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There has been a rise in demand for trying out adventure sports in recent years. Normal getaways are turning into adventure vacations, and we could not have been happier! People are pushing themselves out of their comfort zones to make memories of a different kind.

Trekking is one such adventure sport. The youth, especially, has started coming in groups of friends and family to experience life in the mountains and feel its thrill. Two of India‘s most popular trekking terrains include Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

The Himalayas have changing topography. It enables adventure lovers to trek from lush green meadows to snow-capped summits. The beautiful landscape of the terrain and its distinct rich culture and wildlife attracts trekkers worldwide. The climate, too, experiences massive changes in temperature throughout the year.

Himachal Pradesh is no less than a trekker’s paradise. You can choose from various treks, depending on your fitness level, trekking experience, and time at hand. Some of the treks in Himachal Pradesh include Hampta Pass Trek, Bhrigu Lake Trek, Pin Bhaba Pass Trek, and Rupin pass trek.

Uttarakhand, also known as ‘Devbhoomi,’ is equally enticing for a wandering soul. Located in the northern part of India, Uttarakhand ranges from Garhwal Himalayas to Kumaon. This vast expanse of land ensures breathtaking views, rich biodiversity, and challenging terrains.

Just like in the case of treks in Himachal Pradesh, this region also allows you to choose from various treks. Some of the treks in Uttarakhand include Valley of Flowers National Park Trek, Har Ki Dun Valley Trek, Kedarkantha Summit trek, and Kuari Pass trek.

Four best treks in Uttarakhand

1. Valley of Flowers National Park Trek

Duration- 6 days

Explore the Valley of Flowers - one of the Best Treks in Uttarakhand

Explore the Valley of Flowers – one of the best treks in Uttarakhand

Located at an altitude of 14,100 ft, the Valley of Flowers is one of the best Himalayan treks. In 1982, the valley got declared a National Park due to its rich biodiversity. The meadow lies nestled between the rugged Himalayas and Zanskar ranges, and true to its name, is a paradise for nature lovers.

Unlike other treks in Uttarakhand, you can enjoy this 38 km trek best in the monsoon months of July and August. The rain brings in fresh blooms and increases the beauty of the verdant meadows, allowing the trekker to bask in nature’s goodness.

Major attractions include Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, Hemkund Lake, Shri Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara, Joshimath, Govindghat, and Ghangria village. The difficulty level of this terrain is easy to moderate with very few steeps and lows, making it ideal for beginners with decent stamina and physical fitness. Avid trekkers also enjoy this trek in Uttarakhand.

2. Har Ki Dun Valley Trek

Duration- 7 days

Experience the dynamic landscape of the Garhwal Himalayas on the Har Ki Dun Valley Trek

Experience the dynamic landscape of the Garhwal Himalayas on the Har Ki Dun Valley Trek

Trekking in the Himalayas is always an experience to remember, cherish and savor. The Har ki Dun Valley Trek or the hanging valley is no exception. Many adrenaline enthusiasts get attracted to this 47 km long trek for its cultural history and diverse topography.

The Garhwal Himalayas offer a dynamic landscape compromising pristine rivers, rugged terrains, alpine meadows, quaint hamlets, and dense forests. The valley stands at an elevation of 11,700ft, and the journey leading to it is of spiritual importance.

Highlights of the trek include glaciers like Jaundhar and Swargarohini, Bandarpooch, Borasu Pass, Morinda Lake, Kalanag, and close interaction with locals residing in the villages of Sankri, Osla, Saud, Seema, and Taluka.

The trek is accessible all year round, but the best time to visit is April to November, especially in summers and post-monsoons. It is a moderate to difficult trek, and you will need to work on your fitness at least a few months before the trek. You will have to cover long stretches each day.

3. Kedarkantha Summit trek

Duration- 6 days

Take in panoramic Himlayan views on the Kedarkantha Summit trek

Take in panoramic Himlayan views on the Kedarkantha Summit trek

Located at an elevation of 12,500 ft., Kedarkantha Summit Trek is one of the best Himalayan treks. It exposes you to the lesser-known parts of Uttarakhand, beautiful campsites, tiny hamlets, and the rich lifestyle of the people dwelling in them.

This 20 km stretch is within the territory of Govind Pashu Vihar National Park, and so you will be able to spot quite a bit of Himalayan wildlife here. It is a moderate to difficult trek. The region receives generous snowfall from November to March, making it an absolute favorite among snow lovers.

However, one can trek this region at all seasons. One of the most striking factors of this trek is the panoramic view of the mountain peaks from the summit—Kalanag, Dhauladhar, Swargarohini, Gangotri, Bandarpooch, and Yamunotri, to name a few. The village of Sankri and the Juda ka Talab campsite also deserve mention.

