Rajasthan, the “Land of Kings”, is unquestionably king of colour in a land that’s not exactly short of vivid quarters. Jaipur is known as the “Pink City” because of its rosy facades and palaces, and Jodhpur likewise the “Blue City” thanks to its old town’s sky-blue mass of cubic houses. Udaipur’s limewashed waterside palaces gleam white by a distant vista of sawtooth hills, while Jaisalmer’s golden fort stands proud over the shifting sands of the mighty Thar Desert. The total makes Rajasthan perhaps India's most fascinating, absorbing state.
The best travel tips for visiting Rajasthan
Rajasthan’s extravagant palaces, forts and finely carved temples comprise one of the country’s richest crops of architectural monuments. But these exotic buildings are not the only legacy of the region’s prosperous and militaristic history.
Rajasthan’s strong adherence to tradition is precisely what makes it a compelling place to travel around. Swaggering moustaches, colourful turbans, pleated veils and mirror-inlaid saris may be part of the complex language of caste, but to most outsiders they epitomise India at its most exotic.
The route stringing together Rajasthan’s four main staging posts has become one of the most heavily trodden tourist trails in India. Jaipur, the largest of the lot, has stacks to see; Jodhpur is smaller but perhaps even more distinctive; the magical desert city of Jaisalmer, out west, is largely built from local sandstone; and Udaipur down south is undeniably romantic.
In addition, all are surrounded by a number of out-of-town sights; you could easily eat up a week in any of these cities, and you’ll most likely emerge with a clear favourite.
Rough Guides tip: Planning a trip to India? Perhaps our local experts in India can help you!
What to do in Rajasthan
Explore the vibrant tapestry of Rajasthan through a myriad of captivating experiences that showcase its rich culture, breathtaking landscapes, and timeless heritage. We have selected the best things to do in Rajasthan.
#1 Climb up to the Savitri Temple for amazing views of Pushkar
The hilltop Savitri Temple, on the other side of town to the Brahma Temple, offers the best views of the famous lake and holy town. The temple itself is modern, but the image of Savitri is thought to date back to the 7th century.
The half-hour hike to the top (cable cars are also available) is rewarded by matchless vistas over Pushkar and the surrounding desert. It is best done before dawn, to reach the summit for sunrise, though it’s also a great spot to watch the sunset.
#2 Spend a night in the Thar Desert on a camel trek
There’s no better way to experience the Thar Desert than on a camel trek. It’s an irresistibly romantic way to cross the arid sands and sleep under one of the starriest skies in the world.
Bikaner offers a via ble alternative to Jaisalmer as a starting point. This eastern part of the desert is just as scenic as western Thar but not nearly as congested, and people in the villages along the route don’t wait around all day for the chance to sell soft drinks to tourists. There’s also abundant wildlife, with plentiful blackbuck, nilgai and desert foxes.
#3 Lose yourself in Jaisalmer Fort
Jaisalmer is one of the most beautiful and commanding forts in India. Built in 1156AD atop a hill that rises 76m above the town, its 99 enormous bastions enclose a labyrinth of narrow streets dotted with intricately detailed havelis and temples. The entire complex is made from tawny Jurassic sandstone that helps it blend into the surrounding desert landscape and has a gentle glow at sunset.
Jaisalmer is one of the world’s last few living forts, with some 2,000 permanent residents. A paved road with four huge gateways winds up to the fort’s main chowk (square). Large round stones lie atop the ramparts above the entrance, waiting to be pushed down on the heads of approaching enemies.
During the 14th and 15th centuries the chowk was the scene for three terrible acts of johar (mass self-immolation), that saw the women of the royal palace jump from its walls into a giant fire to escape capture from invading forces.
#4 Watch the sun set over Jodhpur
Make sure you catch a sunset over the Blue City, when the day’s final rays light up its spectacular backdrop, the imperious Mehrangarh Fort. For sheer physical presence, few sights in India can rival the mighty Mehrangarh Fort, whose soaring, windowless walls appear to have grown directly out of the enormous rock outcrop on which it stands.
The most elaborate of the royal apartments, the magnificent 1724 Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), has jewel-like stained-glass windows and a gold filigree ceiling, and was used as a venue for dancing, music and poetry recitals. On the walls just inside Loha Pol gate you can see the handprints of Maharaja Man Singh’s widows, placed there in 1843 as they left the palace to commit sati on his funeral pyre – the last mass sati by wives of a Marwari maharaja.
