Best Rajasthan Itinerary for First Time India Travel


While India is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, some people shy away from this trip of a lifetime for fear of the sheer scale of it - and for an often unnamed nervousness about poverty, cleanliness, or safety concerns.  We have been traveling to Rajasthan in northwestern India since the mid 90's and I would really like to share that India is beautiful, safe, and endlessly inspiring, and definitely a "must" destination.  
Yes - it looks different and feels different from home - but that is why we travel - to stretch ourselves and experience a place that is not our everyday.  
I love just the simple act of observing the street scenes while waiting in traffic - watching school kids in their matching uniforms pile into auto rickshaws after school, tightly plaited twin braids down each of the girls' backs, and the boys arms around one another joking and laughing; men getting a shave or a trim at an impromptu barbershop which may just be a wooden mirror hanging on a tree branch with a stool and a cash box; the line of devotees at a corner shrine to Hanoman, shoes neatly lined up at the entrance; a bicycle rider with an entire dining set balanced on his head - chairs nested and slung over one arm, a table balanced perfectly atop his head.  
The Old City Jodhpur

A group of pink ladies at the Stepwell in Jodhpur
But of course there are magnificent sights to visit at each of our favorite haunts in Rajasthan.  
We usually fly into Delhi when we arrive - and promptly hop on a domestic flight to start our work.  But if it is a visitor's first time, it is good to either start or end the trip with a couple of days in the big city.  Delhi is massive and has weeks worth of things to see alone - but for starters it's nice to arrange a tour that includes the Old City, the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, some of Janpath or Connaught Place for shopping - and really - this is an easy thing to arrange with any of the excellent hotels in the nice parts of the city.  They would be far better than us at making the ideal itinerary!  Being the capital it has all the official buildings, huge lawns and colonial era order - but the most fun is taking a bicycle rickshaw and getting lost in the absolute chaos and crumbling splendor of the Old City.  
Riding in a bicycle rickshaw with our 11 year old son years ago in the Old City in Delhi 
The traditional old school "Golden Triangle" when visiting India is Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra.  
Agra is the town where the Taj Mahal is - with beautiful Fatehpur Sikri about an hour away.  
We suggest making the Delhi part of the trip short and creating a new more modern Triangle with the must-visit cities of Jaipur, Udaipur, and Jodhpur. 
I am certainly not suggesting you ignore the amazing Taj - it is a bucket list item for a reason!  But to see the Taj Mahal you can actually do a full day trip from Jaipur as it is not terribly far - and the only thing to really see in Agra is the Taj and Fatepur Sikri - if you leave before dawn you can get there when it opens - see everything and still get back to your Jaipur hotel to sleep.  While there are fancy hotels - most notably the Oberoi Amarvilas with private views of the Taj - (wow!) - it is a big expense for one day of sightseeing.  
With patience you can get a relatively unobstructed photo of the Taj - it helps to come off season!
Of the three cities in this *new* Golden Triangle, Jaipur is the tourist city that is most on people's radar.  A capital of jewelry design and textile production, Jaipur has endless shopping and sightseeing options.  The massive Amer Fort (Amber or Amer is correct) - the Hawa Mahal - (The Palace of the Wind) - and famous stores like Gem Palace on MI Road, the Lassi Wallah, etc. are all here. 
Rockstar rickshaw parking at the Hawa Mahal
Famous luxury hotels also abound here - from the super posh Rambagh Palace, to the Rajvilas by the Oberoi group - there are tons of amazing choices for the truly upper crust - but just below that level there are jaw dropping places to stay that are honestly just as impressive. 
The Jai Mahal Palace is lovely and now under the Marriott brand, Samode Haveli is a beautiful property in the Old City not far from the Hawa Mahal, and there are a number of darling boutique hotels popping up like the tiny jewel box of the Johri or 47 Jobner Bagh. 