4. Kuari Pass trek: Lord Curzon’s Trail

Duration- 6 days

The Kuari Pass trek also known as Lord Curzon's Trail

The Kuari Pass trek also known as Lord Curzon’s Trail

Located at an altitude of 12516 ft, the Kuari Pass Trek is among the best treks in Uttarakhand. Named after its discoverer Lord Curzon, this trail is perfect for beginners and seasoned trekkers. This 22 km short trail introduces you to the essence of trekking and the wonderful gifts of nature.

It is suitable for beginners, too, as the grade of difficulty ranges from easy to moderate. The trail moves from vast thick forests of rhododendrons and oaks to lush meadows and beautiful campsites. Both the campsites, Khulla and Chitrakantha, have jaw-dropping backdrops.

Dronagiri, Nandagiri, Neelkanth, Changbang, Mukut Parbat will take turns to greet you on your journey. Other trek highlights include Auli, Gurson Bugyal, Dhak village, Gulling Top, Tali Forest Base camp, etc. October to December and February to April are ideal times to visit this rugged terrain.

Four best treks in Himachal Pradesh

1. Hampta Pass Trek

Duration- 5 days

Hampta Pass is one of the best treks in Himachal Pradesh and is also suitable for beginners

Hampta Pass is one of the best treks in Himachal Pradesh and is also suitable for beginners

Located at the height of 14,010 ft. on the Pir Panjal range, Hampta Pass Trek is one of the best treks in Himachal Pradesh. This 28 km crossover trek takes you through the various shades of nature and explores the unknown.

The journey starts from the lush Kullu valley, and then moves further towards Lahaul and deserted Spiti to reach the Rohtang Pass. Hampta Pass falls in the middle of this route but leaves trekkers awe of its alluring scenery and dynamic trail.

Forests, water streams, meadows, vast expanses of pure land, wildflowers, and rugged mountains; you name it, and the Hampta Pass trek has it. Other takeaways of this trek include Chandratal Lake, Sethan village, Hampta village, and wonderful campsites at Chika, Balu ka Ghera, Shea Goru, and Chatru.

You can go on this trek in Himalayan trek anytime between Mid-June to Mid-October. The difficulty level is easy to moderate. Beginners, as well as experienced trekkers, can enjoy it.

2. Bhrigu Lake Trek

Duration- 3 days

The Bhrigu Lake trek is regarded as one of the best treks in Himachal Pradesh for beginners

The Bhrigu Lake trek is regarded as one of the best treks in Himachal Pradesh for beginners

The Bhrigu Lake falls under the easy treks in Himachal, despite being a high-altitude lake standing at 14,010 ft. It is also regarded as one of the best lake treks in Himachal Pradesh, as it offers a splendid view of Dhauladhar and Pir Panjal ranges and peaks like Seven Sisters and Hanuman Tibba.

This 25 km trek comprises alpine meadows, thick forests, quaint hamlets, and staying nights at cozy campsites. If you visit Vashisth, you can also take a dip in its hot water spring. You cannot do this trek in the winter due to harsh weather. Stick to May to October, but try and avoid the monsoon as heavy landslides occur. It is an overall easy trek.

3. Pin Bhaba Pass Trek

Duration- 7 days

The Pin Bhaba Pass Trek - one of the best crossover treks in Himachal Pradesh

The Pin Bhaba Pass Trek – one of the best crossover treks in Himachal Pradesh

Located at an altitude of 16,100 ft, the Pin Bhaba Pass Trek is one of the most loved crossover treks in Himachal Pradesh. It connects the picturesque Bhaba valley with the deserted Pin valley.

The landscape in this trek changes every moment, but the Bhaba River flows throughout. It is a difficult trek as it requires trekkers to push their extremes while crossing river bridges and trek through screes, glaciers, and moraines.

Kafnu, Mulling, Kara, Pushtirang, and Mangrungse are some of the wonderful campsites that this trek offers, along with the stunning views of Hansbeshan Peak, Tari Khango, Pin Bhaba Pass, and Nimish Khango.

You witness a striking contrast of green and brown on this 112 km Himalayan trek that makes it an unforgettable experience. June to September is the best time to go on this Himalayan trek, as monsoons make this trail look like Switzerland.

4. Rupin pass trek

Duration- 8 days

The Rupin Pass Trek - a challenging Himalayan trek with mesmerizing views

The Rupin Pass Trek – a challenging Himalayan trek with mesmerizing views

The Rupin Pass has a surprising element in every nook and corner, a favorite among the crossover treks in Himachal Pradesh. The journey takes you from Dhaula in Uttarakhand to Sangla in Himachal, exposing two distinct cultures.

