Last updated on August 30th, 2018.
My friends know I have been living in India for a few years. Whoever of them travels there, they ask different tips together with the question: “where to go and what places to visit in India?” Initially, this question was quite challenging for me. Since there are plenty of tourist places in India, I didn’t have the “optimal destination” for everyone. India is so diverse with many personal experiences waiting for each visitor. Though I have three recommendations for any traveler:
1. Don’t try to over plan your trip with all possible tourist attractions. Take time to understand the ambiance and culture. I would also suggest building your trip around local experiences. For example, big national functions, traditional holidays. They will help you to connect and better understand the local culture.
2. Choose the route according to your interests. Goa has fabulous beaches, however, if you are a tea lover, a tour around tea plantations will be equally exciting for you.
3. Try to focus on one area if you are coming for a short term period. E.g. North India, Himalaya area, South India. Local traveling is quite time-consuming, thus I would suggest reducing time spent on the road to enjoy other experiences.
India is also diverse in geographical zones. There are deserts, beaches, mountains, wildlife, green landscapes combined with centuries of historical heritage, different religions and rich culture. I’m writing my general overview of different parts of India for the first comers. I hope this will be helpful while choosing your experience.
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Maybe it’s the most popular tour of India. If you are limited in time, this is one of the best itineraries for you. Golden triangle gives you a general perspective of Indian culture in three different states: Delhi, Agra (Uttar Pradesh), Jaipur (Rajasthan). You can squeeze this adventure to one week, though I would recommend reserving 10 days for a more relaxed schedule.
Since it’s one of the popular routes, there will be many ways how you can be scammed. Be careful with tour agencies and “super attractive offers” you may receive.
Delhi – I would recommend reserving 2-3 days for visiting the main attractions of the city. If you wish to go for offbeat experiences – this will require more time, depending on your preferences. How to commute: Delhi metro is very convenient and affordable way that takes you to all main attractions. If you are in India or South Asia for the first time and you are not habitual to bargaining, then I would recommend an option of a hop on – hop off bus tour for an affordable price with hoho Delhi. It has one-day and two-day tours by bus that circulate every 40 minutes and take you to the main attractions of the city. In Hoho Delhi, the prices are fixed and you don’t risk overpaying as in the case of rickshaw drivers outside the metro station.
Agra – the town where is one of the world’s most famous mausoleums – Taj Mahal. In addition to it, Agra offers many more places and experiences . Overall you will require one full day for Agra and one more day for Fatehpur Sikri – it’s a Unesco Heritage site that used to serve as the capital of Mughal Empire for several years. It’s situated in the Agra district on the way to Jaipur. If you have an extra day, consider visiting it.
Jaipur – the cultural capital of Rajasthan. After Agra, you will notice another type of architecture and different lifestyle. Jaipur was one of my favorite experiences before I discovered other parts of Rajasthan. I would recommend reserving 2-3 days for this city for both tourist places and experiences. If you have extra time, you might consider extending your Rajasthan journey to other cities of the state.
Overall: If you are in India for the first time on a short trip – Golden Triangle is a vast one week intro into Indian culture of three North Indian states.
Rajasthan – the biggest state in India called the land of Kings combines both ancient and modern features, old and new. I love this state for its architecture, history, hospitality, cultural festivals and big textile markets. Rajasthan is diverse and beautiful with its cultural capital Jaipur, romantic Udaipur – the city of lakes, camel fair in Pushkar, blue city Jodhpur, golden city Jaisalmer, mesmerizing desert, natural parks, majestic Havelis and many more places and experiences.
This is the state that can teach you many lessons on storytelling. I love spending my mornings in the spice shops sipping tea with the seller and listening about different spices and how they can be used. That is the moment when I feel like buying the whole collection, but my wallet with limited cash always saves me from going bankrupt. Every sale starts very unconditionally: “Ma’am, just take a look. You don’t have to buy anything, let me tell you the story”. If you take time to really connect with people and understand their stories, you will open the whole different India for you, full of hopes and opportunities.
Overall: Rajasthan has an abundance of places that are part of world architectural heritage. Add to them desert, wildlife and rich culture to get a bigger picture. If you love history, architecture, and textiles – this state has a lot of experiences to offer you.
