The other day a friend wrote to me from Canada. She is planning a trip to India sometime next year, and wanted my two-cents on the itinerary. When I started to think about it, I realized that I have never thought about planning a trip to my own country. I have travelled from edge to edge in India, but then I was born here and I live here. How would I do it if I had limited time, limited money and a visa that would expire?

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Planning a trip to India can be overwhelming. It covers an area of over 3 million square kilometres, stretches across 29 degrees in latitude and has a coastline over seven and a half thousand kilometres long. Where do you begin and what do you see? Like most things in life, it depends on what you want.

Few pointers to get your bearings. India is longer than its broad (unlike America or most Americans). North is hills, south is sea, west is desert and east is forests. The center is a mix bag.  Most common entry points are Delhi and Mumbai. You can pick Chennai or Bangalore if you are looking at a lot of time down south. Now here is my quick access guide on how to start planning your trip to India, based on what you want.

If you are a history buff

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Rajasthan: the land of palaces

Just like there is more to Paris than the Eiffel Tower, there is more to India than the Taj Mahal. Delhi, the capital is steeped in history and historical buildings but the best place to experience the India of princely states, towering castles and glittering palaces is Rajasthan. Top picks are Udaipur, Jaipur and Jodhpur. If you have time, rope in Jaisalmer. There is a lot of history to see down south, but they are of a different nature. If temples older than Angkor Wat are what inspire you, head to Tamilnadu. Endless stone-cut temples and ancient hindu shrines dot the south Indian cities. If you still have time, head to the ruins of Hampi or Khajuraho.

If you are looking for a tan

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Goa – the ultimate beach destination in India

India has some of the best beach destinations in Asia. You have probably heard of Goa, which is close to Mumbai, and is the party capital of the country. And I mean all kinds of party (wink). From Goa you can head further down south along the west coast, and check out the beaches in Kerala. Kerala is so beautiful that its called ‘God’s own country’. Other than beaches there are pristine backwater canals and river rides, jungle resorts and a chance to see elephants bathing. Head all the way down to Kanyakumari, the lands end – one of those rare places where you can see the sun both rise and set over the sea.

Backwater canals in Kerala
Backwater canals in Kerala

Andaman and Nicobar islands and Lakshadweep are two Island destinations that offer ample opportunities for diving and snorkelling. Also have excellent beaches thrown in the bargain.

If you are searching inwards

The complete mystical experience
The complete mystical experience

Looking for yoga retreats? Head to either Goa or up north on the hills. There are plenty of options around Rishikesh, one of the holy cities for the Hindus in the foothills of the Himalayas. Then follow the river Ganga from there and reach Varanasi, the holiest of the hindu cities. Get the full Indian experience with pot-smoking mystics and road-blocking cows.

Head to Amritsar to see the holy shrine of the Sikhs (Sikhs are the ones with the turban and the beard). Head to Tamilnadu for ancient hindu temples. Look above.

And my favourite, if you are looking for the great outdoors

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India offers endless hikes like this one

India has no end to the outdoor adventures it offers. It has some of the world’s most unique hiking destinations, a great wide desert, some crazy forests with amazing wildlife, and everything in between. For hikes, head north to the Himalayas. Do not miss Ladakh, the northernmost region of India – cold, high and spectacular. There are endless hikes in the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Do your research and go with a group. Hikes can range from a couple of days to weeks. The websites of India hikes and Trek the Himalayas can help you choose. 

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We got our own little desert in Jaisalmer

Head to Jaisalmer for some unique desert adventure. Ride a camel into the dunes and sleep under the stars. To get deep into the forests pick any of the central indian or North-eastern forest reserves and go for a safari. Popular ones are Pench, Jim Corbett and Kaziranga (home to the one-horned rhino). For some river rafting adventures head to Rishikesh.

India is vast. A lifetime isn’t enough to see it all. So don’t try to see it all. Pick wisely, plan ahead. India can be overwhelming at first and downright difficult for the underprepared, but trust me, there are no snakes on the roads or insects that will give you a deadly fever. Read up, book ahead, and give it a shot. It will be the trip of a lifetime.

And through all of this, if you find yourself in Mumbai, give me a shout (@itainsodeep on twitter), and I would be happy to be your guide in this city!