The variation in the landscape and the challenges that come with it make this 52 km trek difficult. Some of the highlights of this trek include the untamed Rupin River, Haldi Khad, Poku Devta Temple, and beautiful campsites like Suruwas Thatch and Upper Waterfall.

The summit also offers mesmerizing views of Charang Ghati and Kinnaur Kailash. The trek is open all year round but is ideal for visiting during summers (Mid-May to June) and post-monsoons (September to October).

Conclusion

This article covers India’s two most stunning trekking destinations – Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Whether you are a beginner, a seasoned trekker, or an expert, you can choose from our list of best Himalayan treks. So, pack your bags and get ready to explore the mountains.

When choosing your next vacation destination, you might crave a scenic mountain escape, a beach vacation, or an adventurous road trip. However, cultural legacy also plays a decisive role in choosing a travel destination. If you’re interested in history, world heritage, geographical wonders, and traditional customs, choosing one of the world’s cultural destinations can be an unforgettable vacation experience.

Culturally-rich destinations not only offer tangible delights like traditional food, museums, archaeology, and architecture, they also have an intangible element that makes the place special, like customs, rituals, and historical significance.

On top of that, connecting with different cultures helps open your eyes in ways that a typical holiday might not achieve. So without further ado, here are seven such cultural destinations for world heritage travelers and explorers.

1.   Cambodia

Cambodia - on the best cultural destinations in the world

Bayon Temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Cambodia has an impressive history of civilizations and lucrative trade routes that really come alive when you visit the country. The iconic Angkor Wat temple, the world’s largest Buddhist temple complex of the early 12th century, reveres Lord Vishnu.

You will be able to take in the magnificence of Hindu god statues in the many temples in this architectural monument. Cambodia also has a rich tradition of handicrafts like golden silk, cotton textiles, and clay pottery. While visiting Cambodia, be sure to hop on the famous two-wheeled carriage Tuk-tuk, which ferries around people of all cultures and nationalities in Cambodia.             

Cultural Highlights:  

  •     Royal Ballet in Phnom Penh (Khmer classical dance featuring apsara dances in brightly colored costumes)
  •     Krama (traditional Cambodian checkered scarf)  
  •     Battambang (known for French colonial buildings and architecture, artist-run galleries)
  •     Arts and crafts (stone carving, silversmithing, lacquerware, kite-making) 
  •     Pin Peat (percussion instruments)
  •     The Reamker (Cambodian version of the Indian epic Ramayana)
  •     Nang Sbek (Shadow Theatre)

2. Japan

Japan, a country rich in heritage and tradition

Japan is known for its historic shrines, temples, and cultural celebrations. Travelers will also have plenty of opportunities to learn about other Japanese traditions like Manga art and hand-drawn computer animation.

There is a high regard for tradition in Japan, so pay attention to the customary bowing while greeting, removing your shoes upon entering a home, or eating with chopsticks.

Cultural Highlights:  

  •     Manga art (comic books in woodblock print)
  •     Anime (hand-drawn and computer-animated works)
  •     Geisha (traditional Japanese music sung by women at high-class banquets)
  •     Shodo (flower calligraphy)
  •     Ikebana (flower arrangement)
  •     Kimono (traditional Japanese clothing) 
  •     Bunraku and Kabuki (puppet theatre featuring stylized masks, costumes)
  •     Sushi, Teriyaki (Japanese dishes)

3. Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu - one of the best cultural wonders of the world

As one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu is a stunning cultural destination

The magnificent site of Machu Picchu is the world’s most famous ancient city and a top tourist attraction. Scenic backpacking routes, like the Inca Trail, lead up to this classic mountain ridge tucked in Peru’s Andes Mountains. Machu Picchu, declared a UNESCO heritage site in 1983, is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 (per an internet poll).

This architectural city delights you with its stone blocks, temples, monuments, walls, steep mountains, water channels, and varied flora and fauna.

Cultural Highlights:

  •     The Temple of the Sun (for the Sun God worship)
  •     Intihuatana (astronomic solar clock and monolithic structure)
  •     The Sacred Rock
  •     Huayna Picchu
  •     The Temple of Condor (well-known Inca temple)
  •     The Ocarina, the Antara, and The Charango (ancient Andean musical instruments)

4. Egypt

The Great Pyramids of Giza - the last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World

The Great Pyramids of Giza – the last remaining wonder of the ancient world

The ancient Egyptian culture has left its mark on the world with magnificent monuments, scientific advancements, and fascinating treasures that are still being unearthed today. But a visit to Egypt will also teach you about mythology, religion, civilization, and architecture.

