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Seeing India by train—Five great routes
Seeing India by train—Five great routes

 

India has the largest rail network for a single country in the entire world. Every single major metro is connected and a couple of million unknown villages as well. It costs a fraction of what you’d pay an airline. A space that big is bound to breed a culture of its own and so it does. With its intriguing meal-order system, the instant bonds that spring up with your co-passengers, lining up to spit out your toothpaste in the tiny metal sink in the corridor—it’s all part of the Great Indian Rail Adventure. There’s no better way to watch the Indian public in their element, and you’re sure to meet a lovely family that’ll take you under their wing and stuff you full of their tiffin snacks. You can find out more about the classes and food and planning the route from our other posts.

We’ve put together five Indian travel routes that rely heavily on trains to get you between places. It’s advisable to have all your train tickets booked in advance, and you can feel free to contact us for help with that!

1. Classic North India

Delhi – Varanasi – Agra – Jaipur – Jaisalmer – Jodhpur – Udaipur – Delhi 

(Route on GoogleMaps)

Start from Delhi, the teeming capital and branch out first toward the ancient spiritual town of Varanasi. From here, you have all f Rajasthan’s vast deserts ahead of you, so a little meditation now will do you good. Meander through Rajasthan’s most beautiful cities, Agra, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Udaipur. Each city is a backpackers dream, and will require a minimum of a few days to explore all their colourful alleyways. The best part though, is sailing through the sand in your (preferably A/C) sleeper car, buying pyaaz ki kachori (onion stuffed fried snack) and tomato chaat from the vendors that pop up outside your window. You can also be sure to meet a lot of fellow travellers long the route, all the better to swap stories with over a game of cards on a long night on the train.

Trains – You have four overnight trains and two short day trains. Jodhpur to Udaipur can also be travelled by bus

When to go – August to April

2. All along the coastline

Mumbai – Goa – Gokarna – Wayanad – Calicut –  Cochin – Varkala 

(Route on GoogleMaps)

This is a slow approach across India’s beautiful western coastline. Your trains will pass over great wide rivers and palm-fringed fishing villages, with all the land to one side of you suddenly giving way to the endless ocean. Make pit stops at some of India’s most famous beaches on your way.

Catch your first train in Mumbai city, a façade of business and bustle that hides a sleepily beautiful history. Next stop, party central! Take your time in Goa making sure to hit all the great raves but to also understand the mysteries of its natural bounties. Take a breather a Gokarna, every bit as beautiful as Goa, but a lot less busy. Finally crawl your way across Kerala from top to bottom, stopping wherever you feel, because you really can’t go wrong in God’s own country. North Kerala is often ignored, but is a beautiful non-touristy region of Kerala. Pristine beaches, hills, and forests.

This route takes you mainly on the Konkan railway belt, one of the most beautiful railways routes in India, relaxed, tropical, hassle-free and safe.

Trains – Can be done with a mix of day and overnight trains. However, it is recommended to take as many day trains as possible as the routes are very scenic.

When to go – October to April to enjoy sunshine on the beach. The monsoon months have their own charm, and the landscape reaches peak greenness in September.

3. North to South

Delhi – Amritsar – Dharmshala – Agra – Udaipur – Mumbai – Goa – Kerala

(Route on GoogleMaps)

Take it all in in one shot! Right from Delhi, the home of the Punjabis, stronghold of the North, all the way down to beautiful Kerala ripe with bananas, beef and South Indian pride. This will be one of your best opportunities to really compare the often starkly different cultures of the country, and long distance trains have a tendency to get people talking! Watch the scenery unfold from the Golden Temples of Amritsar to the rubber forests of the ghats as you pass through some of the nation’s most vibrant cities. Delhi is only a teaser of the Punjabi culture that will grab you up in a hearty bear hug in Amritsar. Head up to Dharmshala for spiritual guidance as much as for the view. Agra and Udaipur will shower you in gorgeous architecture and Mumbai will hustle you up the greatest food you ever dreamt of. Then it’s a downward spiral through the ever blossoming beauty of Goa into the sunshine soaked-backwaters of Kerala. Give this route time, at least 3 to 4 weeks. You’re going to want to add more stops in between.

Trains – rely mainly on overnight trains, some journeys may last up to 20 hours without a break.

When to go – August to Aprli

4. Heading East

Delhi – Agra – Khajuraho – Varanasi – Darjeeling – Kolkata 

(Route on GoogleMaps)

Follow the mighty Ganges! Hit up the unmissable Delhi and Agra before steeping back in time at the temple town of Khajuraho.Take the toy train up to Darjeeling for some quiet time in the tea capital of the world before moving on to Kolkata. Point of interest—Kolkata is rumoured to have some of the best railway-side fast food in the country. That means steaming hot earthenware cups of chai, sticky, sugary sweets, overstuffed kathi rolls and spicy aloo chat. Take full advantage.

