My No1 Complete Indian travel guide
In my complete Indian travel guide, you will find everything you need to know about all the very best things to do in India. I aim to help you discover where are the right places for you to focus your precious time. As my readers have come to expect, I am a blogger whos posts are direct and to the point. They are also well researched and based on personal experience. I make a point of not misleading my audience and trying not to drag my writing on longer than it needs to be. Its information in bite-sized chunks, and this post is no different.
As anyone who has researched even a little bit knows, India is a vast country, and there is little point in trying to cram everything into one trip. I have spent over half a decade travelling on the Indian subcontinent and feel like I have still managed to see almost nothing. It is well worth your time reading this as your time is fleeting, and every day is precious.
This post is not about planning, costs, packing or anything else other than working out the all-important question of what you actually want from your trip. I have posted on all these topics, and there is little point in trying to fit it all into one blog as you are unlikely to finish it anyway. I will drop links where it is necessary. I’m hoping this post will help my readers decide where they want to go in this amazing country. So read on, and let us see if I can achieve my goal.
What to do in India.
In this section, I will now give you an overview of what is where. Have a good read of this, and then you can decide what parts appeal to you most. In my last blog, how to plan a trip to India in five easy steps, I spoke about deciding where to go being the hardest question. This is the second step of the five, and it really is the hardest of them all. As strange as it sounds, once you have decided how long you will go to India and where you are going, the rest is easy.
It is the most important step as it makes the difference between getting the most out of your time and money or not. Let me start with the two most popular areas for beginners and pros alike. I know many of you may turn your nose up and say you dont want to go somewhere touristy, but I implore you to bear in mind they are popular for a reason. I will then talk about three more areas that receive fewer visitors but are no less impressive. So let’s jump straight in, shall we?
The classic northern route Delhi to Kolkata.
Here is what I would imagine is the most popular of them all. The route takes in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal. There are variances on the route, of course, but many of the most iconic sights in the whole country can be found here. Some people fly in and out of New Dehli as seeing even the major sights can take months, and not everyone has that sort of time to play with. I have detailed posts on each area, so please check them out when you get the time. My Indian travel guide is meant to be a brief overview only, so here we go, guys.
Rajasthan is India as you dreamed it to be. It is a place of maharajas, grand palaces and tiger filled jungles. Even the state capital of Jaipur is magnificent. Its ancient red city is one massive living museum. You could spend days just ambling around its narrow atmospheric backstreets, and with the elegant Amber fort as the crowning glory, this city alone could take you days to explore. There are many more magnificent forts to marvel at, such as Jaisalmer, Bundi and Jodhpur. I can guarantee you that each one of these places would leave you jaw-dropped and well worth the time invested.
If ancient forts don’t do it for you, the country’s most vibrant and colourful culture surely will. The insanely romantic city of Udaipur can keep you entertained for quite a while. The timeless Havelis and palaces make for an intoxicating backdrop against the scenic Lake Pichola.
Ranthambhore is also one of the best places on earth to spot the majestic tiger, and despite its harsh interior Rajasthan is home to an astonishing array of wildlife. I will now make an odd recommendation. If you are here for wildlife, I would suggest going to Jaisalmer for a camel Safari in the great Thar desert. That’s right, I am suggesting a wildlife safari in the desert. Not only is the Thar rich strangely rich in wildlife, but you will also see a very unique culture, and I have not seen anything else like it anywhere in the world.
It is also one of India’s most cost-effective states to travel in, so you get all this, and you can look forward to saving a few rupees. There is an excellent budget backpacker infrastructure in this state, so it’s a win-win all the way in Rajasthan.
So let’s start with what is so special about this state. Well, firstly, it’s the people. There are a lot of them. In fact, there are 204 million of them. That’s over half of the population of every man, woman and child living in the United States crammed into an area smaller than Texas. This creates a riot of humanity, as you can well imagine. The incredibly fertile Gangetic plains have made it all possible. Human beings have settled here for thousands of years, and that has left endless wonders to keep the avid backpacker wide-eyed.
It is also home to Indias’s most iconic places, such as the elegant Taj Mahal in Agra or the sacred city of Varanasi. There have been countless documentaries covering the later, and for an excellent reason. Quite frankly, if Varanasi does not grab your attention, then nothing will. Surely nowhere on earth is a brash and in your face as India’s holy city of lights. Come and check it out for yourself and see if you dont agree.
Many destinations in this great state are underdogs with backpackers yet no less amazing. The grand monuments of the British Raj’s of the city of Lucknow are steeped in a turbulent and bloody history that will leave you speechless. The holy city of Ayodhya is no less grand, but few backpackers make the journey here. That is good for you as there is a whole ancient city for you to discover and you will have it largely to yourself.