Walk south of the main complex, through the gardens, and you’ll find Chamunda Mataji Temple, Jodhpur’s oldest, which is dedicated to its patron goddess.
#5 Discover your romantic side in fairy-tale Udaipur
Spread around the shores of idyllic Lake Pichola and backdropped by a ring of craggy green hills, Udaipur is India at its most quintessentially romantic. Its ornately turreted and balconied palaces, whitewashed havelis and bathing ghats clustered around the lake – or, in the case of the Lake Palace Hotel and Jag Mandir, floating upon it – are straight out of a fairy-tale.
Not that the city is quite perfect: insensitive lakeside development, appalling traffic and vast hordes of tourists mean that Udaipur is far from unspoilt or undiscovered. Even so, it remains a richly rewarding place to visit, and although it’s possible to take in most of the sights in a few days, many people spend at least a week exploring Udaipur and the various attractions scattered about the surrounding countryside.
North of the city are the historic temples of Nagda, Eklingji, Nathdwara and Kankroli, while to the northwest lie the superb Jain temples of Ranakpur and the rambling fort at Kumbhalgarh.
#6 Go tiger spotting in Ranthambore National Park
Ranthambore National Park is one of the easiest places in the world to see tigers in the wild, thanks to its large and exhibitionist population of big cats. This former royal hunting ground covers more than 1,300sqm and has a population of around 80 Bengal tigers.
Rules about visiting Ranthambore change frequently, but at present the number of vehicles allowed in the park is strictly limited to 15 six-seater jeeps (also known as Gypsies) and 25 canters (open-top buses seating 20 people) during each morning and afternoon session. The safaris operate between October and June.
#7 Experience India’s best birdwatching in Keoladeo National Park
Each winter, flocks of rare birds – and birdwatchers – travel from across Asia and Europe to Keoladeo National Park, a remarkable wetland sanctuary near Bharatpur.
The Park attracts vast numbers of birds thanks to its strategic location, protected status and extensive wetlands. Some 385 species have been recorded here, including around 200 year-round residents along with some 190 migratory species from as far afield as Tibet, China, Siberia and even Europe.
Keoladeo is probably best known for its stupendous array of aquatic birds, which descend en masse on the park’s wetlands following the arrival of the monsoon in July. These include the majestic saras crane and a staggering 2,000 painted storks, as well as snake-necked darters, spoonbills, white ibis and grey pelicans.
The best time to visit is following the monsoon (roughly Oct–Mar), when the weather is dry but the lakes are still full and the migratory birds in residence (although mists in December and January can hinder serious birdwatching).
#8 Explore the rose-coloured Pink City
At the heart of Jaipur lies Jai Singh’s original city, popularly known as the Pink City, enclosed by walls and imposing gateways. It has long been established on tourist itineraries as the third corner of India’s “Golden Triangle”, along with Agra and Delhi.
Though certainly not all pink, many buildings here are painted a distinctively rosy colour – one that was actually intended to camouflage the poor-quality materials from which they were originally constructed. Chromatics aside, one of the Pink City’s most striking features is its regular gridplan, with wide, straight streets, broadening to spacious squares (choupads) at major intersections – a design created in accordance with the Vastu Shastra, a series of ancient Hindu architectural treatises.
For all its colour, however, Jaipur’s heavy traffic, dense crowds and pushy traders make it a taxing place to explore, and many visitors stay just long enough to catch a train to more laidback destinations further west or south. If you can put up with the urban stress, however, the city’s modern outlook and commercial hustle and bustle offer a stimulating contrast to many other places in the state.
Rough Guides tip: To make the most of your visit, buy a “composite” city ticket, a great-value way to see eight of Jaipur’s biggest attractions.
#9 Marvel at the magnificent City Palace
At the heart of Jaipur’s Pink City stands the magnificent City Palace, originally built by Jai Singh in the 1720s and having lost none of its original pomp and splendour. The royal family still occupies part of the palace, advancing in procession on formal occasions through the grand Tripolia Gate on its southern side.
Less exalted visitors enter through a modest gate on the eastern side of the palace that leads into the first of the two main courtyards, centred on the elegant Mubarak Mahal. Built as a reception hall in 1899, the building now holds the museum’s textile collection, housing some of the elaborately woven and brocaded fabrics that formerly graced the royal wardrobe.
On the north side of the courtyard, the Armoury is probably the finest such collection in Rajasthan, a vast array of blood-curdling but often beautifully decorated weapons.
