Rajasthan is one of the most visited states in India. It's not surprising because it shows India at its most colorful, iconic and exotic best. Most of the things that come to mind when you think of India can be found in Rajasthan—palaces, forts, desert, camels, and elephants. Don't miss visiting these top tourist places in Rajasthan.
The "Pink City" of Jaipur forms part of India's renowned Golden Triangle Tourist Circuit and was recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not surprisingly, the city is one of Rajasthan's most popular tourist destinations. It has many famous forts and palaces, with most of them boasting evocative views and elaborate architecture. Staying in Jaipur is particularly enjoyable. Accommodations are reasonably priced and many have been converted from heritage properties, giving guests a very regal experience! Jaipur is an outstanding place to go shopping too. Plan your trip with this Jaipur travel guide.
Udaipur is often said to be the most romantic city in India, as it's filled with expansive lakes and palaces. The landmark City Palace Complex, which stretches along the eastern shore of Lake Pichola, dominates the city and the royal family still lives in part of it. Many personal royal heirlooms, family photos, and other memorabilia are displayed in the City Palace Museum, giving Udaipur a very regal feel. You can even stay in the City Palace! Alternatively, for those on a budget there are heritage hotels by the lake with amazing views, such as the Jagat Niwas Palace hotel.
Affectionately called the "Blue City" because of its blue painted buildings, Jodhpur is the second largest city in Rajasthan. The walled old part of the city is presided over by Mehrangarh Fort, which provides the best outlook across Jodhpur's blue buildings. It's one of the largest and best maintained forts in India. Inside are a number of ornate palaces, a museum, and restaurant. There many inexpensive yet characterful places to stay in Jodhpur with views of the fort. It's refreshing to do nothing but relax on their rooftops and soak up the atmosphere. Here's how to best experience Jodhpur.
Bishnoi is a community of nature worshipers only 45 minutes or so from Jodhpur and can be covered in a day trip. Bishnoi Village Safari organizes excursions and accommodations.
A remarkable sandstone city that rises magically from the sand dunes of the Thar desert, Jaisalmer looks like it's straight out of an Arabian Nights fable. Its mesmerizing ancient fort, built in 1156, is perched high on a pedestal overlooking the city. Inside the fort is alive and spellbinding. It boasts palaces, several temples, and some elegant havelis (mansions), as well as shops and other residences. These top things to do in Jaisalmer cover the best of the city and its surroundings. Stay at a hotel with a fort view or a desert camp.
If you're keen for a desert camel safari experience but without the crowds and commercialization, Osian is an ideal alternative option. This small town is about an hour and a half north of Jodhpur, on the way to Bikaner, and is surrounded by several sand dunes. Intricately carved stone temples dating back to the 8th century are interesting too. Stay at Osian Sand Dunes Resort and Camp or Reggie's Camel Camp.
For most of the year, Pushkar is a sleepy little holy town that attracts a lot of backpackers and hippie types. However, it really comes alive for a couple of weeks in October or November, when the Pushkar Camel Fair hits town. Pushkar is worth visiting at any time of year if you want to chill out. Sadly, the town isn't like it used to be though. These days, Pushkar is much more westernized and tourist-focused. The priests by the bathing ghats (steps) are very forceful in demanding donations. Avoid that area, and head to the Pushkar market for some fun shopping instead!
The remote and quaint desert town of Bikaner receives less tourists than many other prominent destinations in Rajasthan because of its out-of-the-way location over five hours north of Jodhpur. The main attractions are the atmospheric walled Old City and fort. Bikaner is renowned for the rather startling Karni Mata rat temple nearby as well. The Karni Mata Festival, held to worship the rats there, is one of the quirkiest festivals in India. A Camel Fair also happens in Bikaner every January. Stay at the exceptional Narendra Bhawan heritage hotel for an unforgettable trip! It's one of India's most beautifully restored heritage hotels.
Nagaur lies about half-way between Jodhpur and Bikaner, making the town a convenient destination to break your journey. Its massive 12th century fort, Ahhichatragarh, has been restored to its former glory by the Mehrangarh Museum Trust and won the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation in 2002. The fort hosts the World Sacred Spirit Festival in February each year. The Nagaur Cattle Fair -- touted as the second largest in India -- is an added annual attraction in January or February.
If you're an art lover, or even someone who's into architecture and history, the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan is well worth including on your itinerary. This unique region is often referred to as the world's largest open air art gallery, with old havelis (mansions) having walls adorned with intricate painted frescoes. Staying in one is a highlight! Shekhawati is located in the Delhi-Jaipur-Bikaner triangle, and is refreshingly free of tourists! Plan your trip with this comprehensive Shekhawati region travel guide.
