Unmissable India Travel Guide: Hidden Gems, Local Favorites, and Essential Tips Revealed!

india travel guide

Introduction to the India Travel Guide

Welcome to our full India guide that covers all the essential questions if you’re about to book your first trip to India!

India is a country full of bright colors and interesting stories. It has a long history filled with different cultures and beautiful natural places.

From the big mountains of the Himalayas to the wide-open plains and sunny beaches, India has seen many powerful kingdoms come and go, the start of new religions, and the mixing of different ways of life.

This country has many old and impressive buildings that tell the story of India’s past, a story that includes many amazing structures. The sacred rivers, the Ganges and Yamuna, flow through the land, and the lively festivals like Diwali and Holi show how joyful the people are.

Did you know that the game of chess started in India, coming from an older game called Chaturanga?

For now I have introduced you enough, let’s dive deeper into this India travel guide!

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How To Get Around India?

Let’s start this India travel guide with the question how to navigate across India. Since India is also referred to as subcontinent due to its size, it requires a strategic understanding of the many transportation options available:

Inter-City Transportation Options

India’s transportation spectrum spans a range of options for inter-city travel. For travels between major cities, consider flights for time efficiency. Additionally, trains are a quintessential Indian experience, offering an extensive network connecting cities and towns.

However, long-distance buses provide a budget-friendly and scenic alternative.

Intra-City Transport

In bustling metropolitan areas, metros and local trains are lifelines, connecting different parts of the city. Major cities feature boast well-connected bus networks. On the other hand, smaller towns may rely primarily on buses for intra-city transport.

Navigating through the streets might involve the iconic auto-rickshaws or cycle rickshaws, providing a unique local experience.

Booking Tips

For train travel, the Indian Railways website or mobile apps like IRCTC enable you to check schedules and book tickets online. Popular bus services like RedBus or 12AsiaGo simplify bus reservations. Metro cards, available at station counters, streamline your metro journeys.

Ride-hailing apps like Uber and Ola are prevalent in urban areas, offering convenient options for point-to-point travel. In Goa you need to use GoaMiles as Uber and Ola are not available here.

If you consider traveling by taxi, I can recommend to use the Uber or Ola App instead of getting prepaid taxis. We paid much more for the same route when organizing a prepaid taxis. However, if you have no mobile service, you would need to use prepaid taxis at specific counters that can be found either at the airport or at train / bus stations.

If you decide to get yourself a sim card to use internet in India, which I would absolutely recommend, you can get either a local Airtel sim card (a little difficult to get) or you buy an eSIM online with Airalo or use the tool below.

Weather & Best Time to Visit India

The next important questions we’re adressing in this India travel guide is the best time to visit. A more detailed article can be found here.

India’s climatic diversity ensures that the weather varies widely across its expansive landscape. To plan your visit strategically, let’s explore the seasonal weather conditions and highlight the best times to experience the distinct regions of Northern, Central, and South India.

Seasonal Overview

India experiences three primary seasons – summer, monsoon, and winter. However, the intensity and duration of these seasons differ based on the region. The northern plains witness scorching summers with temperatures soaring, while the southern coastal areas remain relatively warm. Monsoon, characterized by heavy rainfall, sweeps across the country from June to September. Winters, from November to February, bring a pleasant climate, especially in the northern and central regions.

Regional Variations

The diversity in India’s climate is magnified by regional variations. Northern India, including Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, faces extreme temperatures during summer but enjoys a mild winter. Central India, comprising cities like Mumbai and Varanasi, experiences a coastal influence with hot and humid conditions, particularly during the monsoon. Southern India, encompassing cities like Chennai and Bangalore, has a more consistent climate, with tropical weather prevailing throughout the year.

Best Times to Visit Each Region

Northern India (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur): Plan your visit during the winter months from October to March when the weather is pleasant for exploring historical landmarks.

Central India (Mumbai, Varanasi): The post-monsoon period from October to March is ideal, offering relief from the humidity and ensuring comfortable exploration.

Southern India (Chennai, Bangalore): Visit during the winter months from November to February for a delightful escape from the tropical heat.

Understanding the seasonal dynamics allows you to choose the perfect time for your Indian adventure, ensuring an enjoyable and comfortable experience in each region.

