Rajasthan is northern India’s largest state by area and the ‘Land of Kings’ has a hell of a lot to do, see, eat and shop. Annoyingly, every city deserves a visit which makes allocating a short 14 days an exercise in extreme FOMO.
Before we left Canada we had elected some priorities: Agra (Taj Mahal), Jaipur and Varanasi. (The latter is actually located in Uttar Pradesh, not Rajasthan.)
But where else should we spend the rest of our time? Top choices included Jaipur, Pushkar, Jodphur, and Jaisalmer.
Highlights of Rajasthani cities:
Delhi – Red Fort, Jama Fasjid*, Humayan’s Tomb`, Chandi Chowk Market, Baha’i Temple`
Agra – Taj Mahal*, Agra Fort`, nearby Fatehpur Sikri
Ranthambore National Park – jeep-tiger safaris
Jaipur – the Pink City*, City Palace`, Amber Fort*, Nahargarh Fort*, Central Museum*, Royal Gaitor*, Galta Monkey Palace`
Pushkar – Camel rides*, Pushkar Lake*, hippie vibes & drum circles
Jodphur – Meherangarh Fort*, Blue City
Udaipur – Lake Pichola*, lake cruises, culture of rooftop dining*, havelis, Monsoon Palace`
Jaisalmer` – Jaisalmer Fort, overnight camel safaris
Varanasi* (Uttar Pradesh) – Hindu holy city located on the Ganges, maze of alleys
`Did not get see this
Ultimately we settled on: New Delhi – Agra – Jaipur – Jodphur – Udaipur – Varanasi.
Udaipur was a critical Rajasthani terminus because it has an airport, which allowed us to affordably fly to Varanasi.
Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed to be skipping Pushkar because this travel blogger beautifully portrayed it in this post.
So, is two weeks enough time to travel Rajasthan?
Yes, you can see Rajasthan in two weeks, if it’s all you have. You’ll have to make compromises though…
Despite its Thar Desert beauty, Jaisalmer proved too far out of reach for us. Three weeks would have perfectly allowed us to accommodate Jaisalmer, slow our roll, and dig into the places we went a bit deeper. But hey, c’est la vie; time and money are finite.
Last-minute surprise additions to our itinerary
We had originally planned to travel by rail but we were easily persuaded to take a private car and driver. That and we didn’t make any rail bookings in advance of arriving in India. However, travelling by car allowed us to see a lot very quickly, and with greater flexibility. But, that’s not to say we were totally well advised on our route…
The travel agent at our Delhi hotel told us that if we were fans of nature, instead of spending three nights in Jaipur, we should detour to Ranthambore National Park for a tiger jeep safari. He implied this was a 3-4 hour diversion. It was not. We left Agra around 11:30 a.m., made a stop to tour Fatehpur Sikri and a step well at Chand Baori near Abhaneri. We didn’t arrive at our resort in Sawai Madhopur until 9:30 pm. Further, that ten hour driving day was made to feel all the longer when three of those hours were spent on a two-lane road after dark.
Lest I say that nothing makes you feel more alive than errant highway cows and passing maneuvers that have you darting back into your own lane mere seconds before smashing into oncoming traffic.
And sadly, we did not see a tiger on our morning safari so the excursion could easily be considered a bust – except I’m an optimist so I have no ill will. It was interesting to see a natural side of India and its brand of ‘national park’.
The other addition to our itinerary was Pushkar, which as you know, I had been keen to see. And this time, it was on the way.
Otherwise, how did I feel about our route? Pretty good. Here’s exactly how it broke down:
Northern India travel itinerary:
Delhi – 2 nights, 1 full day (note: we arrived at midnight)
Agra – 1 night, about 1 day
Sawai Madhopur (Ranthambore NP) – 1 night, 0.5 days
Jaipur – 2 nights, 1.5 days
Pushkar – 1 night, 0.5 days
Jodphur – 1 night, about 1 day
Udaipur – 3 nights, 2 full days (Holi Festival!)
Varanasi – 3 nights, 2 full days
Normally I don’t like to stay just one night in a new city but FOMO may have gotten the best of me. I also believe this won’t be my last visit to Rajasthan.
Driving distances & times in Rajasthan:
Delhi – Agra: 3 hours, 195 km (mostly tolled expressway)
Agra – Sawai Madhopur: 10 hours, 230 km (90 minute stop in Fatehpur Sikri; 30 minute detour to the step well. Highway, then two-lane road south of Dausa that bottlenecks at many small towns and village. Google Maps indicates this should take about 5 hours.
Sawai Madhopur – Jaipur: 3.5-4 hours, 164 km (same two-lane road, then an expressway at Dausa through to Jaipur.)
Jaipur – Pushkar: 3.5-4 hours; 145 km (highway to Ajmer, then a two-lane road)
Pushkar – Jodphur: 4 hours; 188 km (we seemed to take a series of two-lane back roads)
Jodphur – Udaipur via Ranakpur: 5 hours/171 km to Ranakpur and 2 hours/94 km to Udaipur. Expressway until the junction at highway 105, which then becomes a two-lane rural road. The road leading to the Jain temples at Ranakpur is winding and treed. Exiting the mountainous canyon is slow going if you get caught behind a lorry. Luckily there are a lot of cheeky monkeys to look at. Expressway into Udaipur.
Rajasthan: should I travel by train or rent a car?
I had introduced the idea of car and driver to Greg but we had some reservations about safety. Having opted for car, here are what I perceive to be the pro’s and con’s to be:
Pros: Total flexibility, and no fussing with train departures, delays and getting to train stations. Air conditioning, comfort, ability to dictate when you wake up, relationship building with a local who has intimate knowledge of the country you’re travelling, a driver at your beck and call, and not dealing with auto rickshaws to reach attractions. We saw more than we ever could have if navigating ourselves and we had the ability to see off-the-beaten-track sights between cities.
Cons: Cost, less perceived ‘free time’, and constantly eating at recommended restaurants where the driver undoubtedly received a commission. (Note: every meal we had was spectacular, they were just more expensive than what we likely would have chosen for ourselves). Some roads were sketchy and driver fatigue was actually terrifying. Also, in retrospect, I wrestle with the feeling that we may have insulated ourselves from a ‘real’ India experience.
Final verdict: For this trip, hiring a driver was a fine idea. Greg and I have never had so little conflict while travelling, as generally, the logistics were made to be pretty stress-free.