Deserts in India offer some of the most spectacular landscapes, full of visual inspirations. From the vast expanse of Thar Desert to the incredible cold desert of Ladakh, India packs an assortment of desert destinations for intrepid travelers.
The Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, is the 17th largest desert on earth. A major part of the Thar Desert is in Rajasthan. As it extends into Gujarat, the golden sand desert transforms into a dazzling white salt desert.
The northern region of the country also boasts some of the astonishing desert terrains. Nestled high in the Himalayas, Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh are known as cold deserts. Both the places don’t get much rain due to their position on the leeward side of the Himalayas.
If you landed on this page looking for the best deserts in India to explore, then you are in the right place. Here is a rundown of seven of the most amazing Indian deserts.
A Quick Glance Through
|Place||Situated in||Desert Type|
|Jaisalmer||Thar Desert||Hot and Dry|
|Bikaner||Thar Desert||Hot and Dry|
|Jodhpur||Thar Desert||Hot and Dry|
|Great Rann of Kutch||Thar Desert||Salt Marsh|
|Little Rann of Kutch||Thar Desert||Salt Marsh|
|Spiti Valley||Himalayas||Cold Desert|
In the middle of the Thar Desert, about 575 km from Jaipur, lies a city proudly flaunting its golden facade. That’s none other than Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.
Most of the structures, from palaces to temples to houses in the city are made of yellow sandstone. Even the surrounding desert is adorned with sparkling golden sand. So, this medieval city has earned the sobriquet of the “Golden City”.
It is named after Rawal Jaisal, then Maharaja of the region who founded this city in the 12th century.
Sand dunes near Jaisalmer are a major draw for travelers here. Nearly 40 km away from the city, Sam Sand Dunes is popular for its desert safari experiences.
Explore the vastness of the Thar desert on a jeep or on a camel’s back. You can do this as a day excursion from Jaisalmer or camp overnight in a mud cottage or a Swiss tent.
A night stay in the dunes offers opportunities to delve into the fascinating beauty of the desert. Enjoy a gorgeous sunset and a bonfire under the star-studded sky during the night.
Aside from the dunes, you can visit the majestic Jaisalmer Fort which is one of the oldest forts in Rajasthan. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is massive and India’s only living fort. In addition to palaces, the fort has temples, houses and shops inside it.
Who can believe, this arid land also nurtures wildlife. Desert National Park, situated some 42 km from Jaisalmer is birdwatchers’ paradise. The major attraction of the park is the Great Indian Bustard, a critically endangered bird.
You may also like: 15 Most Beautiful Birds in India.
It is one of the best deserts in India to explore unique desert wildlife. Chinkara, also known as the Indian Gazelle is a commonly sighted animal in this national park. You may also spot desert fox, hedgehog, desert cat and wolf.
Jaisalmer is well-connected by road with many cities of Rajasthan and Gujarat by state transport and private buses. The nearest airport is located in Jodhpur, almost 280 km away from Jaisalmer. From Jodhpur Airport, it is a 5-hour drive.
Jaisalmer Railway Station is the nearest railhead which has direct trains from cities, like Jaipur and Delhi.
Aptly called the “Camel City”, Bikaner offers a truly grandiose experience of sandy deserts in India. It lies some 330 km from Jaipur amid the undulating sandhills of the Thar desert.
Bikaner derives its name from Rao Bikaji, a Rathore King who established this city in 1488. The city is renowned for its red sandstone forts, beautiful desert vistas and unforgettable camel safari experiences.
Junagarh Fort is one of the most imposing edifices in the city that is constructed in red sandstone and marble.
The fort was built in the late 16th century by Raja Rai Singh, the sixth ruler of Bikaner. Sprawling over 5 hectares, the fort is dotted with beautiful palaces, temples and courtyards.
Many palaces in the city, the likes of Laxmi Niwas Palace, now serve as heritage hotels offering a royal stay to the guests.
A major highlight of the Bikaner trip is camel safari. It should be done preferably in the evening so that you don’t miss the colourful desert sunset of Bikaner.
The desert city also boasts of one of a kind camel farm which is apparently a camel research and breeding center.
Known as National Research Centre on Camel, it is managed by the Government of India. Here, you can relish a lot of sweet delicacies prepared from camel milk.
Besides the grandeur of the city, explore the diversity of wildlife in Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary.
Approximately 32 km from the city, this sanctuary is home to chinkara, blackbuck, nilgai, desert fox and a variety of birds. Flocks of imperial sandgrouses are a common sight in the sanctuary.
Bikaner has excellent road connectivity with all neighbouring cities. There are regular buses to Bikaner from Jodhpur, Delhi and Ahmedabad. Bikaner Railway Station has direct trains from metro cities like Mumbai and Delhi.
It doesn’t have an airport. By flight, you can arrive in Jodhpur (250 km). And then take a cab or a bus for the onward journey to Bikaner.
Nicknamed as the “Blue City”, Jodhpur really appears draped in a sheet of blue. An aerial view of the city from the mighty Mehrangarh Fort is simply breathtaking. The city gets its name from its founder Rao Jodha, a former ruler of the present-day Rajasthan State.
Overlooking the old city, Mehrangarh Fort is an iconic landmark of Jodhpur. The expanse of modern Jodhpur city is well beyond the fort walls. However, the panoramic blue-blanketed landscape of the old city never fails to impress the onlookers.
