In this India Travel Guide, Ipsita Paul gives you recommendations on Where to Travel in India beyond the usual as well as what to eat, where to stay, and how to get there.
The vastness of India is beyond its diameters. Its enormity stretches far and further with the chances of geography and the mighty cultural aberrations. How to choose where to travel in India? Chaotic regional cities of Rajasthan leave the curious Uttarakhandi villages behind, and the high-mountain Ladakhi Passes co-exist with the tranquil sunset beaches of Goa. Traveling across India is an affair of a lifetime, but here is a selective India travel guide that tries to give you a whiff of India beyond the usual.
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India Travel Guide: Where to Travel in India
Located in South Asia, India is the world’s most populous country, with a current population of over 1.425 billion. India is the seventh-largest country by area and is surrounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal on the southeast. India shares land borders with the neighboring country Pakistan to the west; China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the north; and Myanmar and Bangladesh to the east.
In Search of the Mountains of North India
North India defines the region sparring over the northernmost parts of the country. The dominant geographical features of North India are based on the Indo-Gangetic Plain and the Himalayas, which separate the region from the Tibetan Plateau and Central Asia.
Munsyari and Darma Valley in Uttarakhand
The Darma Valley
East Uttarakhand lies unspoiled and beyond the grip of fast-moving tourism. The Darma Valley, 71 km away from the small town of Dharchula, is the base of the Panchachuli Base Camp Trek, a series of five majestic mountain peaks meaning ‘the five cooking-hearths’. The villages in the stretch from Dharchula to Darma Valley cherish the simple pahadi customs. The traditional mud houses in Dar and Dugtu villages stay warm on heart-wrenching cold nights. The mud-colored Kali River cuts the India-Nepal border from both Dharchula and Lohaghat.
Munsyari rests 94 km before Dharchula, as a conglomeration of revenue villages in the Pithoragarh district. Endless trails to hidden valleys and cornered waterfalls. Khaliya Top Trek takes you to a high-up string of hushed valleys at 3709 meters and opens up a panoramic lucid view of Nanda Devi Peak. Even around the main suburban town of Munsyari, you can visit the Tribal Heritage Museum in Nanasan Village, Maheshwari Kund and Sarmoli Village, the Tulip Garden and Birthi Waterfall.
The Cold Desert Mountains of Spiti Valley
Himachal Pradesh splits from its green lush valleys to a barren kilometer-long harsh and dry landscape of the cold desert mountains of Spiti. Seven months construe the year for them, as for the remaining five months Spiti drops to as low as -30 degrees Celcius.
Two routes can be taken to the journey of Spiti Valley. One, the Shimla-Kinnaur-Spiti route, or the one from Manali to Spiti through Lahaul. During the harsh wintry months, the Manali route gets blocked in impenetrable snowfall, and only the Shimla route stays open throughout the year.
Kee Monastery in Kaza, Chicham Bridge – the highest bridge in Asia, the unique villages of Komic and Hikkim, Tabo Monastery, Chandratal Lake, Dhankar Lake, Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary for snow leopard spotting, and countless Buddhist monasteries – Spiti is a whole other world under the Milky Way.
For a local experience in Losar, the first village in Spiti Valley, stay at Samsong Homestay!
Located in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, this Tirthan Valley travel guide opens the door to Great Himalayan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site for ‘outstanding significance for biodiversity conservation’.
High Passes of Leh-Ladakh
Ladakh, ‘Land of Passes’. The brown landscape transpires sky-high vistas that truly assimilate in an eternal experience. In medieval times, the Himalayan mountain passes sprung up as important trade routes by the South-Asian nations for the trading of spices, silk, etc.
Stubbed as the highest motorable pass in the world by the Border Road Organization (BRO), Khardung La connects to Shyok and Nubra Valley. Chang-La Pass, Baralacha La Pass at an altitude of 16,040 feet, Tanlang La Pass in the Zanskar range at an altitude of 17,582 feet above sea level, and many more high-altitude passes make Ladakh an arduous adventure for bike-riders.
Kanchenjunga Base Camp in Sikkim
Kanchenjunga Base Camp is a journey still unfathomed by over-tourism. Kanchenjunga massifs contour a big crossing that covers the boundaries of three major countries – Tibet, Nepal, and India. An eight-day-long trek takes you to the base of the highest peak in India!
