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The Ultimate Indian Itinerary: South to North in One Month

Whether you are going to visit India for the first time, or are already in love with the country and searching for new adventures, this itinerary will give you some ideas about destinations that will certainly let you have a full Indian experience.

The top of the Sun Temple and a cloudy sky

by Alessandro Ramazzotti

15 de sept de 2023

India is the country every traveler will visit at one point. It is like a test; like an exam to prove that you are a real traveler, and not a cozy Western countries’ one.

Itinerary Outline

This itinerary will focus on travels by bus for a period of one month in this extremely colorful country. It will take you through India’s fabulous destinations from south to north. Keep in mind that the best time to visit is late autumn or early spring, when the eye-boiling heat of the summer is either gone or not there yet, and you can avoid the chilled winter hazes.

Let's go!

Day 1 to 3 – Thiruvananthapuram: golden beaches and golden temple of Kerala

If you want to arrive in the south of India by plane, this is where you will land.

It will take you some time to smoothly pronounce Kerala’s capital city’s name, but no worries: you can also opt for the easier Trivandrum, the city’s old name is still widely used by the local population.

Along with the popular beach in Kovalam, located in the south of Thiruvananthapuram, make sure to visit the Shree Padmanabhaswamy Temple – a typical South India-style Hindu temple dedicated to Padmanabhaswamy (Vishnu), with miniature sculptures and covered in shiny gold.

In the evening, you can get a bus directly from Thiruvananthapuram, which will take you overnight to Munnar, for as little as 400 INR. The journey will take six hours, but traveling by night you can save on the accommodation expenses and save a day. Double win!

Day 4 to 6 – Munnar: fresh hills in the kingdom of tea

After the hot southern beaches, reaching Munnar will literally feel like a breath of fresh air – especially because the bus will likely reach early in the morning, when the sun will not have risen yet.

Munnar is a popular hill station, where Indians from Kerala and beyond go to escape the summer’s unbearable heat of the plains. It is famous for its never-ending tea plantations and spice gardens.

You can spend the first day just chilling out in the town of Munnar, surrounded by a pleasant hilly environment of lush green forests, and visiting the many tea shops – if not to buy, at least to smell the different teas, and be shocked by the number of varieties available.

The next day, try to get a tour of the surrounding hills, to observe women picking up tea leaves with huge scissors and, if you’re lucky, elephants grazing in the fields. If you want to see where the black pepper you use for your soup comes from, you can also arrange for a visit to one of the many spice gardens. You’ll be surprised to see the actual black pepper plant!

In the evening, enjoy the fresh air and the sounds of the jungle, while pleasing your palate with a tasty dosa. After dinner, pack your stuff for the next morning.

Day 7 to10 – Goa: relax in recent and ancient history

After breakfast, get a local bus to Kochi and spend the day exploring the city called, the “Queen of Arabian Sea”. On the seashore, you can see the typical nets of the fishermen who, for ages and still today have been using the traditional Keralese technique. Apart from watching, part of the experience is to try the seafood abundantly served by Kochi’s restaurants and street vendors.

In the evening, for about 2000 INR, you can get a night bus to Mapusa, Goa. They run every two days, so check that in advance, to avoid finding yourself stranded in Kochi.

When you think of Goa, the first image that comes to mind is for sure white sandy beaches, coconuts and the deep blue sea. Of course, that’s what you will get there!

  • North Goa is notoriously more touristic and it’s where all the nightlife takes place. Unfortunately, the “free hippie spirit” of the old times is gone, leaving the space to commercial and high-class places where the only “free” thing at the end of the night will be your wallet. The beaches remain nevertheless very beautiful. If you want a calmer environment, opt for Candolim; while if you prefer the beach and party movida, you can go up to Anjuna and Arambol. In Candolim, a very recommended stay is House of Memories Hostel.

  • South Goa is quieter, and wilder, and definitely worth a visit in order to escape the crowds in North Goa. The roads among the palms and the  vicinity of the dense tropical jungles will make you strongly feel the vibe of the Tropics. A relatively popular destination in South Goa is Palolem, where you can relax on the seashore sipping fresh coconut water. If you are a social media person, the shots you will take there will make all of your contacts extremely jealous!

