The funny thing about India is that I went back last December, nearly five years after my first visit, and assumed years of traveling the world would make it seem less intense. Nope – if anything it seemed even wilder! India is not for the faint of heart, but if you’ve got a positive attitude and a sense of adventure, one month in India is the perfect amount of time to get a taste for it.
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When to Visit
India is a huge country with multiple climactic zones. While South India, for example, has one of the most intense monsoons in the world (and, thus, is best avoided from about May until October), Himalayan India has frigid winters and is actually at its most pleasant during the summer months, rain clouds notwithstanding. It’s impossible to say when the best time to visit “India” is until you get a more specific idea of where in the country you want to visit.
How to Get Around
India has one of the most extensive train networks in the world, a relic of British colonization whose technology is still largely—but not exclusively—stuck in the 19th century. Indian roads, while improving, are also mostly primitive, which means that land transport in India is generally slow and arduous, regardless of which vehicle you use. On the other hand, low-cost airlines are plentiful in India and growing in number, so unless you’re someplace where seeing the landscape is essential to your experience (a backwater boat trip through Kerala, for example, or a camel ride through the deserts of Rajasthan), you’re better off flying.
Where to Stay
Hotels are cheap enough in India that you shouldn’t need to stay in hostels, unless you’re on the smallest of budgets. You can stay in a passable hotel most anywhere in India for $10-20 USD per night, and a nice one for usually no more than $50-60. On the other hand, more rustic or local accommodations are available in certain regions (straw huts on the beaches of Goa, for example), although they’re not necessarily cheaper than proper hotels or guest houses.
Money, Costs and Communication
India is extremely cheap, in spite of the country’s robust and continued economic growth. Unless you plan to travel in extremely luxury, it’s difficult to spend more than 6,000 rupees ($100 USD) per day. Indian SIM cards are cheap and easy to come by, and mobile networks are relatively fast, although Wi-Fi continues to be an issue in India, both in terms of penetration and speed, once you do come across it.
The most logical place to begin your month in India is Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), India’s longtime gateway to the West. I should tell you right off the bat, however, that there is basically nothing Western about Mumbai – in fact, it’s a total clusterfuck.
In spite of this (and maybe because of it?) Mumbai is a fascinating city to explore, starting at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Railway Station (formerly Victoria Terminus) and moving southward to the Gateway of India in Mumbai’s southern Apollo Bandar district. There, you can also see the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel (which was damaged in a 2008 terrorist attack) and take a ferry to offshore Elephanta Island.
Depending on how you enjoy Mumbai, you could spend more time within the city, exploring its many markets and bazaars or even beaches, such as the famous Chowpatty Beach. Or, use the city as a base for easy day trips, such as to the city of Pune further inland in Maharashtra state, or further east to Aurangabad, which is home to a fake version of the Taj Mahal.
Overall, I recommend spending between 4-8 days of your month in India in Mumbai – on the lower end if you simply explore the city, and higher if you dig into the surrounding region.
Goa, Karnataka and Kerala
Fly or take a train from Mumbai to Goa, India’s popular, Portuguese-inflected beach state. In spite of having gained a reputation as a party-drug wasteland, it’s still possible to find serenity and beauty in Goa, especially the southern part.
I particularly love Palolem Beach, near Goa’s southern border with Karnataka, although it has developed much faster in recent years than I would’ve liked. Still, there’s nothing quite like the forest of palm trees that exists behind the perfectly semicircular beach. Besides, if the crowds are too much for you, it’s easy to bike or take a taxi to the quieter beaches of Agonda and Karwar, which is actually located in Karnataka.
If your one month in India is flexible, you could continue south into Karnataka, exploring beaches along the way, or taking in history in the city of Mysore, or modernity in tech hub Bangalore. Alternatively, continue even further south and sail through the backwaters of Kerala, ending in its capital city Thiruvananthapuram.
In total, I recommend spending between 7-10 days exploring India’s central and southern west coast, depending on how far south you go.
Delhi and the Tah Mahal
Whether you wrap up the beachy portion of your one month in India in Goa or Kerala, fly to the Indian capital of Dehli for a very dramatic transition. Delhi is as crazy and congested as Mumbai, but its decidedly landlocked nature makes it stuffier – and, in the summer, hotter.
Of course, Delhi is also significantly more interesting than Mumbai in my opinion, so I can deal with some hassle. Walk under the regal India Gate, erected to commemorate the Republic of India in 1947, or explore historical and religious sites such as the Red Fort, the Qutb Minar (a Muslim holy site built on top of and using Jain ruins) or the Lotus Temple, which serves people of the Baha’i Faith. Alternatively visit the Birla House, where Gandhi was assassinated.
Delhi also happens to be the gateway to the Taj Mahal, India’s most iconic tourist attraction, one frequent trains make it easy to visit (NOTE: be extremely cautious of scammers at New Delhi Railway Station). The city of Agra doesn’t have a lot else to offer, save for the Taj, the Fatehpur Sikri citadel and a small fort bearing the name of the city. If you have more time than one month in India, you could take a (long) train ride to Varanasi, a city that’s very holy among Hindus.
Overall, I recommend spending between 5-7 days of your one month in India in Delhi and its vicinity, staying on the high end if you do decide to continue on to Varanasi.
End your one month in India in Rajasthan, a mountainous, desert-filled, historically Muslim region that’s accessible via the “pink city” of Jaipur, which is just five hours by train from Delhi. Stay within its terracotta-colored walls, where attractions include the City Palace, Observatory and the regal Hawa Mahal, or ride an elephant up the nearby Amber Fort.
From Jaipur, continue heading into the desert to the “blue city” of Jodhpur, home to the iconic Mehrangarh Fort. If you really love the desert, continue to the city of Jaisalmer, where you can take a camel safari all the way to the border of Pakistan.
One of the most famous structures in Rajasthan is the Floating Palace in the city of Udaipur, which is home to one of the world’s only 7-star hotels. Even if you can’t afford its prices (god knows I can’t), the great thing about Rajasthan is that you can enjoy a very nice room for very cheap – I loved the Hotel Umaid Bhawan in Jaipur and Ratan Villas in Jodhpur.
Overall, I recommend spending between 5-7 days of your one month in India in Rajasthan, again more if you take the excursion to Jaisalmer, before flying back to Mumbai and then, to your next destination, be it home or somewhere else.
NOTE: You might notice that if you stick to the low end of my recommendations, it doesn’t quite add up to a month in India. This is deliberate – thanks to poor infrastructure in prevalent scams in India, you shouldn’t expect to ever be on schedule.
How to Get an India Visa
Historically, getting an India visa was a complicated, almost hellish procedure. Thankfully, the government has now introduced a “visa on arrival” scheme that applies to citizens of most countries. Click here to learn more.