Rajasthan itinerary: the highlights in 3 weeks
Rajasthan with its rich cultural heritage is one of the most popular states in India. And for good reasons, because there are a lot of things to see and do. So much so, that planning your Rajasthan itinerary may seem like a daunting task. Therefore, this post is here to help you.
Most Rajasthan itineraries focus on Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur. These were once the major cities of the princely states that were ruled by rajput kings and maharajas. Their forts and palaces still stand as a reminder of this royal past and are indeed the highlights in any Rajasthan itinerary.
You will notice that each city has its own charms reflecting the cultural diversity of the region. There are over 50 languages and wherever you go on your Rajasthan itinerary, you will find unique cultural traditions whether it is in the folk music, dance, handicrafts, local cuisine or traditional clothes the people wear. Rajasthan is therefore the perfect destination if you love culture and food.
Even for nature lovers, Rajasthan has something to offer with the Ranthambore national park, the Sariska tiger reserve, the scenic Aravalli hills and the silence of the sand dunes in the Thar desert.
My Rajasthan itinerary
I went to Rajasthan twice and both times I was there for over a month. My Rajasthan itinerary included the most popular highlights as well as some off the beaten path places like Bikaner and Delwara.
Personally, I am not a big fan of cities and yet, most of my Rajasthan itinerary revolved around them. Sill I absolutely loved both my journeys. I think it was the laid back atmosphere of most of the cities as well as the ample opportunities to escape the crowds that made me enjoy Rajasthan so much.
My train jourmeys also bring back lots of heartwarming memories. I love trains and they also happened to be the best way to cover the large distances in between places on my Rajasthan itinerary. In sleeper class you always meet friendly people and thats where I learned about the Rajasthani hospitality.
Most people are probably not as lucky as I am and may not have a month available to them. Therefore I made a 3 week Rajasthan itinerary by train. In 3 weeks you can see the most important highlights of Rajasthan in a comfortable way without having to rush it.
For more practical information about traveling in Rajasthan I can recommend my travel guide with everything you need to know about backpacking Rajasthan.
A 3 week Rajasthan itinerary
Day 1 – 2: Delhi
For most people their Rajasthan itinerary starts in Delhi. 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 I really developed a love for this magnificent city.
Once you get to know Delhi you will discover there are many hidden gems such as the ancient Mughal buildings, the delicious street food, the colorful markets in Chandni Chowk or the bustling streets of Old Delhi.
Highlights of Delhi
Jame Masjid and Old Delhi: The Jame masjid is one of my favourite places in the city. It’s always busy, yet there is a certain serenity and spirituality that makes this a peaceful place amidst the hectic streets of Old Delhi.
Red Fort: One of the major attractions in Delhi is the royal palace of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. A must visit if you want to learn more about Delhi’s Mughal history.
Chandni Chowk bazaar: Chandni Chowk is an intricate maze of alleys where you can easily get lost, but find something interesting at every corner. Here you will also find Delhi’s bazaars. Don’t miss the spice market and the colourful wedding market.
Humayun’s tomb and Nizamuddin Basti: One of the beautys among the Mughal buildings in Delhi is the beautiful Humayun’s tomb that lies near Nizamuddin Basti. Nizamuddin is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Delhi and feels like a world on its own. Here you will find some interesting sufi shrines and also lots of great street food.
Lodi gardens: You will find more ancient Mughal buildings in the quiet and green Lodi Gardens. They are very popular among young couples and Indian families. This is probably one of the most peaceful spots in Delhi.
Qutb Minar: Qutb Minar, the tallest brick minaret in the world is more than just a minaret. It’s a wonderful place with impressive ruins.
You can read more about Delhi in my 3 day Delhi itinerary.
Transport from Delhi
It is easy to travel from Delhi to other cities in India. There are convenient trains from Delhi to Jaipur, Bikaner and Jaisalmer.
Accomodation: Natraj Yes please is not the cheapest place to stay in Delhi, but unlike many others a place to remember and where you want to come back. A pleasant surprise among the grubby basics in Paharganj. So, yes to Natraj. And if you are really on a budget there is always the reliable chain of Zostel hostel with two hostels in Delhi. One in New Delhi and one in South Delhi.
Day 3-5: Jaipur, the pink city
Together with Delhi and Agra, Jaipur is part of India’s so-called Golden triangle. These cities hold some of India’s most important historical sights. Jaipur is rightly among them with its royal forts and palaces that lie in the rocky Aravalli hills surrounding the city.
Jaipur is nicknamed the pink city because a lot of its buildings are made from a pinkish sandstone. Personally I thought the color was more like something in between red and orange. The city is also known for its traditional handicrafts such as handmade textiles with block printing, pottery and jewellery.
