India is a fast growing travel destination and I have been lucky to have visited the country on multiple occasions over the last three years. The country is large, extremely diverse and absolutely beautiful. Traveling to India is also much easier than it used to be. The government is actively promoting tourism and has introduced the now flexible tourism e-visa which made it much easier to enter the country than in the past.
I visited India multiple times since 2017. These are my favourite destinations or places I still want to visit.
Unfortunately, it is currently impossible to travel to India from abroad as the Indian government has closed its borders in an effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. This post is intended to help you choose where to go in India after the pandemic. The overview includes destinations that I have visited myself, as well as some parts of India that are still on my travel wish list. It is also good to know when India has public holidays, because that could affect your plans.
Places to visit in India’s Golden Triangle
So where to start exploring India? There are so many different options to choose from. The most standard vacation in India will be a journey in to the so-called Indian Golden Triangle. On the Golden Triangle itinerary there are three of India’s most famous destinations: New Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal) and Jaipur. To do these places justice and properly explore all there is to see, you need multiple days in New Delhi and Jaipur. A visit to Agra can be relatively short if you are only interested in the Taj Mahal. No matter how long you decide to stay where, the Golden Triangle brings you to some of India’s most well-known places. India a really big country and each region differs from the rest. In order to get an idea of everything that India has to offer, you need to visit different parts of the country to understand and experience its diversity.
School Holidays in India vary per state. The overview below shows the most important school vacations and public holidays. The start of the school year
Most tourists will fly into New Delhi and stay at least a few days in the country’s capital. Like India, New Delhi is massive and highly diverse. You can easily spend multiple days exploring the highlights of the city that include Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tumb, the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Akshardam and the Lotus Temple. A quick stop at India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan, India’s Presidential Palace, are also a must.
Things to see and do in New Delhi
For most tourists in India, the second stop on the Golden Triangle itinerary is Agra. Agra is mostly known as the city that is home to one of the world’s most famous sites: The Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is by itself worth a trip to India. A vacation in India without seeing the tomb is a wasted trip. Although it is of course one of the busiest highlights of India is most definitely worth it.
Jaipur is the capital and largest city of Rajasthan one of India’s most beautiful states. Rajasthan literally translates into “the Land of Kings” and the state lives up to that prestigious name. Rajasthan historically was patchwork of smaller and bigger kingdoms where humans lived together with a diverse wildlife that includes tigers and elephants. It were the Maharajas that ruled over these lands as their tribes fought wars against each other in their ancient long rich history. Rajasthan is as close as you can get to an eastern fairy tale.
The most beautiful thing about a modern day visit to Rajasthan is that you can still feel, taste and experience this long history. You can sleep in the former palaces and some of those are still the residence of the royal family. A trip to India would not be complete without a visit to this special state.
Away from the Golden Triangle
Although the Golden Triangle is most definately worth it, there is much more to India than just those three destinations. Here are some other highlight I was lucky to visit.
If you have time to travel beyond the Golden Triangle, Udaipur should most definitely your go to destination. This Rajasthani city is called the ‘city of lakes’ and that is for good reason. The city is built around several lakes and is home to many palaces you can sleep in.
When I visited Udaipur with my wife and parents in 2019, we stayed at Udaipur’s City Palace. This palace is still occupied by the Maharaja but parts of it now serves as a hotel to generate a steady flow of income for the former royals. The City Palace was also where parts of the James Bond movie Octopussy were recorded in 1983. Not only was the movie filmed at the palace Roger Moore also stayed at the hotel during the recordings.
Nowadays, the city is home to many luxury hotels and lots of things to do. This includes a visit to the City Palace, a cruise on Lake Pichola, the Saheliyo Ki Bari Garden and Monsoon Palace.
On my trips to India, I didn’t spent all my time going through the Golden Triangle. I also spent considerable time in the south of the country. One of the destinations I visited was Bengaluru, formerly known as Bangalore. This southern Indian city is home to India’s rapidly growing tech industry and is often dubbed India’s silicon valley.
Bengaluru has a culture of its own. It has a flourishing pub scene, there are lots of young people working and living in the city and this boosts a lively modern atmosphere. And somehow, Bengaluru, with all of its modernity, pub scene and Western influences, retained its typically Indian culture and atmosphere.
The city is very green with trees and parks everywhere. There is not one typical center although lots of activity seems to be going on around UB City. Activities and things to do include Bangalore Palace, Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace, Bull Temple, Lalbagh Botanical Garden and Ulsoor Lake. The local government palace is also most defiantly worth a quick stop to take a photo.