Jaswant Thada is another noted monument to visit in the city. A finely carved white marble memorial, Jaswant Thada was built by Maharaja Sardar Singh of Jodhpur as a tribute to his father Maharaja Jaswant Singh II.
For a desert safari experience, you can visit Osian which lies nearly 65 km away from Jodhpur. Ruins of ancient temples are an added attraction of Osian town.
Jodhpur is one of the most popular deserts in India where tourists flock from October to March as the weather turns pleasant.
The best way to reach Jodhpur from Mumbai and Delhi is by flight. Jodhpur is well connected by trains from metro cities. It has excellent road connectivity with other neighbouring cities and towns.
4. Great Rann of Kutch
Acclaimed as India’s largest salt plain, the Great Rann of Kutch forms a part of Kutch district in Gujarat. It is popularly referred to as Rann of Kutch which is a slight misnomer.
The Rann of Kutch in fact comprises two deserts. Spread over 7500 sq km, the larger one is the Great Rann of Kutch. And its adjacent, relatively smaller salt desert is called the Little Rann of Kutch.
During monsoon, the Great Rann is awash from heavy rains. As the flood water recedes after the rainy season, the area begins to dry leaving a salty marshland.
The Great Rann is abuzz with tourists from October to March, which is the best season to visit this white salt desert. With the onset of the festive season in December, it turns into one of the most vibrant deserts in India.
A lavish spectacle of music and folk dance, Rann Utsav (festival) is celebrated from December to February. It is one of the major attractions of the Great Rann that draws hordes of travelers from all over the world.
The actual dates are announced by the government every year. So, you should check the dates on the Rann Utsav website before planning a trip.
The festival is organised in a village called Dhordo. Bhuj, roughly 80 km away from Dhordo, is the nearest railhead.
A domestic airport in Bhuj connects it to Mumbai. From Bhuj Airport, it is a 2-hour drive to Dhordo.
5. Little Rann of Kutch
I would call it the lesser known cousin of the Great Rann. A wide stretch of barren land dappled with patches of swamp and thorny bushes, Little Rann of Kutch is one of the most unique deserts in India.
It lies nearly 170 km away from Ahmedabad in Kutch district of Gujarat. Sprawling 4,954 sq km, the Little Rann is home to one of India’s largest wildlife Sanctuaries, the Wild Ass Sanctuary. It boasts some of the rare wildlife, like wild ass and short-eared owl.
Check this post, if you are interested to know more about India’s popular wildlife sanctuaries: 10 Best Wildlife Sanctuaries to Visit in India.
In addition, Little Rann attracts a large number of migratory birds, including flamingos and demoiselle cranes. So, it is rightly known as birdwatchers’ heaven.
Evening safari in the Little Rann offers astounding views of a tranquil sunset in the desert.
The Little Rann is accessible by road from Ahmedabad, which houses the nearest airport and railway station to reach here.
In the far northern region of India lies the land of high mountain passes, Ladakh. “La” means passes and “Dakh” means many in the local language. So, Ladakh derives its name from the high altitude passes.
With its arid mountains, glacial lakes and sinuous trails, Ladakh is home to some of the breathtaking landscapes. It is one of the magnificent cold deserts in India that you will fall in love with.
Here, you can visit Khardung La and soak in the stunning vistas of the surroundings. At 5,602 m, Khardung La is the highest motorable pass in the world. This barren and beautiful land houses numerous Buddhist monasteries.
If you are interested to know more about the major attractions of Ladakh, check this post: 10 Must Visit Tourist Places in Ladakh.
Summer season spanning May to August is the best time to visit Ladakh, when the weather is warm and sunny. In winters, Ladakh gets wrapped in a thick blanket of snow and the mercury drops below zero degrees.
The nearest airport is in Leh with direct flight connectivity from Delhi and Srinagar. Ladakh is reachable from Leh by road via two routes, Leh-Srinagar highway (434 km) and Leh-Manali highway (490 km).
7. Spiti Valley
Encompassed by lofty mountain ranges, Spiti Valley is a high-altitude desert in Himachal Pradesh. It is blessed with prolific scenic beauty.
Quaint villages, towering mountains with sparse vegetation, deep gorges and glacial streams, the surreal appearance of Spiti Valley is impressive.
This cold desert mountain valley is a noted religious center for Buddhism. It contains some of the most ancient Buddhist monasteries in the world.
Tabo Monastery and Kye Gompa (Ki Monastery) are the two most famous monasteries in the valley. Founded in the tenth century, Tabo Monastery is considered the oldest monastery in the valley.
The biggest monastery of Spiti Valley, Kye Gompa is perched on a hill at 13,668 ft (4,166 m) height. From the hilltop, Key Monastery offers splendid views of the valley and the Spiti river.
You may also like: 8 Must-visit Attractions in Bodh Gaya.
A visit to Chandra Taal, Dhankar Lake, Langza Village and the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary is a must when in Spiti Valley. The major highlight of Langza Village is an incredible, lifelike statue of Lord Buddha, overlooking the valley.
As India’s snow leopard habitat, Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary attracts wildlife lovers from around the globe. It is indeed one of the best cold deserts in India for adventure seekers and wildlife explorers.
Kaza town is the gateway to Spiti Valley. It is accessible from Manali (197 km) and Shimla (414 km) by road. During heavy snowfall, the Manali route is shut. However, the Shimla route via Kinnaur is open year-round barring some exceptional situations like landslides.
Over To You Now…
Which ones have you visited and which is on your travel radar from this list of deserts in India? Tell us in the comment section below.
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