Jaipur is one of the most hectic cities on your Rajasthan itinerary. The key is to take it slow. Spend one day exploring Jaipur itself and another day you could rent a tuk tuk to explore the forts and palaces outside of the city. Check this 2 day Jaipur itinerary for more inspiration.
Highlights of jaipur
Jaipur city palace: The Jaipur city palace and the nearby Jantar Mantar, an old astronomical observatory, are among the top things to do in Jaipur. The palace is a large complex that includes gates, courtyards, temples and beautifully decorated rooms.
Jaipur bazaar: In the bazaar you will understand why Rajasthan’s capital is called the pink city. It is home to the famous Hawa Mahal that is a high screen wall built so that the women of the royal household could look outside without being seen. The bazaar is also one of the best places to buy your souvenirs with almost all handicrafts of Rajasthan for bargain prices.
Amber fort and Nahalgarh fort: The most beautiful fort I visited in Rajasthan is the Amber fort. It has different rooms and courtyards, all decorated with care. Further up in the Aravalli hills you can find Nahargarh fort overlooking the city. The views are the main reason to visit this fort.
Galtaji: Galtaji is a complex of several palaces and temples with very beautiful paintings inside. It is a peaceful place inhabited by peacocks and monkeys and is therefore sometimes also called the monkey temple.
Gaitore: The Gaitore cenotaphs are the place where many of the former royal rulers were cremated. This place gets surprisingly few visitors even tough the cenotaphs are very pretty with intricate carvings.
Transport from Delhi to Jaipur
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.
Accomodation: Vinayak Guest house was among the best guesthouses in Rajasthan that I stayed at.
Day 6-8: Bikaner
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 people worship rats, but it turned out to be a very 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. In Bikaner you can also arrange a camel safari into the desert.
Highlights of Bikaner
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.
Transport from Jaipur to Bikaner
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, the Golden city
In a remote corner of the Thar desert, lies Jaisalmer with its impressive fort built on top of the hill. This pleasant city, full of color and beauty, was one of the highlights of my Rajasthan itinerary. Everything I imagined about India came true here.
Jaisalmer is also known as the golden city, because of the yellow sandstone that is used in its architecture and the yellowish desert landscape that surrounds it. Jaisalmer has kept a small town atmosphere and in the suburbs it almost feels like a rural desert village.
It’s the friendly people that bring color to this otherwise golden landscape. The women in red sarees and the men with their typical Rajasthani turbans as well as the colorful markets are a joy to the eye.
Jaisalmer is also one of the best places to arrange a desert camel safari. For many one of the highlights of their Rajasthan itinerary.
Highlights of Jaisalmer
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 ! It’s a magical place with beautiful temples and havelis. These mansions from rich traders have beautifully decorated exteriors. There are lots of them in Jaisalmer fort, but Patwon ki Haveli is without doubt the most impressive. Also don’t miss the Jain temples with its intricate detailed carvings. The best time to wander around its streets is in the afternoon. There are several viewpoint towers from where you can see the sun set.
Bada Bagh: bada bagh translates as big garden, but is actually a cemetery where the royal rulers of Jaisalmer were buried. The cenotaphs that they built are quite impressive. It’s a peaceful place just outside the city.
Gadi Sagar lake: Gadi Sagar lake is one of the best places to see the sun rise in Jaisalmer. It’s a manmade lake to provide water to Jaisalmer. There are several beautiful pavilions that seem to float on the water. It’s a very serene and picturesque place in the early morning.
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. There are plenty of tour operators offering desert safaris 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 and negotiate a fair price.
Transport from Jaipur to Jaisalmer
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: Oasis Star Haveli Guesthouse was a great budget option in Jaisalmer.
Day 12 – 14: Jodhpur, the blue city
The blue city of Jodhpur has two faces. The quiet and peaceful streets below Mehrangarh fort and the bustling Sardar market. Both are not to be missed, but two different worlds.
The narrow alleys below Mehrangarh fort are extremely picturesque, because of the characteristic blue houses. Here, Jodhpur feels like a small town where everybody knows each other and where you will be greeted with a smile. 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.
At Sardar market, Jodhpur is a true Indian city with an explosion of color, smells, sounds and sights and a variety of great street food.
Highlights of Jodhpur
Mehrangarh Fort: Mehrangarh 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. It’s a tough climb up, but you will be rewarded with beautiful views over the city.
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.
Transport from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur
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
Accomodation: There are two accommodation options I can recommend in Jodhpur. Durag Niwas Guesthouse is a clean and nicely decorated place that supports a good cause. You can visit the projects of the Sambhali Trust. Reservations are recommended, as they are often full. 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 Mehrangarh fort overlooking the city.
Day 15 -17: Romantic Udaipur
Udaipur was one of my favourite cities on my Rajasthan itinerary. With its laid back atmosphere, i ended up staying much longer here than I originally planned. Lakes, palaces and plenty of restaurants and cafes with organic food kept me busy and entertained for days.