Mumbai – Goa – Karnataka trip
Mumbai is a financial, fashion and the Bollywood capital of India. If you travel for a while around India, you will feel the difference of this city. It’s very fast, dynamic, unconditional and diverse. This is a place where you are not restricted to conservative clothes, you feel independent in lifestyle and behavior. You can have a rich nightlife and people will not judge you because they all are busy in their lives. This is a city with a touch of western culture. You will require 2-3 days for visiting Mumbai.
Goa is a state famous for natural beauty and fascinating beaches. This is not just another “beach” destination. There are many people who visit Goa for a short holiday, then come back for years. Seasonal travelers live there during winters. What can be better than the feel of sand, the sound of waves and a paradise desktop wallpaper in reality? Though it is hard to imagine Goa beyond beaches, there are quite a few sites of historical or religious importance to explore. Read more about places and activities on Goa travel blog.
After Goa, you can make a 2-day road trip to Hampi (Karnataka). Hampi is a Unesco heritage sight. There are many more experiences you can find in Karnataka – awesome beaches that are not discovered by tourists and they feel like less populated Goa, hilly areas and heritage sites. The capital of the state – Bangalore, also known as a silicon valley of India, with its development and startup culture. There are many getaways nearby worth visiting: Mysore with its fascinating palaces and nature, Belum caves, scenic Ooty and other hill areas. You will require 2-3 days for Hampi and at least one week to get a general feel of Karnataka.
Overall: This is a nice South Indian route that gives you an introduction to the culture and specifics of 3 states.
Kerala is called Gods own country for its fascinating nature sceneries. It is primarily famous for eco-tourism and backwaters. At the coastal part of the state, you become part of a totally different ambiance – floating shops and houses, lots of greenery everywhere, lagoons. This is a perfect destination for nature lovers. When we talk about Kerala, I can’t skip the fact that it’s a very educated and cultural state with interesting festivals and traditions.
Overall: Kerala is an interesting state from a cultural point of view as well as a variety of experiences it offers: hill stations, backwaters, tea plantations, Ayurveda, and beaches. Recommended stay – minimum 6 days.
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India is the first country where I’ve seen mountains for real. I was so impressed by their greatness and stature. I was visiting the Himalaya area quite often afterward to experience this unbelievable nature, scenery and get some adrenaline riding a bus in the hill areas. If you love spending time with nature there are also plenty of parks in Himalaya region: the Hemis National Park, Great Himalayan National Park, the Valley of Flowers to name few.
Shimla, Manali, Sri Nagar, Leh Ladakh – these are the most famous destinations. There are also many other breathtaking hilly areas like Dehradun, Dharamshala, Nainital and surrounding places. For some reasons, they didn’t get into the tourist top by popularity. If you come on a tourist visa, do confirm the formalities for Leh Ladakh and Sri Nagar. This is a restricted area and requires a special permission.
Overall: If you love mountains and hill stations, the variety of fascinating sceneries in Himalaya region will be a great experience for you. Advised stay – minimum 10 days, depending on the number of visit points.
If you are looking for less explored horizons, check out the states in North-East: Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Sikkim. This area has breathtaking nature and immense cultural heritage.
India in Summers
If you look online for the best time to visit India, most of the guides will claim it’s from November to March. I would say it’s true if we talk about mainland India. There is a certain beauty in visiting trendy destinations in monsoons like Goa, Kerala, Karnataka, yet they will still remain hot (for western standards) and humid.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of picturesque villages in Kashmir, several parts of Uttarakhand and North-East which blossom during summers only. Those places are at their best during monsoons. The temperatures remain comfortable in upper Himalaya parts if you are looking for places with tea, bakery, and balconies with a mountain view.
If you are not a fan of monsoons, there is the whole area of Ladakh, where you can trek, immerse in Tibetan and Kashmiri culture and experience village life on high-altitudes.
The above routes are the most popular among the first comers. Though, for long-term travelers – the preferences become slightly different.
What about you? Have you followed any of the above-mentioned routes? If you have stayed in India, which other destinations would you recommend for the first comers?