Travel in Rajasthan-10 essential tips
In my brand new post, you will discover everything you need to know about travel in Rajasthan. India’s Land of the Kings has been drawing travellers into its harsh interior for centuries, and there is an excellent reason why this state is on so many of our bucket lists. Everything you have heard is true. The mighty palaces of the maharajas are indeed grand. The jungles brim with wildlife and could be straight out of a Rudyard Kipling novel. The culture is some of the most vibrant in the whole of India, and the food is unforgettable. To travel in Rajasthan is to travel in India as you dreamed it to be.
I will not be discussing where I have found the best places to travel to are. I have plenty of posts on the splendours of Rajasthan. Check them out when you get the time. This post is about all about what you need to know about travelling here and how to avoid any unnecessary pitfalls. I have spent a long time travelling here, so this is a tried and tested method. I have not copied and pasted anything, and these tips are from my experience. I am not going to waste any of your precious time so let us jump straight in.
Tip number 1 – Get a Rajasthan Travel Guide.
Find a reliable source of information to build a coherent plan for your route before you go. This will save you a truckload of money and save you backtracking. Rajasthan has oodles to keep you occupied. Even with a month, you will only be able to take in the some of the key sights, so you dont want to be spending your time on public transport. Get a copy of the lonely planet or check the government tourist website. Better yet check both and see what really floats your boat.
Tip number 2 – book your tickets.
Now you have a coherent plan you can book your tickets in advance. The best way to get around by a long way is by riding the mighty Indian railways. They are fast as they get to leave the big cities much faster than by road. For example, you could easily find yourself stuck in Jaipur’s heavy traffic for what seems like an eternity. The trains are reliable and as comfortable as you pay for.
The best place to get your tickets is in the government offices as they have access to something called the tourist quota. The Indian government reserve a certain amount of seats on otherwise booked up trains and you can not get this with an agent. It is next to impossible to work it out online, and when you speak to a person, they can help you make sense of the thousands of train stations across the country. These offices can literally make your tickets come out of thin air. You will find tourist offices in every major train station across the state. Bring your passport and book a few at a time.
The advantage of travelling by bus is you have the freedom to travel whenever you want, and there are throngs of busses that fan out in every direction across the state. Remember that ladies get half price on government buses, so make sure you get charged correctly as sometimes they “forget.”
Tip Numer 3 – Protect yourself against the desert sun.
It sounds obvious, but it is something you will want to keep an eye on as nothing can wreck your dream trip faster than third-degree sunburns on your second day. If you come to Rajasthan in May, you can expect the thermostat to be hovering around fifty degrees celsius and whatever skin you have on show will toast. Cover up as much as possible, especially if you have just come from another country that doesn’t have anywhere near that. Baste yourself with sunscreen and dont forget your shades as the suns glare can be blinding.
Tip Number 4 – keep Hydrated.
I am often shocked by how much water I can consume in a day in the desert and make sure you never run out. Heatstroke can be lethal, so don’t plan on being too energetic if you are not yet accustomed to the baking sun. If you feel a bit dehydrated don’t be shy with the rehydration salts. The ORS brand will only set you back a few rupees and can make a world of difference to your well being. I tend to buy them a few at a time as they come in handy often.
Tip number 5 – think about when to go to Rajasthan.
Picking when to travel to Rajasthan will greatly define your experience, and the answer is not universal. It depends on what you want to get out of your time.
Most people will come between October and mid-February. The weather is glorious, and everything is lush and green. Definitely the most palatable time for a camel safari. The deserts around Bikaner and Jaisalmer become unbearable by the end of March. If you are here for the migrating birds in Kheladeo Ghana, then you have to come at this time. The downside, of course, is this is when everyone else is going as you are not the first person to come up with the idea of going to the desert in the winter. There is little room for bargaining, and you will be charged top dollar for everything.
Outside of this time and most things are empty and many business close for the high summer, in truth, that is the best time to come to the national parks except for Kheladeo Ghana. The aim of going to a national park is to spot the wildlife and considering how much it costs you want value for money. The leaves are well and truly dead, and you can see much clearer. You can also book the jeeps independently for Ranthambhore and save your self a lot of money so it is a win-win situation if you can take the heat. For more information, click the link provided on this incredible national park.
Travel in the monsoon provides a new kind of photogenic, and the grey clouds offer themselves to some spectacular pictures. The high summer provides a stark and unforgiving palette of colours to work with. If you come at either of these times, things are much cheaper, and there will be infinitely smaller crowds. The bigger national parks will be shut for the rains and won’t open again till October.
Tip number 6 – Dress appropriately.
Rajasthan is a conservative state and the local cover-up pretty good. By doing this not only does it prevent offending the local population, but it also stops you becoming toasted by the sun. However, this tip is not about the desert sunshine as I have just mentioned that.
It is geared towards female travellers. I have seen tourists walking around in hotpants and a boob tube. Given the sheer volume of unwanted attention, they are sure to receive on their tour I have no idea why anyone would do that. Unless you really enjoy being the centre attention everywhere and being stared at continually dont do this.
This sort of behaviour is unheard of in the local communities and exposing yourself so blatantly will cause a massive stir. Please remember we are the guests and it is important always to be respectful. As my dear mother used to say when it comes making friends, you get further with sugar than you do with vinegar. I should also mention dont start kissing each other neither as public displays of affection are also a big no.
Tip number 7 – Scams in Rajasthan.