Egypt’s beauty is unparalleled, as even the folk paintings on rural house walls depict Egypt’s strong artistic focus. The Great Pyramids of Giza built for three Egyptian pharaohs are the oldest Wonder of the Ancient world, and in fact it’s the only one that remains intact today.

For a unique viewing experience, you can take a camel or horse ride to enjoy the view of this last remaining wonder of the ancient world.

Cultural Highlights:

  • Great Pyramids (481 feet tall made with 2.3 million limestone blocks)
  •     The Great Sphinx at Giza (world-famous sculpture with a lion’s body and a human head)
  •     Pharaohs (Egyptian art)
  •     Tomb of Tutankhamen
  •     Bread loaf and falafel for daily and ceremonial occasions
  •     Perfume and minerals for makeup

5. Rajasthan, India

Hawa Mahal palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan

Hawa Mahal palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan

Camel fairs, royal palaces and rulers, festivals, handicrafts, and The Thar Desert make this state Northern state of India one of the top cultural destinations in the world. While there, be sure to enjoy the traditional folk music and dance that convey the heroic tales of battles fought on Rajasthani soil.

Cultural Highlights:

  •     Pushkar Camel Fair (held every November)
  •     Langas and Manganiars (folk musicians)
  •     Ghoomar dance from Jodhpur
  •     Dharohar dance performance (earthen pots stacked on the head)
  •     Kathputli (puppet show)
  •     Choki Dhani (resort village experience of Rajasthan folk dance, cultural skits, and eating platter meal while seated on the floor)

6. Russia

Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia

Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Russia

Russia is so much more than freezing tundra and imposing castles. It has colorful cathedrals, gilded fountains, ballet, painting, literature, and cuisine to awaken your cultural spirit.

Culture Highlights:

  •     St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow’s famous work of architecture)
  •     Peterhof Palace and Gardens (check the spectacular fountains)
  •     Bolshoi ballet (renowned classical ballet)
  •     Food and drinks (sample beef stroganoff, borscht soup, caviar, vodka)

7. Cuba

A typical street in Havana, Cuba - one of the best cultural destinations in the world

A typical street in Havana, Cuba

Cuba excites visitors for its unspoiled beaches and its lively music and dance. It is also the birthplace of several music genres. Interestingly,  Cuba has nine UNESCO-approved World Heritage sites for the heritage explorer in you.

Cultural Highlights:

  •     Baroque architecture
  •     Moorish-inspired arched walkways
  •     Art deco style, as seen in the Bacardi building in Havana
  •     Salsa and Cha-cha-cha (local music)

Final Thoughts

Before planning your trip to these cultural destinations of the world, be sure to check guidance around the pandemic. To protect yourself and the local population, be sure to wear and carry reusable masks and sanitizer for a safe journey.  

For avid travelers, the pandemic has been tough. Maybe you had to cancel a trip that you’ve been planning for ages, or maybe you’ve had to repeatedly silence that inner voice begging you to pack your bags and explore a new place. During these times, many travelers and backpackers are looking for other ways to soothe their wanderlust. Some are using the time to document their past travels, some are making extensive plans for life after the pandemic, and some are turning to travel movies, podcasts, and books to keep their hope alive!

If you’re looking to experience travel without leaving your couch, here is our round-up of the best movies about travel and backpacking. Sometimes a travel movie is just the ticket, whether you want to relive a past adventure or live vicariously through the characters as they journey through beautiful places.

The Before Series

Set in Vienna, Paris, and Greece

For single travelers, isn’t it secretly the dream to meet your soulmate on the road? Just us? Regardless, this trilogy of movies is set in a different European country each time and tells the story of two people from different places who are drawn to each other over the span of decades. These award-winning movies are not only set in stunning locations, they are a profound study on the highs and lows of human connection.

Before Sunrise: Watch it on Amazon

Before Sunset: Watch it on Amazon

Before Midnight: Watch it on Amazon

Motorcycle Diaries

Set in South America

Responsible for launching thousands of backpacking journeys through South America, Motorcycle Diaries is one of our all-time favorite travel movies. This one is a classic, whether you want to relive your personal travel experiences or want to experience the gorgeous countryside of Argentina vicariously through the antics of the two main characters.

Watch it on Netflix

The Darjeeling Limited

Set in India

Wes Anderson always delivers on the visuals, and this movie about three brothers on a train adventure in India is no different. It’s a travel-themed, smart comedy. Don’t blink, or you might miss a visual joke or a brilliant moment of dialog. A classic we could watch again and again.

