India can often be an intimidating place, especially for first time travellers. I’ve travelled extensively around the country, and I can honestly tell you not to be afraid! Sure, India offers some challenges, but also so many rewards. If you’re looking at a map of the country without a clue where to begin, here’s some ideas of how to spend a month travelling around the North of the country, through ancient monuments, deserts, up to the mountains and finishing up on the banks of the Ganges.

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Delhi (2 Days)

So you’ve just flown into Delhi and are feeling probably a little culture shocked! Breathe and don’t worry, Delhi really isn’t India at it’s best. This city is chaotic, huge and rife with India’s extremes – the terrible poverty and the excessive wealth. However, there are enough sites to see to give in a couple of days. Top picks would be The Red Fort, Jama Masjid and wandering the markets of Chandni Chowk. For a cultural experience, I recommend the Salaam Balaak Trust walking tour of Old Delhi. This is quite an eye opening tour and will teach you something about the lives of street children around Old Delhi Station, then going on to show you the amazing work the trust does to get the children into long term education and work.

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Agra (1-2 days)

Agra, or better known as the home of the Taj Mahal, is about 3 hours by train from Delhi. The world’s most famous building is just as spectacular as you always imagined, and despite the crowds, is one of India’s must sees. Other than the Taj, there’s a number of forts to see around the city, but I would recommend not spending more than a day or two here – the city in general really isn’t India at its best!

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Jaipur (3 Days)

From Agra, take the train to Jaipur, and begin your journey through intoxicating Rajasthan. There’s plenty to see in Jaipur, from the huge Amber Fort, to the stunning Hawa Mahal and dreamy Jal Mahal. It’s also worth getting out into the streets of the bazars, a great showcase of Indian street life.

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Pushkar (3-4 days)

Pushkar is one of our favourite places in Northern India, and it’s the perfect place to chill out for a few days before continuing on your Northern India explorations. The holy town is centred around a lake and surrounded by desert dunes and rocky mountains. It’s a stunning location made even more interesting by the numbers of pilgrims who flock into town to bathe in the Holy waters of the lake. It’s also a bit of a traveller haven, filled with chilled out rooftop restaurants and a great selection of delicious, cheap eats! Once a year Pushkar hosts a huge camel fair, it’s an amazing experience if you can time your trip right, but be warned that hotel prices double or triple during this time.

Check out the gorgeous Inn Seventh Heaven or for a great budget option, I recommend Hotel Akash. For more information about Pushkar have a read of our 6 Reasons to put Pushkar on your Bucket List.

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Jaisalmer (2 Days)

From Pushkar take the train out to the far Western desert, to Jaisalmer. This small city is centred around a huge golden fort, which looks something like a sandcastle rising from the earth below. There are many hotels in the fort, each offering magnificent views of the city below. There’s plenty to do to keep yourself occupied in this city, you can explore the excellent fort museum, visit the stunning Jain temples, or watch sunset over the Gadsisar Sagar Lake.

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Camel Safari (2 Days)

After your explorations of Jaisalmer, head out on a camel safari to see some of the read Indian desert. A standard safari will drive you out to the edge of the dunes, and then you’ll switch to a camel’s back to wander over the desert. You’ll then watch the sunset over the dunes, eat a delicious meal cooked on an open fire and listen to some traditional songs. Sleeping outside couldn’t be more pleasant, especially when the sky is full of stars, and the next day you’ll hop back on a camel’s back towards the city. There are also longer options if you have a little more time on your hands.

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Jodhpur or Udaipur (2 Days)

For your final two days in Rajasthan, choose between the blue city of Jodhpur or the romantic lake side city of Udaipur. Each is home to some spectacular forts and sites. Jodhpur has a great open market and Udaipur has a lovely laid back traveller vibe. Take your pick!

