Backpacking Rajasthan: the ultimate travel guide
This post is a travel guide about backpacking Rajasthan in India. Since I was a child I always wanted to go there. 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 go backpacking Rajasthan by train.
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 thought it was the most beautiful country in the world.
Why Backpacking Rajasthan?
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 by now. As beautiful and diverse as the rest of the country is, my memories from my first trip backpacking Rajasthan will always be special.
Visas for Backpacking Rajasthan
For backpacking Rajasthan everybody needs a valid passport and visa for India. Most nationalities can request an e-visa online. Some can only get a visa through an Indian embassy.
If you are from Pakistan things are more complicated and you need a government clearance as well.
How to travel to Rajasthan
By plane: For international visitors it is probably cheapest and best to fly into Delhi international airport. Jaipur also has an international airport, but with limited connections outside of Asia and the Middle East.
From Delhi you can continue your travels to Rajasthan by train or by taking a domestic flight to either Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur or Udaipur. Considering the environment and the excellent railway network I recommend travelling by train.
By train: Rajasthan has an excellent train network that connects Rajasthan with the rest of India. Trains run from the main cities in Rajasthan to Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Bangalore and beyond.
Places to visit when Backpacking Rajasthan
Jaipur: the pink city
Jaipur is part of the so-called Golden triangle. One of the most popular tourist routes in India that includes the three most visited cities in the country. The others are Delhi and Agra. Therefore, Jaipur is for some the only city they visit in Rajasthan.
Jaipur wasn’t my favourite place in Rajasthan though. It’s a true city that comes with the mayhem and chaos of urban India. That doesn’t mean Jaipur isn’t worth a visit. Jaipur certainly has lots of things to offer.
From it’s colorful bazaar that is one of the best places to buy souvenirs in Rajasthan to its great street food and royal palace. I really started to like Jaipur when I rented a tuk tuk for a day. Jaipur’s true beauty is in the forts, palaces and temples that lie in the rocky hills surrounding the city.
Transport: 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. There are also trains to Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Udaipur
Accomodation: Vinayak Guest house was among the best guesthouses I stayed in in Rajasthan. If I come back to Jaipur I would definitely come back here.
The main reason for me to include Bikaner to my Rajasthan itinerary was to visit the Karni Mata temple in Deshnok. Bikaner was actually just a necessary stop in my desire to see others 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.
Transport: Bikaner has good train connections to Jaipur and Jaisalmer as well as Delhi.
Jaisalmer: the yellow city
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 of color and beauty was one of my favourite places in Rajasthan. Everything I imagined about Rajasthan came true here.
It’s main attraction is the Jaisalmer fort. It’s the only fort in India that still has people living inside its walls. And that’s not all. There are old havelis, temples and several towers offering you a view on the sun setting in the desert. It’s a magical place.
Jaisalmer is also the best place to go on a camel safari 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.
Don’t romanticize things too much though. You will get to know your camel pretty well. Stubborn animals that fart and smell throughout the night. Mine was hungry and kept wandering off to eat the leaves, ignoring any commands from the camel herder.
Insider tip: You will find plenty of tour operators offering desert safaris 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 so-called non-touristic villages. You won’t be the first or only person there.
Transport: Jaisalmer has good train connections with Bikaner, Jaipur and Delhi.
Accommodation: I originally booked my room in Oasis Star Haveli Guesthouse. Unfortunately or fortunately my room there was not available and they put me up in their partner hotel Heera Court for the same price. An excellent place with a rooftop terrace that has beautiful views on the desert and the cenotaphs of Jaisalmer.
Jodhpur: the blue city
Jodhpur is incredibly picturesque with its blue houses. Therefore, the charm of Jodhpur can be found in simply wandering through the small alleys. Climbing uphill towards the impressive Meherangarh fort will reward you with beautiful 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.
Jodhpur is also a great city if it comes to shopping and food. It has some of the best samosas in Rajasthan and Jodhpurs omelette man makes cheap omelettes for years and is famous among travellers.