#10 Ponder the astronomical sculptures at Jantar Mantar
South of Jaipur’s City Palace lies the remarkable Jantar Mantar, a large grassy enclosure containing 18 huge stone astronomical measuring devices constructed between 1728 and 1734.
Built at the behest of Jai Singh, he invented many of them himself. Their strange, abstract shapes lend the whole place the look of a weird futuristic sculpture park.
The Jantar Mantar is one of five identically named observatories created by the star-crazed Jai Singh across north India, although his motivation was astrological rather than astronomical.
It’s a good idea to pay for the services of a guide to explain the workings of the observatory, which was able to identify the position and movement of stars and planets, tell the time and even predict the intensity of the monsoon.
Probably the most impressive of the observatory’s constructions is the 27m-high sundial, the Samrat Yantra, which can calculate the time to within two seconds.
#11 Hide out in Hawa Mahal
Jaipur’s most instantly recognisable landmark, the Hawa Mahal, or “Palace of Winds”, stands to the east of the City Palace. To get inside the palace itself you need to walk for five minutes around the rear of the building, following the lane that runs north from Tripolia Bazaar.
It’s best appreciated from the outside (or, even better, the rooftop of nearby Tattoo Cafe) during the early morning, when it glows orange-pink in the rays of the rising sun.
Built in 1799 to enable the women of the court to watch street processions while remaining in purdah, it seems far larger than it really is, thanks to its five-storey facade, which is decked out with hundreds of finely screened windows and balconies.
Once inside, you can climb up the back of the facade to the screened niches from where the ladies of the court would once have looked down, and which still offer superb views over the mayhem of Jaipur below.
#12 Visit the most important Muslim site in India
The Dargah Khwaja Sahib in Ajmer holds the tomb of the great Sufi saint Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti, and is the most important Islamic shrine in India.
The streams of pilgrims and dervishes (it is believed that seven visits here are the equivalent of one to Mecca) especially pick up during Muharram (Muslim New Year) and Eid, and for the saint’s anniversary day, or Urs Mela.
Although Ajmer’s dusty modern roads are choked with traffic, the narrow lanes of the bazaars around the Dargah Khwaja Sahib retain an almost medieval character, with lines of rose-petal stalls and shops selling prayer mats, beads and lengths of gold-edged green silk offerings.
Finely arched Mughal gateways still stand at the main entrances to the old city, whose mosque minarets and domes are overlooked from on high by the crumbling Taragarh fortress.
#13 Hike to the commanding Taragarh Fort
Three kilometres to the southwest of Ajmer, just visible on the ridge high above the city, lies Taragarh Fort. For 2,000 years, it was the most important strategic objective for invading armies in northwest India. Any ruler who successfully breached its walls, rising from a ring of forbidding escarpments, effectively controlled the region’s trade.
The fort is now badly ruined but is still visited in large numbers by pilgrims, who come to pay their respects at what must be one of the few shrines in the world devoted to a tax inspector. Muhammad of Ghor’s chief revenue collector was slain in the Rajput attack of 1202 when, following one of the fort’s rare defeats, its entire Muslim population was put to the sword.
The best way of getting to Taragarh is to trek along the ancient paved pathway from Ajmer, with superb views across the plains and neighbouring hills.
#14 Be blinded by bling at Nasiyan Jain Temple
Perhaps the most bizarre sight in Ajmer is the mirrored Soniji-ki-Nasiya hall adjoining the Nasiyan Jain Temple, or “Red Temple”, in the heart of town.
Commissioned in the 1820s by an Ajmeri diamond magnate, the Swarna Nagari “City of Gold” hall on the upper level contains a huge diorama-style display commemorating the life of Rishabha (or Adinath), the first Jain tirthankara.
The glowing tableau, containing a tonne of gold, features a huge procession of soldiers and elephants carrying the infant tirthankara from Ayodhya to Mount Sumeru to be blessed, while musicians and deities fly overhead.
#15 Discover the history of Akbar Fort and Museum
The small but attractive Akbar’s Fort encloses a rectangular pavilion made of golden sandstone.
It was here, in 1616, that Akbar’s son Jahangir received Sir Thomas Roe, the first British ambassador to be granted an official audience, after four years of trailing between the emperor’s encampments.
Today the old palace houses a small museum displaying mainly Hindu and Jain statues, plus Mughal and Rajput armour and sculpture.
#16 Soak up the spectacle at sacred Lake Pushkar
Everything in Pushkar revolves around the lake, with its 500 beautiful whitewashed temples connected to the water by 52 ghats – one for each of Rajasthan’s maharajas.