Apart from nature, Goa also offers a lot of interesting historical sites. The many forts that populate its coast remind of the Portuguese colonization of the State – the only State in nowadays’ federation to get independence after the rest of India, in 1961. Also check out Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in the center of Panjim, Goa’s capital city, as well as the many big churches in Old Goa, about half an hour by bus inland from Panjim.

Going even more back in time, the site of Usgalimal offers a beautiful collection of centuries-old petroglyphs, to show that the popularity of Goa dates back far longer ago than you could imagine!

One of Goa’s typical products is the cashew nuts, from which Goans make a liqueur called fenny. Make sure to give it a try!

On your last day in Goa, pack your stuff and head to Mapusa – the same place where you arrived from Kochi. It is better to buy your ticket in advance, to avoid unpleasant surprises, although there is usually much availability.

Next stop, Mumbai!

The Sun Temple stair and people walking up and down

Gate of India Photo by Renzo D'souza

Day 11 to 14 – Mumbai: the city that never sleeps

After so much nature, a bit of city life does not harm.

Mumbai is the financial and business capital of India. Nevertheless, it is also full of history and interesting places to visit. Moreover, compared to the incredibly polluted, chaotic, and stressful Delhi, Mumbai feels like a very pleasant town.

The metro, together with the ever-present rickshaws, is definitely the easiest way to move around the city.

What you definitely shouldn’t miss:

  • Gate of India – the place from where British royals used to enter the country, it is an architectural beauty to observe, and it is located next to the famous Taj Mahal Hotel.

  • Taj Mahal Hotel – a luxurious 5-star stay, where in 2008 a bunch of people decided to enter and start shooting, leaving behind them a few casualties in one of the terrorist attacks in the city that came to be known as the “26/11 Mumbai terror attacks”.

  • Buddhist Caves – to go back to a more shanti vibe, make sure to visit one of the many Buddhist Caves in Mumbai. The most popular ones are the Elephant Caves, but the Kanheri Caves, surrounded by a lush green natural park just outside of the main city, are definitely recommended too.

  • Marine Drive – a UNESCO Heritage Site, this long avenue on the sea is famous for its Victorian houses, thanks to which the whole neighborhood will make you feel like you’re walking back in time. It is a popular spot to look at the sunset, and at the skyline of the city, the “Manhattan of India”. Perfect place to start a romantic evening!

Mumbai deserves at least a four days stay, and it is recommended – to get a calmer and cozier environment – to opt for an accommodation in the southern neighborhood of Churchgate.

Street food is incredibly cheap in Mumbai, but it will be hard to find a hotel or a guesthouse for less than $10 per night.

If you’re looking for a typical Mumbai experience, check out Pizza by the Bay, on Marine Drive. The place opened in 1968, and was originally a popular jazz music venue. It is usually very crowded, so book in advance, or expect to wait a while.

Mumbai has a young soul, and its nightlife is vibrant and exciting. Check around for parties; it will not be hard to find one, especially on the weekends.

Day 15 to 17 – Jaipur: pink city of the old Rajas

Buses from Mumbai to Jaipur run frequently and they are quite cheap, considering that the journey takes about 24 hours. Don’t get scared though! You can relax yourself in the comfort of Indian long-distance buses, have a good read, sleep as much as you’d like, enjoy the reddish landscapes of Maharashtra first, and then the yellowish desert of Rajasthan, reflect on your experiences so far, and get ready for new adventures.

Jaipur, as the whole of Rajasthan, is known for its palaces and reminiscence of the old Rajas’ times (princes) that give the name to the State. The Pink City – you will understand this nickname once you walk in the center – is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and it is totally worthy to be one! Every corner of the city is like a museum piece.

What you shouldn’t miss on your visit to Jaipur:

  • Jal Mahal (Water Palace) – yes, it’s really a palace built on the water! The road on the shore of the small lake where the palace is located is full of little stalls and camels (yes, the animals) waiting for tourists. However, you can just enjoy the beauty of the marvelous palace’s architecture. If you want to enjoy it even more, make sure to bring binoculars.