A nook at the Samode Haveli
We often save money on our stay in Jaipur so we can splurge more in Jodhpur - and in Udaipur if we get to add that stop on our trip.  Our fave little family owned hotel is called Jas Vilas - it's like staying at a charming relative's estate.  Simple and comfortable and centrally located - and seriously an amazing deal - it's perfect!  
Cute Jas Vilas in Jaipur
Favorite places to eat in Jaipur:
Our top new place that we love is the restaurant at the Johri in the Old City - it has a fantastic, creative vegetarian menu with all sorts of innovative chaats, or snacks.  Great cocktails too!
White Sage is a great upscale, yet casual place we also love for its fun take on traditional meals.  
Everyone raves about the very chic and lovely Bar Palladio at the Narain Niwas hotel - but we prefer just to go for a cocktail and then eat at the much more delicious restaurant next door called Shikaar Bagh - great traditional food!  
Best Jaipur shops:
Shopping is one of the best parts about Jaipur - this is definitely one of the most popular pastimes in this famous city - for Indian and foreign tourists alike. 
Jewelry shopping is huge here - the world famous Gem Palace is like a royal museum where everything is actually for sale - lots of fun!  We are talking diamonds, rubies, emeralds - beyond statement pieces!  But we enjoy the designs at beautiful Amrapali even better.  There are also little silver market shops off the main MI Road to explore. 
Near the Hawa Mahal in the Old City you can also wander the traditional markets to find more costume quality jewelry, clothing, embroidered slippers, (called juti or mohari) sari trim, turbans, and so much more.  The Johari and Bapu Bazaars are fun, chaotic places that a guide can steer you through for an afternoon.  
Wandering the Bazaars in Jaipur with our son years ago
Our favorite place to shop for clothes we actually wear in our hot AZ summers is Anokhi.  They have their flagship store in Jaipur and it is paired with their wonderful, healthy lunch cafe by the same name.  Get out of the chaos of the city midday, have a lovely salad and a sweet lime and ginger soda, and then plan to spend some time perusing the beautiful hand block printed lightweight cotton clothing that Anokhi is famous for.  If you want to learn more about the art of block print Anokhi also has a pretty little museum that explains the whole process - sometimes they even have an artisan working there that will allow you to try your hand at printing!
Ratan textiles also has a great collection of everyday clothes and cute kids things also.  Just down the lane is a little hipster place called Teatro Dhora that has some fun stuff.  
Shopping in Jaipur
At the Narain Niwas shopping complex there are some fun bougie shops also - we like Anantaya there for gifts and creative home accessories.  
Our favorite new-to-us shop is by far the stunning Ecru.  Created by friends that live part in Kuwait and part in Jaipur - they have gorgeous tabletop pieces - marble star serving plates, etched glassware, and collectable playing cards - but they also have amazing dresses that are show stoppers for parties back home.  The shop is beautiful too - tucked away in a residential area.
Mehrangargh Fort in Jodhpur with our favorite Raas hotel in the foreground
Jodhpur, where we do most of our work for TDL, is a bit smaller than bustling Jaipur, but is starting to get on the tourist radar for travelers that want an authentic old city feel without the big crowds.  While our work takes us to warehouses and depots in the industrial outskirts of town, the charm of The Blue City is in its labyrinth lanes in the shadow of Mehrangarh Fort.  This imposing red sandstone edifice stands atop a cliff that rises straight out of the humble city below - in the evening it glows as the desert sun goes down.  Inside the 17th century fort is a fantastic museum with everything from miniature paintings to weapons, royal bejeweled cribs, howdahs, and entire restored, mirrored receiving rooms - it's a must! 
Mehrangarh Fort
For the adventurous you can hike around the cliff sides, or even do a modern zip line course across the reservoir with an astounding view of the fort from a totally different angle.  (I've done this a few times - it's great!)  
Shopping in the twisty lanes of the Old City in Jodhpur - I love sari trim stores!  The sparkly bits and bobs are so wonderful for wrapping packages!

