India’s great outdoors is a playground of rocky mountains, dazzling beaches, magnificent deserts and vast plains. From the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas to the great Indian white desert of Kutch, India is home to natural treasures that will leave you in awe of the country’s bountiful beauty. Among these landscapes is the Indian desert with endless sheets of mystical sands that glisten in shades of golden.
The Indian deserts—from the sweltering Thar in Rajasthan to the icy cold Spiti in Lakadah—encapsulate the diversity of the sands. Quench your wanderlust spirit by going the extra mile to explore things beyond the ordinary. Because the great Indian desert experience will leave you spellbound by the breathtaking beauty hidden in the country’s natural landscape. Not every desert is dull and dusty, some are coastal, cold, polar and even tropical.
Experience the majestic desert regions of India on your next travel sojourn because they are sizzling experiences that are anything but ordinary.
6 Indian desert destinations for an unforgettable adventure:
1. Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
Located around 500 km from the city of Jaipur — in the middle of the biggest desert in India, Thar — is the city of Jaisalmer. Flanked by glistening golden sand dunes and yellow sandstone palaces, Jaisalmer’s medieval city has earned the title of ‘Golden City’. The city is a beautiful reflection of India’s royal past. Magnificent lakes, opulent temples and heritage hotels are encompassed in sparking golden sand. Saddle on a camel as you make your way through the vast Thar Desert to camp under the dotted sky for an unforgettable night amidst nature.
Sam Sand dunes, located 40 km from Jaisalmer, is a popular spot among travellers looking to experience a desert safari. You can witness the desert’s exotic beauty from a jeep or on a camel’s back. Whether as a day trip or an overnight camp, the opportunity to delve into the fascinating beauty of the gorgeous Thar is an experience that will become etched in your mind. In addition to the desert safari, visit the Jaisalmer Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the oldest, most prominent forts in Rajasthan.
2. Bikaner, Rajasthan
Nuzzled amid the largest desert in India, Bikaner is steeped in rich culture and dazzling heritage marvels. Hosting an annual international Camel Festival, Bikaner, also known as the ‘Camel City’, attracts tourists from around the world who visit the city to witness its grandiose beauty. Located about 300 km from the bustling city of Jaipur, Bikaner gives a peek into the rippling sandhills of the Thar Desert. Besides being known for the Indian desert, the city is also home to exquisite architectural marvels, desert vistas and camel safaris.
Deriving its name from the Rathore King, Rao Bikaji, Bikaner came into being in 1488. Retaining its old-world charm and royal opulence, the city is known to breed the best riding camels. So, it comes as no surprise that Bikaner’s highlight is a camel safari and breeding centre. Besides enjoying the city’s colourful sunset on the golden dunes, you can explore exotic fauna in the Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary. It is home to the chinkara, blackbuck, desert fox and a variety of birds.
3. Jodhpur, Rajasthan
The gateway to the Indian desert of Thar, Jodhpur, is one of the top spots to experience a desert holiday in India. Also known as the ‘Blue City’ of Rajasthan, an aerial view of Jodhpur gives an illusion of the city draped in a sheet of blue. From blue walls to houses, the panoramic blanket of a blue-capped landscape is a sight to behold amidst a golden-sanded desert.
The magic of Jodhpur lies in a desert safari that takes place 65 km from the main city in Osian. The safari will take you away from the ancient city to temple ruins hidden in the great Indian desert.
4. Kutch, Gujarat
Kutch, a princely state of India, is an island that visually resembles the shape of a tortoise. Part of the grandeur of the Kutch district in Gujarat is an Indian desert, popularly known as the Rann of Kutch. One of India’s largest salt plains that oozes surreal beauty, the Rann of Kutch comes to life each year between the months of December-February during the Rann Festival. The white salt desert is flocked with tourists who set up camps and indulge in local cultural programmes, functions and adventure activities like hot air balloons. Imagine soaring over a 7,500 sq km desert and watching the sun set into the glistening white sands of Kutch. Enthralling is the only word to describe the experience.
A spectacle to witness in the salty desert, the Rann Festival is an unmissable event taking place in the nearby village of Dhordo. This Indian desert turns into a salty marshland during the monsoons, so plan your trip dates accordingly.
The ‘La’ in Ladakh means passes and ‘Dakh’ means many. The union territory derives its name from the many high-altitude passes in the region. An adventurous playground that stretches from the Siachen Glacier to the mighty Himalayas, Ladakh is a desert destination like no other. Overpowered by dramatic landscapes, scenic stupas and stunning Buddhist monasteries, Ladakh is a cold Indian desert that is barren but beautiful.
Lined with adventure sports, rafting and high-altitude trekking in the area will give you an unmatched adrenaline rush. You can also undertake the strenuous Chadar Trek on the frozen Zanskar River between the frigid months of January and February.
6. Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh
Unlike the traditional Indian desert, Spiti Valley is bordered by mighty mountain ranges and steeped in prolific natural beauty. A frigid desert mountain valley lined with quaint villages, glacial rivers and deep gorges, Spiti Valley is a high-altitude desert famous for adventure activities like trekking, mountain biking and river rafting. The cold desert mountain valley attracts tourists from across the globe who visit ancient Buddhist monasteries perched at staggering heights of 13,668 feet.
These desert names in India are famous for their diverse shades and mesmerising landscapes. The great Indian desert of Thar to the stunning white Rann of Kutch might be lesser-known parts of India but offer an intriguing insight into India’s exotic topography. If you are planning a holiday, try these road trip routes in India for an exhilarating experience across states.