However, my all-time favourite underdog in Uttar Pradesh is the tiny village of Chitrakut. It is easily accessible and not far from the city of Allahabad. The charming little streets here have plenty of charm to keep you entertained for days on end. Known as Varanasi in miniature, Chitrakut sees almost none of the publicity of its more famous counterparts. There are no burning ghats, and the town appeals primarily to Hindus who come from far and wide to bathe in its sacred waters.
Of all of the major cities, tourists are likely to enter. This one is my favourite. As the state capital of West Bengal, Kolkata is the gateway to many of the countries top tourist draws. With an enormous international airport, it is easy to access.
Kolkata is often associated with Mother Teresa’s story and her work helping those living in extreme poverty. If you are unfamiliar with that story, check out the link provided, as it makes for a compelling and accurate tale. However, many local people are not thrilled at the portrayal of their home town. I have to say I see their point. While there is indeed a lot of poverty, Kolkata is widely regarded as the country’s intellectual capital and its seen as a good thing to send your children to university in this epic city. It is both affluent and cosmopolitan in modern Indian culture, so this image offends some of its proud inhabitants.
For the intrepid traveller, Kolkata positively overflows with things to keep your attention. From grand architecture and manicured parks to some of the best food on the subcontinent. This city has it all and with only a fraction of the hassles that come with cities like Dehli. I know many of you will want to rush off to your chosen destination, but I implore you to give it the chance it deserves. Even though it is hectic and overcrowded, it is sure to be one of the most memorable city breaks you will make in India.
The southern route – Goa to Tamilnadu via Kerala.
This is definitely another of the most recommended routes for first-time travellers to India as there is an outstanding tourist infrastructure here as well. Despite it costing a little more than the north, it is still excellent value and backpacker-friendly.
Everything will be radically different from the route I have just covered. Down here, everything is lush and green. There is mile upon mile of beautiful coastline for you to explore. The pace of life is overwhelmingly more relaxed, and even the food is different. In all reality, you could visit the north on one trip and come to the south on the next. It would still feel like you were on a brand new holiday in a brand new country. There is a lot to get through, and I dont want you falling asleep on me, so let’s get back to it!
Well, here is a state quite unlike any other. Its culture is quite unlike anything you could expect to find elsewhere in the country. The people are largely Christian, and despite everyone talking about the dreamy beaches, it was the cathedrals that really caught my eye. The Portuguese left them sprinkled across the state during their occupancy and quite honestly could compete with anything we have in England. The beaches are indeed dreamy, and many tourists come here and wind up staying indefinitely or at least until their visa runs out.
Many people come here to sample the legendary Goan beach life. You can spend your time relaxing or partying hard in one of the many bars and clubs. It is easy to meet your fellow travellers here and make new friends or simply get lost in a book. It is all down to your preferences, to be honest.
Goa is super tourist-friendly, with mountains of international restaurants selling everything from fine sushi to pie and chips. It is perfect for those people who have missed a little taste of home from their long travels across the country. However, whatever you do, please don’t neglect to try the local cuisine. Goan food is out of this world and not to be missed. Try the chicken xacuti, or perhaps sink your teeth into an authentic vindaloo to truly travel your tastebuds.
For me, Karnataka is one of the most spectacular parts of the whole country to explore period. Steeped in history and deliciously tropical. There is a truckload of sights for you. So much, so it is hard to know where to start but let me try.
Here you can find some of the countries best national parks are home to some of the most incredible animals to be found on the planet, such as the Asian elephant or the black panther. Wildlife enthusiasts can fill there boots good and proper in a place like Nager Hole national park or the world-famous Bandra.
History Buffs can go wild as well on the boulder-strewn landscapes of Hampi. Get ready to spend several days trying to get to grips with this place as there is so much to see. One thing that is for sure, you will never forget your time here as one historical wonder after another will take your breath away. If you have not had enough, make sure you swing by the cosmopolitan city of Hyderabad to check out the mighty Golconda fort. This fort reminded me of how I have always envisioned Camelot to be if it were a real place. Check it out and see if your imagination agrees with mine.
There is also mile upon mile of stunning coastline to explore, although the most popular is Golcana beach. It’s a bit of a deceptive name as it is not so much a beach as a collection of them. This place has been drawing in backpackers for years for the stunning scenery and as a laid-back alternative to Goa. If you are a pure hedonistic beach lover, why not try them both and see what you prefer? Go on, treat yourself.
