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.
From there I went to by train to Rajasthan. This is where Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Pushkar, and Jaipur are. If you’d rather, check Kiwi to see how cheap flights are to Rajasthan instead.
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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Great information! The comment about the stickers you get in Thailand made me crack up – it’s so true! I felt like a child on a school trip being herded around like a sheep. I love reading your blog, I.m about to move to Thailand to work as a history teacher for two years. Your blog has been really inspirational. Xx
haah those damn stickers! I”m glad my blog is heading you get ready for your big move! Two years will fly by!
Amazing! That’s an excellent itinerary to see India. You managed to explore quite a bit, Rachel! Pushkar and Jaipur are on my radar too, which I haven’t manged to see yet!
Jaipur is super crowded and was prob my least favorite in Rajasthan, Pushkar was my top favorite!
Have seen Varanasi. The oldest city of world
Love this post Rachel! India has been top of my travel wish list for so long now but I never seem to have the right amount of time to do it. I feel like India deserves a good long travel stretch, and it seems from reading this I was right! One day…
Yes you’re exactly right, you need quite a chunk of time to appreciate the country!
Hi Rachel! I though to comment just to say that I read all your posts even if I very seldom comment.. lazy girl :D
Especially lately, when I’m thinking of visiting India, and planning my own itinerary, your blog is such a giant source of inspiration!!!
haha oh thanks girl! that means a lot :) You should totally come to India!
Thanks for this Post! I recently met a girl from india and she told me about india and now I really want to go there! What Itinerary would you suggest if I have only 3 weeks?
Greetings from Bali,
For 3 weeks, I would start with the golden triangle of Delhi, Agra, (Taj), and Jaipur then see if you have time for a stop in Rishikesh.
Thanks for the tips and itinerary – I’ll be saving it for later use! :)
What a great list, I will definitely keep it in mind when I go to India, hopefully it will be soon ;)
I hope you make it to India soon as welL!
What a great post Rachel. Even though I’ve already been to India I still like reading your blogs about India mainly because I like the way you write, and I’ll probably go back again in the nearest future, and you seem to be the go-for-it-in-India-girl of the moment LOL!
I love your tips and totally agree. :) The last time I went there was roughly 10 years ago (gasp!), and I was there for a month on the Rajasthan trail. When I go back to India, I’d probably do that again AND then I quite fancy going to the Calcutta, the Dajeeling area, and Mumbai. I think I’d like Mumbai far more than I liked Delhi!
I’m not in a hurry to go to Goa as I can only do beach locations for a week and then I’m bored, and I’ve already done the dance, electro, house, trance, ibiza scene LOL!
haha I love that- go for it india girl of the moment! Lol. I also havent been to NE India and would love to. I actually live in Goa but I don’t think I could live anywhere other than the beach in India… I need my peace and relaxation! as well as a tan. The trance scene is interesting but not really my scene.
I would recommend you Calcutta, it should have to be on top of your list. Despite being the 3rd biggest city in India, this place has a perfect melting pot of colonial past and modern India. Time seems to have stopped here, a magnificent place.
*Trivia: During British rule, it was their 2nd most important city, only after London.*
I do love your blog and your spunk, go for it girl!
Just gone through via your useful posts,now I am planning to visit first time Goa first week of January along with my wife and son,can you please advise me south Goa is good or north? in terms of safety wise & beach wise?
I think the South is far more beautiful, although I don’t know the area as well down there.
Absolutely glued to your blog! I traveling to India at the end of July and i’ll be there six weeks until its time to move on to Sri Lanka. Although Im kinda feeling that this won’t be enough time now!
I fly into Delhi and want to explore the North and South! Would it make things easier/quicker to get an internal flight, or do you think I should concentrate on one area and come back another time?!
definitely get an internal flight. a one way can be 3000 rs or even 1700 i’ve got once! under 40 bucks!
Hey Rachel, thanks for the tips! I’ve been voraciously reading your blog. Will be starting in Kerala and ending in Mumbai starting in September. I’ll come back on another trip to go to the north.
Just curious, how did you get a visa to live there when your original tourist visa was for three months?
My original was 6, I just didn’t stay 6 months. I went back to US and reapplied. You can get 5-10 years as a US citizen.
Awesome! So, just to clarify: the only flight you took was to Goa? And you just figure out trains and busses when you’re there?
Yep that’s right, but if you book it right flights can be the same price as trains so don’t rule it out.
You should have gone Gujarat and places like Somanath as well as mount Abu to see the jain temples, btw will you be there still in early 2017?
Thanks for the Amazing blog and very helpful tips.
I’m not sure you’re still answering questions on your blog, but here we go…
I’m planning to go to India for 5 weeks (beginning of November until the 10th of December). I loved your itinerary and loved it but unfortunately, I don’t have 3 months to do it as you did.
Which places/areas (and duration if possible) would you suggest in order to do as much as possible of your itinerary but still taking enough time not to feel exhausted?
Thanks again and hope I’ll get an answer… I see that you haven’t posted here since August 2015.
Hey- with 5 weeks, I’d cut out the mountains! Do rajasthan, Delhi, Agra – maybe Rishikesh!
Great! Thank you very much Rachel!