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Safety in India

The next topic of our India travel guide is all about how safe it is to travel in India. In the following article we address 7 essential tips for traveling around India which is also related to safety, especially for solo female travelers.

The main aspect to be aware of when it comes to safety are potential scams that even go beyond pickpocketing. Here are valuable safety tips, insights into tourist scams, and emergency contacts to guide you through the diverse landscapes of this captivating nation.

General Safety Tips for India

Stay Informed: Familiarize yourself with local customs, laws, and cultural norms to navigate each destination respectfully.

Secure Your Belongings: Keep valuables, including passports and money, in secure locations to prevent theft.

Water Safety: Avoid tap water; opt for bottled or purified water. Be cautious when ordering drinks without ice.

Go Veggie: Consider trying vegetarian options to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Medication: Bring essential medications from home, including a basic first aid kit.

Tourist Scams in India

Overpriced Services: Watch out for unauthorized guides offering overpriced services and counterfeit goods.

Longer Routes: Be cautious of drivers taking longer routes, claiming to pick up friends, to inflate the fare. If uncomfortable, insist on the agreed-upon route.

Possibility of Abandonment: Exercise caution if the driver suggests stopping and leaving the vehicle, as there have been cases of individuals driving away with passengers‘ belongings.

Fake Guides: Exercise caution when hiring guides; opt for reputable services or official guides.

From my personal point of view I have to say that we were not scammed at all. Maybe we paid a little more than locals would do for example when hailing a taxi but all in all, we did not get scammed. This is absolutely not what we expected from India! If you are interested in common tourist scams in India, read here.

Emergency Contacts

Police: 100 Fire: 101

Medical Emergency/Ambulance: 102

Tourist Helpline: 1363 (All-India Tourist Helpline for assistance and information)

Remember, each region in India has its unique challenges, and staying informed ensures a secure and enjoyable journey. Safe travels!

Must Visit Places in India

No India travel guide is complete without highlighting the must-visit places across this huge country! Please note, that I only included the places I have been visiting but there are for sure tons of more places worth to check out.

Mumbai, a bustling metropolis on the west coast of India, serves as the financial, commercial, and entertainment capital of the country. Renowned for its prolific Bollywood industry, the city is a cultural melting pot, hosting historic landmarks like the Gateway of India and vibrant street markets that offer a glimpse into local life.

Goa, located on the southwestern coast, is a coastal state known for its pristine beaches, Portuguese-influenced architecture, and lively nightlife. A favored destination for relaxation and vibrant entertainment, Goa attracts travelers seeking a perfect blend of sun, sea, and cultural richness.

Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities globally, is situated on the banks of the sacred Ganges River. This spiritual hub is characterized by ancient rituals, picturesque ghats, and a unique ambiance that seamlessly intertwines mysticism and tradition.

Agra, situated on the banks of the Yamuna River, is steeped in historical significance. Home to the iconic Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, and other Mughal architectural marvels, the city offers a captivating journey through India’s rich heritage.

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Ranthambore National Park, nestled in the eastern part of Rajasthan, is a renowned wildlife sanctuary. Visitors can partake in thrilling safaris, encountering majestic tigers and immersing themselves in the natural beauty of this protected reserve.

Udaipur, often referred to as the City of Lakes, is a romantic destination in Rajasthan. Known for its majestic palaces, including the City Palace, serene lakes, and rich cultural heritage, Udaipur captivates travelers with its timeless allure.

Jaisalmer, situated in the heart of the Thar Desert, is distinguished by its golden fortress rising from the arid landscape. The city invites exploration of intricate architecture, the enchanting charm of the desert, and the labyrinthine streets of its ancient core.

Jodhpur, recognized as the Blue City, is located in the western part of Rajasthan. Dominated by the grandeur of Mehrangarh Fort, the city’s vibrant markets and bustling streets showcase a lively tapestry of Rajasthani culture, inviting you to immerse yourself in the enchanting traditions and vivid hues that define the Blue City.

Jaipur, which is better known as the Pink City, is a city full of impressive buildings such as Jantar Mantar, the City Palace, the famous Red Fort, and Hawa Mahal. If you do not have enough time in India, you may do only the Golden Triangle route which includes Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. That’s the least thing to do in India!