The Sardar market around the clock tower is a great place for shopping. Whether you want fresh vegetables, a new saree or a second hand book.
For more information about Jodhpur you can check this post about the best places to visit in Jodhpur in 2 days.
Transport: there are good train connections with Jaisalmer and Jaipur, but not to Udaipur. If you wish to travel between Jodhpur and Udaipur it is one of the very few routes that can not be done by train. However, there are frequent buses.
Accommodation: There are two accommodation options I can recommend in Jodhpur. The Durag Niwas Guesthouse is not only clean and nicely decorated, but also supports a good cause. You can visit their projects at the Sambhali Trust. They are also looking for long-term volunteers if you are interested. Reservations are recommended, as they are often full. The Hill view Guesthouse is another good budget place to stay. The owner Kumari is extremely friendly and worth getting to know. The location is excellent. It is right under the Mehrangarh fort overlooking the city.
Udaipur is a town where most people, like me, stay much longer than planned. There is a very relaxed and laid back atmosphere, yet there are plenty of things to do. It’s scenic lakes and beautiful palaces in the Aravalli hills can keep you occupied for days.
If there is one place in Rajasthan where you want to have a short break from travelling let it be Udaipur. Check my 3 day Udaipur itinerary for more information.
Pushkar: the holy city
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 making a day trip to get your blessings at the Dargah Sharif in Ajmer, a sufi shrine and pilgrimage place for Indian muslims.
Accomodation: Kanhaia Haveli was without doubt the best place I stayed in Rajasthan. A beautiful Haveli with clean rooms and friendly people.
When to travel in rajasthan
The best time to visit Rajasthan is between October and March. In October temperatures cool down and you might have a chance to join the festivities for Dussehra and Diwali. India’s biggest festivals.
Temperatures remain pleasant till March. In April and May it becomes extremely hot.
In June it is the start of the monsoon that lasts till September and will see a lot of rainfall. However, because of Rajasthans desert climate it is not as based as elsewhere in India.
Backpackers Accommodation in Rajasthan
Accomodation in India is cheap and there are lots of options in different price ranges. New hostels with clean and professional dormitories are opening up as well throughout India such as Zostel Hostel that has branches in Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Udaipur and Pushkar.
Oyo rooms are a great option to look for accommodation if you prefer good quality private rooms. They have different price classes and are not necessarily the cheapest, but they sometimes have great deals available.
If you are looking for off the beaten path homestays I can recommend NotonMap. as you can guess these places are remote and small scale. You stay with local families in rural India and therefore it is a great way to learn more about India’s diverse cultures.
What and where to eat in Rajasthan
As a traveller you might think that because rajasthan is in India you will find Indian food there. Things are not that simple and every region in India has in fact its very own cuisine. The indian thali ( a set meal ) will be different from place to place.
Rajasthani food is influenced by its desert climate and therefore uses a lot of grains, pulses and dairy products. A Rajasthani thali often includes roti, papad and lentil curries such as moong dal or panchmela dal.
Dal Baati Churma is another typical Rajasthani meal consisting of small round breads that are deep fried in ghee butter and served with a lentil curry. The breads can be plain or stuffed with onions and pees.
Most dishes in Rajasthan are vegetarian, but for those who love meat there are some unique Rajasthani specialities. Laal Maas is famous throughout Rajasthan, but only try this if you are up for really spicy food. This meat curry uses lots of red chillies.
For less spicy meat dishes try Safed Maas (meat cooked in milk, curd and cream) or Mohan Maas (meat cooked in milk and cream with dry fruits, cardamom and cinnamon).
Popular drinks in Rajasthan include buttermilk, jaljeera (cumin flavoured lemonade), lassi (yoghurt drink) and masala chai (spiced milk tea).
Restaurants in Rajasthan do not serve Rajasthani food exclusively though. It is very easy to find popular north indian dishes like chicken butter masala and paneer curries (indian cheese). Sometimes even South Indian food like dosa (rice flour pancakes) is on the menu.
Language and culture in Rajasthan
Rajasthan is famous for its royal past when the Rajput kings and Maharaja’s ruled the land from a number of princely states. Rajasthan developed into an incredibly diverse region that is rich in different arts and traditions.
For a taste of traditional Rajasthani folk music and dance I can recommend the cultural show at Bagore ki Haveli in Udaipur. Handicrafts in Rajasthan include carpets, pottery, jewellery and traditional dresses.
Rajasthan is very multicultural and there are over 50 languages spoken in the state. The four main dialects are Marwari, Jaipuri, Malwi and Mewati. Most people also speak and understand Hindi and English.
How to travel in Rajasthan
Backpacking Rajasthan by train
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 as soon as possible.
If you plan to buy your tickets online at the last minute I can recommend Confirmtkt that gives an indication how high the chances are that a possible waiting list ticket will become an actual ticket.
If you prefer not to book tickets online I strongly advise you to go to a train station on your first day. In New Delhi train station you can 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 though 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 by bus
If trains are full and you could not get a ticket. Don’t panic. There are also frequent buses between the major cities. You can check timetables and book tickets through Redbus.
Useful Apps for backpacking Rajasthan
Ola: Taxi’s and tuk tuks are cheap in India, but the use of a taxi hailing app makes negotiating a price much easier for travellers. Ola works similar to Uber, but has a wider reach in India and therefore it is useful to have both. In most cases Ola was slightly cheaper.
Makemytrip: This Indian booking site also has a useful Make my trip app that allows you to book hotels, train tickets and bus tickets in India. The fees are only slightly higher than the real price
Redbus: The Redbus app allows you to book bus tickets online.
Oyo rooms: Oyo rooms also has an app that makes booking hotels in Rajasthan on the go as easy as it can get.
Travelkhana: Are you on the train and hungry and don’t feel like eating the somewhat dubious food on the train? With travelkhana you can order food that will be delivered to you on the next station in your itinerary
Money matters for Backpacking Rajasthan
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 advice is to also bring some cash in euros 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.
Costs of travel in Rajasthan
Accommodation: Less than 10 euro for a dormitory room and less than 15 euro for a basic private room
Food: Street Food is available for 2 – 4 Euro. A complete meal in a budget restaurant will be less than 10 Euro and probably a little bit more in a mid range restaurant.
Transport: Around 8 EURO for a bus journey from Jodhpur to Udaipur and 6 EURO for a sleeper class train ticket from Jaipur to Jaisalmer.
Tours: Tours will be your biggest expense if you opt for them. An overnight desert safari in Jaisalmer is available from 30 Euro onwards. Always check carefully what is and is not included in the price.
Safety when Backpacking Rajasthan
In general, Rajasthan is a very safe region to travel in. Crime is rare and people are very friendly. With common precautions you can save yourself a lot of troubles.
For travellers from the LGBTQ+ community I can recommend this India travel guide.
Travellers health issues in Rajasthan
The biggest risks in Rajasthan are related to your health. Sanitary conditions in Rajasthan are very basic and hygiene standards low. Diarrhoea is the most common health issue among travellers in India. Bring a water filter with you and a hand sanitizer to minimize the risk.
Be careful with street food and dodgy restaurants. If it comes to street food I always look where the local people go. If a place is busy with locals it is probably safe to try. The times I got an upset stomach was mostly due to mid range tourist oriented restaurants where you can’t see what is happening in the kitchen. Ask if they use filtered water to clean vegetables and watch out with salads.
Rajasthan has a desert climate and the sun can be very strong. To protect yourself from heat stroke or sunburn bring adequate protection such as sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
Travel scams in Rajasthan
At last you might be confronted with scams in Rajasthan. People are very creative in trying to get your tourist money in their direction. They might tell you your hotel no longer exists and they know a much better one. Tuk tuk drivers might take a long detour to encourage you to visit their friends shop etc.
