India is the world's premier exotic travel destination. With its vast expanse of lands and cultures and its timeless qualities, it is surpassed by no other place on Earth. However, it also has a reputation as being a place where the traveling is hard, and at times even hostile. An easy way to sidestep the headaches of traveling in India is to head straight for the Thar Desert, and the wonders of Rajasthan Holidays.
The first matter to address is getting a visa. A formal tourist is required from all visitors from North America and Europe. These cannot be handled by Visa on Arrival, and must be procured before departure. Contact your regional Indian Consulate for details on how to apply, as this is sometimes outsourced to official third-party processors. Americans are eligible for the standard, 6 month tourist visa, or the super bargain 10 year multiple entry/exit visa ($150). If you think you might return to India, look into to taking advantage of the latter, decade long visa.
Unless you are already in India, the only place to sensibly start a journey through Rajasthan holiday packages is the Indian capital of Dehli. From Dehli, take the train to the provincial capital of Jaipur, which will serve as the base for a circuit of the region. The express is comfortable and takes a mere 5 hours. An alternative is to take the train to Bikaner, the home of the infamous Rat Temple, and then move onto Jaipur and the rest of the province.
Harassment and Haggling
India can be a nasty, in-your-face place, especially when it comes to the haggling and scamming found on city streets. Rajasthan is not as bad as Dehli, but sometimes it comes close, especially in Jaipur. Don't take it personally, however. That shifty, hostile auto-rickshaw wallah does the same thing to the family he has been giving rides to for years.
India also has a well-earned reputation for its staring. Most of the time, this is innocent curiosity, as Indian culture does not think it rude to stare. However, there is a kernel truth to the groping of women traveling in India stories. Women - particularly young women - should dress modestly and avoid traveling alone.
India is a country where visitors tend to get sick from something you eat. Rajasthan is better than some other parts of the country in this respect, but it can still threaten visitors with a case of "Dehli Belly." There are three rules for avoiding intestinal trouble: if the water isn't out of a sealed bottle, make sure it is boiled; and go vegetarian for at least your first two weeks; wash your hands and face before eating. The latter seems silly, but the soot and dirt of India has to be seen to be believed, and if you do not take care to wash your hands and face, that dirt will find its way onto your basmati.
This itinerary of places to visit in rajasthan is meant for a normal 16 day holiday excursion: 3 weekends plus 10 weekdays. Assuming a day and a half each are spent flying to India and returning home, that leaves 12 days on the ground.
Bikaner (1 Day)
This town is dotted with lovely Rajput forts, but it is most famous for the Karni Mata Temple. Dedicated to a 16th Century female sage who is believed to be an incarnation of the demon-slaying goddess Durga, the temple is one of the world's great bizarre curiosities because of the sanctuary it grants to rats. However, except for the rats, Bikaner has no attractions that are not met or exceeded by other places in Rajasthan. While Bikaner is a worthy diversion, it can be safely scraped by the time conscious or those who want to spent more time elsewhere. If Bikaner is skipped, take the train from Dehli straight to Jaipur and start there, and gain an extra day to spend somewhere else.
Jaipur (1 Day)
The famed Pink City has much to offer a visitor: a lively bazaar, three gorgeous desert fortress-cum-palaces, and the stunning facade of the Palace of Breezes. However, it is actually the least interesting attraction in the province. Try to arrive here from Dehli or Bikaner in the morning. Then spend the rest of the day exploring before pushing on to Jaisalmer on a 2nd Class AC sleeper berth that night. The plain fact is that there are richer destinations in Rajasthan, and as Jaipur is the hub of any tour of the province, anything missed can be picked up on the return visit.
Jaisalmer (3 days)
Jaisalmer is a living medieval fortress town, perched on a rocky crag in the midst of the Thar Desert, very close to to the border with Pakistan. Spend your first day strolling the streets of the old fortress and admiring the beautiful havelis and the ornately carved Jain temple. The next morning, rise for an overnight rajasthan safari out to the desert dunes, and enjoy the wonders of a sunset in the desert. Return to town the next day, and try to get in some shopping in the lower, newer part of town among the numerous craft shops. Take a bus to the Blue City of Jodhpur the next morning.
Jodhpur (1/2 day in transit, 1 day on the ground)
Make the trip out to Mehrangarh Fort and enjoy both the fort and the spectacular views it offers of the azure-painted old city of Jodhpur below with rajasthan vacation packages.
Udiapur (1/2 day in transit, 1 day on the ground)
Udiapur is famous as the Indian lakeside city that was the site for the Roger Moore Bond film Octopussy. Explore the lakefront and the hilltop Monsoon Palace, and have dinner at the Taj Lake Palace Hotel in the middle of Lake Pichola. Then conclude the evening by watching one of the plentiful, nightly showings of Octopussy and rajasthan crafts and arts. The next day, take the train to Ajmer.
Ajmer (1/2 day in transit, 2 days on the ground)
Surrounded by the stunning Aravalli mountains, Ajmer is the last stop on this whirlwind tour of Rajasthan. It is home to the Dargah, the tomb of a Sufi Muslim saint, and therefore a popular pilgramage site for Indian Muslims. There is also the Taragarh Fort, the original hill fort of Rajasthan, and an 850 year old Jain Temple. Up in the mountains is Mount Abu, home to the Dilwara complex of white marble Jain temples, and also nearby is Pushkar, home of the famous annual camel fair.
With Ajmer and its nearby attractions, a whirlwind tour of Rajasthan fairs and festivals must come to a close. From Ajmer, the train can be taken all the way back to Dehli, and the flight home.