Primary among the Ghats is Gau Ghat, sometimes called Main Ghat, from which ashes of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri were sprinkled into the lake. Brahma Ghat marks the spot where Brahma himself is said to have worshipped.
At all the ghats, visitors should remove their shoes at a reverential distance from the lake, and refrain from smoking and taking photos, though in general it’s pretty relaxed.
Don’t miss the “shows”, which take place at sunset most days in season at Jaipur Ghat, to the east of the lake; this is where free-spirited travellers come to say goodnight to Lord Ra with the aid of dancing, fire juggling, yoga, tai chi and the like. Their posturing usually ends up of immense amusement to Indian visitors, which is great fun to watch in itself.
#17 Explore some of the 500 temples
There are more than 500 temples in and around Pushkar, although some, like the splendid Vishnu Temple, are out of bounds to non-Hindus. Pushkar’s most important shrine, the Brahma Temple, houses a four-headed image of Brahma in its main sanctuary, and is one of the few temples in India devoted to him.
Raised on a stepped platform in the centre of a courtyard, the inevitably crowded chamber is surrounded on three sides by smaller subsidiary shrines topped with flat roofs providing views across the desert to Savitri Temple on the summit of a nearby hill. The one-hour climb to the top of that hill is rewarded by matchless vistas over the town, surrounded on all sides by desert.
#18 Dip a toe in Kartika Purnima festival in Pushkar
Pushkar’s lake is revered as one of India’s most sacred sites: Pushkaraj Maharaj, literally “Pushkar King of Kings”. Hindus visit year-round to take a dip in its redemptory waters, but there’s one particular time – the full moon (purnima) of the Kartika month (usually November) – when bathing here is believed to relieve devotees of all their sins.
During the five days leading up to and including the full moon, Pushkar hosts thousands of celebrating devotees, who follow prescribed rituals on the lakeside and in the Brahma Temple. The event marks the anniversary of the gods’ mass meeting, or yagya, and those who bathe here then are believed to have their souls cleansed of all impurities.
#19 Buy a souvenir at Pushkar’s annual camel fair
Kartika Purnima also offers an opportunity for hordes of camel herders from all over Rajasthan to gather. Over the week-long camel fair they’ll parade, race and trade more than 40,000 animals. With the surplus livestock sold, the villagers have a little money to spend enjoying themselves.
This creates a lighthearted atmosphere that’s generally absent from most other Rajasthani livestock fairs, backed up with entertainments including camel races, moustache competitions and a popular funfair. The popularity of Pushkar’s fair has – inevitably – had an effect on the event, with camera-toting package tourists now bumping elbows with the event’s traditional pilgrims and camel traders.
But while the commercialism can be off-putting, the festive environment and coming together of cultures does produce some spontaneous mirth: in 2004, the second prize in the moustache contest was won by a Mancunian.
#20 Visit Khetri Mahal sandstone palace
Hidden in the alleyways west of Nehru Bazaar is Jhunjhunu’s most striking building, the magnificent Khetri Mahal of 1770. This superb, open-sided sandstone palace with cusped Islamic-style arches wouldn’t look out of place amid the great Indo-Islamic monuments of Fatehpur Sikri.
The whole edifice seems incongruously grand amid the modest streets of central Jhunjhunu and is largely abandoned, save for the upper terraces that serve as impromptu open-air classrooms for local schoolchildren. A covered ramp, wide enough for horses, winds up to the roof, from where there are sweeping views over the town and across to the massive ramparts of the sturdy Badalgarh Fort on a nearby hilltop.
#21 Admire the murals of Bihari Ji Temple
To the northeast of Jhunjhunu’s Nehru Bazaar, the striking little Bihari Ji Temple features some of the oldest murals in Shekhawati. They were painted in 1776 in black and brown vegetable pigments, including a dramatic depiction inside the central dome of Hanuman’s monkey army taking on the forces of the many-headed demon king Ravana.
#22 Explore the Dargah of Kamaruddin Shah
West of the Khetri Mahal at the foot of the craggy Nehara Pahar lies the Dargah of Kamaruddin Shah. This atmospheric complex comprises a mosque and madrasa (Islamic college) arranged around a pretty courtyard that still retains some of its original murals. The ornate dargah (tomb) of the Sufi saint Kamaruddin Shah is in the centre.
Rough Guides tip: Note that women must wear headscarves.
#23 Marvel at Mertani Baori step-well
North of the centre of Jhunjhunu lies the Mertani Baori, one of the region’s most impressive step-wells. Constructed in 1783 by Mertani, the widow of Sardul Singh, this step-well is thought to be a staggering 30m deep.
