India travel Guide for first timers

DSC_0044Unlike many countries, India is huge with diversity in every sense from regions to weather conditions, to culture & heritage. If you are coming for the first time to India, it may get perplexing as to what to do and what to leave.

First time to India–This is how you should plan.

In this blog, lets try to look at how one should plan the visit and what is the best way to experience India.

You may decide on your plan based on the following

  1. Regions namely south, east, west, central, north and north east – India has various regions each having its own unique nature. To cover most of India adequately, even two months may not be enough but then depending on the time available at hand you may pick and choose regions which suit your itinerary.
  2. Secondly your plan could be based on your interests for example historical places, hill stations , desert , beaches, wellness or spirituality, temples – jyotirlingas or buddha circuit, heritage/festivals or wildlife – India has everything one can ask for.

India travel itinerary based on regions

In north India, we have hills , places of spiritual importance,wildlife & historical places – Delhi, Agra, Ladakh, Kashmir,Shimla- Manali , Nainital- Corbett-  Binsar , Dehradun Mussorie,Dulhousie,Dharamshala, Amarnath, Badrinath,Kedarnath,  Haridwar- Rishikesh, Mathura- Virindawan, Varanasi , Lucknow Amritsar.

In West India– We have desert ,temples, wildlife and beaches. Primary states are Rajasthan, Gujarat, Mahrashtra & Goa. Places like Jaipur, Udaipur, Ajmer, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Kutch, Somnath, Shirdi, Gir, Dwarka, Ajanta Ellora, Tadoba and Goa come in this region.

Central India– This is rich in wildlife  and heritage cities like Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Khajurao, Jabalpur, Sanchi , Ujjain ,Mandu and Pachmarhi (the only hill station where I used to stay)

South India– Heritage, Back water, hills and wildlife- Hampi -badami-begur, Kerela backwaters, Ooty, Munnar, Pondicherry, Kanyakumari,Bandipur- Mudumalai forests, Rameshwaram, Udupi, Kodaikanal etc.

East India– Hills, heritage and wildlife- Kolkata-Shantiniketan-Sundarbans,Darjeeling, Ranchi- Gaya,Konark- Puri,Andaman Nicobar Islands etc

North East India– -Arunachal Pradesh, Assam,Meghalaya, Sikkim, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland , Tripura.

In case you are not particular about anything but would like to experience India as a whole, I would suggest to start from north, cover most regions and most important places, come to west and then central India, then east and north east and last south region.

India travel Itinerary  if you have approx 2 months in hand

Cover the following in north & west region – Delhi(2 days)- Agra (2 days)- Jaipur(2 days)- Udaipur(2 days)- Jaisalmer(2 days) , Leh(Laddakh) (3 days) Manali (2 days) and Kashmir(4 days) and Goa (2-3 days). In central India – Khajurao (2 days), Kanha & Bandhavgarh(3 days) (if you are interested in wildlife too ) . In East, choose Andaman Nicobar (3 days)  and in north east- Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh 3-4 days). In south Kumarakom – Alleppey for backwaters(2 days), Munnar(2 days)for hill station and Hampi (1 day) for heritage.

Delhi and Agra is primarily for the history. Delhi is one of the longest serving capitals and one of the oldest inhabited cities of the world and has been the centre of a succession of mighty empires and powerful kingdoms including Mughals. Agra established by Mughal empire is where you will see the Tajmahal. Am sure you have heard of it. Agra – Fatehpur Sikri are the finest examples of Mughal architectural splendour at its height revealing the long lost tales of kings,queens and their kingdoms.

Jaipur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer come in Rajasthan state and are most beautiful compared to other places. I personally like Jaisalmer the most however beware of guides and the salesman in the shops with tall claims about every stone there. For Jaisalmer, you may have to stop at Jodhpur as well but a day there is enough.  Rajasthan is the colorful part of India, you will get best of the hotels to stay here including the most luxurious ones in India. Get high on food, music & dance. Do taste Lal Mas if you prefer non veg and Marwari thali if you are a veg. Besides if you are a foodie do read our  India Food Travel guide 

If you are traveling around December during Rann utsav festival that happens in Kutch in Gujarat, you may look at adding couple of days more to your itinerary to attend the festival, if possible. Rajsthan and Gujarat are bordering states.From Delhi – Agra, you should do Jaipur, Jaisalmer and then come to Udaipur. Udaipur to Ahmedabad (Capital of Gujarat is nearby and hence for Rann Utsav, you can travel from Ahmedabad to Bhuj)

Manali, Leh and Kashmir  is to witness the beauty and life in the Himalayas. These are hill stations and you can see snow from late december to March – April. Ladakh is photogenic and so is Kashmir. This region is a true feast to the eyes.If you are fond of adventure travel and would like to try one of the himalayan treks, then this is the region for it provided you have more days at hand or you are ready to skip other places.

