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An India Itinerary for First Timers

Updated: Jun 6

This is a travel guide featuring my perfect itinerary for first-time travellers to India, as well as useful travel tips and important things to know before visiting one of the most culturally vibrant countries in the world.



CONTENTS




 


Travelling in India


I have had a lot of people ask me about what it's like to travel to India over the years.


Some people have terrible experiences there, (like I did the first time I went), and for some people, the chaos and colour of India charms them completely so they keep going back (like me now).


If you're tempted to give it a go, there's a right way to do it and a wrong way.


The most popular route is called the Golden Triangle, which hits three cities; New Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. In my opinion, this could give any first-timers to India a bad impression.


It's not because these are horrible places, but because they are three huge cities clustered in the same area of the country. It would be overwhelming for anyone to travel India jumping from city to city, as you will be endlessly bombarded by dusty air, car horns, and hassle.


The other popular travel choice in India is to just travel to Goa, and nowhere else. This is also a shame, as whilst Goa has beautiful beaches and a laid-back lifestyle, it is missing the lively and frenetic energy that I associate with India's charm.


So after 6 trips to India encompassing more than 24 months in situ, here is what I think is the perfect travel itinerary for India for first-timers.



Taking a dip in The Ganges holy river
Dipping our prayer beads in the Ganges in Rishikesh


 

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My Suggested Itinerary in India for First-Timers


Tip 1 for travelling in India: Do not try to squeeze in too much.


India is huge, it feels like a hundred different countries in one, with 1.4 billion people with different languages, religions, and cultures all doing life in their own way.


For your first time in India, it would be cool to see the most extreme ends of this spectrum, whilst travelling at a slower pace, which allows you to get more involved with the local lifestyle, and it's the type of travel that emphasises connection.


For this India itinerary for first-timers, I have chosen three places that are super different from one another, and even though they are quite far apart, India is very well connected by train and cheap domestic flights.


1. KERALA

2. RAJASTHAN

3. HIMACHAL PRADESH


By visiting these three states, not only will you see vastly different things, but you will be able to try a huge variety of FOOD, which is always a priority when travelling in India.



Potato chaat
Indian street food, Agra

 


When to Travel to India


India is definitely one of those destinations where you need to pay attention to the seasons. Some parts of the country experience very extreme weather, and I for one would never want to visit during the extreme heat that precedes the monsoons.


Therefore, for this India itinerary for first-timers, our journey begins in January.


  1. KERALA - January

  2. RAJASTHAN (+ The Taj Mahal) - February

  3. HIMACHAL PRADESH - March


For this first-timer's India itinerary, I have suggested one month in Kerala, Rajasthan, and Himachal Pradesh, which means a 3-month trip to India. This could be extended, or shortened, but I would say try to spend no less than two weeks in each place. Your window of opportunity (weather-wise) is as follows:


Kerala

October ~ March (after this it gets too hot, and then the monsoon comes)


Rajasthan

November ~ February (this is 'winter' where the heat is not so intense)


Himachal Pradesh

February ~ May (this is spring... June is summer when it's peak season and quite crowded, then comes the snow)



 


An India Itinerary for First Time Visitors


Stop 1: KERALA


Chinese fishing nets Kerala backwaters
Chinese fishing nets, Kerala


About Kerala


Kerala is so vastly different from the rest of India - and the perfect place to start your India itinerary if it is your first time in the country.


This is because there is little to no hassle, which means you have time to acclimatise rather than being thrown in at the deep end!


Cuisine-wise in Kerala you're going to find plates piled high with fat paella-type rice, banana leaves holding a variety of different light coconut curries, an abundance of locally caught seafood, fluffy Parrotta bread (which may be the best bread ever), and of course DOSAS! (Coconut chutney wins everything!)


Kerala is the home of Ayurveda, Kathakali dance, tranquil backwaters and sprawling tea plantations. The backwaters and the ocean can be captured in one lens; and if you're lucky you will see dolphins play in the Arabian Sea and eagles soar above you as you bob around in the warm, balmy water.


