Since I was a child I always wanted to go to India. I still don’t know what it was exactly that drew me to this country. But when I was finally old and brave enough to travel on my own, I booked a ticket to Delhi to travel around Rajasthan.
It was my first trip on my own and I am not sure I can recommend India as a first destination for a solo female traveller. For me, it was tough sometimes. Nothing could prepare me for the overwhelming chaos.
India is a country of extremes and so were my emotions. There were times I just wanted to go home and times I tought it was the most beautiful country in the world.
Despite the culture shock, Rajasthan made me fall in love with India. You will experience India at its most colourful with old forts, palaces, temples, desert landscapes and the green Aravalli hills. India kept pulling me back and I have visited the country several times now.
Rajasthan is an amazing place with so much things to see and do that you can easily spent two months here. In this guide I will give you a 3 week itinerary by train, because this is one of the cheapest and best ways to see all the highlights of Rajasthan.
Backpacking Rajasthan by train: the ultimate itinerary
Day 1 – 2: Delhi (recommended 3+ days)
Delhi was my very first stop in India. I took a pre-paid tuk tuk from the airport to Paharganj. All I remember was how overwhelmed I was by Delhi’s chaos. The traffic being a swarm of horning cars and tuk tuks.
The pollution was horrible and there was dirt everywhere. in addition, there was the constant staring and curiosity. It took me several visits to appreciate what Delhi has to offer, but there are some really beautiful and quiet places. You can read more about things to see and do in Delhi in my post about 20 things that will make you love Delhi.
Day 3-5: Jaipur the Pink city (recommended 2- 3 days)
At first glance I did not like Jaipur. Cities in India take their time to be appreciated and sometimes you only start liking them when you actually leave the city. I discovered the real beauty of Jaipur the day we rented a tuk tuk and visited several forts, palaces and temples in the rocky hills surrounding the city.
Jaipur is a city you should not miss when you visit Rajasthan and there is lots to see and do. To read more about what Jaipur has to offer read my blog post about the best of Jaipur: forts and monkeys.
There are frequent trains and buses from Delhi to Jaipur taking between 5 to 6 hours. The best train is the Delhi Ajmer Shatabdi express leaving New Delhi train station every day at 06:05 and arriving in Jaipur at 10:35. This is the fastest train taking only 4 hours and 30 minutes. Because the train starts in New Delhi delays are not as common as with other trains.
Day 6-8: Bikaner (recommended 1-2 days)
The main reason for me to include Bikaner to my itinerary was to visit the Karni Mata temple in Deshnok. Bikaner was actually just a necessary stop in my desire to worship rats, but it turned out to be a nice city as well.
Like most cities in Rajasthan there is a fort, a palace and countless temples. But with less tourists and a more relaxed atmosphere. Bikaner will be the first desert city and it makes for a convenient stop to break the otherwise long train journey from Jaipur to Jaisalmer.
Things to see and do
Junagarh Fort: This beautiful fort of the Bikaner royal family has a museum displaying weapons and ornaments. It is one of the oldest forts in India.
Laxmi Niwas Palace: Once the palace of the Bikaner royal family, now a luxury hotel
Camel research center: You can visit this center in the afternoon and learn more about camels. You can also buy ice-cream made out of camel milk.
Deshnok’s Karni Mata temple: If you visit Bikaner another must visit is the rat temple in Deshnok. Yes, you are reading it right. In this temple rats are worshipped and fed like gods. Outside the temple you can buy milk and make your own contribution. After all you might end up as a rat in your next life and then you can better be a rat in the temple in Deshnok.
There are several trains between Jaipur and Bikaner (between 7 to 8 hours). You can opt for a night train with the Howrah Bikaner express leaving daily at 00:45 arriving in Bikaner at 08:30. For onward travel to Jaisalmer (between 6 to 7 hours) you can take the Lalgarh Jaisalmer express leaving at 07:20 and arriving Jaisalmer at 13:40. If you prefer to take a night train, the daily Leeklan express leaves at 23:15 arriving at the early hour of 04:50
Day 9 – 11: Jaisalmer (recommended 2 days, more depending on a camel safari)
In a remote corner of the Thar desert lies the city of Jaisalmer with its yellow fortress built on top of the hill. This pleasant city full with color and beauty was one of my favourite places in Rajasthan. Everything I imagined about Rajasthan came true here.