Watch it for free on YouTube

The Way

Set in Northern Spain

The story of a father who walks the Camino del Santiago in honor of his son. Anyone thinking of walking the famous pilgrimage route should catch this movie about backpacking from France to the western coast of Spain. The film will give you a glimpse into the countryside and the different types of travelers that you are likely to meet on the trail. 

Watch it on Amazon

Into the Wild

Set in Alaska

Despite its tragic ending (is it a spoiler if it was based on a true story?), this gorgeous movie pays tribute to a man with an extreme need to get off the beaten path. One of the best travel-themed soundtracks of all time, this ultimate wanderlust movie is a must-see for any true explorer.

Watch it on Netflix

Roman Holiday

Set in Rome, Italy

The glamour and timeless charm of old Hollywood set in the dynamic city of Rome. A dream combination of acting talent featuring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck with an endearing storyline.

Watch it on Amazon

The Beach

Set in Thailand

No matter how many times we rewatch this classic backpacking movie, there’s just something about Leo wandering along Khao San Road that brings us back to our adventures in Thailand. Maybe it’s the fact that most Thai hostels have travel movie nights featuring The Beach? Either way, there is just something about the raw scenes and commentary about backpacking culture that keeps us coming back for more.

Watch it on Amazon

Tracks

Set in Australia

This ultimate backpacking movie is based on a true story: In the mid-1970s, young Robyn Davidson walked across the Australian continent, accompanied only by her dog and four camels. The journey was 2,700 kilometers long and lasted eight months. Set in the stunning yet rugged Australian Outback, this ultimate solo female travel movie allows you to follow along on the journey that few will ever take. 

Watch for free on Amazon

Lost in Translation

Set in Japan

This movie is able to perfectly capture the disorienting yet addicting feeling of being a fish out of water during your travels. Its accolades should be reason enough to catch this quirky travel movie: 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (Sofia Coppola), and Academy Award Nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Bill Murray), & Best Director (Sofia Coppola).

Watch for free with Amazon Prime

Out of Africa

Set in Kenya

This classic romantic drama is based on a true story, and features young Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in the leading roles. With its gorgeous scenery and thrilling events, it’s a way to travel to Kenya from the comfort of your sofa.

Watch it on Amazon

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Set in India

Filmed in beautiful Udaipur, this British travel movie follows a group of retirees who are looking for adventure. The film is packed with stunning scenes that capture the beautiful chaos of India and has a charming cast of characters (Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, and Maggie Smith).

Watch it on Amazon

Wild

Set on the Pacific Crest Trail

The backpacking movie that inspired solo female travelers everywhere. This is the true story of hard-core Sheryl Strayed who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail after experiencing deep heartbreak. We love it for the beautiful scenery of the U.S. West Coast and the depictions of familiar struggles that every long-haul backpacker will know all too well.

Watch it on Amazon

Under the Tuscan Sun

Set in Italy

Nowadays, the premise is a bit of a cliché (a woman in crisis travels to a foreign country for adventure and learns a lot about herself in the process), but Under the Tuscan Sun is a classic! The movie still holds up today because of the gorgeous Tuscan countryside and the warmth of Italian culture that can be felt in every scene. A must-watch for anyone who yearns for Italy.

Watch it on Amazon

Amelie

Set in Paris, France

Anyone who loves Paris has to dive into the wonderful world of Amelie. It is fantasy surrealism set in an idealistic version of Paris. Watching this movie is like curling up with a nostalgic childhood book, and the city of Paris and its people drive the story forward.

Watch it on Amazon

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Set in Iceland, Himalayas, and more

This inspiring film is about a man who overcomes his resistance to love and adventure. The story takes place in many gorgeous places on earth, but it’s the attitude and perspective embodied by the main character that has motivated many to get out of their comfort zone and see the world.

Watch it on Amazon

A Walk in the Woods

Set on the Appalachian Trail

This classic backpacking movie is set on the famous Appalachian Trail. It also has a star-studded cast with lovably grumpy Nick Nolte, forever-old-soul Robert Redford, and effortlessly charming Emma Thompson. Need we say more?

Watch it on Amazon

Copenhagen

Set in Copenhagen, Denmark

An indie film and the recipient of multiple international film festival awards, Copenhagen is a coming-of-age story set in, you guessed it, Copenhagen. With a compelling story about the main character backpacking throughout Europe, and the gorgeous city of Copenhagen as the backdrop, you’ll get a serious dose of Scandinavian vibes.

Watch for free on Amazon

Roma

Set in Mexico City, Mexico

This Oscar winner (Best Cinematography) depicts the raw experiences of the director’s life in Mexico City. It’s a true story about overcoming adversity and finding beauty in imperfect situations.

Watch it on Netflix

Midnight in Paris

Set in Paris, France

A surreal fantasy story about Paris and all of its famous residents. This quirky Woody Allen movie lead by Owen Wilson is highly recommended for anyone who has been to Paris or is dreaming of the day when they can visit for themselves. And with an Academy Award, a Grammy, a Golden Globe, and 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, you can be sure it’s worth your while!

Watch it on Amazon

Eat, Pray, Love

Set in Italy, India, and Bali

We know, we know, you’ve already seen it. But what travel movie list would be complete without this mainstream classic? Although Julia Roberts wasn’t our favorite leading lady in a travel movie, we can’t ignore the fact that the places depicted in this movie (Italy, India, and Bali) gave us serious inspiration for future travels.

Watch it on Amazon

More movies set in amazing locations

While the plot doesn’t necessarily focus on backpacking or travel, these movies are set in gorgeous places around the globe. ‘Travel’ vicariously by immersing yourself in the characters and settings:

  1. Chocolat – set in rural France
  2. French Kiss – set in Paris, France
  3. Letters to Juliet – set in Verona & Tuscany, Italy
  4. Lion – set in Australia and India
  5. The Sound of Music – set in Austria
  6. A Good Year – set in Provence, France
  7. 7 Years in Tibet – set in China & Tibet
  8. Endless Summer – set in surfing locations around the world
  9. In Bruges – set in Belgium
  10. Hunt for the Wilderpeople – set in New Zealand
  11. Y tu Mama Tambien – set in Mexico
  12. The Lives of Others – set in Berlin, Germany
  13. The Bourne Trilogy – set across Europe
  14. My Life in Ruins – set in Greece

This amazing country has so much to offer and you will not be able to see all of India in just 2 weeks. However, this is a great introduction to the best of India, especially if this is your first trip.

To sum up, one has to experience both the northern state of Rajasthan, home to iconic royal palaces, as well as the southern state of Kerala, the hub of the Indian spice route with the wellness and jungle ecosystem you’ve been dreaming of. And no trip to India would be complete with seeing the Taj Mahal. You’ve surely seen pictures of this impressive structure from every possible angle, but there’s a good chance you too will fall under its spell when you see it in person and walk around the grounds.

First, a word about transportation in India

When backpacking your India route, driving is best left to the locals. The traffic is seemingly chaotic but there is actually a method to the madness, which takes expertise only earned by years of navigating the streets. We can’t stress it enough – do not even think about renting a car.

Hiring a driver

One option that we found well worth the time vs. cost tradeoff was hiring local drivers– it’s a great way to save on time, is a welcome escape from the chaotic streets, and is affordable. For multiple days with the same driver, the average rate is about $50 dollars a day which includes everything– gas, tolls, accommodation and meals for your driver, and of course their salary. Otherwise, many people use Uber for drives up to 2 hours. For the below itinerary, we would recommend having a dedicated driver for your first few days in the North until you fly to Udaipur, and then later booking as-needed in Kerala using Uber or Ola. For longer drives (3-4 hours) you can book ahead with Ola or goibibo.

Flights

Most domestic flights will be between 20-60 dollars and take an hour or two. Especially for journeys that would take 6+ hours overland, the flights are worth it. Air India is the major provider and has a mixed reputation. They are notorious for delays and unfriendly service, but their safety record is world-class and they serve some of the best Indian food you’ll have on your trip!

Backpacking in India Route via Train

You can’t talk about India without mentioning the iconic experience of train travel– if you want to experience this, it is best suited for a 3-4 hour journey between large cities. Trains travel about 50 km/hour, which means you won’t be faster than a car. If you are determined to travel by train in India, you may have to add a day or two onto the below itinerary.

Accommodation

India has the full spectrum of accommodation, from hostels, to guesthouses, to 5-star hotels. It’s worth researching ahead of time and reading recent reviews from other travellers. Be careful about going purely based on star ratings because some hostels and even hotels pay for fake reviews. Luckily, these are fairly easy to spot. We always had luck finding a great place to stay on booking.com, which allows you to filter by ratings, budget, and amenities.

Backpacking in India Route Week 1 – Northern India

Sites: Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur

Day 1 – Arrival and travel to Agra

If you’re flying internationally to India, it’s best to fly into New Delhi for this itinerary. The 22 million inhabitants of the country’s capital might say otherwise, but we actually recommend heading directly to Agra, site of the world-famous Taj Mahal. It’s about 3 hours away by car.