The real charm of Kerala lies within her people. They'll go out of their way to help you with anything, their eyes glistening with pride that you're choosing to visit their home. I have never once been bothered in this state, and after what can sometimes be rather hectic travel in other parts of India, in Kerala you feel like you can just BREATHE.


 


Where to Visit in Kerala


Perhaps you can start your adventure by spending a few days in the artsy port city of Fort Kochi, before heading down to Alapphuza to explore the backwaters by houseboat.


I would personally spend a week or two enjoying the quaint fishing villages of Cherai Beach, cycling around the small trails that connect the fresh water to the Arabian Sea and discovering the secrets of Ayurveda.


If you fancy a surf head down to Varkala, a hippie's paradise perched on the cliffs, or enjoy hiking through the tea plantations of Munnar.


Spiritual seekers and Yogis will find a home at the Sivananda Ashram in Neyarr Dam. For those aiming for more off-the-beaten-path itineraries, head into the remote patches of northern Kerala towards Karnataka... but watch out for the tigers!


Biking to Munnar tea plantations
Trekking in Munnar

For more details on where to visit in Kerala, check out my article on a 10-day Itinerary through God's Own Country.



 


Getting To and Around Kerala


Cochin International Airport offers direct flights from the UK, the Middle East, and some other Southeast Asian countries, you can check the details on Skyscanner but always book directly with the airline.


The best way to get around Kerala is by moped - but if you would rather use public transport/have a lot of luggage, the trains and buses are very efficient. Check out the KSRTC or RailYatri website for more details.



 

Not sure what to pack for your trip to India? Check out the I Dream of Mangoes article:



 


Stop 2: RAJASTHAN



Getting to Rajasthan


It's a huge leap from the tropical landscapes of Kerala to the glistening deserts and fort cities of Rajasthan. I recommend you fly directly from Cochin to Jaipur - flights are roughly £70 and can be booked via IndiGo.


Once you reach Jaipur, the second stop on this India itinerary for first-time visitors, you'll be greeted by the colours of the India of your dreams, and your route around Rajasthan is where you can tick off your traveller's survey of Indian 'icons'.


The Blue City of Jodphur
The Blue City of Jodphur

 

Where to Visit in Rajasthan


I would start to explore the 'Land of the Maharajas' in Jaipur, the pink city, where you can soak in the opulence of the Hawa Mahal and then shop until you drop in the bazaars, Rajasthani people make silver jewellery like no other. Spend the evening in a rooftop restaurant catching the breeze and gorging on rich Laal Mas (mutton curry) mopped up with crispy roti.


Next head to Pushkar, a pilgrimage town for Hindus and Sikhs and home to the world-famous camel fair held every November. There's also Udaipur, the white city, where you can attend an art class or take a boat cruise across Lake Pichola.


From here you could move on to Jodphur, the blue city, and stroll around the Umaid Bhawan Palace Museum, looking at the historical dinner menus served to Princes gone by. The last stop in Rajasthan is Jaisalmer, the golden city, way out in the Thar Desert towards Pakistan, and perhaps the best of them all.


Culinary treats come in the form of thick, creamy lassis, sweet and spicy Kachori's, and bread and chutneys all over. The curries are rich and heavy here compared to the south, and for the sweet tooths, this is your chance to sample all of the interesting Indian sweets!


I Dream of Mangoes at the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal at sunrise

The Taj Mahal


If you really want to tick off the Taj Mahal, you can round off your time in Rajasthan by taking the train from Jaipur to Agra which takes 4 hours. I bought a general class ticket and this journey was perhaps to date the most hectic experience of my life (maybe except for the Calcutta Flower Market.)


For a step-by-step guide on taking the train in India, check out my guide: Train Travel in India for Tourists & Train Classes.


If you want an ounce of comfort for your train journey, I would suggest buying a more expensive seat. All of the details for travelling around Rajasthan and Agra including the scams to look out for, are in my post; Rajasthan and the Taj Mahal - but if you don't have time to read this here is one piece of advice:


Go to the Taj Mahal the minute the sun rises, and then leave Agra later that same day.