Things to see and do
Jaisalmer Fort: Jaisalmer Fort is the only fort in India that still has people living and working inside its walls. The fort is almost a city on its own and what a city ! Old haveli’s, temples and several towers offering you a view on the sun setting in the desert. It’s a magical place. Don’t miss the beautiful Patwon ki Haveli and the Jain temples
Camel safari: One of the highlights of my trip in Rajasthan was my camel safari and spending a night in the desert. What can be better than watching the sun set behind the sand dunes and fall asleep under a sky full of stars. You will get to know your camel pretty well. Stubborn animals that fart and smell throughout the night. Mine was pretty hungry and kept wandering off towards the bushes to eat the leaves, ignoring any commands from the camelherder.
You will find plenty of tour operators offering desert safari’s at various prices and they are quite persistent in trying to sell them to you. My advice is to either book it at your hotel or ask around. Either way it is important you negotiate. Be skeptical about non-touristic villages. At our non-touristic sand dune a single soul turned up out of nowhere carrying three bed frames on his head and a box of cold drinks. The beds that we could rent made for a convenient’s night sleep tough and after a long hot day a cold drink was also hard to withstand.
It is a long 12 hour journey from Jaipur to Jaisalmer. It is best to take the night train. The daily Malani express leaves 23:45 arriving in Jaisalmer at 11:40 the next morning. From Bikaner the journey is about 6 hours. The Lalgarh Jaisalmer express leaves at 07:20 arriving in Jaisalmer at 13:40
Accomodation: Heera court hotel
We originally booked our room in Oasis Star Haveli Guesthouse. Unfortunately or fortunately our room there was not available and they gave us a room in their partner hotel Heera Court for the same price.
First we were a bit hesitant as we went all the way outside town, but once we saw the room and the rooftop terrace we felt lucky we had the privilege to stay here. The room was very clean and nicely decorated. The rooftop terrace has beautiful views on the desert and the cenotaphs of Jaisalmer.
Day 12 – 14: Jodhpur, the blue city (recommended 2 days)
The blue city of Jodhpur is great for shopping. Sardar market is the place to go and even has a flea market where you can buy second-hand books and saree’s. The charm of Jodhpur can be found in wandering through the small alleys with the characteristic blue houses.
Climbing uphill towards the beautiful Meherangarh fort will reward you with views over the city. There are several theories about why the city is blue. Apparently the blue paint keeps the houses cool during the summer heat and keeps termites away.
Things to see and do
Meherangarh Fort: Meherengarh is maybe one of the most magnificent forts I visited in Jaipur as it rises high above the city and is full of beautiful details and interesting stories.
Sardar Market: Sardar market around the clock tower is the place to go for shopping. There is a flea market with people selling second-hand books and sarees, a vibrant vegetable market and shops selling souvenirs, spices and tea.
Shree Mishrilal tea center: The best tea can be bought at the Shree Mishrilal tea center near the clock tower who also sells tea spices to make indian tea at home.
The Omelette man: For breakfast head to the legendary Omelette man, made famous by Lonely Planet. Don’t expect too much. It’s just an omelette after all. The man is extremely friendly tough and goes through 1000 eggs a day.
Shahi Samosa center: For the best Samosa’s head to the Shahi Samosa corner. These were indeed some of the best samosa’s I had in India and it was a joy to look how they were made. It’s hugely popular and you will not be the only one trying them out.
The journey from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur takes about 6 hours. The most convenient train is the daily Jaisalmer Jodhpur express leaving every day at 06:45 arriving in Jodhpur at 13:00
There are two accommodation options I can recommend in Jodhpur.
Durag Niwas Guesthouse: A very clean and nicely decorated guesthouse supporting a good cause. You can visit the projects of the Sambhali Trust who are also looking for long-term volunteers. In fact, the guesthouse is also used to accommodate volunteers. The only downside is that it is not close to the old city center. Reservations are recommended, as they are often full.
Hill view Guesthouse: Slighty cheaper than durag niwas and offering more basic facilities, the hill view guesthouse is another good place to stay. The owner Kumari is extremely friendly and worth getting to know. The location is excellent. It is right under the Meherengarh fort overlooking the city.
Day 15 -17: Romantic Udaipur (recommended 2-3 days)
Udaipur is my favourite city in Rajasthan. It is easy to stay much longer here than you originally planned. Lakes, palaces and plenty of restaurants and cafe’s with organic food kept me busy and entertained. It’s the place to relax after days of travelling through the chaos of India.
To read more about all that Udaipur has to offer read my blog post on Romantic Udaipur: lakes and palaces.
There are no trains between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, but there are frequent buses taking between 5 – 6 hours. If you leave early from Jodhpur it is possible to make a quick stop in Ranakpur to visit the Jain temples there.
