel milk ice-cream, and then visit the Junagarh Fort which has a de Havilland DH9 fighter plane received as a World War I trophy. For the best of its bazaars, and other must-dos in Bikaner, go here.
Getting There Bikaner is approx. 250km/4.5hr from Jodhpur Airport in Jodhpur, and approx. 1.5km/5min from Bikaner Junction, the closest railway station.
In addition to camel sales, the Pushkar Camel Fair also has moustache competitions, kabaddi matches, and turban-tying contests. Photo: Kevin O’Hara/age fotostock/Dinodia Photo Library
Hindu devotees and hippies jostle for space in this holy town. Pushkar is home to one of the world’s only temples that honour Brahma, the Hindu creator of the world. It also hosts arguably the world’s largest camel fair every year. The colours are bright, and the mood even more so. Take a hot-air balloon ride for breathtaking views, people-watch at rooftop cafes, maybe sample some of the town’s “special” lassi. Sunset camel safaris are a nice way to round off the trip. For more ideas and stay options, go here.
Getting There Pushkar is approx. 150km/2hr40min from Jaipur International Airport in Jaipur, and approx. 2km/5min from Pushkar Terminus, the closest railway station. However, Ajmer Junction (14km/35min) is better connected.
Mornings at Jawai come with the promise of leopard sightings. Photo courtesy SUJÁN/Relais & Chateaux
The rocky hills around the village of Jawai Bandh are prime leopard territory. Learn about how the big cats have coexisted with local tribes for centuries, at the luxuriously appointed Jawai. The camp has 10 tents, and is as much of a conservation effort as a hospitality business, offering a deeply immersive cultural experience. Begin the day with a jeep safari into the scrubland, spend the evening cycling, and tuck into dinner served by candlelight. Meals are prepared with produce sourced from local farmers.
Getting There Jawai Bandh is approx. 165km/2hr45min from Udaipur and Jodhpur, which have the nearest airports, and approx. 15km/20min from Jawai Bandh railway station.
Lakshman Sagar is spread across 32 acres, and was built in the 19th century as a hunting lodge by the then thakur of Raipur. Photo courtesy Lakshman Sagar
A little over two hours from Jodhpur, Lakshman Sagar, is a secluded resort in Rajasthan’s scant shrubland. A former hunting lodge, the resort has 12 cottages surrounding a lake, each with its own rock-cut private pool. The resort organises nature trails and stargazing sessions. Ideal for honeymooners, Lakshman Sagar is great if you’re looking for quiet time alone.
Getting There Lakshman Sagar is approx. 123km/2hr20min from Jodhpur Airport, and approx. 3km/5min from Haripur Railway Station.
Bharatpur is rich in avian life, from small sunbirds to larger steppe eagles. Photo: Devendra Singh
The birdsong is loud in Bharatpur’s Keoladeo National Park. The park started off as a hunting reserve for a maharaja, but is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Around 375 bird species can be spotted in the area, some of them flying in from as far as Siberia and China. Sarus cranes, which are the world’s tallest flying birds, are often sighted in the mudflats. Others include steppe eagles, pale and marsh harriers, laggar falcons, ospreys, and a variety of ducks. The best time to visit is between October and March when the migratory birds are also around. For a break from the birds, visit the modest Lohagarh Fort. Stay options include Hotel Bharatpur Ashok within the park, and Iora Guest House, with clean, simple rooms, just outside the park’s main gate. Refer to our guide for details.
Getting There Bharatpur is approx 54km/1hr from Agra Airport, and approx. 2.5km/10min from Bharatpur Junction, the closest railway station.
Twenty minutes from Jhalawar is the town of Jhalrapatan, home to carved shrines like this sun temple that dates back to around the 11th century. Photo: Olaf Krüger/imageBROKER/Dinodia Photo Library
For a largely tourist-free short break, make your way to Jhalawar. The dusty town is home to rare cultural finds such as rock-cut Buddhist caves, eighth-century sculptures, and a hill fort that is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Jhalawar dates back to 1791, and is full of historical treasures. For a taste of stately heritage, book a room at Prithvi Vilas Palace, the residence of the erstwhile royal family. Read up on the town’s temples and forts here.
Getting There Jhalawar is approx. 233km/4hr30min from Devi Ahilyabai Holkar Airport, the closest airport in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and approx. 30km/45min from Jhalawar Road railway station.
This story has been updated in November 2017.
was formerly a member of National Geographic Traveller India's digital team. Since then, her words have featured in The Hindu, Mint Lounge, Roads & Kingdoms, The Goya Journal, and Condé Nast Traveller India. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro and is on Instagram @fabiolamonteiro.
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