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Rishikesh (3-4 days)

From Rajasthan, travel North to the foothills of the Himalayas and the beautiful town of Rishikesh. Made famous by the Beatles, the town is now a haven for yogi’s and adventure sport enthusiasts. It’s also a beautiful location with a very laid back atmosphere and great facilities for travellers. While your here make sure you visit the old Beatles Ashram, where the fab four stayed back in the 1960’s. It’s in ruins, but many artists from around the world have painted the walls of the old halls and written lyrics in the old rooms. It’s a special place, especially if you’re a Beatles fan. You can also take part in many yoga and meditation classes and visit the 5pm Ganga Arti at the Parmarth Ashram. Otherwise just chill out, enjoy the views and the delicious food on offer.

Have a read of our Travelettes Guide to Rishikesh and Haridwar for more!

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Trekking in the Indian Himalaya (3 Days)

Rishikesh is a great base for treks in the Indian Himalayas. A popular trek and one which fits with those on a time limit, is the spectacular hike to Karnarth, the world’s highest Shiva temple at 4090m. You’ll spend a night at a lake with beautiful views over the Himalayas, and then the next day you’ll walk across ridges and through villages to Chopta, where you’ll spend the second night. At 2am, you’ll be woken and the trek up to Karnarth begins, Here you’ll climb for around 4 hours until you reach the top, to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas. The journey up might be gruelling, but I promise you the views are more than worth it! On the third and final day, the hike down is much easier, an you’ll be very happy to return to your tent for an early night!

It’s easy to book treks from Rishikesh, but if you are travelling in late December or January, some of the high passes are closed due to snow. Similarly, many treks are closed during monsoon season.

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McLeod Ganj (3 Days)

From Rishikesh, travel even further North to the Tibetan settlement of McLeod Ganj. This gorgeous town is home to H.H. The Dalai Lama as well as around 70,000 Tibetan refugees. It’s not only a beautiful place, but it offers a very different atmosphere to the rest of India, often instead referred to as ‘Little Lhasa’, as it feels like you’ve entered Tibet. There’s many volunteering options here, and even if you only have a few days many schools look for afternoon English teachers. Walk down to the Dalai Lama’s temple, visit the Tibetan museum, and look out for screenings of Tibetan documentaries every night. You also must try some of the Tibetan foods on offer here!

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Amritsar (2 Days)

After McLeod Ganj travel onwards by bus to the Punjab, home of the Sikh religion and their holiest temple, the Golden Temple. It’s one of the most spectacular sites you’ll come across in India, set in a beautiful white palace and man-made lake. The highlight though has got to be the Sikh pilgrims, and the free meal offered to every visitor in the huge dining rooms. Here, they serve around 100,000 people per day a delicious serving of rice, daal and chapati. 

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Varanasi (4 days)

Just as you think you’ve seen it all, you’re about to enter the most incredible city of all. Varanasi is India at it’s very best. It might be dirtier and more intense than anywhere else in the country, but it’s also one of the most incredibly displays of spirituality you’ll see anywhere in the world. Give this city the time it deserves, soak it all in, and wish India farewell from the banks of the sacred Ganges river.

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How to do it:

  • Visa: You will need a visa for India, but if you are visiting for 30 days 0r less and are from a number of countries, you can now apply online and get your visa on arrival, making visiting much easier.
  • Getting There: The easiest port of entry for Northern India is Delhi, the capital of the country. You can fly to Delhi from all over the world on a variety of airlines. If you are coming overland from Nepal, try this itinerary backwards and start your trip in Varanasi.
  • Getting Around: Train travel is often the most convenient and cheapest way to travel around Northern India. The train network is huge and covers most destinations. Tourist and local buses fill the gaps. If you are struggling with time or find trains are fully booked, India has a number of budget airlines, similar to RyanAir or EasyJet in Europe. Indigo and SpiceJet are the main two, and fly around the whole of India at a very low cost.
  • Essential App: We highly recommend downloading the ClearTrip App for train bookings. You will need to register with the Indian railways network which you can do online with an Indian mobile number. It makes booking trains around the country much easier and cheaper than relying on agencies.

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For more tips about India, check out these articles on Travelettes!

How to Get the Most out of your first time in India (especially if you have less time)

Ultimate Travelettes Packing List for India

Chick Lit: Must Reads for India

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How to Spend One Month in Northern India