The shakedown on tourists out here is epic, so get ready for people to try and overcharge you on everything. Bartering is not in our culture, and I found it a tricky concept to start with. I did not want to take food out of peoples mouths, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be overcharged. These days I Know a vender will not sell at a loss so when you ask how much something is and quote about half the price back and meet in the middle.
This is all harmless fun and games, but sometimes the hustle can be quite aggressive like in the case of the infamous Pushkar pass. It is a small ribbon that goes around your wrist that essentially tells other con merchants (who often come in the form of innocent-looking holy men,) that you have already been scammed. When you approach the lake that is in the centre of Pushkar someone will invariably offer a blessing and then try and extract a massive donation from you. I have seen this get very confrontational and unpleasant fast.
It is sad to have to write this, but it is the reality. The best thing to do is arm yourself with the knowledge of what to expect, and there are plenty of sources. Check out the lonely planets section on the many schemes that you are likely to encounter. I also have a post that will walk you through many of the most common scams in Rajasthan, I have encountered over and over again. Be firm but not rude as in all reality these people are simply trying to make a living. Although at times, it can feel exhausting on your soul.
Tip number 8 – Taxi Scams in Rajasthan.
This is a follow on from the last tip, to be honest. It is a scam you can bet your life on you will encounter at some point. Upon your arrival by either bus or train, you will have to get to your hotel. There will be many rickshaws and taxis waiting for you, but it is going to be hard to get a sensible price. Those that do could well be set on dropping you at the hotel of their choice as many hotels offer a commission to the drivers.
There are a few measures you can take to prepare for the war on getting a rickshaw. Get an idea of how far your hotel is from where you are, and that’s yet another reason to get a guide book. Ask your driver to drop you at a nearby landmark rather than your front door to save on the commission hustle. Or better yet use the Uber and Ola apps in the big cities to make sure you get a fair price for your journey. It would certainly be a safer option for a lone female backpacker in the middle of the night. Again you can find out more on that if you click the link above.
Tip number 9 – Booking your hotel in Rajasthan.
Rajasthan is on the very well worn tourist track, and largely hotel owners have no problem with dealing with foreigners. That means you can have your pick of places to stay and unless you are travelling in the peak season when places get really crowded, then there is no need to book your accommodation in advance.
The rates for your hotel will cost you more online, and the pictures often don’t match what you actually get. There is no advantage of booking in advance outside of the super busy months. If you come to Jaisalmer over Christmas then sure pay the extra as its hard to find a bed at all sometimes. Otherwise, shop around for the best deals.
Here is a pro tip for you. If you come as a couple, then one of you wait with the luggage while the other goes hunting. This kills any chance of someone charging commission, and it gives you the bargaining edge as it insinuates you already have accommodation if you do not have any bags. Obviously, whoever is best at bargaining should go on the room hunt as it can make a lot of difference to your daily budget.
Tip number 10 – be selective and take your time in Rajasthan.
Over the years, I have seen countless travellers with way too much on their itinerary. The goal is not to simply tick off destinations after all. You surely want a good quality of your experience, right? I normally give each destination about four days to see things in-depth and get a feel for the area.
Some places require more like Jaisalmer. Some people book just two nights and move on? It would be better to save your money and go somewhere else. I mean, think about that? How would you experience be if you came and departed in two nights? Plus went on a camel safari, explored the fort, went to the village to see the haveli’s and went to the lake all in two days? They are well worthwhile activities, and the time frame is wholly unsuitable. Give each destination the respect it deserves and consider the quality of your time.
Read what is in each place and be honest with yourself over how much time does each place require. You will walk out with fewer destinations but a richer experience. The last thing I will point out is when visiting national parks budget more than one day in each as the animals are not there waiting for you. Most people visit Ranthambhore to see a tiger. Many safaris end with nothing so its best if you budget two or three as no one wants to go all that way and leave with a bitter taste in their mouths.
Summary of my guide to travel in Rajasthan.
After reading this, you may be thinking to yourself that seems all a bit too hard, but dont. The positives of visiting far far outweigh the negatives. It is the way it is. So, arm yourself with the knowledge that is in this post. Re-read it if you have to and check out my other posts on what you need to know. In all reality, nearly all trips to this magnificent state go without incident aside from being overcharged a couple of times. It is a small price to pay for the majesty and grandeur this state provides so effortlessly.
You should not let a few shady individuals interfere with your overall picture of what the people Rajasthan are actually like. I have experienced kindness and hospitality I can hardly even comprehend and stuff you would not ever see in England.
I’m sorry, but I must tell a short story to emphasise a point. One day I was waiting for my train to depart in Jodhpur and I noticed these two children writing something down on a piece paper. They then got up and walked to my window and handed me the paper through the bars. They then run off in embarrassment. When I opened that letter, it said thank you for visiting my country, and if I need anything while I am here, I can call their mother. It included her phone number and address.
Now if any of my readers are from England, then you will know how likely this is to happen to you in our country, and that is not an isolated incident. I have experienced a whole new level of kindness here so dont let a few smooth-talking con men scare you away from the experience of a lifetime.
I could not write this post with a clear conscience and not mention the many scams you are likely to encounter. Build a plan of what you want to see and take it from there. This place is truly incredible, and you are likely to walk away with nothing but memories that last a lifetime. That’s enough of me rambling, so that’s all folks. Please leave any questions in the box provided, and I will, of course, get back to you, until the next time, my fellow intrepid travellers, happy trails.
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