Goa state in west India is the beach capital and is like a pilgrimage to most Indians for fun frolic and partying.

In central India , I suggest Kahjuraho which is a group of hindu and Jain temples.Its a world heritage Unesco site and is very famous for Nagara style architectural symbolism and their  erotic sculptures. There were 85 temples built in the past however only 20 have survived till date. Add Kanha and Bandhavgarh only if you like jungles and wildlife.

In north east region Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh – Again these are hilly regions and very beautiful ones. Arunachal is supposedly one of the most beautiful parts of India. You may have to come to Kolkata ( Capital of West Bengal in East region) to go to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh either by flight or by train. These region are not that well connected but are worth the visit.

From Kolkata , you can even travel to Andaman Nicobar Islands if you love beaches and water sports.Coming back to South , you should do Hampi, again a world heritage unesco Site and Kerela where you can experience backwaters in Kumarakom and Allepy. Munnar is near to Alleppey and hence for some tea estate eye tonic, you can visit Munnar too.

India travel itinerary for a month

If you have just one month in hand given that most travel will be by flights  – You must do Delhi – Agra -fatehpursikri – Jaipur – Jaisalmer ,Kashmir, Ladakh and Kumarakom/Alleppey (Kerela backwaters) & Goa.

 

India travel itinerary based on interests if you have atleast 10 days.

  1. Hills – Himachal, Uttarachal , Uttarakhand and Jammu – the northern hilly regions (states). I would suggest Manali- Leh- Srinagar. And if you are specifically interested in visiting Dalai lama’s place then Dharamshala – Dulhousie.
  2. Desert – Jaipur, Jodhpur- Jaisalmer, Udaipur. If you could try on the of the luxury train journeys mentioned below in Rajasthan for a royal experience.
  3. Wildlife – Corbett (for beautiful jungle), Ranthambore for sightings, Kanha- Bandhavgarh- Tadoba Pench ( for sightings)
  4. Beaches – Goa , Andaman Nicobar Islands. Either of these , Goa for the party and fun. Andaman for water sports.
  5. Wellness – Haridwar for a yoga retreat, Ananda Spa in Uttarakhand, Jindal nature cure Bengaluru (Karnataka) and Kerela for Ayurveda Spas. You may select any of these for a relaxed wellness retreat.
  6. Religious tours
    • Budda circuit -Arunachal Pradesh,Ajanta Ellora, BodhGaya, Leh Ladakh, Nalanda,Vaishali
    • 12 Jyotirlingas- Mahakaleshwar in Ujjain (MP) , Somnath in Gujarat, Mallikarjuna in Andra Pradesh, Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh (MP), Vishwanath in Varanasi – Uttarpradesh (UP) , Kedarnath in Uttarakhand, Tryambakeshwar at Nashik Maharashtra , Bhimshankar in Pune Maharashtra, Vaidyanath Temple in Deoghar- Jharkhand, Rameshwar in Rameshwaram , Aundha Nagnath in Maharashtra and Grushneshware at Ellora near Aurangabad , Maharashtra.
    • Famous temples – Vaishnodevi, Tirupati , Meenakshi , Jaggannath- Puri (Orissa), Somnath- Gujarat, Kamakhya temple Assam , Kashi Vishwanath (Varanasi) , Shirdi Sai temple (Maharashtra)
  7. History & Heritage- Dellhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Ajanta Ellora , Hampi,Khajuraho, Varanasi,Mysore, Mamallapuram
  8. Backwaters – Kumarakom, Allepy
  9. Adventure – Andaman Nikobar, Rishikesh, Himalayan treks
  10. Festivals and Fairs – Mathura -Vrindavan during Holi, Rann Utsav in Bhuj mostly during december, Kumbh Mela (in Allahabad,Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain) , Desert festival of Jaisalmer, Rath Yatra in Puri , Hemis Festival Leh , Navratri in Gujarat, Pushkar Mela and Sonepur Livestock fair to name a few. You can plan your visit around these fairs and festivals depending on what you like the most.For more details read Fairs and festivals of India
  11. Luxury train circuits in India – Usually for 7-8 days itinerary.
  • The palace on wheels – Experience the royalty and regal lifestyle of the bygone era. This is the luxurious train started by tourism India dept. Train moves by night and arrives each morning at a new destination where new experiences await you.The tour starts from Delhi and you come back to the city after going through in order: Jaipur-SawaiMadhopur-Chittaurgarh-Udaipur-Jaisalmer-Jodhpur-Bharatpur-Agra-Delhi.
  • Royal Rajasthan on wheels – Similarly, roal rajasthan on wheels takes the route of Delhi- Jodhpur-Udaipur- Chittorgarh, Sawai Madhopur – Jaipur- Khajuraho- Varanasi – Agra- Delhi
  • Golden Chariot – There are two routes , pride of south covering south indian art and architecture. Places include Bangalore, Kabini, Mysore, Shravanabelagola,Belur, Halebeedu, Hampi, Badami,Pattadakal annd Goa. The other route is Southern splendour – Bangalore, Chennai, Mamallapuram, Pondicherry,Tanjavur, Madurai, Kanyakumari, Tiruvananthapura, Kovalam, Alleppy and Kochi
  • Maharaja Express- This has itinerary’s from 4 days to 8 days plus. Covers mostly north and west India.
  • The Deccan Odyssey- There are routes covering maharashtra wild trail, Gujarat hidden treasures and Mumbai to Delhi route covering Rajasthan. Most routes either start in Mumbai or end in Mumbai.