Where Else in India Would You Feel the Diversity?
The Ancient Ghats of Varanasi
The dead burn in open crematoriums by the sacred River Ganges, under the heaps of wooden beams. As the sun drowns on the opposite horizon, the smoke from the burning dead still pervades the ancient Varanasi. The land of Aghori Babas – the cannibals living off dead bodies. A boat ride along Harishchandra and Manikarnika Ghat by the cremation sites and the evening aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat – welcome to the holy land of Moksha.
As per the puranic sources, there are five important ghats on the riverfront associated with a defining characteristic of the holy city of Kashi: Assi Ghat, Dashashwamedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Panchganga Ghat, Rajendra Prasad Ghat, and Adi Keshav Ghat. Varanasi has 84 ghats altogether.
Jaisalmer in the Thar Desert
Rajasthan will transport you to a yellow landscape through Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Bikaner, Ajmer, Pushkar, and the sandstones of Jaisalmer. The larger-than-life century-aged forts mingle with Rajasthani folk culture. And on this end of India, Thar desert is bare with distressing heat and drooping camels.
Jaisalmer Fort, A UNESCO World Heritage Site, falls under the category of ‘Hill Forts of India’. Take a stroll around Gadisar Lake, walk past the old havelis (Nathmal ki Haveli and Patwon ki Haveli), Jain temples, cenotaphs like Bada Bagh, and the ghost village Kuldhara.
And the Jeep safari in the desert will fly you to Thar, as far as the India-Pakistan border, and you can sleep on the sand without a tent, facing the shooting stars and an eerie constellation.
For safari, hostel, and private rooms in Jaisalmer, connect with Wonbin Safari.
Khajuraho – The Medieval Land of Kama Sutra
The Khajuraho monuments are located in Madhya Pradesh, in the Chatarpur district. The temple town of Khajuraho; the origin of the Kama Sutra. The temples and their intricate architecture date back to the flourishing Chandela Dynasty of the region. Initially, there were over 80 temples in Khajuraho, however only 22 remain. The temples portray erotic passion, primitive art, age-old traditions, and the life of the people of that era.
The temple groups are bifurcated into Eastern and Western Groups of Temples. Javeri Temple, Brahma Temple, Vishwanath Temple, Lakshmi Temple, Devi Jagdamba Temple – to name a few.
While in Khajuraho, you can take a cab/bus to Panna for a tiger safari and visit Pandav Caves. And reserve another day for the enigmatic Raneh Falls.
Bodh Gaya – Where Buddha Reached Enlightenment
This statue of Lord Buddha in Bodh Gaya is the tallest in India and was installed by the 14th Dalai Lama in 1989. It is a meditating Buddha sitting on a lotus, built with intricately smashed sandstone and red granite. Mahabodhi Temple, where Buddha attained his Enlightenment, marks all the seven spots of Buddha’s wanderings to the final day of Nirvana.
Even walking through the Tibetan Refugee Market and far, at every corner, you will find monasteries from other Asian countries. Thai Monastery, Royal Bhutan Monastery, Chinese Temple, Indosan Nippon Japanese Temple, Vietnamese Temple, and more
The ruins of Nalanda University are a bus ride away from Bodh Gaya.
Kadiya Dhro in Gujarat
Ever since the New York Times listed Kadiya Dhro in the row of ‘52 must-visit places in the world’, this mini canyon in Kutch Gujarat has obtained a touristic stance on the Indian Travel Map. Located near a quaint village in the Kutch district of Gujarat, Kadiya Dhro is colloquially known as ‘the Mini Grand Canyon of India’. Its river and colorful rock formations add to the shadowed beauty of Kutch. Besides the Rann of Kutch, Kadiya Dhro should be on your itinerary while you are visiting India.
Nagaland – The Unexplored North-East
Whether it is the untouched nature of Kohima, or the mesmerizing hill-and-stream Mokokchung, whether it is the fascinating rock formations of Meluri, or the traditional and heritage experience of Touphema Village, Nagaland remains immaculate and untouched by the overflow of tourists. Nagaland’s cultural dichotomy (food, culture, and faces of the North-Eastern States including Meghalaya, Arunachal, Tripura, and Assam) separates itself from the rest of India, even the Northern Himalayas.
