Acting as a pivotal stop on the Silk Road and home to some of the oldest religions in the world, India’s seemingly endless history as a country that connects has led it to be more diverse than any other on Earth. The country could be a continent, and for those that live there, it feels like it.
Generation after generation of rulers and occupiers have created a cornucopia of forts, temples, palaces and pilgrimage sites. No matter what city you choose to visit, you’ll be met with mosques next to temples that are Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Islam or Jain; some of which with rituals that have been practised since the Egyptian Pharaohs were around.
India’s diversity does not stop with its people. It’s where chaos meets calm in the purest sense of the word. While the cities promise to immerse you in the culture and life of India, heading out into rural India will show you a different side.
Bordering Bhutan and Nepal with the Himalayas, areas like Sikkim and Bengal are verdant green landscapes backed by the frosted mountains of the Himalayas. Head west, and suddenly you are in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan Journey to the other side of the country, an overland journey that would take you weeks from the hills of Sikkim, and Kerala will bless you with endless summer.
Once you tap into what is possible in India, calling this a rough guide to India may seem an understatement; however, some paths need to be walked on during a tour of India, and we’re here to help you find them;
- When to Go to India
- Places to Go in India
- How to Get Around India
- Where to Stay in India
- Dishes to Try in India
- Festivals of India
- Quick Tips & Important Facts for Travelling in India
- Interested in India?
When to Go to India
Despite the size of the country, the best time to visit India varies little.
The south of India enjoys a tropical climate with a monsoon season that lasts from June to September and relatively warm weather year-round. The best time to visit is after monsoon season during “winter” from October to April. As the hottest part of India, the meaning of the word “winter” should be taken lightly. During this period, your average day will still be around 30 degrees celsius.
Both western, eastern and through the central region of India all enjoy a sub-tropical climate with temperatures only varying greatly when you are close to mountains. With this in mind, the best time to visit this part of the country is from October to May as rain showers are less frequent than the rest of the year with temperatures that are favourable for outdoor activities.
Forming a point at the top of the country, the north of India is divided into the Himalayan and hinterland regions. Visiting the hinterlands is best in October and April. However, if you are in the Himalayan region, the best time to visit is the small gap of mild warmth between March and May after the snow and before the rain starts.
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Places to Go in India
From the high mountains of Sikkim to the sleepy villages of the Malabar Coast, until lightspeed travel is invented, you’ll never be able to cover everything in India in one trip. The country is vast. To narrow down the options, here’s the cream of the crop of what India has to offer;
India’s Famous Delhi, Agra and Jaipur Package
India’s trinity of sightseeing, the Golden Triangle covers Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, Delhi, and Jaipur, the pink city which forms a triangle on the map of the country.
The circuit typically starts in Delhi, as you’ll see in this Golden Triangle tour, where you’ll tour Delhi’s architectural wonders including the oldest mosque in the country and the Red Fort. The tour goes from Delhi to Agra to see the symbol of India, the Taj Mahal and then onto the spectacular Jaipur. Along the way, you’ll see the works of former dynasties in perfectly preserved forts and colourful stone structures that came to characterise India so well.
The perfect introductory tour for those who only have a little time in India, the Golden Triangle only scratches the surface, but that so happens to feature some of the jewels of Indian architecture.
Mumbai: India’s Heart
Home to the Gateway to India and set in its heart, Mumbai is India’s cultural hot pot; it’s one of the biggest cities in the world. Formerly known as Bombay, and often still referred to as such, Mumbai is the birthplace of Bollywood, adding a lively rhythm to this vibrant city.
Spread out over seven islands, your typical Mumbai trip package will take you into the city’s business district and entertainment centre, a former fort area. Here, you’ll find the city’s most significant landmarks, as you’ll see in this 10-day heart of India tour, including the Gateway to India, temples from every religion you can think of, and an impressive host of art galleries.
Udaipur and Jodhpur
An essential duo in any Rajasthan tour, Udaipur and Jodhpur are often set against each other, however, we don’t think that you can appreciate one without the other!
Udaipur, known as the City of Lakes or the Venice of the East, is the historic capital of the Kingdom of Mewar, known for its natural vistas. Away from the beauty of its lakes, Udaipur’s architectural style stands out from the rest with its large amounts of zinc and marble. It’s also home to the largest observatory in India.
Jodhpur is India’s blue city, where dusty streets are brought to life with a unique blue hue. Known as the sun city of Rajasthan for its year-round warmth, Jodhpur has a buzz to it that is infectious! Whether it’s the history that seems as old as time or the plethora of palaces, forts and Havelis that fill the city with fascination, you’ll feel its magic!
At some point, any Rajasthan tour package from Delhi will stop in Udaipur and Jodhpur, this 11-day magic of Rajasthan tour covers all that you need to see in both cities, with added delights like the ornate details of Jain temples in between.
A state where beaches and life on the water are the norm, your time in Kerala will always start in Kochi, where you’ll find that burnt orange hue that you look for on a south India tour package itinerary.
Having been the main entry point to India for explorers and traders for centuries, Kochi sits on an estuary looking out to the Arabian Sea. With a tropical artistic vibe that will make your troubles melt away effortlessly, Kochi has a charm to it that will beckon you to stay a little longer – many do.
The town lays out its history in the form of architecture and landmarks. Just like in this 11-day splendid Kerala tour, Kochi will tell tales of the Portuguese explorers, Jewish history, Dutch settlers and British colonialists all at once. The town is a patchwork of its past. However, the key to the heart of this seaside town lies in a hammock on the Malabar Coast.
Sitting on the banks of the River Ganges, Varanasi is one of India’s seven most sacred cities for Hinduism and Jainism and thought to have been the founding place of Buddhism.
When you think of India, no doubt you’ll think of the Taj Mahal and people cleansing themselves of their sins in the holy River Ganges – the latter will bring you to Varanasi, the site of the mass sacred ritual, kumbh mela.
This entire travel guide to India would have to be dedicated to the Varanasi to fully explain its wealth of importance. Varanasi truly is the sparkling jewel of India; particularly when exploring the ghats or catching the sunset over the Ganges on a boat like in this 16-day forts, tigers, and Holy Ganges trip.
When travelling, it’s vital to understand that Varanasi is an intimate place of sanctity, where rituals are performed in public that perhaps you would not expect to see. Therefore, it’s important that Varanasi is explored with an open-mind, deep respect and a willingness to learn.
Darjeeling and Sikkim
In the land of tea, India’s mountains will sweep you away on a merry, picturesque trail. Among the essentials for any north east holiday packages is Darjeeling, which is in Bengal and the unforgettable state, Sikkim, which sits on the border of Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal.
Set high in the hills at the foot of the Himalayas, Darjeeling is a remote land filled with more tea than you could possibly imagine. A dreamy green retreat, perhaps it’s the light scent in the air that makes this a serene and calm escape. Whatever it is, hiking around estates, temples and bustling towns with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks will be a trip to remember as this tour package from Kolkata demonstrates perfectly.
If you’ve already made it out to Darjeeling, taking the journey to Sikkim is a breeze. A vast range of stunning mountains, many of Sikkim’s tales run in tandem with the Tibetan refugees, most of whom now live in the towns and villages of this jaw-dropping state. Sikkim draws strong ties with its neighbours, sharing cultures, languages and with it, people, making it yet another diverse piece of India’s jigsaw.
Home to several different climates within luscious valleys as well as the highest peak in India, Kangchenjunga; Sikkim is the most sparsely populated state in the country. However, what it lacks in population, it more than makes up for in views.
From the quiet buzz of Gangtok to the verdant hills of Yuksom, if a remote escape is what you are looking for, Sikkim more than delivers!
Bengali Tigers in Ranthambore National Park
In the grassy meadows and forests of northern Rajasthan lies Ranthambore National Park with a 10th-century fort spectating over it. With great lakes and shady trees, Ranthambore National Park is the perfect environment for Bengali tigers to thrive, and they do!
Although numbers have dwindled due to poaching in recent years, Ranthambore is home to India’s largest population of Bengali tigers with safari tours promising sightings, among the other animals in the park, of which there are many, as you will see in this 15-day best of north and south India tour.
The ultimate beach destination in India. Goa is a relaxing escape where life goes at a much slower pace. A former Portuguese colony, Goa was the first part of Asia to be explored by Portuguese explorers and remained a colony, protected by the mountains that surround it until the 1960s.
Goa’s history set the tone for its present. This little corner of the south-west beats to the sound of its own drum, however, the beat that you choose to take while here may be a little different. Renowned for its hippy parties, Goa earned itself a bad reputation for many years in the travel world which has seen a rapid turn around, as you’ll see in this 6-day pristine beaches of Goa trip. With luxurious hotels popping up on its coastline and cruise ships from Mumbai bringing a different clientele, Goa is the tranquil location it was always supposed to be!
Bikaner and Jaisalmer
Sitting within Rajasthan’s Thar Desert, Bikaner, the red city and Jaisalmer, the golden city, are the dusty gems with a penchant for trading.
Bikaner is a royal centre with a colonial twist that is packed to the brim with red sandstone palaces, Havelis and Jain temples that add to the architectural wonders of India. Known as a former trading centre of Rajasthan, what strikes the eye with Bikaner is the distinctly Victorian feel to old town’s design that adds a British feel to the city.
The next stop on the merchant trail, Jaisalmer is what you think of when you picture medieval trading! Conjured up from the rubble of its Thar Desert setting, the warmth of golden stone that made everything from the fort that dominates the skyline to the fairytale-like Jain temples and Havelis creates an atmosphere of curiosity and charm.
While Bikaner and Jaisalmer have similar offerings, the way that they are delivered is entirely different. From the royal and British presence of Bikaner to the dusty Saharan-like plains of Jaisalmer; these cities exemplify India’s diversity.
How to Get Around India
While in India, you’ll find yourself testing out multiple forms of transportation in one day. Let’s look at what those look like;
To truly immerse yourself on a touring holiday in India, hopping on a train is essential! Covering just about every corner of the country, train travel is easy and affordable. For the budget-friendly traveller, it even saves a night’s accommodation with overnight services being the easiest way to cover a 12-hour journey.
Forget what you have seen. The standard of services that you receive on a train in India are comfortable and sometimes even luxurious. As long as you don’t book ‘second class’, you’ll be treated to plenty of space and even some entertainment on occasion!
Operating with a very basic system, the trains have names stuck to the side of the carriage you have been assigned. An essential part of any tour of India, train services do not come without their issues. You’ll find that more often than not, trains will be late and will arrive several hours after their due time, so keep your schedule flexible!
Inner City Transportation
Running from trishaws to boats, motorbikes and local buses, part of the fun of exploring India’s cities is in how you get from A-to-B. Innovation will always cross your mind when you are met with yet another way of getting around the city. If you think that walking will be best – think again!
No matter what form of transportation you are met with, a little haggling will go a long way.
With so much land to cover, it almost goes without saying that you’ll save on time by choosing to fly when travelling in India. There is an impressive range of airlines you can choose from to fly across the country. Although, it is worth noting that with budget airlines, you can expect delays that may make you feel like it is not an advantage. When presented with the 28-hour train ride alternative, it won’t be so bad.
Ideal for Golden Triangle tours in India, private transportation is increasing in popularity as the interest in India grows. Arranging a car (which comes with a driver in India) is perfect to go between nearby destinations and will take the hassle out of your trip, particularly when booking with our Local Designers.
Opening up flexibility in departure times, cancelling out the inevitable wait time, and having the chance to stop where you please are just some of the reasons why this is a great choice for the best tour packages in India.
In India, you’ll find that car rental is not an option. Not only is it not really available but it does not come recommended due to the chaos of Indian cities and quality of the roads outside them. However, if you are looking to rent a motorbike (and are confident that you can in such conditions) then you are in luck.
If you have driven anywhere else in Asia, chances are, this will be a breeze. Away from big cities, India’s roads are not in the best condition, however, the freedom of mobility on a motorbike allows some time to manoeuvre around potholes and cows. If you are looking for tours from Delhi, some of the best and most reliable motorcycle rental agencies are found in the city.
Where to Stay in India
The accommodation options in Delhi cover everything you could possibly think of. While budget travellers and culture seekers should stay in the hustle of Old Delhi, those looking for the ultimate luxury Delhi tour package will find that New Delhi’s Connaught Place suits all of your travel needs, particularly Janpath where you’ll find all your high-class international brands.
For those that sit in the middle of budget and luxury, charming guest houses in Sundar Nagar will show you what Indian hospitality is all about.
From dusty desert plains with converted ornate Havelis that welcome you to stay the night to lavishly decorated palaces that make for a Jaipur honeymoon package to remember; Rajasthan is not short accommodation options. Each city, town and national park has its own offerings to bring to the table.
Whether you are looking to situate yourself in the centre of the city or are seeking a remote retreat that brings nature and calm into the room, this eclectic state has something for everyone.
The captivating southern state is home to a pick ‘n’ mix of options. A rough guide to Kerala’s accommodation includes everything from beach shacks to luxury resorts, cruises, house boats and heritage home’s in the state capital, Kochi.
For first time visitors, your Kerala experience should start in Kochi’s fort area, where you’ll find everything you need in walking distance. Once you feel the heat of the south, you’ll be glad you chose to stay close by!
Outside of the city, nature lovers will love locations like Munnar and Kumarakom while beach lovers flock to Bekal, Cherai and Alleppey’s stunning coastline.
Set in the heart of the Himalayas, Sikkim is India’s loftiest region. Set high in the mountains are charming towns and cities with equally charming accommodation options.
In Sikkim, lodges with a view are on the cards and set to deliver. From the steep slopes of Pelling to the bustling Gangtok and the verdant Yuksom; you’ll find stunning and serene retreats nestled in tea estates found in the most unlikely places. Rest assured, the views are worth waking up for.
Dishes to Try in India
A dish that has made its way across India, papri chaat has a base of thin crispy wafers with chaat on top; a mix of potatoes and chickpeas cooked in spices. The dish is topped off with helpings of yoghurt, chilli and tamarind to bring the flavours together. This is a popular snack and is perfect if you are looking for a light lunch while exploring!
