Most first-time India goers have their hearts set on a cosmopolitan city, like Bombay, or a beachside locale, like Goa. But according to chef and restaurateur (and India native) Maneet Chauhan, if you really want to see the best that the country has to offer, there are few regions more fascinating and multi-faceted than Rajasthan.
“I still remember my first trip there, driving from Delhi to Jaipur,” says Chauhan. “As soon as you enter Rajasthan, you are hit with colors. It’s such a sensory experience. You see women in bright pink and yellow saris, camels pulling carts, historic forts—history on each and every corner.” And the food? “Indian dishes like you’ve never tasted in your life,” she says, with plenty of hearty stews, garlic-slicked bread, and spicy snacks.
Spanning much of northeast India, Rajasthan is enormous—and impossible to fully cover even on a long trip. That said, after decades of exploring the region, Chauhan offered up her ideal itinerary—the places to visit in Rajasthan, the dishes to eat, the shopping to shop, and the sights to see. Here’s her guide to India’s most colorful region.
“Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, and in my opinion the best place to visit. It is an amazing hub of history. It’s called Pink City because all the architecture has a hint of pink in the stones used. It’s an amazing stop for all kinds of food but also for history and shopping. It has a little bit of everything.”
“This is the most picturesque part of Rajasthan—it has actually been called the Venice of the East because of all the lakes and palaces. People think Rajasthan is in the middle of the desert, but to see all this water is pretty incredible. The marketplaces here are also fantastic. It’s just a very distinct culture, from the clothes to the food.”
“I love Pushkar because of the Pushkar Fair, which happens every fall—it’s this camel festival, with ornately-dressed camels, camel races. But the reason I truly love this city is the Hindu mythology behind it. It is located on the shores of Pushkar Lake, and they say that Pushkar Lake was created by the tears of Lord Shiva, making it one of the oldest cities.”
In Jaipur, the historic architecture is a big highlight. Chauhan recommends Amer Fort: “It is absolutely gorgeous, and you can take an elephant ride.” Also, the Hawa Mahal, a palace located right in the heart of the city, is one of the region’s most impressive architectural marvels—built with no foundation and many windows to allow the breeze to flow through and keep the palace cool. “What I love about it is that it is not secluded,” Chauhan says. “You step out of the castle and the chaos of the city is around you. You feel like you are a part of everything.”
In Udaipur, the main attractions are the palaces, each surrounded by tranquil, manmade lakes. The most famous of all (and Chauhan’s favorite) is Lake Palace, one of the filming sites for the iconic Bond film, Octopussy—it’s now a luxury hotel, but you can still walk around the beautiful and very well preserved white edifice. For a “quintessential, historic Indian temple,” check out Jagdish Temple.
Rajasthan is home to some of the best shopping in the country. Because Rajasthan has such a distinct style in its clothing, jewelry, and art, you can find especially unique and high quality goods here—embroidered shoes (for both men and women) called jutis, lakh necklaces (known for their super intricate detailing), and silk jodhpuri kurtas (a staple for stylish Indian men).
One of Chauhan's favorite Jaipur activities is Bapu Bazaar, located in the old city. “You can spend an entire day there,” she says. “You want ornate marble carvings? Silver? Shoes? Dresses? You will find it all.” And if you want to bring something back for your mom or sister or ladyfriend, head to Zari and Pratap Sons. (“The chiffons and handicraft work there are as pure as it gets,” says Chauhan of both places.)
Two of the region’s other best markets are in Udaipur: Hathi Pole Market, where you can buy traditional Rajasthani folk art, and Bada Bazaar, the best place, in Chauhan’s opinion, for shoes. Pushkar, too, has a very wide selection of unique, quality handicrafts, like tie-dyed textiles and camel hide accessories.
“This is a restaurant situated in a five-star hotel that defines old-world Rajasthani royalty. You start with drinks at the Polo Bar and then eat out on the lawn. My favorite dish is the laal maas, which is goat cooked in a blend of chilies. It’s really decadent.”
Lakshmi Mishtaan Bhandaar
“This is an institution for pure vegetarian food. I come here for the chaat — the Dahi Papdi Chaat [yogurt-and-chutney-covered fried crackers] is amazing: sweet, spicy, and salty. As is the Aloo Tiki [potato fritters]. After you finish eating, you can buy Indian sweets — like ghevar, a cake-like dessert soaked in syrup — to take home.”
“Every time we are in India, we go to Rawat for typical Indian street food. Our family has loved this place for ages. The dish to get is the Pyaaz Kachori — it is a traditional Rajasthani dish of onions stuffed in a pastry, then deep-fried. It is truly the perfect combination.”
“This iconic shop on M.I. Road in Jaipur makes the best lassis. They put a big dollop of malai [milkfat] on top, and it is so good: the richness of the malai and the sweetness of the lassi, plus the faint aroma of the earth you get because you are drinking the lassi from these earthen glasses. It is one of my favorite things to drink.”
“A spot in Udaipur serving unquestionably authentic daal [lentils], bati [a type of bread roll], and churma [An Indian sweet made with crushed bati]—truly quintessential Rajasthani!”
“A great rooftop place in Udaipur. Good views, good beverages, good food, and good for social or romantic outings.”
“A little further away from the hustle and bustle of Pushkar, but great local coffee and food made with home garden-grown vegetables. The potatoes prepared in many different ways are to die for. If you fancy a rural, unpretentious café in a remote part of India, this place is hard to beat. And if the flavors don’t live up, the setting and lakeside Mountain View will surely make up for it.”