OK first up, let’s be honest — you can’t “do” India in 20 days.
Hardly in 40 days. But maybe in 90 days.
It maybe one-fourth the size of China or USA in square-footage, but in more ways than one, India is bigger than most countries. I’m Indian and I’ve only discovered 15% of it in my life of thirty years. But, for the last week, we’ve searched and researched, pulled from our own experiences and asked around till our eyes blurred and fingers hurt, and put together an almost-perfect itinerary that’ll let anyone experience India in its entirety.
A few notes before we start:
- The Guide is divided in two parts just to accommodate all the destinations and the combinations for each itinerary.
Part I covers India in 20 days. Part II covers India in 40 or 90 days.
- The itinerary does not include extreme or adventure treks, which are the sort of trips that require careful planning and managing special equipment.
- The list is based on popular destinations that cover an essential feature or characteristic or culture of the country.
- The popularity of the destinations are based on reviews on Foursquare, TripAdvisor, various well-known travel publications, guidebooks, stories and posts from travel bloggers and our own experiences.
- The route is obviously, always open to adjustments as per the traveler's convenience.
India in 20 Days
1. New Delhi
The capital city, is not only a hub of international flights and connections, which automatically makes it more convenient to travelers, but it is also the seat of ancient Indian rulers. The architecture, the rich history, the terrible weather and the food, makes New Delhi a must-visit destination.
Take a walk around the Red Fort, admire the grandeur of Qutb Minar and end the day with Moolchand Parathewala and a tall glass of Amritsari Lassi.
Delhi’s Most Haunted Places — yep, worth a fun time!
You can’t really say you’ve been to India, unless you have your photo taken in front of the Taj Mahal. It’s a ritual that has been performed by the rich and famous as well.
There are plenty of stay options in Agra, although locals believe that the best way to do Agra is take a day-tour from Delhi. Do your research well and choose a guide or tour company who are well-versed with the history.
Home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile, Dharmshala, perched on the edge of the Himalayas, is picturesque and a traveler’s paradise. A host of activities from museums, to titillating Tibetan food, mountain treks and spiritual activities would be open to you.
The Pink City is a treasure trove of experiences and historical marvels. The famous stepped well of Chand Baori or Hawa Mahal with its magical acoustics will be wondrous additions to your list.
Looking to spend a weekend in Jaipur?
Barring its annual carnival — which is a myriad of musical, cultural and culinary festivals — the Rann of Kutch is an ecosystem by itself amidst the dessert. Camel-rides, balloon rides, golf and a variety of adventure sports come with the territory. The best time to visit would be for a New Year’s celebration!
A great account of the Rann from Tripoto.
The window to the west. The cosmopolitan and business capital of India doesn’t disappoint. From a pulsating nightlife, to a varied display of contemporary architecture, food that defines India-meets-world and a super-hip population, Mumbai is entertainment central and also home to Bollywood.
Here’s a great list by an insider, to help you cover Mumbai.
Beaches, waves and Portuguese cuisine. Three reasons that are enough to take you to Goa. But it doesn’t stop there. True to any beach destination, Goa lives up to the hype by offering up adventure sports, a kick-ass nightlife, Portuguese-influenced architecture, quaint flea markets and a thriving hippie lifestyle for all you culture buffs out there.
With a long and illustrious history, Kochi is one of the richest cites, culturally and economically, in South India. As a harbor, Kochi has been the recipient of foreign trade by countries like China, Spain, Portugal and those of the Middle-east.
But it is best-known for its serene backwaters — an ultimate retreat for couples, families and writers, and its dance/martial art forms. A tour of its history, a view of its magnificent Chinese fishing nets, local seafood at one of the beaches and loading up on spices from the spice market, makes Kochi a must-do Indian locale.
I cannot say enough about Varanasi’s religious and historic past. Let’s just say that it’s one of the world’s oldest cities, right up there with Athens and Jerusalem.
Varanasi not only attracts countless pilgrims to its holy banks, but also travelers from across the world, looking for deeply spiritual as well as agnostic experiences. From its evening prayer sessions at the Ghaats, to the early morning rituals of the Saadhus, from tiny alleys as old as time (don’t get lost! Or maybe do...) to the famous betel leaf mouth-fresheners (paan), Varanasi delivers a culture-shock as unique and memorable as India itself.
Travel & Planning Hacks
Tweaking the Itinerary
- Every destination on the itinerary above is subject to the traveler’s preferences.
- So are the number of days spent at each city. While 3 days should be hectic, but sufficient to spend at any one locale, you may want to tweak the numbers. For example, it is not necessary to spend three whole days at Agra or Varanasi. Agra can easily be a day-trip from Delhi and the days can be balanced out by spending more time in Goa or Jaipur.
- We love carrying paper maps with us whenever we travel. Especially on road-trips. Paper maps are great to chart out routes. However, you may prefer map apps and trip-planning apps on your phone to note destination details, activities and to track reservations.
- If you have more time to spend in India, we will be publishing lengthier itineraries (for 40 days or 90 days) on the blog soon!
India, like most countries, can be unsafe for travelers, especially women.
- Take into account pick-pockets, cons who try and get you cancel your tickets by suggesting to book with them, petty theives, sketchy salesmen or photographers, and ‘agents’ who pose as tour guides. Learn how to say “no” — a method implemented and mastered by locals.
- Note that most places in India have religious places of worship, and the itinerary above reflects that. Given that Indians are day-by-day opening up Western culture and clothes, you may not have to cover yourself head to toe — especially not in the bigger cities. But try and avoid shorts, mini-skirts, shoulder-less tops (short-sleeved or sleeveless is fine), or see-through clothing material whenever you’re off to a place of worship. Carry a long stole or scarf or dupatta, along with you. You’ll be able to use it as a head-covering if necessary.
- Travelling alone, especially during nighttime is advised against. I would give the same advice to women travelling along in other countries, to be honest. But it holds especially strong for those travelling through India. It would be best to avoid local buses, places that are too closely packed with people and narrow alleyways.
- Trains and buses are all great ways to travel through India since they’ll give you a glimpse of the country’s social fabric. We’ve all enjoyed travelling on local buses and trains during our travels, alone or with friends. However, always try and spend more on tickets. While no one can guarantee anything, higher ticket costs ensures more hygienic booths/seats and reduces the chances of being groped, stared at/teased, by a great deal.
- Ensure that you have the numbers of local police and medical services on your phone before travelling. Safety apps are just as necessary.
Tickets & Accommodation
Stay tuned for Part II : India in 40 and 90 Days!