Don’t forget to explore Chumukedima Village, the archaeological remains of Kachari Ruins, Japfu Peak, and Naga Heritage Village in Nagaland.
The Islands of the Sundarbans
Of the 102 islands on the Indian side, only 54 are inhabited by almost five million people. Also, two million people live in the active delta. These southernmost inhabited islands in West Bengal face tropical challenges, with unprecedented floods and unbidden tidal waves. By the India-Bangladesh border, the islands of the Sundarbans reside with Royal Bengal Tigers, the honey-hunters, and the female beedi workers.
The canals of the Sundarbans are approachable by riverine transportation and are the best way to connect. Motorboats can be hired from Namkhana, Sagar Island, Sajnekhali, Sonakhali, and Raidighi.
Ajanta & Ellora Caves in Maharashtra
Ajanta and Ellora caves, labeled as one of the brisk examples of ancient rock-cut caves, are nestled near Aurangabad in Maharashtra. The premises of Ajanta and Ellora are decorated with beautiful paintings, labyrinthine sculptures, frescoes, Buddhist monasteries, and Hindu and Jain temples. 29 Ajanta caves still persist and were constructed between the 2nd century BC and the 6th century AD. The Ellora Caves are more vicious with 34 in number, dating back to the 6th and 11th Century AD.
What speaks out in the entire Ajanta and Ellora Caves is the Kailash Temple, the primarily global and massive monolithic structure. The rock-cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora are some of the finest examples of ancient Indian architecture and sculpture.
Hampi, Mysore, and More in Karnataka
Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, more so ‘the City of Ruins’. Amid the shadowed mystery of valleys and hills in the state of Karnataka, Hampi is a historical chapter for travelers. Come explore the 500 ancient monuments, intricate temples, jostling street markets, bastions, and treasury buildings of Hampi!
What more in Karnataka? The imposing mountains of Karnataka and its perpetually misty landscape will take you to Coorg, a famous coffee-producing hill station. Colloquially known as The City of Palaces, Mysore is one of the most ancient reigns in the country, bustling with vibrant royal heritage, ornate architecture, and silk sarees.
The Goa Beaches for Sunsets
North or South, the Goa beaches, though overcrowded now, are where sunsets enliven. Calangute Beach, the largest beach in North Goa, stretches from Candolim to Baga. Known for its water sports like parasailing, water surfing, banana riding, and jet-skiing, Calangute is one of the numerous beaches to revel at!
Fort Aguada is a 17th-century Portuguese fort, the Dudhsagar Falls is one of India’s tallest waterfalls, The Basilica of Bom Jesus Church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site… And there’s so much more! Just get on a bicycle and pedal into the interiors of Goa!
Munnar-Kovalam in Kerala
If you have the coastlines in mind, the small coastal town of Kovalam awaits you in Kerala, south of Thiruvananthapuram. Located along the bewitching Arabian Sea, the palm-backed beaches include Hawa Beach and Samudra Beach with three adjacent crescent beaches. A gigantic rocky promontory on the beach has given birth to a beautiful bay of calm waters promoting sea bathing.
Yet another astounding hill station on the lap of the Western Ghats, Munnar rises 1,600m above sea level. Time spent in the beguiling corners of this hilly retreat would mean hopping to picturesque mountains and rolling hills.
Accommodations in India
India is as budget-friendly as it gets. That goes true for food, accommodations, transport, and whatnot. From backpackers’ hostels to luxury heritage villas, the range is wide and caters to all budget-comfortable groups.
Dormitory in Backpackers’ Hostels
In every prime location like Delhi, Ahmedabad, Manali, or Jaipur, dormitories are as cheap as Rs. 250-500 ($3-$5). But in offbeat places or away from the main hub, chances of finding a hostel are low. Even then, private rooms can be Rs. 500-1000 ($5-12), depending on the region.
Homestays in the Mountains
The locals give out a room in their house to a guest so that you can experience the local ways of living, eat homemade authentic local food, and feel included rather than being in a hotel. By staying in homestays you can directly channel the money to the local communities. Homestays are all over the mountain regions of India, especially in Himachal Pradesh.