Palaces and stories about Maharajas are not limited to the north of the country. Mysuru, formerly known as Mysore, boosts a long and rich history of the former Kingdom of Mysore which ruled of most of Southern India for decades from 1399 until 1956.
For modern day visitors, you can still experience the rich history of the kingdom by visiting the immense Mysore Palace. This gigantic Palace is the second most visited tourist attraction in India, after Taj Mahal. The palace by itself, with beautiful halls and artwork, is worth visiting but the stories that the building boosts about the festivals and parades that were organized in front of the building are the most intriguing. These parades, which are still organized each year in October, bring massive crowds while beautifully decorated elephants walk the streets.
Although a day trip to Mysuru from Bengaluru is possible, it is not recommended. It takes approximately 4 hours on the road to get to Bengaluru, which is located about 150km to the south west. This would mean that to visit Mysuru on a daytrip, you will spend about 8 hours in the car.
Tamil Nadu / Chennai
Most tourists that travel to the south of India will start that journey in Chennai. Chennai, which was known by the British as Madras, is India’s sixth most populated city and is situated directly at the Bay of Bengal. The city has a massive sandy beach that stretched 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) and is the world’s longest urban beach after Rio’s Copacabana.
Although a lot of foreign tourists use Chennai as a starting point, there are not many tourists that actually stay in the city for one or more days. That is unfortunate as Chennai is a unique city that is most definitely worth a visit. The city houses unique buildings such as the high court, Fort St. George and the Government Museum. Another reason to stay in Chennai is the food. The southern cuisine of India comes together in this large southern Indian metrople.
From Chennai, you can do a day trip to Mamallapuram, or Mahabalipuram, which is a coastal town located about 55 kilometers south of the city. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has lots of 7th and 8th century monuments including temples, rock reliefs and the five chariots, five monolithic pyramidal structures that were carved out of a single stone. Other potential day trips from Chennai include Pondicherry, Auroville and Kanchipuram.
Where I still want to go in India
By now I have traveled to India on six different occasions. I still have to visit lots of different destinations in the huge countries. The following regions or cities are still on my India bucket list.
India best places to visit
I have dreamed of taking a cruise on a houseboat and seeing the beauty of the country from the water. The starting point of most backwater cruises are either Alleppey or Kumarakom. Packsages are sold for the back water river cruise in 3, 4 or 5 night packages. I hope to write a blog about Kerala as soon as the pandemic allows us to travel again.
Mumbai is India’s largest city with a population of over 12 million and is the home of Bollywood. Although I have travelled through Mumbai’s modern airport, I haven’t been able to visit the city and experience the vibe of one of India’s most famous cities.
Goa used to be the biggest hippie destination in the world. This former Portuguese colony is home to a relaxed atmospheres of India. No matter what your budget is, Goa’s beaches house budget hostels as well as luxury five star resorts.
Varanasi is said to be the ultimate India experience. Situated at the river Ganges, with its sacred ghats, Varanasi is a spiritual destination that attracts tourists from around the world.
Jammu & Kashmir (incl. Ladakh)
While this area is one of the most unstable regions in the world, it is worth a visit when it is safe. Before you even think of going to this mountainous regions of India, please check the travel advise of your home country.
I have been told that this Himalaya region is one of the most beautiful regions in the world. Visiting Ladakh is often called a once in a lifetime experience as the land is filled with crystal sands and breath taking mountains. It’s not just the landscape, Ladakh is also know for its extremely tasteful kitchen.
Kolkota is the starting point for a trip into the state West Bengal. The city itself is also said to be worth a visit as it offers lots of colonial architecture and other highlights. Highlights in Kolkota include Fort William, Victoria Memorial, Howrah Bridge, Birla Planetarium and the Indian Museum.
The Ruins of Hampi, yet again a UNESCO world heritage site, are a group of monuments in the south of India. Set in a rocky landscape, Hampi was the capital of an Empire in the 14th century but was destroyed by armies in 1565. Hampi is a bit isolated and therefore not great for a daytrip.
Jodphur is known as the blue city. The city was painted blue, according to some explanations, as part of the caste system where the Brahmin caste painted their houses blue to differentiate their homes from the lower-caste communities. Or, as some others explain, to keep their houses cool and free of insects. Whatever the reason, the blue colors contradict beautifully against the brownish colors of the Thar Desert.
Like Jaipur, Jodphur is said to be a stunning city that is located in the majestic state Rajasthan. The city that dates back to 1459 is home to multiple palaces and forts. Main highlights include Mehrangarh Fort, Umaid Bhawan Palace, the old clock tower and Jaswant Thada.