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Hidden Gems of India

To add some more valuable information and recommendations to this India travel guide, it is also necessary to explore the lesser-known destinations in India. Some of the most memorable experience come from off the beaten part destinations which are highlighted in the following abstract.

Hampi, Karnataka: Nestled in the heart of Karnataka, Hampi is an ancient city recognized for its captivating ruins and stunningly preserved temples. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this archaeological wonder transports visitors to a bygone era, where intricate stone carvings and temple complexes whisper tales of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Khajuraho, a town in Madhya Pradesh, unveils a remarkable collection of intricately carved temples adorned with explicit sculptures. These UNESCO-listed temples, dating back to the Chandela Dynasty, showcase exceptional artistry and depict various aspects of human life, love, and spirituality.

Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh: Tucked away in the Himalayan realm, Spiti Valley beckons adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts. Known for its stark landscapes, monasteries located on hillsides, and high-altitude villages, Spiti offers a tranquil escape amidst snow-capped peaks and ancient monastic traditions.

Majuli, Assam: Floating in the mighty Brahmaputra River, Majuli is the world’s largest river island. This cultural hub boasts vibrant traditions, serene landscapes, and the unique opportunity to witness the Assamese way of life. The island’s Satras, or Vaishnavite monasteries, add to its spiritual charm.

Gokarna, a coastal town in Karnataka, provides a serene alternative to the bustling beaches of Goa. Known for its pristine beaches, such as Om Beach and Kudle Beach, Gokarna invites travelers to unwind in a laid-back atmosphere, explore sacred temples, and embrace the tranquility of the Arabian Sea.

Mawlynnong, Meghalaya: Voted as the cleanest village in Asia, Mawlynnong in Meghalaya exemplifies sustainable living and natural beauty. Surrounded by lush greenery, living root bridges, and waterfalls, this village offers a glimpse into the harmonious coexistence of the local Khasi community with nature.

Embark on a journey to these hidden gems, where the soul of India reveals itself in lesser-explored corners, waiting to enchant those seeking a more intimate connection with its diverse tapestry.

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Unique Experiences in India

Let’s highlight another important aspect of this India travel guide which is probably my favorite. I used to travel for pretty beaches, lush rainforests and mountains which I still enjoy a lot but since I grew older, I feel like traveling is not complete without specific experiences.

I started going on tours and got to know better both locals and culture which helped me to understand better the daily life in a certain country and got more information about the country you usually do not notice.

If you want to explore India like a local, you should definitely consider booking guided tours. My two absolute favorite website to book these are GetYourGuide and Viator. Click the links or use the tool for a quick research on various activities!

However, in the following I will recommend you tours I did myself and really enjoyed them:

Heritage Walks (Jaipur): Immerse yourself in India’s rich history with guided heritage walks through ancient forts, palaces, and historic neighborhoods, unraveling tales of bygone eras. Book your walk through Jaipur here.

Spice Plantation Tour: Embark on a sensory journey in Goa, exploring vibrant spice plantations and learning about the cultivation of cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, and more. Go on a tour here.

Yoga Retreats: Experience the transformative power of yoga with retreats in Rishikesh or Kerala, surrounded by serene landscapes that foster relaxation and self-discovery.

Taj Mahal at Sunrise: Witness the iconic Taj Mahal bathed in the soft hues of sunrise, offering a magical and less crowded experience at this architectural masterpiece. You can visit the Taj Mahal even on a single day-trip from Delhi.

Cooking Class in Udaipur: Unleash your culinary creativity with a cooking class in Udaipur, where you’ll learn to prepare authentic Indian dishes, adding a flavorful touch to your journey. This is the cooking class I did in Udaipur where we learned to cook 5 main dishes and several other sides.

Desert Safari in Jaisalmer: Embark on an exhilarating desert safari in Jaisalmer, exploring the golden dunes, witnessing a mesmerizing sunset, and experiencing the unique culture of Rajasthan. It is even possible to sleep in the desert for a night which I highly recommend!