Day 18 – 19: Holy Pushkar (recommended 2 days)
This small Hindu pilgrimage town curled around a lake is the spiritual heart of Rajasthan. The lake is said to have appeared when Brahma dropped a lotus flower and Hindu’s should visit Pushkar at least once in a lifetime. Whether you are Hindu or not, Pushkar is indeed a magical place and attracts a fair share of tourists all year round.
Unfortunately the people of Pushkar made spirituality their business. As a tourist, be prepared to encounter several touts trying to scam you or do prayers for you and your whole extended family for exorbitant prices. Simply ignore them and see the beauty of this small town. Watch the sun go down and observe the evening prayers at Varah ghat for an authentic spiritual ceremony that is free to watch.
While visiting Pushkar, it is also worth to make a day trip to get your blessings at the Dargah Sharif in Ajmer, a sufi shrine and pilgrimage place for Indian muslims.
There are no direct trains between Udaipur and Pushkar, but you can take a train to Ajmer. From Ajmer it is a short bus ride to the holy city of Pushkar. The fastest train takes less than 6 hours between Udaipur and Ajmer. The Udaipur – Jaipur intercity express leaves at 06:00 in the morning arriving in Ajmer at 11:40. You can take a tuk tuk to the bus station and then take a bus to Pushkar.
Accomodation: Kanhaia Haveli
One of the better places I stayed in Rajasthan. A beautiful Haveli with clean rooms and friendly people.
Day 20-21: Back to Delhi
There are very frequent trains between Ajmer and New Delhi at various speeds. The journey can take between 7 or 9 hours. The fastest train is the Ajmer New Delhi Shatabdi leaving Ajmer at 15:45 and arriving in New Delhi at 22:40.
Backpacking Rajasthan: Transport and travelling by train
It is easy to travel in Rajasthan and there are frequent trains and buses between most places. The best way to travel through Rajasthan is by train, especially for the longer distances. The only disadvantage is that trains do get full and it is better to reserve seats beforehand. More about train travel in India, the different classes and how to book tickets online can be found here.
I have no experience in booking tickets online, but I strongly advise you to go to New Delhi train station on your first day and book your tickets at the Tourist ticket office. The people in the office are extremely helpful and friendly and do speak some english. Bring enough cash, because you can not pay with your card and bring a pen to fill in the necessary forms.
I always travelled in sleeper class and think it is ok. In theory seats are reserved, so there should not be more people in the train than there are seats. In practice tough there will always be a surplus of human beings. If you find one or more persons on your seat, just be firm about your reservation and that the whole seat is yours.
Backpacking Rajasthan: Accommodation
There is no shortage of budget hotels in India. In Rajasthan you can find many places to sleep for very low prices. Finding a clean place is a whole different story though. The low prices often come with dirty sheets and the company of bedbugs, cockroaches and maybe even rats.
By paying slightly more you can find really nice and charming hotels in Rajasthan. For the hotels mentioned above I paid between 400 and 600 rupees per night as of November 2015. Hostels are now becoming more popular in India as well and provide clean facilities for little money. To check backpacker hostels in India you can check the AAO hostels site
Backpacking Rajasthan: Budget and money
There are ATMS in most major cities like Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. However, In India, you never know so I would not solely rely on ATM’s. Especially in smaller towns the ATMS might not work or run out of money. My advise is to also bring some cash in euro’s or dollars. Travelling in Rajasthan is cheap. If you stay in cheap guesthouses and eat local food on the streets you can easily get by on less than $20 dollar a day. For 30$ a day you can travel comfortably throughout Rajasthan, staying in somewhat better places.
Backpacking Rajasthan: Solo female travel
With all the news about sexual violence in India you are probably wondering if it’s still safe to travel as a female. Unfortunately sexual violence is a real problem in India. As a woman travelling alone you will probably be stared at or get some rude comments. Below I will give some advice to prevent worse and you will most likely be safe.
Dress Modestly: Leave your bikini, short skirts and tank tops at home. Make sure your shoulders and legs are covered. Best is to buy a shalwar kameez.
Use the Female only carriage in the metro: The female only carriage is not only saving you from a lot of staring and possibly groping, it is also much more quiet and clean.
Don’t go out alone in the dark: make it a rule that once it gets dark your back at your hotel, unless you are with other people.
Don’t accept invitations from single men: don’t accept any invitation or let a single men take you somewhere secluded or quiet.
Look as if you know where you are going: Even if you are completely lost, look self-assured and act is if you know very well where you are going.
Look for other woman in the street: If you feel someone is following you try to look for other woman and ask for help. Often informing passersby of a dodgy situation will scare away a possible offended.
Avoid crowds: It’s best to avoid crowds, especially during festivals, but if you find yourself in one then try to stay close to other woman.
Use your instinct: use your instinct. If you don’t trust a situation, get out of there.