This slow-cooked dish is best enjoyed in Hyderabad, however, you can get this style of the dish across the country; it has become very famous! A blend of spices and saffron are used to marinate the meat before this dish is cooked slowly with pilau rice. An essential in India, when eating this dish, you’ll instantly feel like you’re eating a mum’s cooking.
The standard breakfast in the south, idli sambar is a mix of fermented bread and doughnut-like cakes served with a sour chutney and balanced out with a coconut sauce. This is the perfect alternative to dosas as a breakfast option. While it originated in the south, you’ll find idli sambar has become popular across the country.
With so many curries and bites on offer, and trust us, there are many; thali is a great way to start your travels in India as it offers a taste of everything.
Perfect for sharing with friends, and a great way to make new ones if you are opting for a group tour for single travellers in India, thali is a selection of bread, rice, curries and pickles. Typically in thali, the curries will vary in style to balance the flavours out and give you a chance to experience the diverse styles out there.
You may be wondering how we got this far without talking about particular curry dishes – there is a world of food in India before curry! However, macher jhol is everything you are looking for in Indian curry and more. Cooked in cumin and mustard seeds, macher jhol is a complex tomato-based fish curry that has a spicy kick that could only be from Benghal.
Festivals of India
With many different cultures come many different festivals. Here are some of the most important;
India’s festival of light is one of the most famous in the world. Covering every part of India, Diwali spreads a message of positivity and good to all those that celebrate it. No matter where you are in India at this time, you’ll be greeted with elaborately decorated houses, glowing deeya candles and locals wearing their finest traditional clothing.
Another of India’s famous festivals, many travellers choose to visit India during Holi – the festival of colour which welcomes in the spring season. The phrase ‘painting the town red’ should be taken literally with this festival as participants throw pockets of pinks, oranges and yellows in a merry paint fight where rubbing in the colour is encouraged.
Holi is seen to many as a way of clearing out inhibitions to start fresh. Similar to Diwali, Holi is also a time to welcome the good into your life.
A traditional festival, Dussehra celebrates the end of the battle between Ravana and Rama, when Rama defeated the evil demon king who kidnapped his wife, Sita. Dussehra marks the end of the nine-day Navaratri Festival.
The festival’s name roughly translates to mean “ten-defeat” in Sanskrit, as Ravana had ten heads, and is consequently celebrated over ten days. During Dussehra, prayers are made and food is offered to the gods to welcome the good. In cities, there are lively parades where images of Ravana are carried through and burned at night.
Celebrated mainly in Mumbai and Goa, as this is where the majority of Indian-Catholics live, Christmas is the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth. It’s a merry time in India, commemorated by the traditional midnight mass in local churches, feasts and the exchange of presents.
As no pine trees are to hand in the tropical climate of Goa, banana and mango trees are decorated; however, you can expect western traditions like carol singing, nativity scenes and Christmas cakes, all of which were brought over by the British and Portuguese.
Quick Tips & Important Facts for Travelling in India
Visa: With the exception of neighbouring countries, South Korea and Japan, everyone must obtain a 60-day e-visa before entering India.
Money: The currency of India is the Indian Rupee. At the time of writing, January 2021, 1 USD is equal to 73 Indian Rupees.
Food: Curry lovers, take it easy. Your stomach needs time to adjust to the spices and water of India. It is advised to bring medicine to help with the inevitable Delhi belly, and take it from there to make sure you can try everything.
Clothing: India is conservative. For women, exposing your midriff is normal, however, shorts and low-cut tops are not. Long, light trousers and long sleeve shawls will help to prevent unwanted attention. However, ladies, if you are still unsure, special women’s tours in India do exist.
Culture: If you haven’t heard of the Indian head wobble, it’s worth doing some research. It’s one of the first things you’ll notice and important to understand; more often than not, it means, ‘yes, I agree’, however, context is required!
Scams: The most common scam in temples is for someone to put a bindi on your head and ask for money. Depending on the price they offer, you can and are allowed to refuse. Others include taxi drivers lying about hotel information and fake ticket offices.
Safety: Pickpocketing in major cities is very common with everyone being so close together, keep your belongings close and take only what you need.
Interested in India?
A country with something for everyone, India is a bucket-list destination worth seeing through, it’s just a matter of where to begin.
Luckily, at Designer Journeys we have a host of Local Designers in India who cover a wealth of locations across the country. Whether you are looking to explore the vast colour palettes of Rajasthan’s cities or are looking to catch some rays in Goa; our Local Designers are ready and waiting to create a trip that matches your budget and style.
To find some inspiration, browse our range of fully-customisable trips to India and put together your trip of a lifetime with our Local Designers. If you can’t find what you are looking for, click ‘design your own trip’ and complete a short questionnaire to be matched with one of our Local Designers who will make a trip especially for you from scratch!