#24 See the shrine of Rani Sati Mandir
To the northeast of Jhunjhunu is the extraordinary Rani Sati Mandir, dedicated to a merchant’s wife who committed sati in 1595. The shrine, with its enormous yet intricate facade, is reputedly the richest temple in the country after Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh – although similar claims are made for the Nathdwara temple.
It receives hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year and millions of rupees in donations. Its immense popularity bears witness to the enduring awe with which satis are regarded in the state.
#25 See Shekhawati’s best restored haveli at Podar Haveli Museum
The logical place to start a tour of Nawalgarh is on the east side of town at the magnificent Anandi Lal Podar Haveli, which now houses the Podar Haveli Museum.
Built in 1920, this is one of the few havelis in Shekhawati to have been restored to its original glory, and boasts the most vivid murals in town, including steam trains, soldiers drilling with rifles, and a clever 3D-like panel of a bull’s head that transmogrifies into that of an elephant as you move from left to right.
There’s also a mildly diverting series of exhibits showcasing aspects of Rajasthani life, including musical instruments, turbans and traditional costumes. One hall has some fun models of Rajasthan’s most famous forts.
#26 Experience history at Kamal Morarka Haveli Museum
A short walk to the north of the Podar Haveli Museum lies the fine Kamal Morarka Haveli Museum, decorated with murals of Shiva, Parvati, Krishna and Jesus, plus a baithak complete with a fine old hand-pulled fan (punkah).
Directly opposite the Morarka Haveli lies the eye-catching Krishna (Gher Ka) Mandir. Dating from the mid-18th century it’s a florid mass of delicate chhatris (semi-open domed pavilions).
#27 Admire the unorthodox murals of Bhagton ki Choti Haveli
About 200m east of the Morarka Haveli, the unrestored, 150-year-old Bhagton ki Choti Haveli has an unusually varied selection of murals including a European-style angel and Queen Victoria (over the arches by the right of the main door).
On the left, a trompe-l’oeil picture shows seven women in the shape of an elephant, while other pictures show Europeans riding bicycles, along with a steamboat and a train.
#28 Soak up the character of Nawalgarh fort
At the heart of town, the fort (Bala Qila) has more or less vanished under a clutch of modern buildings huddled around a central courtyard that now hosts the town’s colourful vegetable market.
The dilapidated building on the far left-hand side of the courtyard (by the Bank of Baroda) boasts a magnificent, eerily echoing Sheesh Mahal, covered in mirrorwork, which once served as the dressing room of the maharani of Nawalgarh. The ceiling is decorated with pictorial maps of Nawalgarh and Jaipur.
You’ll have to pay Rs20–30 to see the room; if no one’s around, ask at the sweet factory on the opposite side of the courtyard.
#29 Peek inside Surajmal Chhauchharia Haveli
Havelis dot the streets south and southeast of the Nansa Gate, one of the quietest and most atmospheric parts of town. These include the Surajmal Chhauchharia Haveli, whose murals feature two small pictures of Europeans floating past in a hot-air balloon.
The painter took some playful licence as to the mechanics involved, with the passengers keeping their balloons aloft by blowing into them through small pipes. The place is poorly signed and a little hard to find by yourself; ask around.
#30 Walk slowly at the Deshnok devi
Members of the Charan caste of musicians believe that incarnations of the goddess Durga periodically appear among them, one of whom was Karni Mata, born at a village near Phalodi in 1387, who went on to perform miracles such as water divination and bringing the dead back to life, eventually becoming the region’s most powerful cult leader.
According to legend, one of Karni Mata’s followers came to her because her son was grievously ill, but by the time they got to him, he had died. Karni Mata went to Yama, the god of the underworld, to ask for him back, but Yama refused.
Knowing that of all the creatures upon the earth, only rats were outside Yama’s dominion, Karni Mata decreed that all Charans would henceforth be reincarnated as rats, thus escaping Yama’s power. It is these sacred rats (kabas) that inhabit the Deshnok temple.
#31 Explore Junagarh Fort
Built at ground level and defended only by high walls and a wide moat, Junagarh Fort isn’t as immediately imposing as the mighty hill forts elsewhere in Rajasthan, though its richly decorated interiors are as magnificent as any in the state. The fort was built between 1587 and 1593, and progressively enlarged and embellished by later rulers.
