Awe-inspiring, ancient, enchanting and somewhat overwhelming, India is a place that every traveler should visit at least once in their lifetime. It’s one of the top backpacker destinations yet equally as popular with luxury travel operators. India really does have something for everyone and caters to all tastes. Don’t be put off by the stories about India being crowded, stinky and intimidating. Sure, it is all of those things on occasion but so much more besides. Focus on the awe-inspiring temples, beautiful beaches and cultural charms of the Indian people and let the magic of India cast it’s spell over you.
INDIA TOP 5 THINGS TO DO
Golden Temple, Amritsar
The shimmering Golden Temple is also known as Sri Harmandir Sahib or Darbar Sahib and is in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, India. It’s the holiest Gurdwara and the most important pilgrimage site of Sikhism. An endless stream of pilgrims arrive here daily. While here visit the Langar Hall which is the community dining hall and typically feeds up to 100,000 people per day. All visitors, Indians and tourists are able to enjoy a free meal here.
The Taj Mahal, Agra
Nearly 4 million tourists arrive at the Taj Mahal every year, and it’s the most famous and visited attraction in India. Built between 1632-1653 in honor of Mumtaz Mahal who the wife of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, the Taj Mahal is one of the Wonders of the World and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Blue City, Jodphur
Blue is the signature color in Jodhpur and it’s everywhere you go making this place a photographer’s dream. This ancient city also known as the Blue City is famous for its 6 miles of beautifully pigmented azure and indigo buildings that run along the historic walls of the Old Town. The 15th century Mehrangarh Fort offers a great view of this ‘Blue City’. Other amazing things to see in Jodphur include Jaswant Thada (the royal tombs) and the Umaid Bhawan Palace.
If you can survive more than a few days here you should give yourself a pat on the back. Varanasi is possibly the most intense place to visit in India. Witness open cremations on the banks of the river Ganges and get lost in the narrow suffocating lanes. Do yoga or just observe the religious ceremonies and everyday chaos. Whatever you do, a visit to this 3800 year old city will never be forgotten.
Kick back and experience rural India on a Kerala houseboat river cruise. Kerala is most famous with travelers for it’s houseboats and there is no better way to slip into the laidback rural Indian way than by gliding down the river taking in the sights of villagers going about their day. Stop off in Kerala’s cutest city or Cochin as the locals like to call it and watch the Chinese fishing nets get cast early in the morning.
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INDIA TOP 3 FESTIVALS
The festival of colors is possibly the most famous (and photogenic) Indian Festival due to all the colored powder that gets thrown around. If you experience Holi then expect to get covered in color! Holi, like Diwali, celebrates the triumph of good over evil as well as welcoming the arrival of Spring. The festival is held around the middle of March each year and is so much fun.
The festival of lights: Diwali celebrates the return of Lord Rama and the triumph of good over evil. Expect to see lots of bright lights, burning candles, street markets, fireworks and other celebrations. Diwali is held between the middle of October and the middle of November.
See huge intricately designed Ganesha statues paraded through the streets and then at the end of the ten day festival get dunked under water. The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates the birth of Ganesha, the Hindu god with the elephant’s head.
Language: Many languages are spoken in India but Hindi followed by English are the most common.
Currency: Indian Rupee.
Visa: Use these free online visa checker and calculator tools so you know if a visa for India is required (which depends on the country you’re from) and if so, how long it will take to process your visa and the cost.
Electricity: 230 volts AC electricity. Power sockets are two or three pronged round plugs (type C, D, or M). I recommend bringing a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each new country you visit.
Lonely Planet India: Check price on Amazon
WHAT TO EAT IN INDIA
Some of the most delicious, traditional dishes that you must try when in India are listed below.
India is famous for it’s spicy and delicious cuisine but it’s also famous for giving travelers Delhi Belly. When you eat in India avoid raw foods like salads and fruit (unless they can be peeled), don’t drink tap water and avoid ice in drinks. Street food in India is so tasty you must try it but make sure you go to a popular place where you see the locals eating too. If it’s good enough for the locals then it’s probably safe enough for you. Still, it may be worth packing some probiotics to help yourself digest food you’re not used to.
Rumali Roti: If you want to eat something abit lighter than a naan then a Rumali roti will hit the spot. The word “rumal” is Hindi for handkerchief and this bread is as thin as cloth and served folded up like a napkin, hence the name. Watch in awe as they toss the dough into the air and spins it in circles.