Sleep Agra

Day 2 – Taj Mahal, Agra, and Fatehpur Sikri

Start your day early and visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise. There are fewer tourists and the soft light of sunrise looks absolutely amazing on the Taj. The ticket booth opens at 5 am and you’ll receive a free water bottle and shoe coverings to use later in certain parts of the Taj.

Take your time, enjoy wandering around the surrounding gardens where you’ll be sure to spot a few monkeys and parrots. The ‘backyard’ of the Taj looks out over the river Ganges and is in itself breathtaking.

Taj Mahal at Sunrise

Taj Mahal at Sunrise

After the Taj, head to the Agra Fort. This was the longtime residence of Emperor Akbar and is an impressive example of Mughal architecture.

It’s time to leave Agra and head west. About an hour outside of Agra, visit Fatehpur Sikri, known as the abandoned city. This was the original residence of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, but was later abandoned due to the lack of a natural water source, which made the palace unliveable. We recommend getting a guide here to help explain the abandoned structures. The original tactics used for air-conditioning will amaze you.

Fatehpur Sikri Agra India

Fatehpur Sikri Agra India

Hit the road or the rails to Jaipur, it will be about a 3-hour journey by car or a 6-hour journey by train. Arrive Jaipur by nightfall and get a good night’s sleep.

Side note: If you somehow have daylight to spare, you can make a stop at the Chand Bawri Step Well in Abhaneri on your drive between Fatehpur Sikri and Jaipur. It’s open daily from 8:30am-6pm.

Sleep Jaipur

Day 3 – Jaipur

Jaipur has so much to offer. All of the buildings were painted a sandstone pink in preparation for the Prince of Wales’ visit back in 1876, and the residents have kept the tradition. You can do everything in India’s Pink City in one day especially if you have a driver. Of course, you can spend a couple of days in Jaipur and have a more relaxed itinerary.

Morning

  • Amber Fort – start your day here because it will get hot later. This impressive palace is located up on a hill and many of the original features are still in excellent shape. You’ll see many offers for elephant rides and Elephant Villages happening here, but please don’t support this controversial industry.
Amber Fort Jaipur India

Amber Fort Jaipur India

  • Jal Mahal (Water Palace) – on your way back to old Jaipur, stop by Man Sagar Lake to see the Water Palace. It isn’t open to visitors, but the palace that seemingly floats on the water is an amazing sight to behold.

Afternoon

  • Hawa Mahal (Air Palace) – The rest of your day will be spent walking around old Jaipur which is the heart of the Pink City. You should start at the Hawa Mahal. The facade was originally built so that the queens and ladies of the court could watch the street festivals without being seen by ordinary citizens. Open daily from 9am-5pm.
Hawa Mahal Jaipur India

Hawa Mahal Jaipur India

  • City Palace – gorgeous Mughal architecture and a lavish royal palace.

Evening

  • Wander the Jaipur Markets – spend the rest of your afternoon and evening just wandering the alleyways and streets of Jaipur. There are districts for different goods like flowers, spices, shoes, jewellery, and even household tools so just plan to get lost in the mesmerising maze. The street food scene is also world-famous in Jaipur and you may want to circle back to see the Hawa Mahal at night.

Sleep Jaipur

Days 5 & 6 – Udaipur

We recommend taking an early 45-minute flight to Udaipur, which you can find for about 30 dollars if you book ahead of time. You can also travel this distance by car (7 hours) or train (7-8 hours).

Many people call Udaipur the most romantic city in India. Romance or not, we think Udaipur is downright gorgeous and a can’t-miss. (By the way, it’s the setting for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and the oddly named 1983 James Bond movie, Octopussy).

Udaipur is a small, walkable city with so much to offer. We recommend at least 2 days here. It’s also at this point of your trip that you’ll welcome a slower pace and you’ll enjoy not having to rely on auto rickshaw or Taxi to take you everywhere.

Day 1 – (half day because of travel time from Jaipur)

  • The Rose Garden – This is a European style city park but with tropical plants and Indian monuments scattered throughout. It’s a welcome escape from the hectic experience of the alleyways and streets of the city.
  • Sunset at Karni Mata Temple – take an auto rickshaw, hike, or (our personal recommendation) take the cable car up to the hilltop temple. Udaipur is so incredibly beautiful from above and from here you’ll have a perfect view of Lake Pichola with its 2 island palaces, Udaipur oldtown and the Royal Palace, and the distant Monsoon Palace.
  • Dinner at Charcoal. Indian fusion food with an amazing view. Portions are huge and the view is to die for. Did we mention Udaipur is simply stunning at night?
  • Jagdish Temple to end your day – you’ll probably hear chanting and singing at various times of the day, but the evening prayers and songs intensify around 10 pm. Visitors are completely welcome to enter the temple and be a part of the experience, just be sure to remove your shoes and practice basic respectful behaviour. Far from solemn, this is a joyous atmosphere that will be sure to end your day with a smile.