  • Amber Fort – the Jal Mahal is on the way to the Amber Fort, located a bit out of the city center, but definitely a must-see in Jaipur. The surrounding gardens and ponds – where crocodiles are said to live – are also part of the place’s beauty.

  • City Palace – located right in the city center, this pink palace’s architecture is really mind-blowing! It was indeed planned in such a way to make the wind enter its premises and refresh the hot days of the old Maharajas who were ruling the city.

  • Rambagh Palace – if you thought you were tired of palaces, looking at the Rambagh Palace will make you think twice. Although out of the city center, a visit is definitely recommended.

  • Nahargarh Fort – located on the hill that overlooks the city, this fort – although slightly less magnificent than the previous ones – offers a breathtaking view of the Pink City. It is also a perfect  spot to enjoy the sunset, also because the walk up to the fort is less hard when the evening approaches.

  • Albert  Museum – last but not least, the Albert Museum is another architectural masterpiece in the city, and even if you decide to skip the visit to the museum itself, observing its domes and arches is still worth the short deviation from the main road.

A recommended stay in the city is Free Birds Guesthouse, whose owners’ kindness will warm your heart. Moreover, the guesthouse is located near the city center and has a kitchen that guests can use, as well as a balcony to relax outside.

If you are a food lover, Rajasthan will be your paradise. The State is well-known for its mouth-watering cuisine, and during your time in Jaipur you must definitely give it a try – unless you’re afraid of (super) spicy food, of course… they eat fried green chilies here; serious stuff!

Make sure to have a good plate of dal bati churma – after the first, you will not be able to resist a second.

The Taj Mahal and people

Taj Mahal Photo by Anubhav

Day 18 to 19 – Agra: the Taj Mahal

Agra is the city of the Taj Mahal, and that is pretty much why every second tourist who visits India ends up here. Apart from the Taj Mahal, however, the city doesn’t offer much compared to others, so it is OK to spend just a day, and then move on to more interesting destinations.

Buses from Jaipur to Agra are quite frequent and they only take about 6 hours, which will feel like nothing after the previous ride. Moreover, the ticket will cost you only 400 INR. You can spend the night in one of the city’s numerous guesthouses, and visit the world's famous wonder the next day. Bring sunglasses if you don’t want to be blinded by the sun reflecting on the Taj Mahal’s ivory-white stones!

In the evening, you can get an overnight bus to Varanasi.

Day 20 to 22 – Varanasi: Shiva’s holy city, where death and life intertwine

Varanasi, Benares, Kashi… the Eternal City of the East has 11 names, so you can choose the one you prefer to tell friends and family where you are.

The city – considered to be as old as Rome – is, according to Hindus, the birthplace of Shiva. Because of this, it is considered an honor to be burnt on its famous ghats (steps leading into the Ganga River) once the time comes.

Indeed, Varanasi has a few touristic sites, which are of course worth the visit; but the best way to enjoy the city is just to wander about its tiny streets and enjoy the vibe of pure, traditional India.

The places you should try to visit are:

  • The Ghats – just take a walk along the more than 80 ghats of the city, along the mighty Ganga. The scenery you will see, and the vibe you will feel there will make you feel deep into India! (If you want to see the macabre, but culturally interesting funeral ceremonies, check Manikarnika Ghat)

  • Sarnath – reportedly the place from where Buddhism spread in India, because The Enlightened pronounced his first sermon in the country in this place. There is a pleasant park around an ancient Buddhist stupa, where it’s nice to have a picnic or just chill for some time wandering about. To reach Sarnath, the most direct and easy way is to get one of the many green and yellow rickshaws (tuc-tuc) that you find in the city.

  • Sari Workshops – the Benares Sari (typical Indian  women dress) is famous throughout India for its silky softness. Walking in the small streets where the sari masters constantly run their waving machines is an experience you shouldn’t miss. The sounds and the colors will enchant you!

