I get e-mails from readers who are planning to backpack India and they want the details: who to fly with, how to get their visa, should they use a travel agent, & an itinerary for India (where should they go and in what order). I’ve noticed that since I posted the only packing list you need for India, I don’t get questions about packing anymore. I’m assuming that is because it helped people.
I am finally answering these FAQs about India! Some of your questions don’t have simple answers! I’m doing very detailed posts about a handful of the topics. The first up is, “Where should I go, and in what order? I want to save money.” First, I’ll explain what options I took in my India itinerary. Then I’ll discuss the pros and cons of the following suit. I’ll follow up with other route options that I considered or plan to take soon.
Tips for Traveling to and in India
- If you’re serious about having the trip of a lifetime, check out my India Guide ebook which is a complete guide to India and has 6 years of travel experience expertly organized to plan your trip from A to Z. Read more about the book here.
- For the best budget flights, I always use Kiwi. They search the low-cost carriers! I mean you can easily fly all over India for $200!
- You absolutely need a visa for India! I use and recommend iVisa for everyone coming. Check here to get a quote for your specific country. If you need a guide, here are my posts for US Citizens and for UK Citizens.
- I also, ALWAYS recommend getting travel insurance. World Nomads covers everything from emergency care to lost luggage. You can get a quick quote here. Here’s my full post on what exactly it covers and doesn’t.
- Whether or not to book ahead… I have written a lot about how to book and where to stay in India. If you’re on a budget, check out my hostel guide to India here. Otherwise, I love using Agoda to compare different hotels.
- If you want to do a tour to check out a lot of these at once, there is one that does it ALL and it’s the ultimate India tour from G Adventures, the only tour group I recommend in India that covers the whole country. I have a list of the best itineraries I suggest for group tours in India as well. I trust G Adventures for these tours. They have international standards and my close friends have taken these tours and loved them.
The Best Itinerary For India (3 Months)
First, I flew into Mumbai.
You need about 3-4 weeks for this state. I didn’t feel the need to see Gujarat and felt like I’d seen enough of this area to head north. I traveled this state by bus.
Next, I went to Delhi to regroup, meet a friend and got my butt up to the mountains. I was mainly in Himachal Pradesh and the surrounding states. These include Shimla, Sarahan, Kullu, Manali, back to Kullu, Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj, Amritsar, and Rishikesh.
Next, another break back in Delhi, which is a hub that seems impossible to miss.
Agra + Varanasi
Then I went to Agra, which is where you’ll go if you want to visit the Taj Mahal. Next, I went to Varanasi.
Goa + Hampi
After Varanasi, I took a train back to Delhi to catch a cheaper flight to Goa and Hampi. If you will be spending a week or more in Goa (which I highly suggest) then do check out my $25 e-book. The Insider’s Guide to Goa is 170-pages long and will guarantee you have the best time in Goa, meet other travels, and chill at all the coolest places. Click here to purchase.
I was meant to go to Kerala and go on the backwaters but meeting Ben in Goa kind of stopped my trip there, although we did go to Hampi together. With this route, it would be really easy to head south by train to Kerala. From there, you can fly back to Mumbai and catch a flight home. OR you could fly to Kerala from Delhi, and do Goa after, then back to Mumbai to fly home. The second option there would prevent you from taking
The second option there would prevent you from taking the second flight.
Summary of my Itinerary for India
If you look at a map you’ll see that I covered most of the NorthWest and a nice chunk of the far North. You would think I missed the main bits of India, and in a sense I did.
This is the thing: The places I went are tourist friendly. I’m not saying they’re like when you hop Thai islands and get stickers like a child. What I mean is that they are places you’ll like visiting. Tourists pick these cities for a reason.
No matter how “touristy” someone says a city is in India, this is STILL India. In my opinion, it’s not touristy at all, even in Goa.
Is there a “Tourist Trail” to follow?
If you go into many other areas, you’ll find they aren’t ready for tourism. Although that may be what you’re looking for, I think you’ll be disappointed. It won’t be like a book you read where some girl found a local village and met people who changed her life… most likely, seeing as though India has almost 1.3 BILLION people, you will end up in a bustling town with nowhere to stay and people trying to rip you off because they haven’t seen a tourist.
