I was lucky enough to independently explore the incredible country of India last year, so if you’re planning to travel to the northern regions of India, this itinerary may provide some inspiration for your journey.
The thing with India is the sheer size of it, which can be pretty daunting. Picking a specific region to explore is a good idea since you’ll have more time to experience the local culture and you’ll get a better overall feeling for the place. With that spirit in mind, this guide is limited to Delhi and the region of Rajasthan.
From Delhi to Agra we took a tourist bus, however from Agra onwards we hired a driver. I have heard mixed reviews on the trains in India, and we did experience them in the south of the country. However, for ease of movement we opted for a driver. We organised these trips via Hippo Cabs. They have an app which organises one way travel in air-conditioned cabs. It was straightforward, reliable and easy to use.
Route: New Delhi – Agra – Jaipur – Pushkar – Jodhpur – Ranakpur –Udaipur.
Alternative ending: Mumbai or Ahmedabad.
*Additional stops: Ranthambore National Park, Ranakpur Temple.
Highlights of this tour:
Experience the craziness of Delhi’s bazzars, visit the Taj Mahal, one of the greatest wonders of the world and head deep into the wonderful region of Rajasthan state: filled with stunning landscapes, vibrant culture, delicious food and friendly people.
You will visit 3 of the biggest cities in Rajasthan: Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur and see the well preserved historic fortifications and palaces.
Along the way you’ll discover a famous national park (and hopefully come across the elusive Bengal Tiger or Asian Leopard), see the edges of the Thar Desert and visit the most romantic place in all of India – Udaipur.
Many international flights arrive into India’s capital city of Delhi, so I recommend you commence your trip from there.
Delhi: 3 nights
Begin your trip in the capital of Delhi, diving straight into Indian culture head first. Explore the city in a tuk-tuk, head to the impressive India Gate and marvel at the fountains surrounding the giant war memorial.
Next head to the Red Fort and see for yourself the red coloured sandstone that gives the fort its name. I can also recommend a visit to Humayun’s Tomb – a 16th century tomb with extensive gardens and structures to visit.
On day two, dive into the bazaars and explore the bustling markets filled with people, silverware, flowers, bright fabrics, spices and even more people. After your intense shopping trip, head to New Delhi area to recover and find inner peace at the Lotus Temple. This modern temple is an architectural marvel.
Finally, spice up your evening with the sampling of a Delhi original dish – Butter Chicken!
Spend your last morning by filling your belly on a Delhi food tour. I can highly recommend Delhi Food Walks, where you have the choice of a breakfast or brunch tour through the Chandi Chowk bazaar. This tour is a great education if you are new to Indian food.
*Tip: There are many scam artists in the area! One popular tactic is to claim they work for the government tourism office. They will provide directions and can be a nuisance, typically directing you to unscrupulous travel agents who will be more than happy to plan your entire trip for an inflated price. Just be street smart.
Agra - 1 night
Head south towards Agra, the home of the world famous Taj Mahal. Get an early start, beat the crowds and enjoy the site at sunrise if possible.
There are 3 entrance gates to the Taj Mahal so be sure to read up on each so you know which is the smartest option for you. We stayed in the Eastern Gate section at Hotel Sheela and it was an easy walk – less than ten minutes to the Taj. The park is open 30 minutes before sunrise so I’d advise getting there early to avoid the midday heat and the crowds. Be patient with the crowds, it’s worth it. It may be a touristy place, but you cannot visit this part of India and not see the Taj Mahal.
If you have time in the afternoon you can see the Agra Fort and walled city, the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty.
Ranthambore National Park - Full day or 1 night
You can extend your accommodation in Agra or plan your trip to the Ranthambore National park and stay in one of the resort hotels there. The park is famous for its tigers and is one of the best locations in India to see the majestic predators in the wild.
Timings for entry into, and exit from, the park vary according to the season.
Note: The Ranthambore National Park is closed during the rain season, usually around mid-June to the end of September.
Jaipur - 3 nights
Head west to the pink city of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, with its beautifully preserved palaces including the Hawa Mahal and the Amber Fort. The Amber Fort is located high on a hilltop, a strong defensive position overlooking the city. Allow a full day to explore the fort.
I also recommend a look into the Chand Baori (Stepwell) which is situated in the centre of the city. Whilst you are nearby I recommend an afternoon strolling through the bazaars for gifts and authentic Rajahstani goods. Jaipur is famed for its textiles and there are many vivid colourful shawls and fabrics to choose from.
Jaipur has many different places to eat, one unusual establishment is Chool – a school themed restaurant. Enter through a yellow school bus and sample the different elementary school based dishes!
Pushkar - 2 nights
Next head to the much more laidback town of Pushkar, a small town which surrounds a holy lake and borders the Thar Desert – you will see many camels there too!
Pushkar has a hippie culture and can be quite touristy, but I do recommend you stop over. It’s set on Pushkar Lake, a sacred Hindu site with 52 ghats (stone staircases) where pilgrims bathe.
My favourite thing to do in Pushkar was people watch, however if you are feeling up to it you could climb Ratnagiri hill and spot some cheeky monkeys at the top.
Jodhpur - 2 nights
Leaving Pushkar you can head to Jodhpur, known as the “Blue City” for its blue painted buildings in the city’s old quarter. The city has sunny hot weather all year round and the blue paint is said to help keep the temperature cooler.
