12 of the Best India Backpacking Tours and Routes

12 of the Best India Backpacking Tours and Routes

India is undoubtedly one of the most exotic, fascinating and life changing travel destinations there is but backpacking India can be challenging, especially the first time, so taking one of the many India backpacking tours might be a good way to ensure your first trip to India is memorable for the right reasons!

There are so many India tours it can be difficult to decide which company to go with, which places to see and which itinerary is best. As I’m often asked to recommend the best India backpacking tours I thought it would be helpful to put together a list of my favourites.

Anna in Varanasi

Overlooking the River Ganges in Varanasi

 Of course, it is possible, and enjoyable, to backpack India independently, even as a solo female traveller (check out my tips for women here) But if you are looking for travel buddies, not feeling too confident or just want to relax and enjoy the trip and let the experts do the planning and navigating, then taking a group India backpacking tours is a good idea, especially if you have limited time as a tour will allow you to see the best of India without the hassle and time spent planning.

If you’re on a longer trip it’s also a good idea to start off your Indian adventure with a group tour and then once you’re more acclimatized to the craziness you’ll feel more confident to move on and explore on your own, or maybe even with new friends that you met on the tour. Check out my recommended itinerary for 3 months backpacking in India.

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The best tour companies in India

There are hundreds of tour companies so its important to do your research not just on the tour itinerary and route but on the company as well and check things like the level of comfort and service and the age group and amount of other customers on the tour to make sure it’s the perfect one for you.

Make sure you choose a reputable company, the India backpacking tours I recommend are run by my favourite leading adventure tour companies; G Adventures and Intrepid. Both are award winning tour companies that run some awesome, adventurous, fun and socially responsible, small group backpacking tours of India. They have a huge selection with something for all budgets, ages and interests.

Intrepid are also running an initiative to help empower local women by employing more women as tour guides on their India tours. Check out this article in The Guardian for more details. 

With local women at the Gateway of India in Mumbai

With local women at the Gateway of India in Mumbai

Both G Adventures and Intrepid offer last min or special deals so check out G Adventures last minute deals and Intrepid last minute deals before you book as you may be able to find a bargain and save money.

Geckos Adventures are also great for younger travelers as they have really fun and cheap India backpacking tours that are perfect for 18 – 29 year olds. Exodus also offers good itineraries and India tours aimed at more mature travelers who want more comfort. You can also compare itineraries, reviews and prices from loads of different tour companies and find great deals on Tour Radar – check out this page where you can get 60 % off Asia tours. 

However, I wouldn’t really recommend just finding a cheap deal with an unknown Indian company online, while there are some great companies in India (I’ve recommended some at the bottom of the post) it’s better to stick with a reputable global company that has been tried and tested by many travellers over the years, especially for your first time in India.

One of the gates leading to the City Palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan

One of the gates leading to the City Palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan

The Best India Backpacking Tours, Routes and Itineraries 

To help you find the perfect trip here are 12 of my favourite India backpacking tours. I’ve handpicked the best tour companies which visit my favourite places in India with the best itineraries and prices.

I’ve listed them in order for duration so you can see the most of India depending on how much time you have. If you’re short on time taking a tour will enable you to see more than if you traveled independently but if you do prefer to travel independently you could also just use the tour itineraries for inspiration to plan your own route!

There’s something for everyone, if you’re into cycling, river cruises or culinary tours I’ve also included some suggestions at the end of the post. 

By the way, there are affiliate links in this post, if you decide to take one of the tours I recommend I can earn a small commission at no extra cost to you which helps me to keep this blog going so thank you! 😊

Lighting a diya (candle) on the ghats of the River Ganges in Varanasi

The best India backpacking tours: 2 weeks or less

If you have 2 weeks or less to explore India then it really does make sense to take a tour because India is such a diverse and huge country and traveling independently can be challenging and time consuming. So in order to see the most you can and have the best experience in 2 weeks or less then this are the best India backpacking tours.

  1.  Intrepid – Golden Triangle Tour – 8 Days

The Golden Triangle tour is the quintessential introduction to India that includes some of the most famous sights in India in a short time. The Golden Triangle includes Delhi, Agra, home to the Taj Mahal and the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur in Rajasthan. This tour with Intrepid also takes you off the tourist trail to visit a village and get an insight into village life in India. Click here for more details and to book. G Adventures also do an 8 day Golden Triangle Tour.

  1. G Adventures – Southern India and Karnataka by Rail– 10 Days

I often recommend starting your Indian adventure in South India as places like Kerala and Goa are much more chilled out and less chaotic than the cities in North India. This tour visits many of my favourite destinations in South India by rail. Traveling by train in India is the best way to travel and it’s an fascinating experience by itself.

Mysore Palace

Starting in Goa, you can choose to chill out on the beaches or explore the heritage site of Portuguese Old Goa. Next you’ll explore the magical ruins of Hampi, one of my favourite places in India, and then Mysore with it’s flamboyant palace.

Then visit the Tibetan monastery in Bylakuppe, enjoy the views and fabulous coffee in Madikeri and finish in Kochi in Kerala. This tour is packed with highlights and incredible sights but is far from the busy tourist trail of North India. Click here for prices and to book.

  1. G Adventures – Kerala Beaches and Backwaters – 7 Days

South India, especially Kerala and Goa are great places to start your Indian adventure. This tour takes you through the highlights of luscious, tropical Kerala, from historic and multicultural Fort Cochin, to cruising along the famous Kerala backwaters to relaxing on the beaches in Varakala.

A homestay is also included which gives you a chance to experience local life and there’s plenty of opportunities for yoga and Ayurveda. This is a ‘yolo’ trip so it’s perfect for young travellers on a budget. Click here for more details and to book.

  1. G Adventures – North India by Rail – 9 Days

If you are visiting India in the hot months (especially April and May) then escape the heat and head to the Himalayas with this tour that takes in the sights of Delhi before heading to Amritsar where you’ll see the incredible Golden Temple and the bizarre India-Pakistan Wagah border ceremony. 

The Golden Temple in Amritsar

 Next head up the mountains to Dharamshala, the home of the Dalai Lama, and the hill station of Shimla. As it’s a tour by rail you’ll also get to travel up the mountains on the famous toy train and the tour even include a G Adventures-supported walking tour led by former Delhi streetkids. Click here for more details and to book.

     5. Exodus: Highlights of Northern India – 8 Days

This tour by Exodus will suit those looking to explore the best of North India in comfort and at a relaxed pace. The tour visits the Golden Triangle – Delhi, Jaipur and Agra for the Taj Mahal as well the nearby Fatehpur Sikri – the ruins of Emperor Akbar’s deserted royal capital city. You’ll get 2 chances to spot tigers at Ranthambore National Park and take a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges in the holy city of Varanasi before taking an overnight train back to Delhi. This tour allows you to visit the most iconic sights of North India in only 8 days. 

    6. Geckos Adventures North India Explorer – 11 Days

Geckos India backpacking tours are fun, cheap and adventurous. This North India tour with Geckos covers the highlights of the Golden Triangle as well as the holy city of Varanasi and the more charming, off beat gem of Bundi in Rajasthan. Click here for more details and to book.

The Ghats and the holy river Ganges at sunrise in Varanasi

The Ghats and the holy river Ganges at sunrise in Varanasi

The best India backpacking tours: 2 weeks – 1 month

    7. Intrepid – Delhi to Goa – 15 Days

This tour takes you through the highlights of North India before relaxing on the beautiful beaches of Goa. You’ll visit Delhi, Agra and the Taj Mahal before traveling through the highlights of Rajasthan -the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur, the holy city of Pushkar (home to the famous camel festival) and the beautiful lakeside city of Udaipur.

Then you’ll take an overnight train to explore buzzing Bombay (Mumbai) before finishing the tour on the blissed out beaches of Goa. Warning – you might never want to leave! This is a ‘yolo’ trip so it’s perfect for young travellers on a budget and is one of the most popular India backpacking tours by G Adventures. Click here for more details and to book.

    8. G Adventures – India on a Shoestring – 20 Days

This tour is the best backpacker tour for North India. It’s a ‘yolo’ trip so it’s fun, adventurous  and affordable and it includes all of the highlights of North India. Some tours skip the less well known places but this one really has all the highlights of Rajasthan, the most colourful, captivating state in India. 

Lake Pichola in romantic Udaipur, Rajasthan

The tour visits  Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Pushkar, Udaipur and Bikaner as well as a chance to experience rural village life. You’ll also see the essential cities of Delhi, Agra for the Taj Mahal and the holy city of Varanasi.

This is one of G Adventures most popular backpacking tours of India which is not surprising as the itinerary really has all the must visit places in North India. Click here for more details and to book.

       9. Geckos Adventures – Big India – 23 Days

This tour by Geckos is great for backpackers in India. Starting in Delhi you’ll visit all the essential sights of North India including spiritual Varanasi, Agra for the Taj Mahal and Jaipur. You’ll also visit charming, off beat Bundi in Rajasthan before returning to Delhi to take a flight all the way South to Kerala. Next you’ll explore the beaches, jungles and cruise the backwaters of Kerala before visiting the flamboyant palace at Mysore, the magical ruins of Hampi and ending up in Goa.

Palolem Beach in South Goa

Once you’re chilling out and partying on the beaches of Goa you might never want to leave so it’s perfect that this trip ends in Goa so you’ll have plenty of time to spend here. This India tour offers some great highlights of North and South India for a great price. Click here for more details and to book

      10. Intrepid – India South and North – 29 Days

This tour takes you to the best of both South and North India. I always recommend starting your India travels in the South and this tour starts in Kochi and takes in the beaches and backwaters and laid back towns of Kerala, flamboyant Mysore and the highlights of Tamil Nadu. 

The views from the houseboat on the backwaters of Kerala

Then fly up to Delhi to see the Golden Triangle and the best of North India and Rajasthan including spotting tigers in Ranthambore National Park and a rural village stay. A great mix of essential must see sights and more laid back, off beat experiences.  Click here for more details and to book

The best India backpacking tours: 1 month or longer

India is such a huge country with so many amazing places to visit that it’s better if you have a month or more to explore India so you can really start to see a lot more of this incredible country.

    11. Intrepid – Iconic India – 37 Days 

This is Intrepid’s most encompassing India backpacking tour, starting from Delhi and visiting all the highlights of Rajasthan and the essential cities of Varanasi where you can witness India’s most spiritual city and Agra where you can witness the world’s most beautiful building – the Taj Mahal. Next fly all the way down to South India and explore tropical laid back Kerala including a homestay on the backwaters and the chance to spot wildlife in Periyar National Park.

Rolling tea plantations in Munnar, Kerala

You’ll also visit the fabulous technicolor temples in Madurai, flamboyant palaces in Mysore and magical ruins and landscapes in enigmatic Hampi before finishing the tour on the blissed out beaches of Goa, which you might never want to leave. Luckily after this tour you’ll have plenty of time for chilling, partying and shopping in Goa. Click here for more details 

    12. G Adventures – Indian Odyssey by Rail – 54 Days

This is the big one that I just couldn’t  leave out – the epic backpacking tour of India! There is just so much to see in India that it would take many, many trips to see it all. I’ve been here for over 2 years and still not seen everything. If you want to see all in 1 epic trip then this tour covers the best of India both South, North, East and West in 54 mind blowing days traveling by train – the best way to travel in India.

Mumbai’s famous CST Train Station

This epic all India tour starts in Delhi, heads up into the Himalayas through the highlights of Rajasthan to Mumbai (Bombay) Chill out on the beaches of Goa and tropical Kerala and see the more off beat but equally awesome heritage sights underrated Karnataka. You’ll travel to Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India before hitting up the highlights of Tamil Nadu.

The Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram

Then visit the city of Hyderabad, the beaches in Puri and the bustling city of Kolkata (Calcutta) before heading into to explore the mountains and monasteries around Darjeeling and Sikkim, not forgetting to experience the holy city of Varanasi before ending the trip of a lifetime back in Delhi. There’s so much in this trip I could go on forever so click here for all the details.

Want to try something different?

Visit India and Nepal

If you want to visit both India and Nepal on the same trip it’s easy by taking the G Adventures Delhi to Kathmandu Adventure – 15 Days. This is the best itinerary I’ve found as it visits not only India’s most famous sights; the Golden Triangle; Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and holy Varanasi but also some more off beat gems like Orchha along the way.