Unique Luxury Heritage Stays
In the royal States of Rajasthan and Gujarat, one can experience heritage hospitality at luxury palaces. The expenses can be anywhere between Rs. 5000-80000 ($65-$1000).
Say, Devpur Homestay, a 150-year-old heritage luxury palace, is the only functional Darbargadh in Kutch Gujarat. You can dine with the existing family in Devpur, 35km away from Bhuj.
What to Eat in India – Local Delicacies
Rice, Dal, and Chapati certainly are the staples in India, but the sheer variety of pulses, vegetables, and regional-specific delicacies makes a food-lover fall in love with Indian food. Predominantly spicy, street foods like Bhelpuri (Mumbai), Jhalmuri (Bengal), and Bada Pav (Mumbai) dominate Indian street cuisine. Here are some street preps for street-food cravers (only veg):
Kutchi Kadak (Kutch, Gujarat)
Cholle Bhaturey (Punjab)
Litti Chokha (Bihar)
Akki Rotti (Karnataka)
Chhole Kulche (Uttar Pradesh, Delhi)
Idli-Sambar (South India)
Apart from these hot and happening street food items, Indian Cuisine can be unique and distinct inside households in different parts of India. Here are some local vegetarian dishes that will truly give you the essence of Indian diversity.
Siddu – Local Himachali Food
Siddu is a local dish, served with homemade ghee or chutney, and prepared especially around Kullu Valley and Parvati Valley of Himachal Pradesh. The outer part is a lot similar to Momo, only bigger. Peanuts, apricot, and other ingredients can be used for stuffing. The Chutney, locally known as Beri, is sauteed in onion, peanut paste, and mint. The flour dough (often mixed with yeast) is prepared in thick puffs, and a spoonful of the Chutney is stuffed inside. You will find Siddu in Shimla, Manali, Kasol, McLeodganj, Bir, and other parts of Himachal. The local shops that sell Siddu are less, but ask any local and they will tell you where to find Siddu.
Siddu has another variation with rice & curry in Tirthan Valley. They make a mix of rice, curry, and small chunks of Siddu. This is called Siru Phimra.
Rice Babru and Seera – More of Himachal
Babru is a fermented-rice-based preparation, more like a Himachali thick flatbread. Babru is more welcoming in the Chamba and Kangra districts of Himachal, and often don’t travel outside the households. Cafe Buransh in Bir in Kangra district is a beautiful place to find Babru, Siddu, and even Himachal’s own variety of the Indian dessert, Seera.
Chhutagi and Butter Tea in Leh-Ladakh
‘Water Bread’, is the literal translation of Chhutagi (chhu means “water” and tagi is “bread” in the Ladakhi language). The flattened dough is usually segregated into circular shapes. The dough is often cooked in a thick soup of either vegetables or meat. Chhutagi can be found in the local restaurants in Leh. What’s better than twinning Chhutagi with a cup of butter tea, more famous as gur-gur chai?
Burans Juice – Welcome Drink of Uttarakhand
Rhododendron, known as Burans in Uttarakhand, serves as the State flower, and Burans juice, a delectable healthy glass of fresh liquid, welcomes guests to the rural Garhwal and Kumaon regions. Burans is edible, and you will find the locals eating the flower raw.
Loquat and Kyaat – local fruits in Kangra
Loquat and Kyaat, orange and maroon in colors, occupy the Kangra Valley of Himachal. Kyaat is more like Kaphal, a variation of berries found in Northern India, Nepal, and Bhutan.
Gucchi, Kasrooh, and Fafdu – Local Veggies from the Forests of Chamba
From the forests of Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary, the locals of Chamba seek out raw vegetables for their own kitchens and seldom sell them in the market. Fresh, nutritious, and unique to the region.
Sweets of Bengal – Patishapta, Roshomalai, Baked Roshogolla!
Bengal still upholds the place of millions of sweet lovers, Bengalis especially, for in Kolkata, Krishnanagar, Joynagar, and the Sundarbans areas, the variations of sweets will make you gape at the sweet shops! Baked Roshogolla, Roshomalai, chocolate sweets, Pitha, Soan Papdi, Jilipi, Mishti Doi and Shondesh are some of the mouth-watering sweets to eat in Kolkata! Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick is the answer for you!
Rajasthani Thali – For the Spicy Indian Food Lovers!
