The state of Rajasthan is a popular tourist destination and cultural center of India. It entices with fairy-tale architecture, breathtaking natural landscapes – and the great hospitality of its people. This is a list of the best places to visit in Rajasthan.
Colorful and manifold Rajasthan
Rajasthan is the largest state of India by surface area. Large parts are made up by the Thar Desert, which extends to the border with neighboring Pakistan. Rajasthan means “Land of Kings”: before India’s independence, the present Indian state consisted of numerous smaller princely states. That is why the area is still known today for its luxurious Maharajah palaces, historic cities and imposing fots. For many, Rajasthan is the symbol of India: colorful and chaotic, yet spiritual and full of history. The people of Rajasthan are hospitable and curious, the cuisine tasty and well-known throughout all of India. These are some of the best tourist destinations in Rajasthan:
Jaipur – the Pink City
Jaipur is the largest city and capital of Rajasthan. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India and is considered the third corner of the “Golden Triangle” – the other two places being Agra and Delhi. There is a reason why Jaipur is at the top of the list for travelers in India: the city has world-famous buildings, a huge market and many excellent restaurants.
Only a few kilometres outside of Jaipur lies the Amber Fort. It is one of the largest and most impressive forts in India, and dates back to the 10th century. Its stately rooms and thick walls are visited by thousands of tourists every day.
Among the other sights of Jaipur is the Hawa Mahal, the “Palace of the Winds”. This richly decorated façade with almost 1000 windows was used centuries ago by the Harem women, who looked out over the streets unseen.
Jaipur is called the “Pink City” – all houses in the city centre were painted pink in 1876, in honor of a visit by Crown Prince Albert Eduard. Until today the buildings have kept their extravagant color – and Jaipur its charm.
Udaipur – the Romantic City of Lakes
North of Jaipur lies Udaipur. It is decorated by seven artificial lakes and is therefore called the “City of Lakes”, or the “Venice of the East”. Udaipur is considered to be an extremely romantic place: the many waters, in which magnificent palaces and old bridges are reflected, give the city a very special atmosphere.
The City Palace is probably the most important building in Udaipur. The foundation stone was laid almost 500 years ago. The palace towers over the city and Lake Pichola, and is the largest (and most beautiful) in India. The Lake Palace is located on a tiny island in the middle of Lake Pichola, and is now a high class hotel. The Monsoon Palace is another landmark of Udaipur: it was built on a hill and offers a beautiful view of the city and its surroundings.
Udaipur became famous when the James Bond movie Octopussy was shot there in 1983. Since then, fans of Agent 007 have come to the city to visit the former shooting locations. Udaipur offers something for everyone: for lovers and romantics as well as for film fans, lovers of Indian architecture, and for everyone who wants to feel the magic of Rajasthan! You can sleep well and cheaply in the many hostels in the city. All this makes Udaipur one of the best places to visit in Rajasthan.
Mount Abu – Holy City in the Mountains
Summers are hot and dry in Rajasthan. To escape the heat, locals and tourists alike go to Mount Abu. The small town is located at 1200 meters and is the only hill station in the state of Rajasthan. Around Nakki Lake, which is surrounded by palm trees and mountains, old temples are clustered – and since a few years also many hotels.
Many Indian wedding couples spend their honeymoon in Mount Abu. But also lovers of architecture get their money’s worth: Not far from Mount Abu lies the Jainist Dilwara Temple. With its unbelievably detailed decorations, the temple built completely out of marble is considered the peak of Jain, maybe even Indian architecture.
Jaisalmer – Golden Jewel in the Desert
In the middle of the Thar Desert, not far from the Pakistani border, you will find Jaisalmer. The desert oasis is famous for its sandstone buildings, which have given it the nickname “Golden City”. Above the traditional buildings is the Fort of Jaisalmer. It is one of the largest in Rajasthan – and certainly one of the most impressive! Behind its meter-thick walls are numerous Hindu and Jain temples, cafés and souvenir shops. Above all, however, the Fort of Jaisalmer is one of the few forts still inhabited. Several thousand people live in the medieval fortress, which therefore combines history and life.
A stay in Jaisalmer is never complete without a desert safari. Almost all hotels in town offer a two or three day trip to the Thar Desert – with camel, tent, music and food. The starry sky alone is worth the trip on camel back.
Jodhpur – the Blue City of Rajasthan
If you are going to Jaisalmer, make a stopover in Jodhpur. While Jaipur is the pink one, Jodhpur is called the “Blue City”. The houses were painted in light blue to protect them from mosquitoes. Blue is also considered the color of the Brahmin caste. Jodhpur was once the seat of the Rajput princes – the many palaces and fortresses of the city still bear witness to this today. The Meherangarh Fort was built on a hill and towers high above Jodhpur. From there you can overlook the blue houses of the city and the golden Thar Desert. Five hundred years after the fort was built, it now serves as a museum well worth seeing. There you can see the royal rooms and furniture of the former princely palace.
Jodhpur is famous for its classical Rajasthani cuisine: samosas and pakhoras are served on every street corner. The yoghurt drink Lassi tastes delicious and refreshing – which is especially welcome during the red-hot summer months.
Other places of interest in Jhodpur include the Ghanta Ghar, a two hundred year old bell tower in the centre of the city, and the Umaid Bhavan Palace. This is one of the most beautiful in Rajasthan and is considered a prime example of architecture combining western and eastern influences. Today, the pompous building houses a luxury hotel.
Hippies and Pilgrims in Pushkar
Pushkar is a tranquil pilgrimage site and the holiest city in Rajasthan. Next to Varanasi it is probably one of the holiest cities in all of India. It was built around the Pushkar Lake. According to legend, the Hindu god Brahma created the water. It is one of the holiest lakes in the whole of India, worshiped by Hindus and Sikhs alike. On its shores are numerous ancient temples. The most famous of them is the Brahma Temple. It is the only one of its kind. Besides the millions of Hindu pilgrims, many backpackers also come to Pushkar. The hippies and drop-outs find peace, spirituality and much surrounding nature in the small town. The yoga classes are also very popular with tourists.
Every November, Pushkar – which by the way means “Blue Lotus” – hosts the world’s largest camel market. Hundreds of thousands of traders and curious people from all over the country come and turn Pushkar into one huge bazaar.
Only a few kilometres east of Pushkar lies Ajmer with its 500,000 inhabitants. The city is famous for the grave of Muinuddin Chishti, an important Sufi saint. The shrine is visited by Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs – more than 150,000 people come every day.
Summary: the Best Places to Visit in Rajasthan
- Mount Abu
The Most Beautiful Forts in Rajasthan
- Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
- Jaisalmer Fort, Jaisalmer
- Kumbhalgarh, Udaipur
- Amber Fort, Jaipur
- Chittor Fort, Chittorgarh
- Jaigarh Fort, Jaipur
- Taragarh Fort, Bundi
Rajashan Off the Beaten Path
- Mandore: old city of temples
- Mandawa: well preserved havelis (palatial houses)
- Ajmer: holy Sufi shrine
- Abhaneri: fascinating step well
- Bikaner: imposing fort
The Best Rajasthan Travel Guides
- Patterns of India: A Journey Through Colors, Textiles, and the Vibrancy of Rajasthan
- Lonely Planet Rajasthan, Delhi & Agra
- Insight Guides Pocket Rajasthan
- Fodor’s Essential India: with Delhi, Rajasthan, Mumbai & Kerala