The city is famous for the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort that overlooks the city. Inside you can discover the expansive courtyards, costumes of the era and extensive weapons collection.
Before you head up to the Fort, take time to explore the medieval streets and market square where you will spot a distinctive clock tower. The square is bustling all day and it’s a good place to start your day with some breakfast at the highly recommended Shri Mishrilal Hotel, next to the clock tower. Try the Mirchi Bada, a popular street food snack in Jodhpur, consisting of mashed potato mixed with various spices, green chilli and covered with gram flour paste and deep fried.
To continue on with your foodie tour you can learn a new recipe at the Incredible Krishna cooking workshop. Experience the flavour of Rajasthan with a talented chef in a 2-3 hour workshop where you’ll learn to cook ten traditional dishes in a clean, well equipped kitchen.
The next overnight stop is the city of Udaipur (still in Rajasthan) heading south.
If you hire a driver, a common stop on the route is the village of Ranakpur – home to the Ranakpur Jain Temple. The temple is carved from marble and construction began back in the 15th century. It is one of the largest temples in Jain culture.
Generally you could see the temple in a couple of hours, however if you want to extend your time in the region there is the opportunity to go on a small safari and do some leopard spotting. The safari can be arranged from outside the Jain temple.
Udaipur - 3 nights
Arriving into the beautiful white city of Udaipur you will be amazed by the surrounding landscapes. The city is set around a series of artificial lakes and is known for its lavish royal residences. To me, Udaipur was the most romantic place I’d visited in India. Udaipur is a wonderful blend of ornate palaces, intricate temples, stately havelis (smaller local palaces) and narrow, twisted whitewashed streets. A boat ride through the serene waters of Lake Pichola will be enough to prove to you why Udaipur is the pride of Rajasthan.
By the time you reach Udaipur you may be experiencing “palace fatigue” but you have to visit the City Palace here. Set on the lake, the whitewashed walls hold 11 different palaces within it’s complex – if you are a photographer you will relish in the perfect lighting! Udaipur is ideal for sunset watching on the lakeside and many small cafes have lake views and you can enjoy a fresh cup of chai.
If you have time I also recommend a visit to Saheliyo Ki Bari Gardens (Courtyard of Maidens). These lush gardens are well cared for with plenty of marble fountains throughout. Whilst we were in Udaipur visiting one of the night markets for souvenirs we witnessed a majestic elephant casually walking down the street – it was a travel experience I’ll never forget.
Leaving Udaipur: When we left for Udaipur we took a bus to the city of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat for our onwards flight to the south of India.
Alternatively, you can head back to Delhi, or fly south to the big city of Mumbai.
Pros of this tour
Experiencing this part of India will create travel memories that last a lifetime. Imagine your first glimpse of the Taj Mahal, your first sip of steaming hot chai in the backstreets with the locals and that first taste of a freshly made curry in Delhi is something you will always remember!
Out of all the places mentioned above, a special mention to Pushkar and Udaipur. I hadn’t experienced a truly spiritual destination before and these two towns are knee deep in spirituality and peace. If you travel with an open mind you will love this part of India.
Cons of this tour
Rajasthan, beautiful and interesting as it is, does receive a lot of tourists. Be prepared for that or travel in August and September, when it’s less likely to be crowded. Bear in mind that the city life can be hectic and incredibly overwhelming in the beginning. If you arrive in Delhi you will be hit by the choking pollution, swarms of people and constantly honking tuk-tuks. Despite all of that – bear with it. It’s extremely rewarding.
Also depending on the time of year, this part of India can be blisteringly hot. We travelled in February and the temperature was ideal (20 degrees on average).
Cost of travel
Despite being touristy, Rajasthan has plenty of inexpensive hotel accommodation and some lovely hostels. It would fit the pocket of a budget traveller (looking at spending as little as £550 for the entire trip) and at the upper end, Rajasthan has some of the most stunning and expensive hotels in all of India so you could easily spend well over £2000 per head if you’d rather live in luxury.
We had a mix of accommodation throughout, cheap hostels are good if you’re on a tight budget but bear in mind the facilities are very basic. I would suggest paying a little extra and stay in a guest house ( look on airbnb.com) and you will have better bathroom facilities at the very least.
Visiting attractions and entrance fees are relatively cheap, even the Taj Mahal entrance fee was reasonable. The most expensive activity we did was our safari, however it was a unique experience. If you want to see the Tigers in the wild, be prepared to pay for it.
Eating out in restaurants is very affordable, the cost of bottled water is also cheap. (Remember don’t drink the tap water)
In terms of laundry facilities, your accommodation provider may offer that service. Independent laundrettes are priced by weight or number of clothing items- again in terms of other Asian countries, I would say this is affordable.
Jaipur Cafe: Tattoo Cafe and Lounge. – The best view of Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, head for sundown.
Jodhpur Cafe: Cafe Royale Clock Tower. – Excellent coffee and nutella pancakes.
Pushkar Accommodation: Royal Pushkar Havelli. – Hotel room and luxury camping.
Udaipur Accommodation: Lake Face Guest House – Friendly guest house situated on the lake.
Budget Air Travel: