India polarizes like no other country in the world – one loves it or one hates it. The colors, the smells, the food, the noise, the chaos, the poverty, the wealth, the temples, the beaches, the mountains, the traffic, the markets – India has it all, and India’s sights are absolutely unique. I love India, and when asked about my best destinations, India is always at the top. The country is huge, and a trip will probably not be enough to see everything. Here’s an overview of some of the best sights for your next India backpacking trip – I hope this will inspire you to explore this unique destination for yourself!
India backpacking in the north – Delhi and Agra
The north of India is characterized by the capital, Delhi, the Taj Mahal in Agra, and the Himalayas. India is huge and north and south are completely different. In general, the northern part of India, and Delhi, in particular, is considered exhausting and difficult to travel compared to the south, which is much richer and less chaotic. So, if you have some respect for India, it’s worth traveling from south to north to slowly get to know the country better. Do not miss the north, as you will find some of India’s greatest attractions there.
• Sights in Delhi
My journey in India starts like many others in Delhi, the chaotic capital of India. Delhi is one of India’s busiest travel destinations, and you immediately experience the country’s typical chaos and poverty. I advise you to stay no longer than 1-2 days in Delhi, as the sights in the Indian capital are limited. Use the time to visit the Red Fort, probably the most famous attraction in Delhi. Here you are in “Old Delhi”, the most traditional and chaotic part of the city. Walk through the streets of Chandni Chowk, the old market, with its narrow and winding streets. Also, a visit to New Delhi‘s Presidential Palace and India Gate is worth it, as well as at the Humayun Mausoleum. Just outside the city, you will find another one of India’s attractions, the Qutb-Minar complex, which is considered a World Heritage Site.
• Sights in Agra
Agra is a city south of Delhi and can be reached in a few hours by bus or train. Here, you will find the most famous sight in India – the Taj Mahal. You should not miss this on any Indian trip! I do not have much to tell you about the Taj Mahal, just so much is said – it’s worth it, and it’s just as beautiful as you imagine (though it looks a bit smaller than in the pictures). Try to be there as early as possible to avoid the crowds. In addition to the Taj Mahal, there is still more in Agra. You’ll find some lesser-known Indian landmarks, such as the “Baby-Taj” Mausoleum of Itmad-ud-Daulah, and the Agra Fort. So you should plan a full day to visit all of Agras‘ attractions on your India backpacking trip.
Unfortunately, I have not visited some of the other sights in the north of India, so I can not provide any details for those. Absolutely worth seeing is Amritsar with the Golden Temple in the north of Delhi, as well as Rishikesh at the foot of the Himalayas. Of course, those who are passionate about mountains and hiking need to travel further north into the Himalayas – but be careful, there are many areas you can only reach at certain times of the year. Another top tourist destination in India is Varanasi – the city where people travel to die for. Unfortunately, Varanasi is a bit away from the typical itinerary of India, but the place is absolutely unique, if not for the faint of heart. Varanasi is high on my list and I hope to visit more sights in the north of India soon on my next India backpacking journey.
India backpacking in the northwest – Rajasthan
The desert state of Rajasthan is just as you imagine India in Bollywood films – colorful markets, chaos on the streets, spice markets, castles, palaces, and temples. For me, Rajasthan is one of the best tourist destinations in India, with some of the best tourist attractions in the country. Most tourists in Rajasthan visit four cities – the pink city of Jaipur, the blue city of Jodhpur, the golden city of Jaisalmer, and the white city of Udaipur.
• Sights in Jaipur
The pink city is probably the most famous sight of Rajasthan and forms, together with Delhi and Agra, the “Golden Triangle”, which many tourists visit. Jaipur can be reached by bus or train within a few hours from Delhi and Agra and is a great destination. The capital of the state is definitely worth a visit. In the city center, most of the buildings have been painted in a pink color, creating the epithet “pink city”. The most famous Indian sight in Jaipur is Hawa Mahal, the unique “Palace of the Winds”. It is also worth visiting the City Palace and the Jantar Mantar Observatory.