Most likely, seeing as though India has almost 1.3 BILLION people, you will end up in a bustling town with nowhere to stay and people trying to rip you off because they haven’t seen a tourist.
If you are coming to India to “find yourself” or see the spiritual side that India is popular for, you probably won’t find it in the cities, unless you take mass amounts of Xanax. Westerners go to the same places Indians have for centuries because they are awesome.
Westerners go to the same places Indians have for centuries because they are awesome.
The path I took is a pretty common tourist trail mainly because it allows you to see the desert, ride a camel, play in the Himalayas, visit the Dalai Lama’s new home, visit Rishikesh the birthplace of yoga, see the Taj Mahal, watch the cremations on the Ganges, and beach it up in Goa.
The biggest tourist trail of all is the “Golden Triangle”: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur which is what most international tours to India will take you on if you have a week or two. The next major India tour would probably be a Rajasthan tour which usually adds on to the Golden Triangle tour.
When I started on that path, I was unaware it was the tourist trail, I just realized it was the only route that made sense. No one does it in the same order though, and I found it hard to find travel buddies. I did have to do a total180 and take my itinerary backward because of seasonal changes.
When you are in Italy and you pick a random town to go to, you find beauty and nice cafes…. I hate to tell you it just isn’t the same in India. If you have limited time, you should take a moment and think about what you want to do, see, and experience. Next, figure out where you can do those things. Place dots on a map; do a little planning. Take a hard look at it to see which route makes for the best!
Yoga in India
If you are interested in taking courses but want to pay safely and not get ripped off, you can use bookyogaretreats.com for retreats and bookyogateachertraining.com for YTT. These are owned by the same team and they only list the best of the best on there. There are reviews for other yogis who have been there so you can dive in and do some serious research. I recommend sorting by the “top recommended”.
The top places for yoga in India are Rishikesh, Dharamshala, and Goa.
What did you miss that you still want to do?
There is much more I want to see. My bucket list for India is never-ending. As a tourist, you get a six-month visa usually. This just isn’t enough time to see what India has to offer. I am so happy with what I saw in my time there, which was three months, and I didn’t leave with any feelings of longing for other cities I missed.
Fast-forward to now
I’ve been living in India and traveling to loads of places, not on the so called tourist trail. I can tell you for sure that if I had to re-do my path I wouldn’t change a thing. I didn’t come to India as a backpacker to eat at the Hard Rock Café in Bangalore with all the expats (although I love it now!), I came to see exactly what I saw.
The main places I missed were:
- Calcutta, which was fine because I’d had enough big city,
- The North East, which I’ve now visited
- Pondicherry (the French colony)
- Kerala backwaters (now been here as well)
- The southern-most tip of Tamil Nadu where the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, and Arabi Sea meet. This is also where Gandhi’s ashes were scattered.
I missed the rural areas but later wandered around Karnataka for a month. There are much more, but those were ones on my list of places I was interested in. If you follow the itinerary I set, and don’t fall in love in Goa, you’ll have time to go to Kerala. You could fly from Delhi down and check out Kovalam, Varkala, Kochi, and then bus up to Goa.
You could fly from Delhi down and check out Kovalam, Varkala, Kochi, and then bus up to Goa.
Keep in mind, that this was a three-month trip. If you go for six months, add Calcutta, Sikkim, and Pondicherry.
There are so many famous temples, like the Kama Sutra one, that I missed, but I still have time. Take some time to read about India before you come and see what you want to do. Once you have that, you’ll easily make an itinerary that will leave you satisfied at the end of your journey.
I have my original list of places I wanted to see on my three-month trip, and even almost two years since I left on that backpacking trip and living in India, I still have yet to even finish 75% of it.
Want more tips for India? Check out these articles!
- One Month Backpacking India
- A total budget guide to backpacking India on 20 USD per day
- Backpacking India two months itinerary (two friends share their recent itinerary)
- What to pack for India (literally, the full list)
- How to Dress in India
- My experience traveling India ALONE
- My safety tips for India
What would you add to your itinerary for India?
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