Near the ghats, you can find plenty of guesthouses, hotels, and little restaurants to choose from, depending on your needs and budget.

Varanasi will leave you with many existential questions about the meaning of death, and some people claim to have deep spiritual experiences in the city. Do not expect anything, but also do not close yourself too much… you never know what can happen under the gaze of Shiva the Destroyer.

Enjoy the sadus bathing in the Ganga River, but dipping yourself too is not recommended, given the documented heavy pollution of the Holy River’s waters.

On the evening of your 22nd day of tour, you can board an overnight bus to Delhi.

Day 23 to 26 – Delhi: an unthinkable cultural hub

The name of Delhi brings to mind news articles on unbearable pollution levels and images of great chaos. However, the city is also a great cultural destination.

The spots you must visit are:

  • The Red Fort (Lal Qila) – the old residence of Mughal emperors, it owes its name to the deep red-colored stones from which it’s made.  Its architecture will bring you back to old times and let you understand the material and spiritual richness of the old emperors.

  • Humayun’s Tomb – a precursor of the Taj Mahal, this tomb was built in 1570, and serves its purpose really well. It will be hard to forget the emperor Humayun, as far as his tomb will stand.

  • Qutub  Minar – a UNESCO Heritage, this minaret from the 12th century is the tallest in India, and it is decorated with amazing stone carvings. A climb to the top will allow you to enjoy a great  view on the surrounding city.

  • Jama  Masjid – this centuries-old mosque is one of the biggest in  the whole of India, and features tall minarets and soothingly round domes. When you plan your visit, make sure to be appropriately dressed (that means, not many parts of your body should be visible) otherwise you will not be allowed in.

  • Lotus  Temple – to get back to modernity, a visit to this temple is  definitely worth it. It belongs to the international ISKON community, and it’s a place for meditation and spiritual activity, and its mind-blowing architecture really resembles a lotus flower.

Delhi offers a variety of accommodation options, and it is renowned for the many food stalls that dot the city. If you want to please your palate, visit the bazar near the Red Fort, where you can find a great variety of street food of the best kind.

Moving around Delhi will take a lot of time, as the size of the city is really unimaginable – especially for Europeans. To move from one place to the other, the modern and remarkably clean Delhi metro is probably the best option, but you can always opt for the typical yellow and green rickshaws (tuc-tuc), or for the comfort of Uber taxis.

Day 27 to 30 – Manali: ending in the Himalayas

There are nightly buses from Delhi to Manali, and the cost is remarkably low. For about 700 INR, you can cover your 13-hour journey.

On the morning of your 27th day in India, you will find yourself in one of the northernmost towns of the country.

Manali is a well-known winter and summer destination, for both foreigners and Indians. Actually, many foreigners bought properties in Manali to spend their retirement, or just after their first visit, they could not separate from the wonderful landscapes of the area. And how to blame them?! The Himalayan peaks that surround Manali are breath-taking, and the climate is harsh during the winter, but perfect during the summer.

Green meadows, white snowy peaks, dark rocks, and turquoise rivers color the environment around the city, and the vibrant holiday atmosphere makes it a perfect destination for every kind of traveler. After the trip through India, relaxing in Manali for a few days is the best you can do.

If you like hiking, then you will definitely find yourself at home. But even if you don’t, sipping a chai at one of the many cafes with the view of the valley below is an unforgettable experience. For your stay, you can check out Zostel Manali, of the popular Zostel hostel chain.

Time to go. Namaste!

If you keep your eyes wide open, you will notice a great variety of cultures within a single country. The changing skin tone, from the dark of the south to the fairer of the north; the different turbans, from the Rajasthani ones to the typical topi of Himachal Pradesh; the variety of religious creeds and traditions, from the more Christian south, through Muslim Mumbai, to the Hindu north; the changes in food tastes, from the fresh coconutty south to the deep spiced north.

Traveling through India will be for sure a life-changing experience, which will leave you with many doubts and questions to solve once you’re back home. But don’t be afraid to go, visit, experience the unimaginable. Just keep your mind open and let as much as you can in!


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