It would be hard not to stumble upon Rajasthan when planning a trip to India. Known as the jewel in India’s crown, the state of Rajasthan is home to many lavish palaces and forts that tend to take you back in time. The famous Golden Triangle route – the most visited traveler’s path in India – concludes in the pink city of Jaipur in Rajasthan, considered as the gateway to Rajasthan. While Jaipur is the heart of Rajasthan, there is another side of this royal state that is rustic and offbeat which I’ll show you in this in-depth Rajasthan itinerary.
Once you step out of the well-preserved palaces and colorful bazaars of Jaipur, you are greeted by the more traditional villages and forgotten grandeur of Rajput kings who ruled these lands for centuries.
The opulence of the Mewar dynasty can be witnessed in the flamboyant palaces in Udaipur, also known as the city of lakes. A short drive away is the historic city of Jodhpur, famous for its hilltop fort of Mehrangarh and old blue colored houses. Jodhpur is also known as the gateway to the Thar desert which includes Jaisalmer’s fairy-tale desert outpost.
READ: Fun Things To Do in Jaipur, India
Rajasthan is a destination that draws people back, literally. As per a local saying, most people who visit Rajasthan once are bound to visit it again. And it’s not a surprise, looking at the beauty and culture of this land. The hospitality of the Rajasthanis keeps you wanting more and the urge to explore is undeniable. While it is quite impossible to cover the whole state in a couple of days, if you are hard-pressed for time, here is our itinerary to experience the best of offbeat Rajasthan in four days.
Your Offbeat Rajasthan Itinerary
Day 1: Udaipur
Start off your intrepid Rajasthan itinerary in the beautiful and historic city of Udaipur. Known as the city of lakes, it was the early capital of the Mewar kingdom and is a perfect example of magnificence and romanticism that fantasy touched Rajasthan has to offer. The city is wrapped in the alluring beauty of royal palaces and artificial lakes and is also known as the ‘Venice of the East’.
The city palace located on the bank of Lake Pichola is indeed a fine portrayal of the fusion of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture. The complex structure is a sight for sore eyes with its large corridors, terraces, courtyards, and gardens opening out to beautiful views of the lake. The palace contains the holy Jagdish temple which is an important landmark in the cultural landscape of the city.
The largest lake in Udaipur, Lake Pichola, is one of the most scenic lakes on offer, surrounded by palaces, havelis and temples. The lake looks especially serene in the evening and at night and is a popular destination for tourists and young lovers who want to enjoy a romantic boat ride. Situated on the Jag Niwal Island in the midst of Lake Pichola and built as a summer retreat is the world renown Lake Palace. This palace is now owned by Taj hotels and has been restored as a heritage hotel. While admission into the hotel is based on reservations, you can always take a boat ride around this astounding structure which gives the appearance of being built on water.
Udaipur is closely connected to the story of the great warrior king, Maharana Pratap. About 60 kms away is the Kumbhalgarh Fort, which is said to be the birthplace of Maharana Pratap. This fort is believed to have the second largest wall in the world after the Great Wall of China. Close by, the Haldighati mountain pass is frequently visited by history lovers to remember the legend of Maharana Pratap and his faithful horse Chetak. While history says that the epic battle between Maharana Pratap and Raja Man Singh of Amber took place in Haldighati, legend says the soil here turned orange because of the bloodshed caused in the battle.
The Mewar kings were art lovers and their patronage helped local handicrafts and artisans flourish exponentially. The traditional artworks are still practiced and you can buy the best textiles and crafts available from the colorful bazaars. The popular bazaars for souvenir shopping are Bada Bazaar, Hathi Pol and Palace Road which have small ancestral shops filled with silverware, jewelry, wooden art and batik paintings.
Make sure that you don’t leave Udaipur without tasting the wonderful street food. It is interesting to note that Udaipur’s street food scene includes many dishes that are not authentically Rajasthani; however they have been customized to local taste and flavors. Some of the must eats are Daal Baati, Mirchi bada, kachori and egg bhurji which is a spicy form of scrambled eggs.
Day 2: Chittorgarh
Recently brought into the limelight by Bollywood, Chittorgarh lies on the banks of Rivers Berach and Gambini and is the perfect second stop on your Rajasthan Itinerary. About two hours away from Udaipur, this city is named after the main fort, Chittorgarh, and has been ruled by some of the most fiercely independent kings of the time. The fort stands tall as a testimony to not only its brave warriors but also whispers the tales of the brave women who committed Jauhar, an old Hindu custom of mass immolation to avoid capture and enslavement by foreign invaders.
Every year, the city hosts the biggest Rajput festival called the “Jauhar Mela” to commemorate Queen Padmavati’s jauhar, the most famous legend associated with this fort. As per the tale, Allaudin Khalji, a Turkish ruler who had conquered Delhi was captivated by the queen’s beauty and attacked the fort to capture her. Following an eight-month-long siege, Rana Ratan Singh and his army were defeated – but before Khalji could reach the fort, the queen and the ladies of the court had jumped into the funeral pyre to escape capture and what would come next. A chilling story, perhaps only true in bits and pieces, but nonetheless further fortifies the claims of haunting incidences heard in the corridors.