Well, this is definitely one of the most popular states to travel in. India’s spice coast is world-famous. The lush and fertile Western Ghats spectacularly dominates the interior of this state. So what are the Western Ghats? From a geological perspective, they are a crumple zone that formed when the Indian subcontinent drifted over a geothermal hotspot as it separated from Africa and drifted towards Asia. This caused something akin to blistering on the surface of the land. Today It is one of the most biologically productive places on the planet. Life has taken every conceivable form here and can not fail to impress.
Dont forget to checkout the Keralan backwaters as long as you are in this incredible place. It is home to a district culture that has learned to thrive on its productive and unpredictable waters. You can walk among the farmlands that produce everything from the tenderest coconuts to the finest cardamom. It is sure to be eye-opening, and if the culture does not get you, the impressive wildlife surely will.
There are countless national parks to visit and by far the most famous Perrior House. However, it is not the most impressive, in my humble opinion. There is so many to choose from, and this one has the handicap of being overwhelmingly busy, although some animals like elephants are not especially hard to spot.
Kerala is simply fantastic, and I would even go as far as to say that no Indian travel guide would be complete without covering this iconic state. Travel here is very much recommended as there really is nowhere else quite like it. The long and beautiful stretch of coastline is intensely tropical. It is known as the Malabar coast and is legendary among backpackers for its beauty. Its reputation proceeds itself, and it is indeed as beautiful as the stories will lead you to believe.
Most tourists will stay in the south of the state on beaches such as Kovalam or Varkala. Although I strongly suggest checking out the more remote beaches of the north. Here you will find endless stretches of sand to sink your feet into, and yours will largely be the only set.
Kerala is blessed with an ancient culture that is still very widely practised. Colourful and distinct, it is a delight to discover. There are unusual customs everywhere, from elaborate interpretive dances to fire walking. This state has some customs that you will never forget you witnessed trust me. Kerlan cuisine is synonymous with good food, so please do not neglect to branch out and sample some local fare. There is simply too much to say about this place, so I have to stop before this article becomes far too long, but you get the point, right?
Again, this state is completely different from anywhere else. It sits at the very bottom of the county and just a stone’s throw from Srilanka. I know I keep saying that there is nowhere else like it, but it does not change the fact it is true. Despite it being next to Kerala and the same western Ghats juts into the state like an unstoppable rock wave, it is completely different.
Tamils cling tightly to their unique customs despite how fast the country is hurtling into the twenty-first century. As soon as the working day is done, temples buzz with activity, and it is hard not to get caught up in it all.
For me, by far, the most impressive thing about visiting this state is its wonders of antiquity. This state has seen many Hindu civilisations rise and fall over the years, and each has left its treasures for you to discover. Some are massive and can take the whole day to walk around, like in Madurai or Tanjore. Its intricately carved towers are famous worldwide, with some containing hundreds of sculptures on a single pillar that seem to effortlessly reach the sky.
Others are as small and elegant like the beautiful 8th century Shore Temple in Mamallapuram near Chennai. It could take you weeks to even see even the most famous of this states landmarks, in all fairness, so don’t leave your itinerary too tight if history is your thing.
The old French colonial town of Pondicherry has become one of the most unusual cities in the country. With its relaxed lifestyle and its wide clean streets, it is striking in the extreme. There is plenty of fine food, and there is a bohemian feel to it. Ex-pats and locals alike engage in every spiritual pursuit imaginable here. I recommend coming, if not for anything else but seeing how different it is compared to just about anywhere else in the world.
As I stated, the western ghats also spills into Tamil Nadu, and the biodiversity is no less enthralling for it. There are some fine hill stations to escape the baking plains below when you have had enough of the sunshine. The most famous of them all has to be Ooty. The mist-covered mountains can hide the heritage building that dots the landscape. It is hard not to be impressed with this place, and no one would blame you if you got stuck here for a month.
If Tamil Nadu does feature on your itinerary, do not neglect to check out the local cuisine. Cooking is a passion in this state and has its own style of greatness. You could do a lot worse than sinking your teeth into such delicacies as chicken Chettinad or the softest idlis around. I just found it a shame I kept getting full as I just wanted to keep going.
Other major areas of Interest for backpackers.
If that is not enough for you to get through, here are three more incredible places to explore in India. There are, of course, way more, but these are my three favourites. They are also completely different from each other. As I have said many times, India is like many countries that share one border. Let us see if any of these appeals to you more? Because That is what this post is all about. Discovering what appeals to you most so you can focus your time where you will get the most out of it, so read on, guys.
Also known as the seven sisters, this place really appeals to the explorer in us. It was difficult to obtain permits until recently, and that stopped all but the most determined o travellers from reaching this rugged place. Now all states but Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim have dropped their restrictions, and tourism is finally beginning to reach these parts.