#32 See how Rajasthanis used to live at Prachina Museum
Within the Junagarh Fort complex, the Prachina Museum houses a pretty collection of objects (glassware, crockery, cutlery and walking sticks) demonstrating Europe’s growing influence on Rajasthani style in the early 20th century. A whole circa-1900 salon has been recreated, and there’s also an interesting collection of Rajasthani textiles and clothing.
#33 Wander through Bikaner’s old city
Bikaner’s labyrinthine old city is notable for its profusion of unusual havelis whose. Idiosyncratic architecture demonstrates an unlikely fusion of indigenous sandstone carving with Art Nouveau and red-brick British municipal style. The city is confusing to navigate, so accept getting lost as part of the experience.
#34 The Rampuriya havelis
Entering the old city through Kote Gate, bear left (south) down Old Jail Road. After 300m, turn right just past the florid pink gateway to a Hindu temple to reach the City Kotwali (the old city’s central police station).
Follow the road past here to reach the three striking Rampuriya havelis, commissioned in the 1920s by three brothers from a Jain trading family and faced with reliefs of a mixture of personages, including Maharaja Ganga Singh, Britain’s George V and Queen Mary, and Krishna and Radha.
#35 Explore a 1,000-year-old Jain temple at Dilwara
The Dilwara temples, 3km northeast of Mount Abu, are some of the most beautiful Jain shrines in India. All five are made purely from marble, and the carving is breathtakingly intricate. Entrance is by guided tour only, and you’ll have to wait until sufficient people have arrived to make up a group.
The two most spectacular temples are the Vimala Vasahi and the Luna Vasahi. The oldest temple, the Vimala Vasahi, was named after the Gujarati minister who funded its construction in 1031, and is dedicated to Adinath, the first tirthankara. Although the exterior is simple, inside not one wall, column or ceiling is unadorned. It’s a prodigious feat of artistry that took almost 2,000 labourers and sculptors 14 years to complete.
There are 48 intricately carved pillars, eight of them supporting a domed ceiling arranged in eleven concentric circles alive with dancers, musicians, elephants and horses, while a sequence of 57 subsidiary shrines run around the edge of the enclosure.
#36 Take a pedalo ride on Nakki Lake
At the centre of town, Nakki Lake is popular in the late afternoon for pony and pedalo rides. Of several panoramic viewpoints on the fringes of town above the plains, Sunset Point is the favourite – though the hordes of holidaymakers and hawkers also make it one of the noisiest and least romantic.
Honeymoon Point, also known as Anadhra-Ganesh Point (after the adjacent temple) offers breathtaking views over the plain at any time of day, and tends to be more peaceful. A good time to visit is 4pm, but don’t try to take clifftop paths between Sunset and Honeymoon points, as tourists have been mugged here.
#37 Climb for views from the region’s Hindu temples
There are several Hindu temples in the Mount Abu area that are worth visiting if you don’t mind steps. It takes 400 of them to reach the Adhar Devi Temple (dedicated to Durga). The small main shrine is cut into the rocky hilltop and entered by clambering under a very low overhang. There are fine views from the terrace above.
The temple complex at nearby Achalgarh is dominated by the Achaleshwar Mahadeo Temple, believed to have been created when Lord Shiva placed his toe on the spot to still an earthquake. Its sanctuary holds a yoni stone with a hole that is said to reach into the netherworld.
The lesser visited, but more dramatically situated, Gaumukh Temple stands at the head of a steep flight of 750 steps. The small pool inside the shrine continues to flow even during drought and is believed to hold water from the sacred Sarawati Ganga River.
The last important Hindu pilgrimage site here is the Atri Rishi Temple at Guru Shikar, which at 1772m above sea level marks the highest point in Rajasthan and offers superb panoramic vistas.
#38 Go hiking around Mount Abu
Down in Mount Abu’s market area, you gain little sense of the wonderfully wild landscape enfolding the town, but head for a few minutes up one of the many trails threading around the plateau and it’s easy to see why the area has inspired sages, saints and pilgrims for centuries.
Unfortunately hiking alone is not recommended, as there have been robberies and even murders of unaccompanied visitors, and police will turn back anyone spotted heading out alone. Be aware there’s also a chance of running into bears and leopards – bears, in particular, can be dangerous if surprised, or when with their young.
Two good local guides are Lalit Kanojia at the Shri Ganesh hotel, who leads 3–4hr treks every morning; or the experienced Mahendra Dan, better known as “Charles”, who runs a range of day tours and overnight camping expeditions.
