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.
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.