Rural tourism is growing in Rajasthan and the Pali district, between Jodhpur and Udaipur, is perfect for visitors who want to explore Rajasthan beyond its cities. Bera is one of the top destinations there due to the prevalence of wild leopards, which roam the rugged terrain and can be spotted on safari. At Jojawar, the 300 year-old Rajput fort has been converted into a heritage hotel and draws visitors. Kesar Bagh is a luxury option there. Chanoud Garh is another 300 year-old fort-palace turned exquisite heritage hotel in the Pali district. However, it doesn't get anymore out-of-this-world than stunning Lakshman Sagar heritage hotel. Alternatively, Culture Aangan has homestays in Pali. You'll find village life to be fascinating. You can even attend a shepherds' morning opium meet!
Although increasingly popular with travelers, Bundi also often gets overlooked as a tourist destination in Rajasthan due to its off-the-beaten path location between Jaipur and Udaipur. It's a captivating place to visit, with its lakes, temples, markets, miniature paintings, and blue houses similar to Jodhpur. This relatively laid-back town is dominated by the extraordinary and imposing Bundi Palace, which protrudes out of the hillside. The ancient, winding lanes of the Old City are fascinating to wander through. Bundi also has around 50 step wells and a ramshackle fort above the palace. Find out about the top things to do in Bundi.
Less than an hour southeast of Bundi, Rajasthan's third largest city -- Kota -- sits alongside the Chambal River. Once you've seen its palaces, temples and museums head out to explore the National Chambal Sanctuary and take a boat ride along the river. It's home to rare wildlife such as the gharial (a long-snouted, fish-eating crocodile) and Gangetic river dolphin. Bhainsrorgarh Fort boutique heritage hotel was once a royal abode and has an enviable position atop the cliff. The view is breathtaking! Plus, the 9th century Badoli Temples are nearby. Kota is famous for its Dussehra festival and fair in October.
Ranthambore National Park
Ranthambore National Park is one of the best places in India to spot a tiger in the wild. In contrast to many national parks in India, Ranthambore is also really accessible and easy to get to. This makes it very popular (and, unfortunately, it's been facing a lot of tourist pressure). As well as nature, the park is home to the formidable 10th century Ranthambore Fort. It's a huge structure that contains ruined pavilions, monuments, and three Hindu temples. The park is packed with history, having witnessed many battles played out on its land, and the rise and fall of many rulers. Plan your trip with this Ranthambore National Park travel guide.
If driving from Agra (or Bharatpur) to Ranthambore, consider stopping at Karauli and staying at isolated Ramathra Fort heritage hotel on the way.
Birding enthusiasts will be delighted by Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur, just over an hour east of Agra on the way to Jaipur. One of India's top bird sanctuaries for bird watching and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was formerly a duck hunting reserve of the maharajas. More than 370 species of birds can be found there, including a large congregation of non-migratory resident breeding birds.
Also on the Agra-Jaipur Road, Abhaneri has the deepest and possibly the most photographed step well in India. Chand Baori was built between the 8th and 9th centuries by King Chanda of the Nikumbh dynasty of Rajputs. However, locals will tell you a more spookier story of it being constructed in one night by ghosts! The step well extends approximately 100 feet into the ground, down 3,500 steps and 13 levels. A two-day Abhaneri festival takes place every year in September against the evocative backdrop of Chand Baori to promote rural tourism.
Read more about India's abandoned step wells with amazing architecture.
Interested in more forts and palaces? Alwar can be done on a day trip from Delhi, as it's only three hours south of India's capital. Attractions include an 18th century City Palace complex and government museum (closed Mondays) inside it, which showcases the extravagant lifestyle of the kings. However, it's Lake Sagar and the many chhatris (dome-shaped pavilions) behind the City Palace that are most visually impressive monuments. Above the City Palace sits 16th century Bala Quila, notable for being one of a few forts in Rajasthan to be built before the rise of the Mughals.
Another popular sidetrip from Delhi, Neemrana was the third capital of the descendants of Prithviraj Chauhan III, king of the Rajput Chauhan dynasty. It's located in Rajasthan's Aravalli Hills, about two and a half hours southwest of Delhi on the Delhi-Jaipur Highway. The main attractions there are rambling 15th century Neemrana Fort Palace hotel perched on the side of the hill overlooking town, and zip-lining.
Mount Abu is the only hill station in Rajasthan. It's situated 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) above sea level near the Gujarat border, about three hours (160km) from Udaipur. The British took a liking to Mount Abu because of its comfortable climate, and they relocated the headquarters of their political Rajputana Agency there from Ajmer in 1857. Mount Abu has a reputation as a honeymooner's haven but Indian families flock to the area as well. However, it remains an offbeat destination for foreigners. These top things to do in Mount Abu are centered around enjoying the great outdoors.