After crossing the border into Nepal you’ll visit Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, stay in a homestay in Chitwan National Park, marvel at the views of the lake and Himalayas in Pokhara before ending in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu. See more details here.  Intrepid also offer a 19 day tour of the Highlights of India and Nepal.

Temples in Kathmandu, Nepal

Culinary tours of India

India is known for it’s spicy curries but real, authentic Indian food is totally different and has so much to offer than what you would find in an Indian takeaway back home. Eat your way to the heart of the nation and get a different insight into Indian culture and everyday life on a food or culinary tour of India.

Explore vibrant local markets, sample street food safely, enjoy home cooked meals and learn how to make delicious, authentic Indian food yourself. Intrepid offer some amazing food adventures in India, like this 15 day Real Food Adventure that takes you through the tastes and sights of Delhi, Rajasthan, Mumbai and Goa. You could also try a quick 3 day Bite Sized Food tours in Delhi. 

Mumbai City and Slum Tours

Reality Tours and Travel are a responsible tour company who provide authentic, fun and off beat days tours that allow you to see the real Mumbai and give some of the profits back to the communities. I went on the tour of Dharavi slum on my first day in India and it was an eye opening and inspiring experience. Click to read more about how visiting Dharavi slum changed my perspectives on poverty.  They also offer bicycle tours, night tours, market and temple tours and village tours. 

Cruise along the holy river Ganges

Escape the chaos of the cities and witness a more authentic and laid back way of life cruising along the holy river Ganges on a 12 day trip from Kolkata to Varanasi with G Adventures Cruise the Ganges, you’ll experience off beat villages untouched by tourism, historic and cultural sights and also visit Bodhgaya where the Buddha gained enlightenment.

Taking a river cruise is a great way to see local life on the river

Cycling tours of India

Slow down, get off the tourist trail and really experience a whole new side to India on a cycling tour. I would only recommend doing a cycling tour in Winter (Dec – Feb) as the heat might be too much otherwise. Exodus Travels offer great cycling tours in India including Kerala, Rajasthan and the epic Manali to Leh trip. See here for more details.   Intrepid also do a cycling tour of Rajasthan. 

Get off the beaten track in unexplored North East India

Not many travellers make it to the stunning, tribal areas of North East India but I’ve been twice now and really love this very authentic, very different and really unexplored region. Traveling in North East India can be difficult to do independently because of permit requirements and a lack of public transport and hotels so it’s really best to take a tour of North East India.

I’ve travelled twice with Sange from Holiday Scout – an awesome local tour operator that knows this fascinating region in depth. See my review of traveling with Holiday Scout and more on my adventures in North East India here.

Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, North East India

Hop on hop off India backpacking tours by goMowgli

GoMowgli are an Indian start up who offers interesting single day city tours as well as longer duration hop on hop off tours of India aimed at backpackers. They offer some really interesting, in depth, off beat tours in Karnataka, Kerala and Goa.

I’ve travelled with them a couple of times and has some really interesting backpacker day tours in Mysore and Hampi and also travelled through Kerala with them on the first ever hop on hop off backpacker tour bus in India. You can see my review of traveling with goMowgli in Kerala here. They can also help you plan your trip and can create bespoke tailor made tours. 

Sunset at Orchha in Madhya Pradesh

If you don’t want to take a tour but don’t want to backpack India completely alone

If you prefer to create your own bespoke itinerary for your India backpacking tour and prefer not to travel as a group tour then check out tour companies like Explore who offer tailor made India tours and holidays which allow you to create your perfect private tour of India.

If you want to travel India independently but want some help planning your trip, creating your perfect itinerary and booking the right trains and hotels then I recommend India Someday. I recently used them for trip across North India and they arranged and booked all my transport and accommodation which saved me a lot of hassle and allowed me to concentrate on just enjoying the trip.

India Someday are perfect if you want to travel India independently but want a little assistance with the planning process to make sure everything is booked and runs smoothly leaving you to just enjoy your trip!  You can read more about my experience with India Someday in my review here and they will also give Global Gallivanting readers a 15% discount. Just mention Global Gallivanting when enquiring.

 

Have you traveled on a great backpacking tour of India? Let me know in the comments below 

 

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