Dal-Bati-Churma is what the Rajasthanis love. Their spice-laden Thalis are to be savored at least once! Kadhi, five-ingredient Dal, Gatta Saag, Wadi – the traditional platter only gets fatter and thicker. Read this to learn what goes into a Rajasthani Thali.
Biryani from Hyderabad and Lucknow
History has witnessed the flavors of Hyderabadi and Lucknowi Biryani, and the hungry aroma reigns these antiquated cities of India. Dig in your plate of Awadhi Biryani in the regal style!
How to Get Around India
For first-time visitors to India, be assured that connectivity all over the country is remarkably easy and reliable.
The entire country is connected via both local State-specific buses and Volvo buses. Redbus, Abhibus, and Zingbus are some of the operators. You can book your Volvo buses online from their websites. The local buses can also be booked online through their specific websites. For example, to book buses running to Himachal, go to www.hrtchp.com and book directly! Or, the ticket counter is always open for in-person bookings at the departure stations.
By Cab or Auto
Private cabs/Taxis and autos are always available at every bus stand and railway station. Uber and Ola are cab service providers operating in India. For inexpensive bike rides, download the Rapido App!
Railways are fast, smooth, and convenient for long-distance journeys across India. You can book trains on irctc.co.in or download their app. You can also track live train locations via RailYatri and other trackers.
Most of the States of India have a domestic airport. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Leh, Meghalaya, Jaipur – India connects itself conveniently through flights.
In cities like Delhi and Kolkata, you can haul a rickshaw for a short ride (within 3-4 km).
When is the Best Time to Visit India?
There is always something to explore in India in every season, even in the monsoons. The regional diversity is so varied that in one way or another, India will flash its impeccable beauty. Here are some region-favored suggestions for the intrepid traveler.
November to March
The ideal suggestion for a month-long visit to India is to witness the winters. North and North-East India would gradient to snowfall, and the Southern parts of Goa and Kerala would be pleasant. This is the only period when South India cools down from its scorching sunny weather.
If you have Rajasthan and Gujarat in mind, try not to exceed the period of ‘December to March’, because, after March, Rajasthan moves towards 55 degrees and above.
April to June
Yay the summers! The snow has melted in the mountains. The hot days and pleasant nights lure tourists to Uttarakhand, Himachal, Leh-Ladakh, Jammu-Kashmir, Sikkim, and the North-East!
The rest of India becomes excruciatingly hot in the summer! Bengal, Gujarat, Delhi, Maharashtra!
North-Eastern States like Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Tripura sweat the rain out of their cloudy pockets, barring tourists from visiting these places (unless you want to stay cooped up in a room and enjoy the rain).
The bustling cities in the plains have a different flavor in the monsoons. The heat is tolerable with the insatiable showers. Only a little rain flows in Rajasthan.
Monsoons have evaporated, and Spring is opening up tourism with smiles and flowers all over India.
Safety in India – Is it safe for women to travel alone
The uncharted India scoops out the question, ‘Is India safe? Especially for solo female travelers?’ The question of women’s safety can never truly be answered. What we can focus on is the country’s overall environment. India is safe, yes. But there are some things to consider.
As a woman, it’s advisable not to wear anything too attention-driven aka revealing, unless you are in an absolutely safe environment (as per your instinct). End your days early and cut short the nights to avoid any unforeseen danger.
Barring the backpackers’ hubs where people are used to the pool of tourists, the natives hadn’t truly comprehended the ‘mystery’ of women walking alone in clothes that reveal too much skin! If nothing further, the stares can be lethal and uncomfortable for both parties.
But as a whole, Indian hospitality, typically in the hill stations, would leave you speechless. Warmth would surpass any fear of harm. All-in-all, India is conditionally safe, and an easy country to travel across.
India Travel Guide: Need-to-Know Travel Practicalities
Currency of India: Indian Rupees (INR) is the currency of India. As of October 2023, USD 1 = 83 Indian Rupees (Euro 1 = 88 Indian Rupees).
Sim Card in India: The most powerful internet connectors all over India are Jio and Airtel (prepaid). Only for the Ladakh-Jammu-Kashmir region, you will have to buy a postpaid local sim of Airtel, Jio, or BSNL. The activation of the sim card is immediate and hassle-free.