The Definitive Guide to Planning Your First Trip to India

Planning your first trip to India and don’t know where to start?
We get it!
India is a large country. So much to see and a lot more to do!

So take a deep breath and let us help you figure out the exact itinerary to match your: dreams, desires, goals AND your budget. To get you started here’s an intro to India destination-by-destination. By the time you’re done reading this, you will:

  • a. know what India has to offer as a travel destination and
  • b. be marking your calendars for a trip of a lifetime

Let’s dive in!
Let’s start with the basics:

First timer’s MUST-DO: The Golden Triangle Includes – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.


Delhi


Why?
Because it’s got the old and the new; the colonial-era buildings, old bazaars, and all the trappings of a fast-paced metro. It’s also a great airport to fly into AND Delhi is the closest metro city to a lot of the upcoming destinations. Making Delhi the perfect trifecta.

When?
Winter & Spring – October to March

The Experience?
Delhi is dotted with historical sites and monuments. Being the political capital of the country, it is also home to some of modern India’s architectural marvels. No trip to Delhi is complete until you try out some fantastic North Indian cuisine. Beware, and be extremely selective of where you eat. Delhi Belly is a real thing! Learn more about Delhi.

Agra

Why?
Art & Romance of the Taj Mahal.

When?
Winter & Spring – October to March

The Experience?
You’ve heard a lot about the Taj Mahal. And it’s even more magnificent than you imagined. Catch a glimpse of this, ‘monument of love’ just as the sun rises over Agra. Watch as the white marble glistens under the first rays of the sun making the Taj look absolutely surreal. Make time to visit the workshops where parchinkari, or the inlay art which defines the Taj Mahal, is still practiced. Agra is also home to his biggest architectural feats: the forts and palaces at Fatehpur Sikri. Whether you’re a die-hard romantic, or a history buff, Agra has something for you.

Out-of-the-box Experience?
The Dancing Bear sanctuary The Agra Bear Rescue Facility which contributed greatly towards ending the cruel practice of Dancing Bears in India. Those bears which couldn’t be rehabilitated to the wild, live out their years at the sanctuary. Learn more about Agra.




Only have 3-4 days? This itinerary makes for a great short trip – visit the Taj Mahal, historic forts and exquisite medieval palaces

The last but perhaps most memorable part of the Golden Triangle is Rajasthan. A magical place where Kings and warriors of a bygone era come alive. It’s also where the food is decadent and the hospitality unmatched.
While Jaipur is typically the destination of choice for first time visitors you’ll find plenty to keep you enthralled in Jodhpur and Udaipur too.


Jaipur

Why?
For a tryst with Indian royalty

When?
Winter & Spring – October to March

The Experience?
Ride an elephant up to the Forts just as the Royal family did. Stand in the very spot where Rajput Kings valiantly fought Mughal Invaders. Visit the past as stories of strong willed women and their incredible feats come alive in their opulent palaces and forts.

Culture, Art & Shopping:
Watch the local dance troupes perform in magnificent colorful outfits. Indulge in some shopping for traditional bangles, bandhani fabrics (tie & dye) as well as precious and semi precious stones.
Rajasthan is known for its spicy curries and mouth-watering sweets. Sign up for a cooking class if you have culinary leanings.

Out-of-the-box Experience?
Say a prayer at the Monkey Temple, where as expected, you’ll be surrounded by macaques and langurs.


The Golden Triangle itinerary is the perfect First-Timer’s trip, especially, if time is a constraint.

Ranthambore

Why?
Meet a Bengal tiger as it prowls its lands!

When?
Summer – March to June

The experience?
Get up-close and personal with Indian wildlife, particularly the tigers. Embark on guided – and safe – safaris across the forest terrain to watch these beautiful creatures in their natural surroundings.

Really like wildlife? We have some very immersive wildlife itineraries for the nature and wildlife lover.

Can’t get enough of the Tigers? Check out our blog post about the best places for tiger safaris in India.


If you don’t have time for the elaborate wildlife itineraries, this one grants you an opportunity to see a tiger while still covering other must do destinations.

Golden Triangle with Wildlife 8 Days/ 7 Nights

Golden Triangle with Wildlife

Delhi – Agra – Ranthambore National Park – Jaipur

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Jodhpur

Why?
Forts, Palaces and a glimpse of the desert

When?
Winter & Spring – October to March

The Experience?
Set right outside the Thar Desert, Jodhpur is opulent palaces and historic forts. Each site has its own distinct architecture, legends and tales.
You will find the locals here dress in the most delightfully colorful outfits. The explosion of color between the colorful sarees and the bright red, pink and saffron turbans is simply picture perfect.
Be prepared to add some calories because everybody knows that Jodhpur dishes out some sinful treats.

Udaipur

Why?
Lakes! And palaces in the midst of lakes. Yes, you read that right. Square in the middle of the lake!

When?
Winter & Spring – October to March

The experience?
Udaipur is the only city in the desert-dominated region of Rajasthan, that boasts of multiple lakes. It is quite literally an oasis.   City Palace is a must visit and while there, you get the opportunity to check out the collection of vintage cars owned by the Maharajas. The Jag Mandir and Lake Palace are wondrous in that these palaces sit in the middle of the lake. Usually the last place on your Rajasthan itinerary, Udaipur gives you an opportunity to sit back and relax with a glass of wine while you enjoy the sun set over the lake.


Now that we’ve covered all the basic destinations of Rajasthan, here is a comprehensive itinerary of Rajasthan (with the Taj Mahal of course!)