Trains – Again a mix of overnight and day trains

When to go– August to April

5. North India via short day trains

Delhi – Amritsar – Rishikesh – Agra – Jaipur – Jodhpur – Udaipur

(Route on GoogleMaps)

If you’re not up for the overnight long hauls, here’s a way to take in the scenic route in small doses. Each journey varies from 4-7 hours, so it’s a great chance to sneak in some nap-time, too. Most of the cities are in the Punjab-Rajasthan belt, except for Rishikesh. Nestled in the foothills of the Himalyas in Uttarakhand, it’s a deeply spiritual city perched on the banks of the Ganges and a good place to visit if you’re travelling to find yourself.

When to go– August to April


Two week travel routes for North India
Two week travel routes for North India

Looking at visiting India? Can’t get more than two weeks leave for it? This article outlines multiple two week travel routes/itineraries that you can follow when visiting India. We give you an overview of the routes you can follow/ destinations, the highlights of each route and modes of travel that you would have to use.

We have also tried to give you the cons of each option, this is more to help you compare routes and show you what you would be missing out on should you pick another route. In general the routes explained are moderate to quick paced trips, moving from destination to destination every other day. We have explained an estimated budget for each route too, ranging from backpacker to luxury travelers.

At India Someday, we work closely with our clients to plan and book their holiday according to their individual needs.  Should you need our help or have any questions feel free to contact us.

Note: Something we tell all our guests right at the onset, If your two week trip can be seventeen or eighteen days instead, always make the trip longer as there is a lot to see and India is a great value for money destination so adding a few days will not break the bank.

Route 1 – Varanasi, Agra and Rajasthan

If you want to visit the spiritual Varanasi, see the Taj Mahal, the deserts of Rajasthan (camp in the desert perhaps) and explore other smaller towns in Rajasthan then this route is for you!

Travel Route – Delhi – Varanasi – Agra – Jaipur – Jaisalmer – Jodhpur – Udaipur – Delhi (Route on googlemaps)

Highlights of this tour

You would be visiting some amazing and very diverse places during this trip. Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It leaves you with sights and experiences that you will remember for a lifetime. In Rajasthan, the desert town of Jaisalmer is almost like somehing out of a fairytale and you can spend an exciting night in the desert. Udaipur is a charming city of palaces and lakes and Jodhpur is home to perhaps the most impressive fort in all of India.

Read a detailed tour explanation of this tour.

What do you miss on this tour?

It is a quick paced trip to include all the cities, no stop will be more than two nights. You would not be visiting any national parks (North India offers some great ones). For budget travelers including a stop at a National Park makes your trip expensive. Rishikesh and Amritsar are fabulous towns and experiences; given a two week time frame you cannot include either of these two towns.

IMG_20140914_095705439 Cost of two week North India Tour with Varanasi

A tour like this would cost you anywhere between 500/600 (Euros/USD) per head for two weeks staying at budget places/hotels to 900/1000 (Euros/USD), if you prefer a private room and small, clean guest houses/heritage hotels. If you choose to indulge in some of the Palace hotels in Rajasthan you would spend upwards of 1800/2000 (Euros/USD) per head.

Route 2 –Starting in Delhi, moving across Rajasthan including Ranthambore National Park.

This tour is similar to the one above, but does not include Varanasi. This makes the trip a little slower, fewer internal flights and includes a wildlife stop at Ranthambore National Park.  We recommend trying to end this tour in Mumbai as you get to explore another city (entirely different from Delhi) and most international airlines offer an open jaw flight into Delhi and out of Mumbai for a similar price.

Route Delhi – Agra – Ranthambore – Jaipur – Jaisalmer – Jodhpur – Udaipur – Mumbai (Route on googlemaps)

Highlights of this tour

 By limiting yourself to one region you would be exploring it extensively. Rajasthan is a wonderful state in terms of landscape, colour, architecture, food and hospitality. You’d visit a national park and if you’re lucky maybe spot a tiger, have the chance to stay at some lovely heritage hotels, spend a night in the desert and visit the beautiful town of Udaipur.

Cons of this tour

Rajasthan, beautiful and interesting as it is, does receive a lot of tourists. Be prepared for that or travel in August and September, when it’s less likely to be crowded

Note: The Ranthambore National Park is closed during the rains, usually around mid June to the end of September. 

Cost of a Rajasthan Tour

Despite being touristy, Rajasthan has plenty of inexpensive hotel accommodation and some lovely hostels. It would fit the pocket of a budget traveler (looking at spending as little as 350/450 USD/Euros) and at the upper end, Rajasthan has some of the most stunning and expensive hotels in all of India so you could spend above 1800/2000 Euros/USD per head if you’d rather live in luxury.

Route 3 – Yoga, Trekking and the Golden temple, including Rishikesh, Amritsar and Dharmshala

If you’re a fan of trekking, yoga, a mix of nature, fitness and spirituality, you would love this route, a personal favourite of mine. While Rajasthan explodes with architecture, it lacks good adventure options.

Rishikesh is a beautiful multi-faceted stop, it is a bit of Varanasi (Ganges, funeral pyres, temples and ganga arti), some amazing adventure sports (great white water rafting, pristine river beaches, trekking and bungee jumping) and a distinct hippie vibe that ages ago dragged the Beatles and Steve jobs here.