Day 2

  • The Royal Palace – best if you arrive first thing in the morning before the school groups show up. An Audio guide will suffice because the tourist path is well-marked and laid out. The palace has rooms showing what the royal life was like.
Udaipur City Palace

Udaipur City Palace

  • Afternoon Boat Ride on Lake Pichola – your palace ticket includes a discount for the boat ride. It’s a touristy thing to do, but still delightful. The boat will make a stop at the Jagmandir Island Palace, and we recommend disembarking for a quick picnic and a beautiful view of Udaipur. Bring snacks with you, or you can have some refreshments at the island hotel.
  • The Dharohar Folk Dance Cultural Show at the Bagore ki Haveli museum. This show has been running for decades and is always a party. Reservations can only be day-of in person starting at 6, so just head to the Museum around 6 to get tickets. While you wait you can get a coffee at Jheel, a short walking distance away.

Sleep 2 nights Udaipur

Backpacking in India Route Week 2 – Southern India

Sites: Munnar, Alleppey, Fort Kochi

At this point, you might find it difficult to leave colourful and rich Rajasthan behind, but it’s time to migrate south for the jungle experience in the Indian state of Kerala.

Day 8 – Travel Day from Udaipur to Fort Kochi to Munnar

Take an early flight from Udaipur to Fort Kochi in Kerala. Unfortunately, there aren’t usually direct flights so you’ll likely connect through Mumbai. Once you land in Fort Kochi, our recommendation is to keep the travel day going and head straight to Munnar by car.

Sleep Munnar

Day 9-12 – Munnar and its environs

It’s time to choose your own adventure in the Munnar region

Option A: Relaxation and unwinding in Munnar

We think it’s worth slowing your pace in the rolling hills of Munnar. You should book ahead at an eco-lodge, treehouse, or yoga retreat. After the stimulation of the North, you will welcome taking the time to soak in the natural beauty of India. Activities in Munnar include seeing a traditional Kathakali show, wellness treatments, spice walks, tea plantation tours, hikes and jeep rides to see the national parks.

Munnar India Tea Fields

Munnar India Tea Fields

Option A: sleep 3 more nights in Munnar

Option B: Munnar + Thekkady

Periyar National Park near the town of Thekkady is not far from Munnar. This is a good chance to visit a wildlife reserve in India and see some native species. There is a popular boat cruise through the reserve where you can spot water buffalo, Indian deer, some other small mammals, and many birds. There are also 40 Tigers and about 500 Elephants in the park, but it is extremely rare to spot them. If you do the lake cruise, be sure to be on the first boat in the morning to have the highest chance of seeing the animals come down to the waterfront to quench their thirst after the long night. There are other activities organized through the park such as bamboo rafting trips, Nature Walks, and jeep excursions.

Option B: sleep 1 more night in Munnar and 2 nights Thekkady/Periyar

Day 12 – Alleppey Backwater Cruise

Take an early car from either Munnar or Thekkady to Alleppey for your backwater houseboat cruise. Most houseboats depart at noon and will drop you back off at 9 am the next morning. We think one night is perfect to experience the backwaters. We had a great experience using Alleppey Houseboat Club to find a houseboat– they have detailed pictures of the boats and offer a reasonable price.

Houseboat Kerala in Alleppey India

Houseboat Kerala in Alleppey India

Sleep 1 night on the houseboat

Day 13 and 14 – Fort Kochi

After your houseboat docks in the morning, take an Uber to Fort Kochi. We recommend 2 nights here as your grand finale of the trip. The town is very walkable and you can see the Chinese fishing nets, the Dutch Museum which presents the history of Fort Kochi and the Spice Trade, shopping along Princess Street, and the Jewish Quarter with tons of antiques and cool artist factory spaces. Since 2016, Kerala has been a dry state so you won’t find a thriving nightlife, only certain 4-star hotels are allowed to serve alcohol.

Chinese Fishing Nets Fort Kochi India

Chinese Fishing Nets Fort Kochi India

Sleep 2 nights Fort Kochi

Day 15 – Fly home or on to your next stop!

Now, you may be asking, what about Darjeeling, Goa, and Amritsar? Those are for your next trip!

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Ultimate 2 Week Guide to India

Ultimate 2 Week Guide to India