Another highlight of Rajasthan is the Amber Fort, just outside of Jaipur, but easily accessible by public bus or taxi. The fortress lies in a huge terrain in the desert and is spectacular. Slightly above is the Jaigarh Fort, which offers incredible views of the Amber Fort and the desert landscape. On the way from Jaipur to the Amber Fort, you will pass the water palace, Jal Mahal, a cool stopover. Just tell the bus driver, get off, visit, and take the next bus to Amber Fort.
For a spectacular view of Jaipur, head to the Nahargarh Fort, preferably in the late afternoon. Here you can see a great sunset over the pink city. The fortress is also called Tiger Fort and is less crowded than the famous Amber Fort, and is, therefore, worth a visit mainly because of the view.
Another unique attraction of India is the monkey temple, Galta Ji. The huge complex is full of temples, fountains, and of course – full of monkeys. On the way to the temple, you pass some of the slums and the streets are full of animals, while it is a bit quieter and more relaxed once you arrive at the complex. Absolutely worth seeing n your India backpacking trip!
• Sights in Jodhpur
The “blue city” does not have quite as many Indian sights as Jaipur, but is a lot more relaxed and less crowded. The most famous attraction of Jodhpur is the huge Mehrangarh Fort above the city. The complex is huge and offers a great view over the blue roofs of the city. Another attraction of India in Jodhpur that you should not miss is the beautiful tomb, Jaswant Thada.
• Sights in Jaisalmer
Far to the west of India, in the Thar Desert on the border with Pakistan lies the “golden” desert town of Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer is a lot smaller than Jaipur and Jodhpur. The old town is located in the fort of Jaisalmer with its narrow streets. Here is also worth a visit to the Jain Temple. Just outside of Jaisalmer you will find the Amar Sagar Lake with its small palaces, perfect for the sunset. In general, Jaisalmer is small, and you can visit all the attractions of Jaisalmer in one day.
Most tourists come to Jaisalmer for a camel safari in the desert. These safaris are mostly for two days with an overnight and a cool experience, especially if you have not had a camel desert experience in other countries like Morocco. But be warned – sitting on a camel for two days can be very painful! The sunset in the desert was very beautiful and we spent the night with blankets around the campfire under the open sky.
If you want to travel south from Jaisalmer, you’ll probably have to spend a night in Jodhpur as the city is not very well connected.
• Sights in Udaipur
The “white” city is located in the south of Rajasthan and is considered the Venice of the East with its waterfront location. There are several islands in the lake and the famous Lake Palace, where James Bond was filmed. A boat trip on Lake Pichola is definitely worth it. The most famous attraction in Udaipur is the huge, magnificent city palace. Udaipur is probably the “most beautiful” and most relaxed city of Rajasthan, and in some areas almost west.
Tip: On the way from Jodhpur to Udaipur you will find two of India’s most beautiful sights – the Ranakpur Jain Temple and the Kumbhalghar Fort. Unfortunately, these two destinations are difficult to reach by public transport. If you’re traveling with friends, it may be worth booking a private driver to take you from Jodhpur to Udaipur, stopping at these two attractions and including them in your India backpacking itinerary.
India backpacking in the west – Mumbai, Goa, and Hampi
From Rajasthan I traveled further south on the night bus, my next destination was Mumbai, followed by the famous beaches of Goa, and finally Hampi. This area is already completely different from Rajasthan and the north and is well worth a visit on your India backpacking trip.
• Sights in Mumbai
The bustling metropolis of Mumbai is very different from Delhi and I was surprised by how much I really liked Mumbai. One of India’s most famous landmarks is the Gateway of India, the great archway by the sea. Stroll along the Marine Drive, Mumbai’s fashionable seafront, and visit the luxurious Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Also worth seeing are the beautiful colonial buildings, such as Victoria Terminus and the Municipal Corporation Building. Of course, there are also numerous markets and temples in the city.