Street Food Tour in Jodhpur and Delhi: Delight your taste buds with the diverse flavors of Indian street food on guided tours through the bustling streets of Jodhpur and Delhi. We absolutely loved this food tour in Delhi! But make sure to come with an empty stomach as it will be 4 hours of eating!

Volunteering at Udaipur Strays: Make a positive impact by volunteering with Udaipur Strays, contributing to the welfare of stray animals and experiencing the compassionate side of India.

Aarti Ceremony in Varanasi: Witness the spiritual energy of Varanasi with a mesmerizing Aarti Ceremony, where ancient rituals along the Ganges create a mystical atmosphere. Watching the Aarti ceremony was probably one of the most fascinating experiences in my life!

Hot Air Balloon Ride in Pushkar: Soar above the vibrant city of Pushkar in a hot air balloon, capturing breathtaking aerial views of the sacred lake, temples, and the surrounding desert.

Paragliding in Goa: Experience the thrill of paragliding in the scenic landscapes of Goa, where you can glide through the skies and marvel at the coastal beauty.

India’s Diverse Culture

India’s cultural tapestry is a vibrant mosaic, blending diversity, traditions, and lively celebrations. This is another topic I wanted to highlight in this India travel guide as we took part in some local traditions, such as the Aarti ceremony in Varanasi which was an overwhelming experience for life!

Cultural Diversity and Traditions

India’s cultural wealth is evident in its diversity, with each region embracing unique traditions, languages, and lifestyles. From the vibrant hues of Rajasthan’s attire to the serene backwaters of Kerala, every corner unveils a different facet of this diverse nation.

Understanding local customs, like reciprocating the traditional greeting of „Namaste“ or delving into the significance of festivals like Diwali and Holi, becomes a gateway to connect with the heart of India. These practices deepen your connection with the communities you encounter, offering a profound cultural experience.

Festivals and Events

India’s calendar is adorned with a vibrant array of festivals, each offering a unique celebration of culture and spirituality. Dive into the grandeur of Diwali’s lights and festivities, revel in the joyous color explosions of Holi, and experience the spiritual intensity of Kumbh Mela.

Plan your journey to coincide with these festivals to witness India’s cultural heritage in full bloom. Diwali usually takes place in October or November, Holi is celebrated in March, and Kumbh Mela occurs every 12 years, rotating between four pilgrimage sites.

4-Weeks Itinerary in India

Last but not least in this India travel guide is our 4 weeks itinerary we did back in December 2023:

Day 1-2 Mumbai – Explore the bustling city life, including iconic sites, go on a Slum Tour and visit local markets.

Day 3 – 9 Goa – Immerse yourself in the sun-kissed beaches, spectacular sunsets, and indulge in the local cuisine and vibrant nightlife.

Day 10-11 Varanasi – Experience the spiritual essence along the Ganges, witness the Aarti ceremony, and explore the city’s landmarks.

Day 12-13 Agra – Marvel at the timeless beauty of the Taj Mahal, explore other historical wonders, and enjoy the local sightseeing.

Day 14-15 Ranthambore National Park – Embark on a tiger safari adventure and unwind in the natural surroundings.

Day 16-18 Udaipur – Volunteer with stray dogs, attend a cooking class, and soak in the charm of the city surrounded by lakes.

Day 19-21 Jaisalmer – Explore the golden fortress, venture on a desert safari, and experience the unique charm of the city.

Day 22-24 Jodhpur – Delight your taste buds with a street food tour and explore the vibrant markets in the Blue City.

Day 25-27 Jaipur – Interact with majestic elephants at an elephant sanctuary and discover the Pink City’s rich history and architecture.

Day 28-29 Delhi – Conclude your journey with a free walking tour in the bustling capital, taking in the historical sites and vibrant atmosphere.

india travel guide
Our 4-weeks route as described above

Last words on this India travel guide

Alright folks, I hope you found some useful information in this India travel guide which will help planning your future trip! In case you have any questions, feel free to reach out via email at [email protected]

Do not forget to save this for later and follow us on our world trip on Instagram for daily updates, travel tips and tricks as well as inspiration.

If you’re interested in more content about India, click here. Until next time!

I hope to see you again soon on this blog. Do not forget to share this India travel guide with your friends and family too 🙂

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