 


Stop 3: HIMACHAL PRADESH


Now that you've had your Indian city fix travelling around Rajasthan and Agra, you can head to the hills! Our final destination in this India itinerary for first-time visitors is Himachal Pradesh, otherwise known as 'The Province of the Snow-laden Mountains'. This is one of India's northernmost states, in the Western Himalayas, sharing a border with Tibet.



Hiking in the Parvati Valley
The Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh

 

Getting to Himachal Pradesh


My best advice would be to take the train from Agra to New Delhi (3 hours) and then take a night bus to Dharamshala (10 hours), although there is an option to fly if you have less time and more cash. All travel details can be found and booked on 12goAsia.


AC chair buses or private 4x4s are your friend here, as there are no trains and no sleeper buses, due to the hilly terrain.



 


Where to Visit in Himachal Pradesh


Once in Dharamshala, I would take a quick look around The Dalai Lama's Complex and then scoot on up the hill to the hippie village or Dharamkot.


You could easily spend a week or two here hiking, swimming in glacier pools, practising yoga, or joining a meditation course. I would recommend The Tushita Meditation Centre - but if you're feeling brave you could try Vipassana.


Maybe read about my experience at this Vipassana centre so that you know what you're in for!


From Dharamkot, head over to Old Manali for adventure activities and beautiful mountain views, or maybe detour up to Leh-Ladakh on a Royal Enfield for star gazing, spring flowers, and Yaks! Be sure not to miss my absolute favourite place in Himachal Pradesh; the Parvati Valley.


Instead of crowded places like Kasol and Malana, stay in one of the small villages like Lapas or Shilah, for hiking, views, stars, and if you're interested, some nerdy cannabis culture. Your last stop could be the dreamy old winter capital of Shimla, before heading back to New Delhi by bus for your journey home.



Tibetan peace flags in Himachal Pradesh
Tibetan Peace Flags


In Himachal Pradesh, March will be springtime, but it will still be chilly! Don't worry too much about this as there'll be plenty of beautiful handmade shawls to purchase along the way. Check out my article on The highlights of Himachal Pradesh for more details on the logistics of travelling in HP.


Once again the food here is completely different, with more Tibetan, Nepali, and Chinese influence. Yak cheese is a must-try, noodles are a staple, and momos are a winner!


 


Things to Know Before You Go to India


I hope this sample India itinerary for first-time visitors has provided some inspiration for India newbies, that differs from the overdone Golden Triangle!


Honestly, it's not even the TIP of the iceberg, as in the spirit of keeping things short and sweet I have kept this as brief as possible (there is just so much to say about travelling India!)


If you would like more information about how to prepare for a trip to India, read my article on Everything you need to know before you go. This article includes a packing list of essentials people rarely think of.


On another note, any females who are travelling to India may want to check out my post on travelling on your period, which has some insight into what you can expect and how to prepare.



 


I am well aware that there are many other wonderful places in India, and aside from the three states above I have also explored Sikkim - Calcutta & The Sundarbans - Mumbai - Aurangabad - Varanasi - Amritsar - Goa - Karnataka.


I would love to travel to either Kashmir or Arunachal Pradesh next!



Aarti ceremony in Varanasi at sunrise
Aarti at Assi Ghat, Varanasi


I make a point of highlighting the challenging aspects of travelling in India (hello scammers and hassle, goodbye personal space and clean air!) but this is just so readers can be as prepared as possible.


My blog posts are a love letter to India, with honest reflections on the most challenging parts.



 


Thank you for reading my post - an India itinerary for first-timers. If you enjoyed the read, please consider subscribing to my blog where I post articles every week about my current travels around the world.


Please ask me any questions about travel in India, I could talk about it all day!


Happy Travels

xxx



START PLANNING YOUR NEXT TRIP



 

Disclosure:
I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.

2 Yorum


monikaczuba
monikaczuba
18 Kas 2023

I Just found your travell blog , and I love it. So many usefull information. I am Reading all posts about India , as I am going there soon. Thank you for sharing your tips about travelling.!


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IDreamofMangoes
IDreamofMangoes
14 Ara 2023
Şu kişiye cevap veriliyor:

Thanks so much, I hope you have a great time in India :)

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