Colors of Rajasthan 12 Days/ 11 Nights

Colors of Rajasthan

Delhi – Agra – Ranthambore National Park – Jaipur – Jodhpur – Udaipur

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Do your interests lean more towards the Spiritual aspects of the culture? Read on:

Varanasi

Why?
Because this is Kashi, the holiest of cities to the Hindus

When?
Winter & Spring : October to March

The experience?
The holiest of pilgrimage sites for Hindus, Varanasi sits on the banks of the holy River Ganga (The Ganges). It is one of oldest continually inhabited cities in the World.
Here, you will get to be a part of sacred, ancient rituals – the daily morning and evening aarti (prayer) that set the Ganga alight.

The Holy City of Death –
It is believed that a human spirit can get complete freedom from the cycle of rebirths if the last rites of the deceased are performed here. Witnessing this elaborate ritual itself is life changing.
Looking for some spiritual guidance and motivation to take on this mad, mad world? Make a trip to Varanasi.

Out-of-the-box experience?
Head to one of the akhadas (mud wrestling pits) right on the banks of the Ganga and watch as the ancient art of mud wrestling is kept alive by a few strong men.


This short itinerary is designed to give you a brief introduction to India with a spotlight on Varanasi

Spirituality Tour 9 Days/ 8 Nights

Spirituality Tour

Delhi – Varanasi – Khajuraho – Agra – Jaipur

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Khajuraho

Why?
SEX!!
For the sex!
Okay, now that we’ve got your attention; Khajuraho is in fact a family-friendly destination. That said, it’s got an erotic past, carved in stone.

When?
Winter – November to February

The experience?
The Temples of Khajuraho claim their fame in part due to the sexually explicit Kama-Sutra style carvings on their façades. But these centuries old temples are marvelous works of art that pay homage to ancient India and Hinduism in all its spiritual and erotic glory.


This itinerary is designed to be a sampling of everything that North India has to offer – Taj Mahal, Forts, Palaces, Tigers, Ancient Temples and of course the holiest city in all of India – Varanasi.

Highlights of Northern India 11 Days/ 10 Nights

Highlights of Northern India

Delhi – Varanasi – Khajuraho – Agra – Ranthambore National Park – Jaipur

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Kerala

Why?
Because it’s God’s Own Country!

When?
Winter & Spring – October to March

The Experience:
Kerala is best experienced by drifting through the serene backwaters, in a traditional houseboat. Glimpse the many fishing villages along the coast while sipping on a hot cup of locally sourced kapi (coffee), served up by your very own chef on-board this floating hotel. Spend the night on the still waters, and watch as the sun’s rays bring the lagoons alive with colorful birds.

Bid the tranquility of the house-boat goodbye; slather on some sun-screen and head to Periyar, a wildlife reserve where you’ll glimpse the tusked Indian elephant, the sloth bear, the lion-tailed macaque, the Nilgiri langurs and many other animals, reptiles and birds. In addition to 35 species of mammals, the park is also home to 266 species of birds. Peer through your binoculars and you may just catch a glimpse of the little spider hinter, the white-bellied blue flycatcher, and other colorful birds.

And for some downtime, head to a resort by the sandy beaches, where you can treat yourself to some authentic Ayurvedic massages. Ancient massage techniques, combined with natural herbs and hand-pressed oils will make your stress melt away instantly.

Could you ask for more from a single destination?


Tea, Spice and Everything Nice 8 Days/ 7 Nights

Tea, Spice and Everything Nice

Kochi – Thekkady – Alleppey – Mararikulum

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Madhurai

Why?
Witness the essence of Hinduism. It’s dazzling medieval temples in the midst of a fast-paced metro.

When?
Winter & Spring – October to March

The experience?
Madhurai holds one of the greatest Hindu temples in India, the Meenakshi Amman Temple. The temple complex showcases several sacred structures and holy legends. Learn about the Goddess Meenakshi (an avatar of Parvati), who was born with three breasts; a prophecy revealed that her third breast would melt away when she met her husband. Lo and behold, that’s what happened when Lord Shiva came along.

Apart from magical and oh-so romantic legends, Madhurai also has the vibe and energy of a big city.

Mamallapuram /Mahabalipuram

Why?
Because it’s ancient archaeological wonders. And shimmering waters.

When?
Winter & Spring – October to March

The experience?
The UNESCO World Heritage listed temples with their gorgeous carvings are the major draw. Added to this is the laid-back appeal of a coastal city with azure waters, and the opportunity to try your hand at surfing.

Out-of-the-box experience?
Time your visit with the Mamallapuram Dance Festival, usually held between January and February, where you can catch classical and folk dance forms from across the country.

Temples and Tides 9 Days/ 8 Nights

Temples and Tides

Kochi – Mararikulam – Alleppey – Thekkady – Madhurai – Chennai

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This makes for a great introduction of India’s most popular destinations. Of course, there are quite a few more destinations that we haven’t covered here (we’d have to write a book to do that!) however, this makes for a great guide for your first trip to India.

If you have any questions about these or other destinations in India, feel free to reach us. We’re available over chat, email, or phone!

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About Saffron Dreams

We love India. We want you to experience the best it has to offer.

There are just so many wonderful things to see in India that we always run out of breath and space while listing them. Thousand-year-old temples, tropical forests, buzzing cities, delicious food, luxurious hotels – this is the beginning! Luckily, we know India inside out. We know how to make sure that your trips are full of magical moments while being comfortable at the same time. We'd appreciate the chance to plan the details for your trip..... Read More