#39 Discover the fascinating history of Chittaurgarh Fort
As a symbol of Rajput chivalry and militarism only Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort compares to Chittaurgarh, or Chittor, Fort. Its origins are obscure but probably date back to the 7th century. It was seized by Bappa Rawal, founder of the Mewar dynasty, in 734, and remained the Mewar capital for the next 834 years, more or less.
Despite its commanding position, Chittor was far from invincible. It was sacked three times over the centuries, by Ala-ud-din-Khalji (1303), Sultan Bahadur Shah (1535) and Akbar (1568). It was this last attack which convinced the then ruler of Mewar, Udai Singh, to decamp to a more remote and defensible site at Udaipur. Chittaurgarh was eventually ceded back to the Rajputs in 1616 but the royal family never resettled here, and the entire fort, which once boasted a population of more than 50,000, still only houses a couple of thousand people.
The fort is 5km long and 1km wide, and you could easily spend a whole day up here nosing around the myriad remains, although most visitors content themselves with a few hours.
#40 Explore the Palace of Rana Kambha
On entering Chittaurgarh fort, you first reach the slowly deteriorating 15th-century Palace of Rana Kumbha (reigned 1433–68), built by the ruler who presided over the period of Mewar’s greatest prosperity.
The main palace building still stands five storeys high, though it’s difficult now to make much sense of the confusing tangle of partially ruined walls and towers. Every evening, hourly sound-and-light shows bring the palace to life, and recount the harrowing history – battles and stories – of the fort
#41 See the soaring Vijay Stambh
The main road within the fort continues south to its focal point, Vijay Stambh, the soaring “tower of victory” erected by Rana Kumbha to commemorate his 1440 victory over the Muslim sultan Mehmud Khilji of Malwa.
This magnificent sand-coloured tower, whose nine storeys rise 36m, took a decade to build; its walls are lavishly carved with mythological scenes and images from all Indian religions, including Arabic inscriptions in praise of Allah.
You can climb the dark narrow stairs to the very summit for free by showing your fort entry ticket.
#42 Explore Bundi Old City
Bundi’s blue-washed Old City is well preserved and well worth a visit.
Crammed with crumbling havelis, picturesque bazaars and a surprising number of flamboyant baoris or “step-wells” (giant water tanks designed to collect the precious monsoon rains), it’s become one of southern Rajasthan’s most appealing destinations – a fact recognised by the ever-increasing numbers of foreign tourists who are visiting.
#43 Wander through Garh Palace
Bundi’s palace was one of the few royal abodes in Rajasthan untouched by Mughal influence, and its appearance is surprisingly homogenous considering the number of times it was added to over the years.
A short steep path winds up to the main gateway, Hathi Pol, surmounted by elephant carvings, beyond which lies the palace’s principal courtyard.
Go through the open-sided turquoise-fringed pavilion on the eastern side of the courtyard and the room beyond to reach a superb little antechamber, its every surface covered in finely detailed murals embellished with gold and silver leaf.
From the Chhatra Mahal courtyard, steps lead up to an even smaller courtyard flanked by the superbly decorated 1607 Phool Mahal, whose murals include a vast procession featuring regiments of soldiers in European dress and a complete camel corps.
From here, further narrow steps ascend to the Badal Mahal (Cloud Palace), home to what are often regarded as the finest paintings in the whole of southern Rajasthan.
#44 Admire the peacock-coloured murals of Chittra Sala
There are further outstanding murals in the Chittra Sala, just above the palace. At the rear left-hand corner of the garden inside, steps lead up to a small courtyard embellished with an outstanding sequence of paintings in an unusual muted palette of turquoises, blues and blacks, the majority devoted to magical depictions of scenes from the life of Krishna.
#45 Climb to Taragarh Fort
A steep 20-minute climb above the Chittra Sala, the monkey-infested Taragarh Fort offers even more spectacular views over Bundi, its palace and the surrounding countryside.
Upon passing through the second wooden gate, double back on yourself and go up the ramp to get onto the barracks for a great vantage point.
Note that the path up can be tricky, even with decent footwear (flip-flops are not advisable), and a near-total lack of security means that solo females should probably give the climb a miss.
#46 Explore the Raniji-ki-Baori step-wells
South of the Old City is the rewarding Raniji-ki-Baori, one of Rajasthan’s most spectacular step-wells.
Built in 1699, this 46m-deep well is reached by a flight of steps punctuated by platforms and pillars embellished with sinuous S-shaped brackets and elephant capitals. As you descend, look for the beautifully carved panels showing the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, which line the side walls.