The expansive fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it is spread across 700 acres which originally had 84 water bodies. Some of the important structures inside the fort are Vijay Stambha, Kirti Stambha, Rana Kumbha Palace and Padmini Palace.
Chittorgarh is a favorite for nature enthusiasts due to the many close by wildlife sanctuaries like Bhainsrodgarh, Bassi and Sitamata Sanctuary, which is named after Sita Devi who lived here in Valmiki’s ashram as per Ramayana.
Day 3: Jodhpur
The blue city of Jodhpur has retained most of its original charm as it remains untouched by urbanization and mass tourism. The rhythm of the city appears to be a fine balance between the traditional way of life and slowly emerging modernization. The first thing that strikes you about the city are the blue houses. In accordance with popular belief, the homes of Brahmins were painted blue to show that they were of the highest caste. Traversing through the quiet alleys encapsulated by the sapphire painted walls is a captivating experience.
The Mehrangarh Fort stands out amidst the rest of Jodhpur, literally. Built on top of a vertical cliff, the fort has many royal apartments, large corridors and courtrooms. The museum inside the fort is a great way to learn about the luxury experienced by the kings and their royal courtiers. ‘Phool Mahal’, a room dedicated to pleasure, proves to be the masterpiece of the fort with thousands of tiny mirrors and colorful stained-glass windows creating an ambiance of mysterious decadence. The fort terrace also offers panoramic views of the blue housed city and the barren landscape; the locals can vouch that the view is magical during sunrise and sunset. Another unique way to enjoy this architectural marvel is through ziplining with this fort as a backdrop. A short walk away is Jaswant Thada, a marble stone relic dedicated to Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. Not frequented by tourists, this peaceful cenotaph is a good place to relax and escape the heat.
The heritage and royalty of Jodhpur is best witnessed at Umaid Bhawan Palace, a living museum and luxury hotel. The royal family still occupies a section of this astounding palace and is the custodian of the art and collections it houses. Originally constructed to provide employment to farmers who were facing famine in the region, the grandeur and warmth of the palace is best witnessed by staying at the hotel.
One of the best ways to experience the intrinsic rhythm of Jodhpur is to drive through its parched landscape to nearby rural villages. It is quite likely that you would spot some black bucks amidst the parched and arid land. Meeting the villagers would allow you understand how difficult it is to live in a desert, away from basic conveniences that we are so used to. You can also take a desert safari which includes a camel trek and an overnight stay in a desert Camp.
Day 4: Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer, also known as the golden city, is about four hours’ drive from Jodhpur. Named after the Maharawal Jaisal Singh, Jaisalmer means the “The Hill Fort of Jaisal”. The fort is also known as the golden fort due to the hue of the yellow sandstone used to build it which turns honey gold during sunset. The fort also houses many beautiful Jain temples within its complex; these show the significant influence of Jain community on Jaisalmer.
If you are an adventure seeker, Jaisalmer has many treats for you. The deserts of Jaisalmer are considered to be perfect for dune bashing and off-roading. You can also do parasailing with your parachute tied to a jeep racing through the never-ending deserts. The famous desert safari is a must do in Jaisalmer, take a trek through the desert on camel back and then sleep under the stars in luxury desert camps. If this does not sound adventurous enough for you, try your hand at paramotoring high above the sand dunes while the desert breeze guides your way.
The essence of Jaisalmer is in its rustic ways, and there is no better way of exploring farther into the desert than a camel safari. You can travel to abandoned towns and forgotten havelis in the heart of the desert. Soaked in legend and myth, let this land fascinate you and take you back in time through its offbeat corners. If you like spooky places, then Kuldhara Village in Jaisalmer is a must in your itinerary. This abandoned village is believed to have been deserted by the villagers overnight. The town is desolate and lies untouched due to paranormal incidents reported here after dark. Khaba Fort is another abandoned town that is considered a supernatural ground based on its history.
Truly an oasis in the desert, Jaisalmer’s prized retreat is the Gadsisar Lake. The lake banks are surrounded by shrines, temples, chattris and ghats. In the past, the lake was the main source of water for the whole city of Jaisalmer. The villages and surroundings are adorned by many forgotten havelis and while many of them have been renovated into heritage hotels, some lie in ruins wrapped in folklore. However, each of these havelis bear the classic and intricate architecture influenced by Rajasthani, Mughal and European styles.
There are many important temples in Rajasthan that are popular for their divine powers. The Tanot Mata Temple in Jaisalmer was apparently untouched by the overwhelming shelling carried out by Pakistan amid the Indo-Pak war of 1971. The temple, located near the India Pakistan border, is believed to have Goddess Tanot’s divine blessing; and it is thought that due to this none of the bombs that fell in the temple compound detonated, thus the temple stayed intact.
A trip to India is incomplete without experiencing the rich culture and hospitality of Rajasthan. Everything here including the food, music, and art exudes vibrant colors and life. This grand state is an amalgamation of communities, culture, and traditions and will definitely make you fall in love with the way of life here. The best time to visit Rajasthan is during one of its festivals when people from all over the world gather together to celebrate the spirit of Rajasthan.
Big thanks to Pujarini Mitra from mysoultravels.com for writing this excellent guide to Rajasthan, India. Feel free to follow his adventures on Instagram.