I’ll take a look at it!
Your blog is amazing and you deserve all the success! This is coming from a girl who reads travel blogs for.houurs on end….when I’m not traveling of. course!
After reading your blog India has moved to the top of my list and I am extremely excited tackle it solo.
I was planning a two week trip to Sri Lanka the beginning of March and am now wondering if I should just skip it (or shorten it) and go straight to India. Do you have any experience traveling there?
Also do you make advanced reservations in guest houses?
Awesome to hear the blog helped move India up on your list! I love Sri Lanka and wouldn’t skip it if I were you.. it has SO much to offer as well! These days, I do reserve ahead because I hate the hassle of wandering around negotiating but you don’t have to in March as it’s “off season” and less tourists are there.
You didn’t feel Gujrat worth. But I found the most tranquil place in India to be Great Rann of Kutch.
Perhaps the second largest salt desert in the world.
Wow killer post on India., Good stuff. We spent 4 weeks in India on a whirlwind itinerary visiting 6 different regions yet only really scratching the surface of this complex and diverse country.
David, you’re so right it’s really difficult to “see it all” in India!!
Going to India next month and absolutely winging it. I have about 3-4 weeks. Do you think it’s possible to cover Delhi, Agra, Varanasi and Rajasthan with that much time? I also want to visit Goa but I think that’s a bit ambitious. I’m quite a fast traveler.
Yes, definitely assuming you aren’t covering all of Rajasthan :) But minimum Delhi 3 days, Agra 2, Varanasi 3 then that leaves a lot of time to move around Rajasthan
This is by far the best itinerary I’ve ever read. You covered literally everything. I live in India and still haven’t explored this much. This post inspired me to take time off my work and explore my country. Thanks Rachel! I SIMPLY LOVED IT! Bookmarked it for planning my itinerary for the future.
Fantastic site, this has made my day and confirmed my decision to visit India after my application for a Canadian visa was declined.Thank you so much.
Happy to help! I hope you have a blast
Can I ask what time of year you were in Rajasthan? My bf and I are planning to be in India in May and I’m worried it’s too hot to go to Rajasthan then? Thanks :) P.S loved the blog post, it was massively helpful!
It will be sooooo hot maybe 50 celsius based on past years. I have been twice, both in October.
Hey Rachael, I’ll be traveling India for the month of May, I know that this is the peak summer month/ pre monsoon season and I’m wondering if you have any advice on where to travel for these intense summer weeks. I’ve heard the north is the best option but i would still like to see southern India as well, is it worth it? Any recommendations?
It’s hot all over with the south being also really humid – when people say the north isn’t as hot they mean the far far north like himachal, leh, etc not rajasthan or Delhi!
I traveled all over INDIA for 6 months, back in 1995. Now married, and wife wants to travel – can you recommend flying west coast USA to New Dehli vs Mumbai to start? Any advice on airport transfers? That was REALLY dicey 20+ years ago – how is it now?
Both Mumbai and Delhi have combined their international and domestic airports into one except three airlines which are at the old domestic terminals: spicejet, goair, and indigo
Hello, thank you so much for this detailed itinerary. I am in Rishikesh now and planning what to do during the month of April. I already visited Rajastan, so that is out of the plan. I was thinking to go to Shimla, Manali, Dharamshala and Amritsar. What do you think, is it feasable? It looks like a bit difficult to find good transportation options between this destinations and roads look a bit dangerous. that is why I did not close my itinerary yet. Can you please share some insights about the best way to move from one destination to another and the best order to do it? From Amritsar I should take a plane back to Delhi. Thank you Manu
Hi Rachel, I love your blog. It’s been so helpful. Me and my girlfriend are traveling to india for the first time in November. We fly into New Dehli on the 4th and are looking to be in a great location for Diwali on the 7th. Can you ou give us any recommendations of where to celebrate it? We like to experience new cultures, eat new foods, enjoy crowds and the nightlife. We would hope for a fun authentic Diwali.
We plan to end our trip in Varanasi when DeepDiwali is happening. Any recommendations specific to this celebration to keep in mind?
Also, if you could only see Jodpur or Jaipur which would you recommend?
Thanks a lot!
Curtis & Anna
Hi Rachel, your itinerary is so helpful! I am visiting India in March
I did wonder, what accommodation would you recommend to stay? What sites did you use to book hostels/hotels? Did you book in advance? And roughly how much did it cost a night?
Thank you very much for your help!
Great information! The comment about the stickers you get in India made me crack up – it’s so true!
Hi Rachel, your itinerary is great! You have listed out all the great destinations in your list. India is not just a country, it’s a huge collection of different cultures, traditions and emotions. It’s impossible to cover everything in a single trip, no matter how long you stay. I think that’s why we need a best tour operator in India to show us around the country.
Thanks for this. Great tips. I have around 4 weeks that I’d love to spend in India. Having visited Agra, Delhi as a child I’m less bothered about visiting here with the little time I have. Key places I’ve wanted to see are Varanasi and Goa with a few final days in Bombay but am not sure how to link this together and where to go in between. As I’m doing different parts I know I probably won’t be on the same trail travelling with people which is sad as I’d like that as a solo traveller. Any tips on routes would be appreciated!