Royal Rajasthan on wheels has a good route except that it misses on Jaisalmer. If you wish to do south heritage then Pride of south is good , add Alleppey backwaters separately to that. In case you are shoe string budget and just for week 10 days in India , you could do the same luxury train route by other basic trains. Train travel in India is not that expensive just that you need to take care of your hygiene by taking certain precautions.

That reminds me of the question, What should be the best way to travel in India.

Short links to other blogs on India

Top 10 most beautiful places in India

Top 10 most adventurous places in India

Top 10 most exotic places in India

Top 10 most romantic places in India

Top 10 places of historical importance in India

Top 10 religious tourism places in India

Top 10 honeymoon destinations in India

Top 10 wildlife parks in India

Top 10 value for money travel destinations in India

Top 10 places for ecotourism in India

Top 10 far from madding crowd places in India

Fairs and festivals of India

India Food Travel guide

Goa travel guide

Ladakh travel guide

Dos and Don’ts for India Travel

  1. If you are not on a shoe string budget – Travel by flights as far as possible however most hill stations and heritage places may not have airports so hire cars.
  2. If you have a shoe string budget and need to save while traveling- Use trains and busses, booking starts two month in advance so make sure your bookings are all in place or else you may find it difficult to get reservations at last minute. Train travel is popular and most prevalent in India.
  3. Carry sanitizer,handwash,wet wipes always- I do carry no matter what.
  4. Be nice to people but use your judgement when to trust and what to trust.
  5. Don’t take unnecessary risks- India is safe but that doesn’t mean you can go to less known and less popular places without any precautions.
  6. If traveling alone , do keep informing your family or friends about your whereabouts. Don’t take lifts from unknown people.
  7. When in City use well known brands for booking cabs, they track the vehicle. In small places get the bookings done through  a well known travel company or through our hotel.
  8. Respect the culture and heritage and hence make sure that none of the sentiments are hurt by any of your behavior.
  9. Carry clothes as per your planned itineray. Weather conditions differ a lot from one place to another.
  10. If you are for a long haul in India, you can book apartments and homestays and cook as well otherwise make sure you eat in good hygenic places (take references from local shops etc for good hygenic places, they do help)
  11. Carry basic medication though you can easily get over the counter drugs in India.
  12. Last but not the least do come to India with an open mind. It’s not just a paradise for foodies but also a friendly and welcoming country.

 

 

 

 

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