Pakora: Comfort food! This is a fritter native to the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh which is dipped in gram flour and deep fried. Pakoras come with one or more basic ingredients such as onion, eggplant, potato, cauliflower or chili peppers and are delicious!
Dohkla: A light but very flavorful breakfast food from the state of Gujurat. Dohkla is made from fermented rice and chickpea batter.
Bhelpuri: Puffed rice fried with vegetables, in a spicy and tangy tamarind sauce make a tasty savory snack.
Dosa: A crispy, flat bread similar to a crepe or pancake made of rice batter and served with a lentil sauce (sambar) and a variety of chutneys. Perfect for a light lunch.
Pani Puri: When you’re craving a thousand flavors all at once then you need a Pani Puri. A small crisp hollow round bread filled with spiced water, tamarind paste, potato, onion, and chickpeas.
Papri Chaat: A multi-flavored and healthy snack of crispy, fried dough wafers served with boiled potatoes, tamarind chutney, boiled chick peas, yogurt, chilis and spices.
Idli: Fermented batter of ground rice and lentils, steamed in little circular moulds make a perfect South Indian traditional breakfast.
WHERE TO STAY IN INDIA
India is a very affordable place to visit. Finding excellent accommodation in India is super easy because there’s so many options whatever your budget.
Hostels and dormitories make travel to India affordable for backpackers and any travelers on a shoe-string budget. Whether you’re a backpacker, flash-packer or a luxury vacationer, India will not disappoint you. A basic hotel room in India can cost less than $30 dollars.
If you’re looking for accommodation that includes western amenities and comforts then there will be more options to choose from in the big cities and popular tourist hotspots like Delhi and Mumbai. If you’re traveling to India during peak season or wish to stay in a luxury hotel then it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance. Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best places to stay have already been snapped up. India is a very popular year-round destination you know!
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in India. However, if you are backpacking in India or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in South Asia very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
The best time to visit India for warm, dry and sunny weather is between October and March. If you’re planning to visit India’s southern states then November onwards when the monsoon has ended will be your best time to go.
Read more: One month South India travel itinerary
As India heats up in April and May travel prices begin to drop and you can get some excellent value trips if you don’t mind the high humidity and thunderstorms. Monsoon season arrives in May and ends in September and if you’re visiting India during this time expect a lot of torrential rain. The hottest time of the year is in May and June when temperatures can reach 100 degrees, most travelers choose to visit India during the winter between October and March.
INDIA TRAVEL BUDGET
India is generally an affordable destination for travelers on all budgets. The cost of your trip to India really depends on the level of comfort you will expect while here. If you are backpacking and planning on staying in dormitories, hostels and eating street food then budget between $25 to $40 a day. If you prefer to stay in 3-4 star hotel rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $40 to $100 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants then budget about $100 to $200 plus a day.
IS INDIA SAFE FOR FEMALE TRAVELERS?
Safety is a concern for most people traveling to India. Pick-pocketing, bag-snatching and other scams to take advantage of tourists are common. Female travelers should take care to dress appropriately and be extra careful when walking alone or at night. Some parts of India are dangerous so do your research before you go and avoid these places. Based on many years of solo travel in South Asia I would never leave home without travel insurance and recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks before your India trip.
INDIA VISA CHECKER
INDIA FLIGHT DEALS
INDIA TOURS & ACTIVITIES
INDIA PACKING TIPS
Packing for a trip to India, like most other places in South Asia, is a breeze. You really don’t need as much travel gear as you may think for a trip to India and it’s always best to travel light whenever possible.
That said, the gear you do bring on your trip should be the very best option available for you and that doesn’t always mean the most expensive. Jetset Bunnies around the globe are always discovering the latest and the greatest in travel gear for women and this is where we share our fabulous finds with you.
In India’s larger cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Goa you’ll see a lot of young Indian women wearing western style clothing however people in smaller towns and villages still dress traditionally. So if you’re traveling to India then it’s necessary to pack clothing that’s lightweight, breathable and conservative. Women travelers in India who choose to wear revealing or figure-hugging clothing may receive unwanted attention and stares. Read our India Style Guide for more information about how to dress while in India.
Other essential items to pack for a trip to India include, most importantly, a good quality travel backpack. Choose the brand carefully and make sure you find the right size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Read our related blog post with advice on how to choose the best backpacks for women travelers. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.
Related: Packing tips for Indian train travel