The northeast states constitute the 8th most biologically diverse place on earth. I found the wildlife here to be quite unlike anything else you will find on the subcontinent. The biodiversity kept me wide-eyed the whole time I was there.
It is also one of the most culturally rich areas of our beautiful planet. The seven sisters border Bhutan, Myanmar, Tibet, Bangladesh, and Nepal, which creates the extraordinary diversity of its people you see before you.
With over 200 tribes, the northeastern states are a cultural treasure trove. Some have very distinct traditions, like the Kasi people of Cherapunji, who create the breathtaking root bridges that to this day are the only genuinely sustainable structures ever created by humankind. These bridges benefit both the people and the tree they fashion them from. There is no other example of such a symbiotic relationship between humans and the natural world to our knowledge. The root bridges of Meghalaya are also some of the most beautiful creations I have ever seen, in all honesty.
There is a lot to draw you to the Northeast, but there are a few things to consider. Travel can be painfully slow here, and in many places, there is no infrastructure. There is a small but significant risk of political violence from time to time and the ever-looming threat of a long-overdue mega-earthquake.
Also, there is an ethical consideration to make. Many of these tribes have had minimal contact with western tourists, so it is essential to approach with the most minimal impact possible. Your actions may seem trivial to you but are hugely significant to the locals observing. Mass tourism is still a very long way off taking a foothold in the northeast. Expect lots of time with no other foreigners. You will enjoy a raw and unapologetic local experience in these parts, so I wholeheartedly recommend travel here.
The Andaman Islands
The Andaman Islands are a tropical paradise. The crystal clear water laps against the powdery white beaches, and it is the kind of place you will never want to leave. The coral-fringed islands can become intoxicating while you lay in your hammock, watching the coconut trees sway gently in the wind. The Emerald Green forests are filled with wildlife, and many of the unique fauna species draw in enthusiasts worldwide.
I have visited This island chain twice now, and you can bet I will be going back a third. Many tourists make a beeline for the dreamy Havelock Island or the rustic beaches of Neil Island. However, with 572 islands to choose from, there is plenty of reason to return. Whenever I arrive, I can almost feel the steam releasing from my ears. I have separate in-depth posts for many of the main islands on my website. So if this looks like it may pop up on your itinerary, then knock yourself out.
It is not all tropical bliss, though, as there are mountains to climb and jungles to go trekking in. Well, if you have the inclination to, of course. There is also a bloody history to discover, albeit a shameful one for the British. I recommend a trip to ross island or the clink museum in port Blair to experience another side of this tropical paradise you may not have imagined. For some, this dreamy archipelago was hell on earth. Pondering what it may have been like will surely stay with you forever.
One of the countries clear winners for being something extraordinary. The high mountain deserts of Ladakh can not fail to impress. It is a photographers dream as every turning seems to pose a new opportunity to exercise your camera lens. The timeless Buddhist culture and friendly people make this place something genuinely memorable. This little slice of Tibet is sure to level you speechless.
There are hiking opportunities galore here and a chance to get away from it all. Walking in the mountains under the shadow of Buddhist gompas dating over 1000 years old is out of this world. Despite the harsh, unyielding conditions, wildlife thrives here, and there is a chance to see some very rare wildlife. I don’t think I need to say more, do I? This is an adventure playground and one of my favourite states with a little something for everyone.
However, this is rough and rugged travel and is another place reserved only for the most adventurous of you. For those who can handle it, you can look forward to somewhere that is a world away from what you know. Even in the tiny capital city of Leh, you can see so many wonderful things that are wholly unlike anything else you will find in India. Ladakh is one of my most recommended states for adventure travel in India.
In summary of my Indian travel guide.
Phew, that was a very long post to read and well done for getting to the end. There are more states, but these are the big hitters, and that’s a lot to get through already. I mean, that is plenty to keep you busy, right? If you would like more information on any of these places, then just ask away! I have spent a lot of time in each of these destinations, so I can give you whatever details you may be curious about if I know them. I honestly just want you to have a good time when you are travelling to this incredible country and spending your hard-earned cash.
I think this Indian travel guide highlights the fact you can’t see it all, and it is way better to focus your time. Please don’t try and cram too much into your time. You will get far better value for your money, and most importantly, you will get a better quality of experience. You have probably worked damn hard to get to India, and on the road, so this is certainly something of great importance. For further inspiration and ideas, I recommend the government website called Incredible India. It is packed with information and is very well written.
This was a fun post to write, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Feel free to let me know your thoughts, guys. With that said, that is enough out of me so that I will say goodbye. So until the next time, my fellow intrepid traveller’s happy travels.
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