Traveling to India has always been on my bucket list.
From my research, it appears that you need a month to see the main highlights of India. Given the limited amount of vacation time in the US, my goal would be break the itinerary into 2 parts (each 2 weeks) – North India and South India.
The highlights of North India would be New Delhi, Rajasthan, Ladakh (Himalayas), and Varnasi, while the highlights of South India would be Goa and Kerala.
While probably difficult to do in a month, the northeast of India with Darjeeling does seem beautiful and worth attention. One could also spend considerable more time up in Ladakh if looking to hike for an extended period of time.
North India Attractions
- Definitive Attractions
- Red Fort
- Humayun’s Tomb
- Qutub complex
- National Museum
- Gandhi Smriti
- Amber Fort
- Hawa Mahal
- Taj Mahal
- Red Fort
- Fatehpur Sikri (See on Journey to Agra)
- Jodhpur (Blue City)
- Mehrangarh Fort (Looks pretty awesome)
- Enjoy the Blue City
- Less important: Umaid Bhawan (May not be worth stopping)
- City Palace
- Lake Pichola Boat Ride
- Jain Temples (Stop on way to Jodhpur)
- Jagdish Temple
- Jaisemeler Fort / Golden Sandcastle
- Moonlight Camel Trek (Potentially spend the night)
- Optional Stops
- Ladakh (Leh)
I have listed below a potential itinerary that would work over 2 weeks (3 weekends). My plan was to travel between July and end of August since my fiancée is a teacher. This is probably the least desirable time to travel to India. Ideally, we would prefer to go in November and see Diwali or in March to see Holi.
Day 1 (Friday): Depart
Day 2: In the Air
Day 3 (Sunday): Arrive in Delhi in the morning
Day 4: Delhi
Day 5: Drive and/or train to Agra (4 hr); Agra –Red Fort [could we see all of Agra in this day]
Day 6: Agra – Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri; Drive to Jaipur (3 hr);
Day 7: Jaipur –Amber Fort and City Palace
Day 8 (Friday): Drive to Udaipur (Potentially stop in Pushkar); Udaipur (8 hours) [1 hr flight via SpiceJet]
Day 9: Udaipur
Day 10: Drive to Jodhpur via Rankakpur
Day 11: Jodhpur; Overnight Train to Jaisemeler
Day 12: Jaisemeler
Day 13: Drive to Jodhpur and then fly to Varanasi or Leh
Day 14: Varanasi / Ladkh
Day 15 (Friday): Varanasi / Ladkh
Day 16: Delhi; Depart India
Day 17: Arrive Home
Exclude: Ranthambore National Park (Park is closed from July 1st – September 30th)
One of the things that you will notice is that you are often only spending roughly a day in the different cities. Most of these cities have 1 or 2 main attractions that will take several hours to complete. Remaining time would be spent enjoying the different cities. When looking at organized tours, they all follow a similar trajectory. If you feel like the itinerary is a little hectic and have time, you should additional a day here or there.
Some details on transportation links between cities:
From my research to-date, the train is primarily utilized between New Delhi and Agra and between New Delhi and Jaisemeler (via Jodhpur). For all of the other locations, most recommendations are to hire a car and a driver. The costs are fairly minimal to hire car and driver unless you are on the strictest budget.
- Jodhpur to Jaisalmer – 11:45 PM and arrives at 6:00 am or 5:45 PM and arrives in 11:30
- Jaisalmer to Delhi – Overnight Train
- Delhi to Jodhpur – train leaves at 8:45 PM and arrives in Jodhpur at 8 AM
- Jodhpur to Jaisalmer – drive takes 4 – 6 hours
You also have the ability to fly from Udaipur to Jaipur on one of the budget airlines. There did not appear at the time of this article to be any direct flights from Udaipur to Jodhpur. There is no airport in Jaisemeler.
Varnasi is a very spiritual town. The main highlights are visiting the various Ghats, boat ride on the Ganges, and experiencing the unique environment. Most organized tours spend 2 to 3 days. As a result, I would suggest a similar amount of time in the city.
Far North India (Himalayas / Ladakh)
Given the heat of the summer, I was thinking of traveling north of New Delhi into the cooler part of the country.
From my research, there are five main areas:
- Leh (Located in Ladakh) – bustling tourist town, large numbers of Kahmiri traders
- Srinagar – famous for Dal Lake, located in the picturesque Himalayas
- Dharamsala (Located near Manili) – Home of Dalai Lama
- Shimla – summer capital of former British India
- Amritsar – contains the Golden temple, the most important peregrination center for the Sikh religion
While all of these locations are north of Delhi, it is not easy to get between these locations. The most common attraction is to visit Shimla via the “Toy train”. You will this in a number of organized tours.
If you are more into history/culture, it would be best to visit Amritsar or Dharamsala.
On the other hand if you prefer mountains, you should then travel to Leh, Srinagar, and/or Dharamsala. The reason that I mention Dharmsala is because it is near Manili where a road begins that leads to Leh (473 km). In addition, there is another road that runs from Srinagar to Leh (437 km via Kargil). Both trips will take 2 days given the poor quality of the roads.
Given limited time (3 days), I think it makes most sense to fly from Delhi to Leh in the Ladakh region.
Places to stop in Ladakh:
- Leh Palace
- Jama Masjid
- Chamba Temple
- Thiksey Monastery (19 km from Leh)
- Hemis Monastery (40 km SE from Leh) – Festival held in June/July
- Chemrey Gompa???
- Santi Stupa
- Main natures spots:
- Pangong Tso (Lake) – It is possible to do it 1 day trip or make it 2 days (5 hour drive from Leh); you could do Leh in morning and then head there for sunset and drive back next day. You would need to spend night in Tangtse
- Tso Moriri (Lake) – Beautiful lake that is 6 to 7 hours. I would add this to itinerary if spending 4 or 5 days in area
- Nubra Valley – Beautiful valley that requires a permit to hike. The permits are supposedly easty to acquire in Leh. This should probably only be added to itinerary if spending week+ in region.
Day 1: Explore Leh
Day 2: Monasteries
Day 3: Pangong Tso (Lake)
Great articles on Ladakh:
Links to organized tours and/or travel blogs talking about their highlights:
http://hippie-inheels.com/hire-a-car-from-jodhpur-to-udaipur/ (Sites along route from Jodhpur to Udaipur)
http://hippie-inheels.com/camel-safari-in-jaisalmer/ (Article on riding camels in Jaisemeler)