Linda at one of our antique dealers
The Clock Tower in Jodhpur

Veg markets in Jodhpur
We always stay at our favorite hotel in Rajashtan - the Raas Jodhpur.  This beautifully run boutique hotel incorporates an old haveli (courtyard home of wealthy landowners generations ago) - and also chic, modern buildings made out of the same red sandstone as the Mehrangarh Fort.  The restaurant is excellent, and the setting - with an unobstructed view of the Fort - is sublime.  
Raas Jodhpur at night
In the markets around the Clock Tower it is fun to wander the twisting lanes around the traditional blue buildings of the Old City and pop into the many cute shops selling easy gifts for friends and family back home.  
The restored Stepwell in Jodhpur
For tourists one needs only two nights to really enjoy the city, see the fort, and relax at your hotel. 
To round out the *new* Golden Triangle - we have Udaipur - we would add this magic city to every trip if we had time!  We have only had the opportunity to visit this jewel of a city a handful of times - but we are always trying to tack it onto our trips - Udaipur is incredible!  
One great way to get to the city is to get a car and driver and set off from Jodhpur.  While the drive is a long one - about 6 hours - there is an incredible stop on the way that makes it all worth it.  
Ranakpur Temple
Ranakpur is a 15th century Jain temple in the foothills between the two cities.  Entirely made from gleaming white marble, it is a wonder with every inch covered in intricate, expertly detailed carving depicting gods and goddesses, with over 1400 columns - no two carved alike.  Truly one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.  
A few of the 1400 plus intricately carved marble columns of Ranakpur - each one unique!
Udaipur is called the Lake City as it sits beside a lovely, gleaming lake with the famous Lake Palace - (now a posh Taj hotel) at its center.  We choose to stay outside of the city for a true getaway at the amazing Devigarh, a restored 18th century palace nestled in the Aravali Hills outside of the city.  It's an architectural wonder with endless passages and nooks to explore. 
Devigarh at dawn
As mist rises from the hills at dawn, you can hike the goat paths around the property and end up at tiny sacred temples and little hunting outposts from centuries ago.  Evening flinds the hills aglow with the sun going down over their organic garden and shining pool - and you can tuck into either of their restaurants which serve lovely food.   
Devigarh at sunset
The Aravali Hills
Not far from Devigarh, it's easy to get a car and driver to get to the city and visit the wonderful City Palace Museum, and the charming shops and cafes along the lake. 
Magical rooms at the Udaipur City Palace Museum

We loved visiting Ganesh Emporium on our last trip - a huge treasure trove of paintings and treasures both old and new just outside the museum gates.  
At the Ganesha Festival in Udaipur
When we were in the city last September we were lucky to be there for the last days of the Ganesha festival where thousands of village people flock to the city to ritually bathe statues of this favorite god in the waters of the lake.  It was magical to see everyone dancing, with raucous bands of musicians playing, carts being pulled with giant effigies of the elephant headed god being pulled right to the lake's edge where revelers lovingly bathed them with the waters.    
Lakeside in Udaipur
We love to visit Rajasthan in September - which is sort of a bridge season.  Rajasthan is a lot like our Sonoran Desert here in Arizona - where the high season follows cooler winter temperatures.  The difference is their monsoon - July through September like ours - actually brings real rain and cools things down nicely.  We have had good luck the last few years with gorgeous weather - cool mornings and evenings with baking heat just at midday.  The winter months are of course the safest bet for tourists with cool sightseeing days - but just like here prices go up in the most popular months! 
India is truly a dream come true.  I urge you all to take that trip - and perhaps explore this new concept of the Golden Triangle!


Thanks for fab tips! Let me know if I ever lead a tour!!!

Sue fromkin February 02, 2024

Thank you all for sharing your experiences in India !!! It looks absolutely amazing, can’t wait to see what you brought back !

Mimi Baker February 02, 2024
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