While Udaipur itself already has lots to offer, there are also a number of great day trips. It’s scenic location in the Aravali hills offers plenty of opportunities to see the beautiful rural scenery outside the city. At the same time you can visit good causes on the way such as the Animal rescue center in Badi or the Delwara Heritage trail.
Highlights of Udaipur
City palace: This is one of the largest palaces in Rajasthan. It was built over a period of 400 years and is actually more a complex with several buildings each with their own gateways, courtyards and gardens.
Lake pichola: You can’t miss Pichola lake that lies in the center of Udaipur. There are two islands. The Jag Mandir island with the Garden Lake Palace and the Jag Niwas island with the expensive Taj Lake Palace hotel.
Jagdish temple: The Jagdish temple behind the city palace is one of the largest and oldest Hindu temples in Udaipur. The construction was finished in 1651 and the temple has an idol of the deity Jagannath, a form of Vishnu.
Udaipur bazaar: In the backstreets behind the jagdish temple you will find Udaipur’s bazaar. The further you venture into Udaipur the more local the experience will get. You will find lots of handicrafts, hidden temples, shrines, mosques and excellent street food.
Moonsoon palace: The monsoon palace was once owned by the Mewar royal family, but lost most of its glory. What makes this place worth visiting is the location high up in the Aravalli hills and the sweeping views over lake pichola and Udaipur. This is one of the best spots to see the sun set.
Fateh Sagar lake: Udaipur is surrounded by several lakes. Fateh Sagar Lake is one of the most beautiful ones. It is home to three islands. One is having a Solar Observatory and the other one the popular Nehru park. At the banks of the lake you will also find the beautiful Mewar gardens of Saheliyon ki Bari.
Delwara: Delwara is a former royal principality 40 minutes from Udaipur. It is an incredible scenic and picturesque village with beautiful Jain temples. The history of the town and Jain temples make it a very worthwhile visit.
Badi: Badi is a small village home to the quiet and pristine Badi lake and the Animal aid rescue center that is a worthwhile project to visit or volunteer at.
For more about Udaipur you can check my 3 day Udaipur itinerary
Transport from Jodhpur to Udaipur
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: Pushkar
Pushkar is a small Hindu pilgrimage town curled around a lake. It 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. Therefore it’s always busy, yet there is a laid back atmosphere that makes it hard to leave.
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.
Highlights of Pushkar
Pushkar lake: Most activities in Pushkar are surrounded by the scenic and holy Pushkar lake. There are over 52 bathing ghats and they are a great place for watching all the religious ceremonies going on. Don’t miss the beautiful sun sets either and then the evening aarthi at Varah ghat.
Temples: Despite the importance of the Indian God Brahma, there are only a few Brahma temples in India. The one in Pushkar is the most important one. If you are not a Hindu it is probably not that special and there is no shortage of other temples in Pushkar. I really liked the South Indian Rangji temple
Ajmer: 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.
Transport from Udaipur to Pushkar
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 was without doubt the best place I stayed in Rajasthan. A beautiful Haveli with clean rooms and friendly people.
Day 20-21: Back to Delhi
You can end your Rajasthan itinerary in Delhi again. 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.
Rajasthan itinerary extensions
If you have more time in your Rajasthan itinerary there are lots of places you can add. For nature and wild life don’t miss the opportunity to spot tigers in the Ranthambore National Park or Sariska tiger reserve.
If you fell in love with the beautiful architecture of the haveli mansions head to Shekhawati. This off the beaten path region has some of the most beautiful haveli’s in Rajasthan. Bundi is another gem on the road less travelled that you should consider.
At last you could extend your Rajasthan itinerary with some places nearby such as Agra for the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur sikri or Madurai.
A 2 week Rajasthan itinerary
If you have less time it is also possible to see Rajasthan in 2 weeks. In this Rajasthan itinerary I allotted 2 – 3 days for every city. It is possible to see most cities in Rajasthan in 1 – 2 days, although you will have to rush it a bit to see everything.
In 2 weeks you might need to skip some cities that are in this Rajasthan itinerary. I would suggest to skip Bikaner. Although it is a lovely off the beaten path desert city it does not compete with Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Udaipur.
If you like to combine your Rajasthan itinerary with Kerala I can recommend this 2 week itinerary from Yoko Meshi
Rajasthan itinerary 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 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 and 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.
Accomodation on your Rajasthan itinerary
I have already given some personal recommendations for accomodation from my own Rajasthan itinerary. Rajasthan has some really beautiful places to stay. Some of the old forts and palaces have now turned into beautiful hotels. They do come with a certain price tag though.
For those on a budget, new hostels with clean and professional dormitories are opening up throughout India. A reliable chain is the 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.
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