The 19-century step-well of Dhabhai-ka Kund lies south of Ranji-ki-Baori; other notable Bundi baoris include the twin step-wells of Nagar Sagar Kund, near Chogan Gate, and Bhora-ji-ka Kund, to the west of town.
Best places to stay in Rajasthan
From old places and wonderfully atmospheric mansions to flea-bitten rooms by the hour, Rajasthan has a vast range of accommodation. Here are the best places to stay in Rajasthan.
Jaipur has a wide range of accommodation, mostly found west of the city centre, on or close to MI Rd and in the calm upmarket suburb of Bani Park. It’s a good idea to book ahead, particularly around the Elephant Festival (first half of March).
Prices rise dramatically during the camel fair, with increases of anything from two to five times the normal rate.
Bikaner has a surprisingly large selection of hotels, though the cheap flophouses along Station Rd are insalubrious and best avoided.
Jaisalmer has plenty of accommodation, and fierce competition keeps prices low. The basic choice is between one of the old places within the wonderfully atmospheric fort or in one of the newer places outside, many of which are built in traditional sandstone and come with superb fort views. Most places offer free pick-up from the bus or railway stations, and the majority offer camel treks, which vary in standard and price.
Jodhpur has plenty of good accommodation in all price brackets, and happily the same can now be said of its main area of interest. Many guesthouses offer free pick-ups from the train or bus stations.
The steady stream of pilgrims and honeymoon couples ensures that Mount Abu has plenty of hotels, lots of them offering luxuries for newlyweds in special “couple rooms”. Prices rocket in the high season (April–June & Nov–Dec), especially at weekends, reaching their peak during Diwali.
Most accommodation is on the east side of Lake Pichola, although there are a growing number of excellent places on the far more peaceful northwestern side of the lake, just across the bridge by Chand Pol.
Accommodation in Chittaurgarh is relatively pricey; the only really cheap places are the slightly grim hotels around the railway station and in the middle of town.
All the town’s best hotels and guesthouses are located near the entrance to Keoladeo National Park, on the southern edge of town and some 3km south of the railway station. There’s also an option in the park itself.
Browse the places to stay in Rajasthan.
How to get around
Navigating through the enchanting landscapes and vibrant cities of Rajasthan require a blend of traditional and modern transportation options. These are your best options to get around in this area.
By train and bus
Trains connect all major cities and many smaller towns, while the reliable state-run bus company, RSRDC, and various private operators have regular services between cities. Private companies tend to operate the most comfortable, modern coaches.
You can save plenty of travel time by taking a flight or two. Jaipur receives plenty of flights from around India; Jodhpur and Udaipur both have decent connections; while Bikaner and Jaisalmer have recently opened their airports to passenger traffic.
On a tour
Some turn their noses up at tours, though it’s quite common for travellers in Rajasthan – especially those moving around as a couple or in a small group – to plump for one after weighing up their pros and cons.
How many days do you need in Rajasthan?
For a basic overview and highlights of Rajasthan, a minimum of 7 to 10 days would be a good starting point. This time frame allows you to cover some of the must-visit cities like Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer, along with their major attractions.
If you have more time and want to explore additional cities, rural areas, or participate in specific events or festivals, you may need 2 to 3 weeks or even more. Rajasthan has various unique experiences like desert safaris, wildlife sanctuaries, and colourful festivals that you can enjoy with a more extended stay.
Looking for inspiration for your trip? Check our India itineraries.
What is the best time to visit Rajasthan?
Rajasthan’s climate reaches the extremes associated with desert regions, with temperatures topping 45°C during the hottest months of May and June. The fierce summer heat lingers until mid-September or October, when night temperatures drop considerably.
The monsoon breaks over central and eastern Rajasthan in July and usually continues until September, although in recent years rainfall has become increasingly unpredictable and sporadic.
That being said, the best time to visit is between November and February, when daytime temperatures rarely exceed 30°C; in midwinter, you’ll need a shawl or thick jumper if you’re outdoors at night.
Find out more about the best time to visit India.
How to get here
Jaipur receives plenty of flights from around India; Jodhpur and Udaipur both have decent connections; while Bikaner and Jaisalmer have recently opened their airports to passenger traffic.
Trains connect all major cities and many smaller towns. You’re most likely to arrive first at Jaipur having taken a train from Delhi.
Jaipur is Rajasthan’s main transport hub, with frequent bus and train services to all major destinations around the state, as well as nationwide international air connections.
Find out the best ways to get to India.