These incidents can really sour your mood and you might start to think that all Indians are like that. Let me tell you, they are not. Most Indians are very friendly and helpful people, just be careful with anyone actively approaching you to ‘help’ or the ones who are working in the tourist business. Keep in mind that nothing is for free in Rajasthan. There are a lot of scams and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Solo female travel in Rajasthan
With all the news about sexual violence in India you are probably wondering if it’s still safe to travel as a female. My short answer is yes and I travelled on my own throughout India several times without any real problems.
That said, 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. They are very comfortable, lightweight and easy to wash.
Keep your distance with men: Don’t accept any invitation from a single man or let them take you somewhere secluded or quiet. This includes shopkeepers wanting to show you something special in the back of their store. In your interactions with men it is best to stay polite, but keep your distance. Getting too friendly is sometimes interpreted as an invitation for more.
Look as if you know where you are going: Even if you are completely lost, look self-assured and act as if you know very well where you are going. Make it a rule that once it gets dark your back at your hotel, unless you are with other people that you know. If you feel someone is following you, try to look for other woman in the street and ask for help. Often informing passersby of a dodgy situation will scare away a possible offender.
Avoid crowds: It’s best to avoid crowds, especially during festivals like Holi. As the day progresses men often get drunk and intoxicated and they become rowdy and annoying. Safe ways to enjoy festivals in India is to find a safe spot from where to witness it or stay close to other women and families if they are around.
Use your instinct: When I travel I always use my instinct. If you don’t trust a situation, get out of there.
Sustainable Travel in Rajasthan
Rajasthan is a beautiful state, but it is important to be aware of the possible negative impacts mass tourism can have. Traveling sustainably in Rajasthan, involves conscious choices that minimize your environmental impact and support the local community. Luckily, Rajasthan itself has lots of community-based and eco-tourism initiatives.
Support the local community: You can support the community by purchasing goods and services from local vendors, artisans, markets and restaurants. It is better to try Northern Indian cuisine that uses local ingredients rather than imported foreign foods. Northern Indian food is very vegetarian friendly and it is easy to follow a vegan diet.
Stay in small scale sustainable hotels: It is also better to stay in locally-owned guesthouses or homestays to support the local economy directly. These accommodations often have a more positive impact on the environment compared to large hotels.
Rajasthan has a number of community based tourism initiatives with excellent homestays. Where possible, I can recommend staying in a homestay for an authentic cultural experience. You might want to bring a small book with pictures of your family to break the ice.
You can also try to look for guesthouses or homestays that prioritizes sustainable practices. That said, environmental awareness is still low. It’s up to you to use water sparsely, turn off lights, air conditioning, and heating when leaving your accommodation.
Use public transport: Rajasthan has a well-developed public transportation system with trains and buses. Opt for public transport, whenever possible, instead of private cars to reduce carbon emissions.
Leave no trace principle: I encourage you to take all your trash back with you when you visit Rajasthan and dispose of it responsibly. In other words, leave no trace of your visit. Even better is when you bring something to pick up any of the trash that other people left behind.
To avoid single-use plastics, invest in reusable items. For example, you can bring your own water bottle with a filter. At last, use biodegradable and eco-friendly personal care products to minimize pollution of water sources.
Respect the culture: Besides environmental concerns it is also important to respect the culture. Rajasthan is a state with a Hindu majority. Therefore, learn about the local customs and traditions beforehand and be mindful of your behavior.
People will appreciate it, if you dress modestly, especially at religious sites. Learning a few basic phrases in Hindi, can go a long way in building meaningful connections and to learn more about the local culture. Not everybody is happy to have their picture taken. When in doubt, ask permission.
Resources about Backpacking Rajasthan
Lonely Planet: There are so many things to see and do in Rajasthan that besides the huge Lonely Planet of India there is a separate Lonely Planet for Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra that I recommend if you wish to visit only Rajasthan.
A history of Rajasthan by Rima Hooja: A well written book about Rajasthan’s rich history from the time of the rajas and maharajas to the twentieth century.
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