One of my highlights – though not a sight in the classical sense – was a tour of the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, one of the largest slums in the world. While visiting a slum is morally questionable to many, I was very pleased with my decision to visit Dharavi. Anyone who expects only poverty and homeless people will be surprised. The slum is much more of a community of its own with its own ecosystem, where everyone works, everything is recycled, and there are even schools, hospitals, and all other facilities. It was fascinating to see and get to know the way of life of the Dharavi people – so you should only visit the slum with a tour guide. It is worth it!
• Sights in Goa
The state of Goa, with its famous beaches along the west coast, is a mecca for sun worshipers, hippies, and yogis. Here you should definitely explore some of the numerous beaches and, above all, relax after the stressful cities. The Arambol beach in the north is perfect for relaxing and still rather untouched by package tourism, but rather attracts hippies and backpackers. Palolem in the south is more touristy and a bit crowded. In general, you should think carefully about what you want from your stay in Goa – whether party or relaxation – and then decide on one of the many beaches which are perfect for a break from your India backpacking adventure. A short visit to Panaji, the capital of the state of Goa with its Portuguese influence, is also worthwhile.
• Sights in Hampi
The small town of Hampi is a bit off the tourist route in the middle of the country and is, therefore, a bit awkwardly (or only with a detour) reachable, but you should not miss Hampi, with its numerous attractions, under any circumstances. This was my absolute favorite place in India! Hampi used to be the capital of a huge kingdom, making the whole area rife with temple ruins. In addition, Hampi is beautifully located in rice fields and a rocky desert – just rent a scooter, and explore the area! The place is separated by a river, and if you’re there at the right time, you can even see Lakshmi, Hampi’s sacred elephant, being bathed and then receiving offerings from the locals.
At sunset, all travelers climb the rocks behind the village and enjoy the breathtaking sunset over the rice fields. I absolutely loved Hampi and you should definitely plan a few days of your India backpacking itinerary to enjoy all the sights, but also the unique scenery.
India backpacking in the south – Kerala
The southern state of Kerala – known as “God’s Own Country” – stands in stark contrast to the desert state of Rajasthan and the north, with its green palm trees and tropical beaches. The south is much more developed, richer, and easier to travel than northern India.
• Sights in Kochi
The port of Kochi is one of the most important cities in South India and the large airport is perfect for starting or ending your trip to India. Spend a week or two in Kochi and visit the Fort Kochi district with its churches, synagogues, and, above all, the famous Chinese fishing nets. Here you can also see a great sunset.
• In the backwaters
The backwaters are considered a highlight and top sight of Kerala. This huge river system runs through much of Kerala and it is advisable to rent a houseboat (including a chef and captain) for two days and let yourself be carried away by the backwaters. Here you can see how the locals live right on the riverbank and can relax wonderfully. An absolute must-do in Kerala on an India backpacking trip!
• Sights in Munnar
The village of Munnar is located in the hills of Kerala, in the middle of the tea plantations. Specifically, these tea plantations are also the reason to visit Munnar. Nature and scenery are beautiful and is very different from the tropical backwaters. You can wander through the tea plantations, watch the sunset, and visit a tea factory.
• Sights in Varkala
One of my favorite beaches in India is Varkala, just south of Kochi and Alleppey. The small town has a good tourism infrastructure and is located on a cliff while the beach is below. Varkala has a cool backpacker atmosphere with good restaurants and cheap accommodations. Here you can relax perfectly for a few days.
The conclusion of my India backpacking trip
You see – India has everything! From tropical Kerala to the palaces and desert towns of Rajasthan, from the chaotic cities of Mumbai and Delhi to the laid-back beaches of Goa and the Himalayas in the north. India is huge, versatile, and one single trip is unlikely to be enough to explore the subcontinent.
I hope I was able to give you a first overview of the sights of India and I hope I have inspired you to start your India backpacking adventure soon!