Amritsar is home to the moving Golden Temple, people who visit it equal it to the experience of seeing Taj Mahal and some even place it above. Finally you spend time in the Himalayas, in the beautiful Buddhist town of Dharmshala and beyond.

Route – Delhi – Rishikesh – Amritsar – Dharmshala – Delhi – Agra – Delhi (Route on googlemaps)

Highlights of this tour

This tour is a wonderful mix of culture, adventure and spirituality. Rishikesh will immerse you in adventure, yoga and temples, Amritsar in its food, the golden temple and the change of guards ceremony at the Wagah Border. Your affair with nature would continue in the Himalayas, with opportunities for some great day hikes and mountain vistas.

Cons of this tour

Apart from the fact that you would be missing beautiful Rajasthan and that there is not much architecture besides the Taj Mahal and Golden Temple, we cannot think of any cons to this tour.

Note: Mid December onwards the Himalayas can get pretty cold and parts of the trekking trails are closed.

Cost of a Rishikesh, Amritsar and Dharmshala Tour

This can be a very economical tour as you can take trains and buses to get between stops. As a luxury traveler, your options in terms of stay are limited. Rishikesh has the beautiful Ananda Spa and Amritsar has a  few five star hotels, but on the whole budget accommodation options are more popular. As a budget traveller you could travel for two weeks for around 400 USD/ 350 Euros and at around 1000/900 Euros you can stay at very comfortable hotels.

Route 4 – Delhi to Darjeeling

This tour is across the heart of India. You would visit places along the river Ganges (Ganga) and its tributaries and end your trip in the beautiful hills of Darjeeling. Gwalior, Orchha (and Khajuraho) are wonderful non-touristy stops on this tour that offer ancient architecture and a glimpse of the countryside. Also included are the regular suspects Delhi, Agra and Varanasi.

Route – Delhi – Agra – Gwalior – Orchha – Khajuraho – Varanasi – Darjeeling (Route on googlemaps)

Highlights of this tour

You would be visiting a wonderful mix of touristy (but un-missible) towns and also some equally lovely non-touristy towns. A history and architecture buff will love the ancient ruins of Orchha, the Fort of Gwalior and the mesmerizing and rich temples of Khajuraho, all enmeshed in the gentle pace of rural life in India. Varanasi offers an intense spiritual experience and Darjeeling ends with nature, light treks and tea plantations.

Cons of this tour

You see none of the bigger cities in Rajasthan, the smaller towns of Orchha and Gwalior can mean virtually no other tourists, so if backpacking you may not meet many fellow travellers. You have to rely on multiple train rides for this route. Indian trains while an incredible experience, are notorious for running late and do not have the cleanest restrooms. Not all the towns have high quality accommodation on offer.

Note: The mountain state of Sikkim is gorgeous and it’s worth considering spending an extra week to explore the beautiful Buddhist state.

Cost of a Delhi to Darjeeling tour

As a budget traveller one can travel this route fairly inexpensively, the only trick is securing your train tickets. Expect the tour to cost you anywhere between 400 Euros/ 450 USD to 800 Euros/900 USD per head depending on your preferred level of comfort.

Route 5 – Little Tibet bound (Ladakh)

If the majestic cold mountains get your heart racing, this is probably your tour.

To quote from our blog “Ladakh is straight out of a fairy tale. A place of purple mountains where there’s something new to view with every turn the road takes. The landscape is dotted with typical white Chortens (small stupas built by locals) as you get near Leh and the views themselves are an overwhelming experience”

A few points you should bear in mind
  • A favorable time to visit Ladakh is from June to early October. You need to wait until the snow on the high passes melts for the roads to be motorable.
  • Visiting Ladakh makes your India trip a little expensive. To save time guests usually fly one way or both ways (Leh to Delhi, or Delhi to Leh). Also transport/ accommodation and stay is more expensive in Leh and Ladakh. Backpackers beware!

Route Delhi – Manali – Leh – Nubra Valley – Leh – Delhi

Highlights of this tour

Incredibly beautiful landscape (like none other), charming yet stunning Buddhist monasteries, warm locals and delightful villages, Tibetan food, clear mountain lakes, great hikes (but you need to be quite fit!), jaw-dropping drives and crisp mountain air. All of Leh and Ladakh is one endless highlight.

Cons of this tour

Leh and Ladakh are so remote that getting there takes time and is pretty expensive. The easiest way is to take a flight from Delhi to Leh, but that can cost a hefty sum and you may have to deal with altitude sickness as you travel from sea level to over 4000 meters.

The recommend mode of travel is by road so you gradually adjust to the altitude. However, this takes over three days. You need to take a bus to Shimla and then a two day car ride to Leh (with an overnight halt in Keylong). Although the drive is gorgeous you also have the additional expense of the high cost of living in this area.

Cost of a Delhi – Leh & Ladakh tour

Even as a budget traveler you would spend more than what you would during a two week tour elsewhere in India. Expect the tour to cost you anywhere between 700 Euros/ 800 USD to 800 Euros/900 USD per head. If you plan to fly into Leh and stay at the limited comfortable to upper end hotels then you would spend 1500 Euros/ 1600 USD per head.