The Perfect Itinerary for 3 Months Backpacking India

The Perfect Itinerary for 3 months traveling in India

Backpacking India: The Perfect 3 Month Itinerary

"I'm thinking of backpacking India, but where should I go?"

If you are planning a trip backpacking India deciding where to go is not an easy task. India is such a vast and wonderfully diverse country that sometimes the hardest thing when planning a trip to India is deciding where to go.

One of the best things about backpacking India is the amazing diversity in this sub continent – from snow capped Himalayan mountains to tropical beaches, from lanquid backwaters to chaotic cites and desert forts - India sometimes feels like many different countries especially as the languages, food and culture differs in each state.

India really does have it all, there is so much to see, amazing food, welcoming people and it’s still one of the cheapest places to travel in the world and you could travel around India for a lifetime and see something new and fascinating every day! That's why many people return again and again to spend many months at a time backpacking India. For me, it's the ultimate travel destination! 

backpacking India jumping outside the elaborate Mysore Palace

Outside the elaborate Mysore Palace

Let’s be honest, backpacking in India is not a walk in the park, especially for first time visitors. The distances are huge, the culture shock and hassle can sometimes be overwhelming and traveling here can at times be challenging and frustrating.

There sure is a lot to see in India but my top tip for anyone backpacking in India for the first time is to take it slow! Everything always takes longer than you expect and India is not a place to rush around; trying to see too much will end up in a stressful instead of enjoyable trip.

I learnt the hard way, I tried to fit too much in during my first trip, I tried to cover the whole country in 2 months and ended up stressed, sick, scammed and exhausted with a love/ hate relationship with India. But even this could not put me off giving India another go and when I returned for my second and third visits I took things a lot slower and enjoyed my trips so much more.

Anna with Stone Chariot in Hampi

Enjoying Hampi

So where should you go on your first trip to India?

Traveling this huge and diverse country takes time and I would recommend to come for at least 3 months. However, if you have less than 1 month in India then I would concentrate on one area. Think about what you are interested in - whether it is history, forts and palaces or nature and wildlife, temples or beaches, food. shopping or nightlife.

For first time visitors I usually recommend to start in the less chaotic South of India.  While Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle are home to some amazing and iconic sights including opulent forts and of course the Taj Mahal, places like the laid back beaches and backwaters of Kerala and Goa are perfect places to get a good introduction to India to allow you to get acclimatized before tackling the big sights and chaotic cities in the North.  Tamil Nadu also has lots to offer as does under rated Karnataka. Or, if it's warm enough,  head to the Himalayan mountains in North India in Himachal Pradesh and the surrounding area.

My Perfect Itinerary for Backpacking India

Here's a route map of the best places to go in India to help you get your bearings and plan your perfect itinerary:

The Perfect Route for Backpacking India

If I was backpacking India again for the first time, knowing what I know now, this is the route that I would take. Starting from the more chilled out South and heading North to get a good variety of destinations while avoiding extra distance or going back on yourself (it always takes longer than you think to get anywhere in India!)

Houseboats on the Kerala Backwaters

Houseboats on the Kerala Backwaters

Kerala - 1 week

Fly into Kerala and start your Indian adventure gently in laid back Kerala – a tropical and luscious state known as ‘God’s own country.’ 

Explore the multicultural history of Fort Cochin before cruising the backwaters, lazing on tropical beaches like Varkala and Kovalam, and enjoying the nature in places like Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and soak up the gorgeous, green views in the tea growing hill station of Munnar

Where to stay: Kerala has a good network of new backpacker hostels. Check out my 12 best backpacker hostels in Kerala here.

How to get there: Kochi (Cochin) and Trivandrum (Thiruananthapuram) both have airports that have some international flights and are also well connected to the rest of India with domestic flights.

How to get around: The coastal side of Kerala is well connected by trains but to reach Munnar or Periyar you can take local or delux buses. Even hiring a car and driver in India isn't too expensive. GoMowgli also run a hop on hop off backpacker bus around Kerala which makes for a perfect easy start for your backpacking adventure in India.

Read More:

A Flashpacker's Guide to Kerala

Why Kerala is the Perfect Introduction to India.

Houseboat Heaven! Cruising the Backwaters of Kerala

How to Cruise the Kerala Backwaters on a Budget

12 of the Best Backpacker Hostels in Kerala

Stunning views over the tea plantations of Munnar

Stunning views over the tea plantations of Munnar

Kerala to Karnataka

From Kerala continue into the neighbouring and relatively underrated state of Karnataka, a large and diverse state with everything from modern mega cities to ancient ruins and palaces as well as rolling hills, jungles, tiger reserves, quintessential countryside life and beaches to explore.

Mysore Palace

Mysore Palace

Mysore - 2/3 days

Mysore (Mysuru) is one of South India's most popular and flamboyant destinations, famous for it's glittering royal heritage, magnificent monuments, colourful bazaars, the enthralling, elaborate Mysore Palace and Ashtanga yoga.

Where to stay: Mysore has only 1 backpacker hostel - Sonder Hostel which is located in the nicest area of Mysore.

How to get there: You can take an overnight delux bus from Kochi to Mysore, or you could break up the journey roughly halfway and cool off in the hill station of Ooty (Udhagamandalam) before heading to Mysore.

Read More: A Flashpacker's Guide to Mysore

The palace in Bangalore

The palace in Bangalore

Bangalore - 1/2 days

Bangalore (Bengaluru) is India’s silicon city and IT hub where you can indulge in the delights of modern India, get your fix of Western food, malls and nightlife. There's a few nice parks and a palace here too and it's also a good transport hub.

Where to stay: Accommodation in Bangalore can be quite expensive but Social Rehab is a new, smart hostel located in the cool Indiranagar district is an affordable and sociable place to stay.

How to get there: Bangalore is an easy 3 hour train or bus ride from Mysore. Bangalore also has an airport with frequent and reasonably priced connections to other parts of India.

Read More: 10 Things to do in Bangalore

 

Temples at Hampi - a popular backpacker destination in India

Temples at Hampi - a popular backpacker destination in India

Hampi - 5 days

Hampi is one of the magical destinations in India where a surreal and beautiful boulder strewn scenery surrounds the captivating ancient temples and ruins of the once great Vijayanagara Empire. There's a big backpacker scene here and the chance to see some out of this world landscapes and idyllic Indian countryside life.

Expect to linger longer than expected! Hampi is one of my favourite places in India and a highlight of many backpacker's travels in India.

Where to stay: There are cheap guesthouses in Hampi bazaar - one of the best is Gopi Guest House but no meat or alcohol are served on this side of the river.  Most backpackers prefer the relaxed, hippy scene on the other side of the river where you can stay in cute, rustic huts with views over the paddy fields, my favourites are the super cute Mowgli Guest House  and Shanthi Guesthouse.

How to get there: The easiest and quickest way to get to Hampi from Bangalore is by overnight bus.

Read More: Why I fell in love with magical Hampi

Palolem Beach in Goa

Palolem Beach in Goa

Goa - 1 week

Another place you might find hard to leave are the blissful beaches of Goa with their infectious, easy going way of life. If you can tear yourself off the beach you'll find there's plenty of churches, forts, waterfalls, spice plantations, markets and a buzzing nightlife scene to explore here. Goa is the most relaxed state in India with the best nightlife, a vibrant and cosmopolitan food scene and is a great place to meet other travellers.

Where to stay: Goa's beaches are all different but the most popular with backpackers is the colourful rustic beach in the far south at Palolem and the hippy beaches of Anjuna and Arambol in the north that are close to all the markets and parties. See the Top 10 Backpacker Hostels in Goa for more ideas on where to stay.

How to get there: From Hampi you can take an overnight bus to Goa or take an 8 hour train in the daytime. There are also flights to Goa from all over India.

Read More:

My Ultimate Insider's Guide to Goa

The Perfect Itinerary for 1 week in Goa

Top 10 Backpacker Hostels in Goa

 

mumbai-cst

Mumbai's grandest colonial building - CST (formerly Victoria Terminus)

Mumbai (Bombay) - 3/4 days

Mumbai was previously called Bombay but everyone still calls it by the old name. Bombay is India’s biggest, most buzzing and aspirational city - home of Bollywood and some atmospheric, crumbling colonial architecture. It's an exciting, dynamic city of dreams and contrasts with so much to do and see. Mumbai is my favourite city in India.

Where to stay: Mumbai has some of the most expensive accommodation in India and there is only 1 backpacker hostel here so far which is The Wanderers Backpackers Homestay in Andheri (near the airport)  A good, clean budget option in Fort, near the popular area of Colaba is The Travellers Inn which has dorms and private rooms and is popular with backpackers.

How to get there: Goa to Mumbai is a 12 hour overnight train or bus. The flight from Goa to Mumbai takes only a hour and you can find prices from only 1,000 rupees so it's worth checking the flight price before you get on the long bus ride.

Read More:

A Flashpacker's Guide to Mumbai

21 Things to do in Mumbai

How visiting Dharavi Slum changed my perceptions on poverty

 

Ellora Caves

Ellora Caves

Ellora and Ajantha Caves - 2/3 days

Break up the journey between Mumbai and Rajasthan by checking out the awe inspiring Unesco listed Ellora and Ajanta Caves near Aurangabad. These caves are one of the largest rock-cut monastery-temple caves complexes in the world with amazing ancient Buddhist carvings and sculptures.

Where to stay: There are not many hotels near the caves so Aurangabad, the closest town to the caves makes a convenient base. A good, cheap hotel is Hotel Preetam. 

How to get there: Aurangabad is about 6 hours on the train from Mumbai, 5 hours in a taxi or about 11 hours on a public bus. From Aurangabad you can get a bus to the caves but it’s more convenient to hire a taxi to between the two cave sites. It's about 2 hours drive from Ellora to Ajanta.

Lake Pichola in romantic Udaipur, Rajasthan

Lake Pichola in romantic Udaipur, Rajasthan

Rajasthan - 2 weeks

Rajasthan is possibly India’s most flamboyant state with so many ancient forts, extravagant palaces, colourful bazaars and interesting history there is a lot to explore here.

Udaipur - 3/4 days

If you're coming from the south of India then make relaxing and charming Udaipur, a romantic city of shimmering lakes and glittering palaces, your first stop in Rajasthan.

Where to Stay: Dream Heaven Guesthouse is also great with arty rooms and gorgeous views over the lake. Zostel is soon opening a new hostel in Udaipur that is situated on the lakeside near the palace.

How to get there: You can get an overnight train over bus from either Mumbai or Aurangabad to Udaipur. You might even be able to find a good deal on a flight between Mumbai and Udaipur.

Views over Jodhpur - the blue city

Views over Jodhpur - the blue city

Jodhpur - 2/3 days

After chilled out Udaipur head to the Blue City of Jodphur and see the mighty Fort Mehrangarh and explore the old city - a tangle of medieval winding streets, blue coloured buildings and bazaars.

Where to stay: Zostel have a hostel in Jodphur located near to the station or stay in an old haveli or guesthouse in the old city - Bob (Marley) Hostel is a cool, centrally located guesthouse located in the heart of the old city.

How to get there: Buses from Udaipur to Jodphur only take about 7 hours or a taxi takes only 4 hours.

Jaisalmer-Fort

Jaisalmer Fort

Jaisalmer 4/5 days

Jaisalmer is a little out of the way but this historic golden fort rising out of the desert is quite a sight. Taking a camel safari across the Thar desert is also a popular experience to try in Rajasthan. Many leave from Jaisalmer but Bikaner is another good choice, if you don't have time to get to Jaisalmer or are looking for something a little less touristy.

Where to stay: Zostel has a hostel designed like a haveli or old palace with views over the desert and fort. They can also organise your camel safari with a reputable operator or check out Surya Paying Guest House, a colourful, quirky place within Jaisalmer Fort.

How to get there: Jaisalmer is only 6 hours on the train from Jodhpur.

The ghats at Pushkar

The ghats at Pushkar

Pushkar 3/4 days

The small but charming holy lakeside town of Pushkar is quite a bewitching and magical place with good shopping that is a popular place for backpackers to relax. If you come in October/November try to time your visit the the amazing spectacle of the Pushkar camel fair.

Where to stay: Zostel have a new hostel with a swimming pool in the center of Pushkar. Hotel Diamond is a good, centrally located budget guesthouse choice.

How to get there: From Jaislamer take an overnight train to Ajmer Junction, from there its a 15 min bus or taxi ride to Pushkar.

Amer fort in Rajasthan

Amber fort near Jaipur

The Golden Triangle - 1 week

The Golden Triangle consists of the capital Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and is one of India's most visited routes as it contains some of the most famous sights in India. You could rush round it in 4/5 days but it's always better to take your time as there's alot to see here but also alot of hassle.

Jaipur - 3 days

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and known as 'the pink city' h0me to the extravagant City Palace, the honeycombed Hawa Mahal and the impressive Amber Fort.

Where to stay: There are lots of new backpacker hostels in Jaipur - try sociable Roadhouse Hostel  or for a guesthouse Madhav Guest House is a friendly and clean budget choice.

How to get there: Jaipur is only a 2 hour train journey from Ajmer Junction (the closest train station to Pushkar)

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

Agra - 2/3 days

Agra is home to the most beautiful building the world – the Taj Mahal, a sight you simply can't miss when traveling India. You can visit the Taj on a rushed day trip from Delhi but Agra is also home to Agra Fort and the nearby ruined city of Fatephur Sikri which are worth staying a few more days to explore.

Where to stay: Zostel have a hostel in Agra and Sai Palace Guesthouse is close to the Taj and has views of it from the rooftop restaurant.

How to get there: Agra is only about 4 hours on the train from Jaipur.

India Gate in New Delhi

India Gate in New Delhi

Delhi - 3/ 4 days

Many travellers go through Delhi as quickly as possible as it can an overwhelming city which is a shame because there is so much to see here. Delhi has a lot of history as well as being a city hurtling into the 21st century. Make time to check out the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid, Humayun's Tomb, Qutb Minar, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi and India Gate and the Akshardam Temple.

Where to stay: Traditionally most backpacker and budget accommodation in Delhi is situated in the Paharganj area near New Delhi railway station - Hostel Smyle Inn is good or check out Stops Hostel near Chandi Chowk. There are also many cool, new hostels have opened in the suburbs giving you a chance to escape the most chaotic parts of Delhi - one of the best is Madpackers Hostel.

How to get there: There is a new fast train that gets you from Agra to Delhi in 3 hours. Once in Delhi make use of the new, modern and efficient metro - it can get to most attractions without having to haggle with a rickshaw driver.

Read More: How to avoid the scams and survive your first time in Delhi. 

From Delhi you could either go East to visit the holy city of Varanasi, or West and visit Amritsar, the Himalayas and Rishikesh.

Himanchal Pradesh, North India

Himanchal Pradesh, North India

A Himalayan Loop - 2/3 weeks

From Delhi go west to visit the amazing Golden Temple in Amristar and watch the spectacle of the Pakistan border ceremony.

If it's warm enough then from Amritsar you could continue up into the Himalayan mountains in Himachal Pradesh visiting Dharamsala (home of the Dalai Lama and Tibet government in exile, Manali and Shimla the queen of the hill stations and the Summer capital of India during the times of the British Raj.

In July and August the weather is warm enough to head up to lovely Leh and Ladakh. On your way looping back to  Delhi don't miss  Rishikesh the yoga capital of the world situated on a gorgeous stretch of the holy river Ganges.

rishikesh

Rishikesh

From Delhi take an overnight train east bound to visit the holy city of Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest inhabited cites and home to the holy river Ganges. Watching all the rituals of life and death played out by the river at sunrise is an unforgettable and essential Indian experience.

There is a reason why I put Delhi and Varanasi at the end of the trip - visiting these loud, dirty, crazy places could be too overwhelming to enjoy at the start of your trip, plus there are a lot of touts and scammers but, once acclimatized to India, they are fascinating places to visit.

varanasi-2

The river Ganges in Varanasi at dawn

Also consider visiting ...

Also, try Tamil Nadu, this could be an alternative starting point although travel is not quite as easy as Kerala. You could also fly into Chennai (Madras) only a few hours South is the seaside temple town of Mahabalipuram that is popular with backpackers, the French city of Pondicherry and nearby alternative ‘utopian’ community of Auroville  is worth checking out. Tamil Nadu is all about temples and the best is the Mennakashi temple in Madurai which you could swing by on the way over to Kerala. Check out my perfect itinerary for traveling in Tamil Nadu.

Meenakashi Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Meenakashi Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu

How long do you need to backpack India?

Of course there are still many, many more places to see in India, it would take a lifetime to see them all, but I think this would be the perfect route for an (at least) 3 month visit that eases a first time visitor in gently into this incredible country and also gives a good range of sights and activities without doubling back on yourself too much.

If you don't have time to do it all how about splitting it up into 2 visits - the 1st time travel the South from Kerala up to Mumbai, and the 2nd visit from Mumbai through Rajasthan and the North.

Palolem Beach in Goa

Palolem Beach in Goa

What if you only have a month for backpacking India?

It’s a shame but if you can really only spare 1 month then I would still suggest to start in Kerala, relax and soak in the nature on the backwaters, or Goa to enjoy the beaches and nightlife and head inland to magical Hampi  for an easy introduction to India. You could fly from Goa up to the North and tour the Golden Triangle taking in Delhi, Jaipur and Agra and the Taj Mahal and then taking a sleeper train to visit fascinating Varanasi. And then expect to return to see what you missed out on!

What do you think of my backpacking India itinerary? Anywhere I missed out?

Pin Me! 🙂

The Perfect Route for Backpacking India

See more tips for preparing for your first time backpacking India:

My Top 10 Tips for your First Time Traveling in India

How to Prepare for a Trip to India 

11 Tips for Women Traveling in India

How to get an Indian Visa 

Backpacking in India: How much does it cost? 

Want more India travel tips and stories?

Sunset over romantic Udaipur in Rajasthan

Sign up to the FREE newsletter and discover Incredible India with me!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

23 Comments

  • Eliza says:

    Hi Anna, this couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. We fly to Kerala at the end of October to begin 6 months travelling in India. Planning a route, even in the vaguest sense has proved really challenging though I’m pleased that what we have mapped out is near identical to your suggested itinerary. Can’t wait!

  • Wow, nearly exactly what I did! Only have a month here. Started out in Kerala and worked my way up to Karnataka, Goa, Aurangabad/Ellora Caves, and Mumbai. We CouchSurfed a lot on the trip and met some incredible people. If I were to do it again, I would have skipped Gokarna and went straight to Goa after Hampi. It depends on each person, but three nights in Goa was more than enough for me. I can go somewhere else for nice beaches but India has so much more to offer that is unique to this country.

    Definitely, definitely coming back to tackle the north next time. The south really is a perfect introduction to India. Totally safe and easy to travel. I’m not ready to leave!

  • thatsofarah says:

    Definitely one of my favourite countries. And Hampi is magical. I would not leave out Hyderabad for world’s best biryani though. If I could afford to visit India again, I’d love to go to Assam and Rajashtan.

  • Petr says:

    Definitely I have to visit India in the future!

    • Anna says:

      So glad you liked the post! Yes, India is an incredible place to travel and I think everyone should visit at least once – it can be life changing! 🙂

  • hemanth says:

    Nice photos , which camera you use please ?

  • Rebecca says:

    Hi. Thanks for this great article. This is pretty much the route myself and my daughter (who is 17) are taking for our 6 month trip in India. Except we are heading up to Rishikesh and Manali after Agra.
    The question is, do you think it may be a good idea to budget for a flight from Goa straight to udaipur? I feel it would save a lot of time and it really is quite a gruelling journey by land (done it many times) Flights are pretty reasonable too. I know its cheating a little bit but there are many wonderful overland journeys to do once your up north. Your thoughts?

    • Anna says:

      Hey thanks so much! Yes, including Rishikesh and Himachal is a great idea and yes, I actually fly quite a lot in India these days as it can take a long time to get around and flights can be quite reasonable. It’s a shame to miss Mumbai though, I really like it there but Udaipur is nicer and flying is a good idea when time is tight. Hope you enjoy your trip and glad my post helped! 🙂

  • onelove says:

    thank you so much for the article love and gratitude to you 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Felix says:

    I think I like the way this route is I’m currently traveling Southeast Asia for three months and I plan to spend the rest of my time in India. I’m planning to head over there by the end of September have to go back home in November so roughly i have 2 months to spend. Deserts and Safari is something I really want to do and I love the wild life the camel tour is a must for me. And the Taj Mahal is a must see when you go to Indian

    I would probably be flying from Vietnam. I will be in Cambodia tomorrow for like a week then spend some time in Vietnam before heading to India

    How can I get a cheap fligh ticket

    • Anna says:

      Hey Felix, glad you liked the post – sounds like your going to have a great trip. When I fly between India and Southeast Asia I usually take Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur as its usually the cheapest option if your flying to South India there are quite a few cheap flight options and flights to KL from the rest of Southeast Asia are usually cheap. Hope this helps 🙂

  • Carl L. says:

    Great article, definitely will be my main guide to my planed trip to India. What’s the best months to visit India if I plan to visit 3 or even 6 months? Thanks!

    • Anna says:

      Hey Carl, Thanks, glad you liked the post. The best time to travel in most of India is the winter – Oct – March when its cooler so better for sightseeing.

  • Felix says:

    Ok great thanks and yes I think I will fly from Kuala Lumpur. I was planning to go to Vietnam but with visa changes for us I will go from Cambodia to Kuala Lumpur now spend a few days there then off to India by the 27 of September
    Felix recently posted…WELCOM TO BALI INDONESIAMy Profile

  • Felix says:

    One more thing how do I go on applying for a visa
    Felix recently posted…WELCOM TO BALI INDONESIAMy Profile

  • Freddie Lee says:

    Hi Anna,
    brilliant article found it very helpful in planning my own itinerary. I was just wondering on any advice about travelling by train as i heard tickets on sleeper trains sell out very quickly?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge