Last Updated on January 20, 2024 by Christine Kaaloa
Spice-laden sunsets, sun-drenched beaches, and snow-capped Himalayas….with three months backpacking India stretched out before you, where do you begin? This comprehensive guide unpacks my epic India backpacking route of 15 cities to visit in India for 3 months.
When I did my India backpacking route in 3 months back in 2012, I regretted not documenting it in its full glory. Although I shared a breakdown of each city, it helps to see an overview of what those three months looked like as a whole and the route I took.
Traveling India on a 3 month India Tourist visa
As far as India tourist visas go, the longest duration you can stay is three months. You’ll find many backpackers taking this option, as India is one of those countries where if you’re not traveling with a tour group, it can take a while to get around. Additionally, India is such a large and diverse country that three months will blow by before you know it.
Read my blog on trip planning for India.
My fifteen city route across India was covered mostly in two months as I spent a month in Dharamsala with my yoga certification program. I allotted each place anywhere from three to seven days per city and part of me played each destination by ear. I’d arrive into a city and find a place to stay on the spot. If you’re going to do that, it’s helpful to arrive early in the morning and to pack light for your India trip.
Table of Contents: 15 Unforgettable Towns: 3 Month Backpacking Itinerary India (Comprehensive India Guide)
- 1 My India Route:A 3 Month India Backpacking Itinerary
- 1.1 2. Goa
- 1.2 3. Hampi
- 1.3 4. Gokarna
- 1.4 Kerala
- 1.5 5. Cochin / Kochi
- 1.6 6. Alleypey
- 1.7 Karnartaka
- 1.8 7. Trivandrum
- 1.9 8. Kanyakumari
- 1.10 9. Madurai
- 1.11 10. Dharamsala
- 1.12 11. Amritsar
- 1.13 12. Delhi
- 1.14 13. Agra
- 1.15 Ladakh
- 1.16 14. Leh
- 1.17 15. Nubra Valley
- 1.18 Getting Around: What is the best way to get around India?
- 1.19 Is India Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
My India Route:A 3 Month India Backpacking Itinerary
I’m laying out a three-month India backpacking itinerary that takes you through 15 unforgettable cities to visit in India.
Mumbai is the pulsing metropolis of India. Watch the iconic dabbawalas (lunchbox delivery men) on their delivery hustle to corporate offices, or hop on a ferry to Elephanta Island’s ancient cave temples.
For a unique experience, hop a train from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the busiest train stations in India.
Prices in Mumbai can run a little higher due to the fact it’s Mumbai. Do your research on accommodations in advance.
Check out fun Mumbai activities & day trips
- Do a city sightseeing tour of Mumbai
- Visit Elephanta Caves
- Visit the Dhobi Ghats
- Doing a Mumbai Food Tour is a must!
Note: Dharavi Slum tours has quickly gained tourist popularity due to the Slumdog Millionaire film. If you feel conflicted about taking a tour of the slums, you should. Tours can be exploitative of the community. Please do your research in advance and make sure you are going with an ethical tour that is paying the local community for their interactions. See my 30 tips for the ethical traveler
Transportation: VIP tourist overnight bus
Goa is a hot beach destination for Indian travelers and for tourists traveling India. Beaches, swaying palms, and laid-back vibes define Goa. Hike through spice plantations, party in beach shacks, or try your hand at watersports like jet-skiing surfing or kayaking. Known for its rave party culture, you’ll find DJ beats spun on the sand, foreign backpackers echoing Bob Marley dreds and scantily clad women in leather miniskirts on the back of motorcycles. Vendors go around the beach offering massages or fresh cut fruits. It’s a bit of a pretentious adult carnival. It’s India without being Indian.
Each beach has a bit of it’s own character, whether it is DJs pumping rave vibes on the sand to private resort beaches, who allow the occasional nude sun-bather under a cabana, Goa has a mix. Read my top 5 Goa beaches.
Goa beaches and rave scene was not my cup of tea. I met up with fellow travel bloggers in Goa, which killed time for me and was spent at beach bars hiding from the sun. When I rented a motorbike and zoom-zoomed along hills, to sight see farm fields, local markets and different beach regions of Goa, the region redeemed itself and took on a vibrant new color.
- Explore North Goa for a day by car
- Nibble your way through a Goa Street Food Tour
- Do a day trip to Dudhsagar Waterfalls and Plantation
- Enjoy the bar scene of Goa with a Goa Pub crawl
- Do a Heritage Walk of Panaji, Goa’s Latin Quarter
- Visit a Goa Spice Plantation
- Experience Scuba Diving in Northern Goa
- Do a Full-day Goa Sightseeing Tour to see all that Goa has to offer
Transportation to the Next Destination: Government bus.
Travel & Safety Tips for Solo Travelers in Goa
Goa is hot, especially near the beaches. Eco-friendly sunscreen is a must and take a hat with a wide brim. Stay hydrated. It wasn’t my favorite destination for that fact. Although I did not experience any safety issues in Goa, there are a lot of travelers, so travel theft and touts can affect your stay. It’s always best to keep your street smarts about you.
Ghostly. Ruin-ly. Hampi stretches far and wide, so if you plan to see most of it, allow yourself at least three days. Some budget travelers try to walk it but for the more spread out ruins, you might want to hire a taxi to get you around. To be candid, it’s a hot and arid environment and you’ll want to take water with you on your hike. The town is separated by a river and each morning, elephants come to the river to bathe. I traversed it mostly on foot. Rent a bicycle or bike (I got into a motorbike accident) to explore the ruins and the countryside. Visit Monkey Temple for the best view overlooking all of Hampi.
Transportation: I took the Government bus to Hampi, although a tourist bus is available too.
Travel & Safety Tips for Solo Travelers in Hampi
The Hampi climate is arid and there’s little trees for shade. Definitely wear sunscreen and take a hat with a wide brim. Stay hydrated. It wasn’t my favorite destination for that fact. There are resident monkeys when you visit the temple. Be sure to seal all loose items up if you have a daypack. Visit my Hampi Guide
Don’t want to travel India alone? Join my India group trip or make it a private tour? Dive into local culture, food and off-beaten-path gems without the stress
Gokarna is one of the top five pilgrimmage towns, dedicated to the Lord Shiva. Aside from beaches, it’s more of a small town surrounded by nature. Visit the Koti Turti ghat, or do a nature walk. But there’s a bit of a crazy and rustic vibe to the town that still makes it pleasant. I took in a show at the local community theater and it was a wonderful surprise.
There are three beaches in the area and they are spread out. There are accommodations in each one of their neighborhoods, so the region of Gokarna is spread out even though the main town center is small. Accommodations range from super cheap but basic beach cabanas, guesthouses and hotels.
I met a long-time traveler in India who taught me budget tips for India to stay longer. He introduced me to buying local Indian soda, which cost a few ruppees over western ones.
- Taste Gokarna with a Gokarna food tasting tour
- Beach hop Gokarna & Sunset at Om Beach.
- Do a nature walk of Gokarna
Transportation: Government bus. Taking the government bus from Hampi, got me into Gokarna’s outdoor bus station at 3am and every business is closed at that hour. Luckily, there were other travelers on the bus and we all banded together to find a beach to sleep on. Check timetables. Beaches are also occupied by resident cows. Watch where you sleep.;)
The backwaters beckon in Kerala. That’s what defines Kerala. “God’s Country” is a land of lush lagoons, swaying coconut palms, and river houseboats. Visit Munnar’s rolling hills and tea plantations, or soak in the Ayurveda wellness scene. Kochi’s bustling markets and Mattancherry’s Jewish Synagogue offer glimpses into Kerala’s diverse heritage.
Travel & Safety Tips for Solo Travelers in Kerala
Kerala surprised me as a lush, clean and well-maintained state with universities. The climate certainly felt gentler than the previous states and the vibe was more relaxed. Although I did not experience any safety issues, scams or touts, it’s always best to keep your street smarts about you.
5. Cochin / Kochi
The Chinese fishing nets with their giant fishing nets… that’s the first image that drew me to Koch or Cochin. Kerala’s maritime jewel, Cochin, has a lot of colonial charm, bustling markets, and serene backwaters and beaches. Stroll through Fort Kochi, where Dutch and Portuguese heritage lingers in colorful streets and spice-laden air. Explore Mattancherry’s Jewish Synagogue, the oldest in the Commonwealth, and bargain for vibrant silks and spices in Jew Town.
Hop on a traditional dhow to cruise the Vembanad Lake, witnessing serene villages and lush greenery while savoring fresh seafood on board. From bustling spice markets to tranquil backwaters, Cochin offers a kaleidoscope of charm.
- See the Kochi highlights
- Take a Backwater Village eco Boat tour
- A day trip to Munnar to explore the rolling hills and tea plantations
- Spend a night on a Alapphuza backwaters boat
- Explore Kochi in comfort and safety with a private car
- Attend a traditional Kathakali dance show,where dancers tell ancient stories through elaborate makeup and expressive movements.
Transportation to the Next Destination: Local bus
Getting There: From arrival into Ernakulam train station, take taxi into Fort Kochi. The Ernakulam bus station has a nearby (walking distance) ferry that you can take direct to Fort Kochi as well. It’s much cheaper than a taxi into the area.
Alleypey is a charming town on Kerala’s backwaters is a gateway to a unique experience. I enjoyed it, found its lushness beautiful and I could see staying there a week or longer. There are surrounding canals and a main passenger boat station. The town has a really lovely Catholic church. It was the first western church I’ve seen in India– pews and all. In India, I got used to visiting a lot of Hindu and Sikh temples where you must walk barefoot out of respect. So seeing a Catholic church was a bit of culture shock.
Alleypey is known for its traditional backwater houseboat experience, a floating homestay complete with bedrooms, kitchen, and sundeck. Glide through peaceful river canals, spotting birds on marshes, fishermen pulling up baskets with fresh catch, and the occasional toddy tapper climbing palm trees extract the local palm wine. You don’t have to book a river boat to see this.
I stayed at a lovely guesthouse and rode the local community boat to its local stops. The town of Alleypey is quaint with local character. It’s a lovely town to rest in if you you’re doing a backpacking trip.
- Take a Backwater Shikkara Cruise for a day
- Enjoy a Walking Tour at Night in Alleypey
- Take a Home cooking class in Alleypey
- Explore the highlights of Alleypey by private car
Transportation to the Next Destination: Local bus
Trivandrum is a bustling college and administrative town with a train and bus station. I really wanted to practice yoga in India. Trivandrum was my hub in getting to the Sivananda Ashram, which was on the outskirts of the city. Getting to the ashram, was 30 minutes from the train station. I took a crowded local bus (the type where you see in pictures where everyone is packed like sardines- read my guide to Indian buses). After that bus experience, I quite fell in love with the local way of getting around.
The Sivananda yoga ashram is in a very chill location and you can hear lions at night, which folks say are from a nearby zoo. Read my blog on my ashram experience. I made travel friends that i’m friends with til today.
Take a Guided Walking Tour at Night
Transportation to the Next Destination: Local bus
Check out my week-long yoga ashram experience in Trivandrum
Where the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, and Bay of Bengal converge, Kanyakumari is a sight to behold.Kanyakumari has a unique charm with its beach vibes. Stroll to the beach, where streets are lined with seashell vendors.
Take a boat ride to Vivekananda Rock Memorial and visit Mata Temple and the memorial where Gandhi’s ashes were spread.
Try the dosas and pakoras in this area. You can cover Kanyakumari in 2-3 days. Check out my Kanyakumari Trip Guide.
Transportation to the Next Destination: Government buses
Dive into the vibrant chaos of Madurai, a city known for its magnificent Meenakshi Temple. Travelers can enter it but only locals are allowed to visit the heart of the temple. Marvel at the intricately carved gopurams (tower gateways), wander through bustling bazaars, and witness the vibrant “puja” (worship) ceremonies. Don’t miss the sound and light show at the temple for a mesmerizing experience. Read my Madurai Experience (it still needs updating)
Tip: Many Indian tailors can be found walking through the bazaar, if you want to get a custom outfit down. Try the Madurai dosa- it’s a banana leaf Thali. This region is known for it.
Transportation to the Next Destination: Flight to Delhi, Overnight Bus, Local bus
Dharamsala’s not just a destination. Months can melt away here as you chase mindful bliss through yoga, meditation, and a touch of Buddhism. Backpackers flock to Mcleodganj, its friendly guesthouses and international flavors nestled alongside local life and chanting monks. Bargain for long stays! It’s so serene here. Hike to Triund for breathtaking Himalayan views, or learn about Tibetan culture at the Tsuglagkhang temple complex or visit the Karmapa.
A month and a half immersed in a yoga teacher training program and the intoxicating atmosphere of “Little Tibet” left me forever changed.
This mountain haven feels worlds away from bustling India. Lush green vistas unfurl beneath a sky alive with clouds, butterflies, and the occasional eagle soaring on the thermals. Crisp mountain air carries through the streets with the faint scent of musky incense.
This “Little Tibet” holds a tiny mecca of inclined streets lined with shops, international restaurants, crimson-robed monks and souvenir shops. It’s a small community of long-staying travelers, Tibetan Buddhists and Indians and a bit of a backpacker hippie town. Weekends are perfect for hiking. It’s much cooler in this area around April. While the rest of India has you feeling like stripping down, this town will urge you to buy a wool blanket sold at one of the many shops or street vendors.
Mcleodganj’s food scene is a tantalizing tapestry of Tibetan and international flavors and street food. But a word to the wise: a rogue samosa from a street vendor sent me on a tour of the local healthcare system. My advice? Pack my street food safety guide before you go! And never venture to India without travel insurance (check out this trip insurance finder tool) – my hospital visits became a testament to its value.
Travel & Safety Tips for Solo Travelers in Dharamsala
Safety reigns supreme in this small, predominantly Buddhist town, but some paths get spooky at night – keep precautions close. Pack a surge protector! Power cuts and lightning storms love these mountains, and my laptop didn’t. Learn from my fried circuits.
Ways to get to Dharamsala:
1) long distance overnight bus. And if you book the wrong bus, potentially a transfer to another local bus or taxi. (I did this)
2) Take a plane to Gaggal Airport (you might be on the same flight as the Dalai Lama!) and a taxi or bus to Dharamsala
3) Take the train to Pathankot railway station and hail a taxi or bus
Transportation: Hired car and driver
Check out my Dharamasala Trip Guide
Surrounded by gentle farmland on the outside, getting into the heart of the Amritsar, is like walking into an organized and much cleaner version of India. Immerse yourself in the spiritual energy of Amritsar, home to the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine. Sikhs are known to be historically fierce warriors, but their spirituality practices quite the opposite. Their reliigion does not discriminate between caste, religion or gender and you can savor a langar (free community meal) in their temple complex. Don’t miss the Wagah-Border ceremony, a display of patriotism at the India-Pakistan border and if you love off-beat sites, definitely visit the Mata Temple. It was the craziest and coolest temple i’ve seen! Check out my Amritsar Guide
- Eat your way through Amritsar on a Food Walk
- Do a Amritsar Highlights and Wagah Border tour
- Explore Golden Temple & Wagah Border Ceremony
Transportation: Indian Railways, 3AC Sleeper
Delhi, India’s bustling capital offers a dizzying mix of history, culture, and modernity. Marvel at the Mughal grandeur of the Red Fort, Humayun Tomb and Qutab Minar, explore the spice markets of Chandni Chowk. I took a local tour of Chandni Chowk with Women for World. Highly recommended. shop for handcrafted treasures at Dilli Haat. Don’t miss a sunset boat ride on the Yamuna River for a peaceful escape from the city’s buzz. See my Delhi city guide
Safety Tips for Solo Travelers in Delhi
Delhi is one of the more trickier cities in India and yet, it’s a top tourist destination. Indian locals know Delhi to have occasional scammers and cheats. I’d say you’re more likely to experience this type of activity vs any physical danger like muggings. But walking the streets as a woman can feel intimidating when you see a sea of men all around and occupying all the main jobs. If you are wondering why that is, it is because Indian women usually stay indoors.
Transportation : Indian Railways, 3AC
Agra is good for a 1-2 day visit. Come face-to-face with Agra’s most exquisite architectural love letter, the Taj Mahal. Witness the white marble shimmer under the morning sun, and soak in the poignant love story of Shah Jahan and Mumitaz. If there’s time visit the Agra Fort, a majestic Mughal fortress, offers stunning views of the Taj. Then weave through Tajganj gritty charm. Haggle in alley markets, slurp lassi from a local stall, and get a cheap haircut. For a dose of social impact, grab a smoothie at Jonie’s or empower acid attack survivors at Sheroes Cafe, their courage is contagious.
- Visit the Taj Mahal and Baby Taj
- From Delhi: Taj Mahal and Agra Fort Private Sunrise Tour
- From Delhi: Taj Mahal & Agra Tour by Gatimaan Express Train
Transportation to the Next Destination: Indian Railways
Ladakh was my first Heaven on Earth destination. Visit Khardung La, the world’s highest motorable road, snakes through stark, moon-like landscapes of Nubra Valley and the Shyok River. Explore the 10th century Diskit Monastery and Thiksey Monastery and visit during the monk chants. Don’t miss the surreal gravity-defying Magnetic Hill, where cars seem to roll uphill in defiance of physics. Or do a trek to Pangong Lake, a high-altitude lake surrounded by snow-capped peaks. The heaven on earth landscape is reminiscent of Northern Pakistan, which runs parallel to Ladakh.
Best time to visit is during the Hemis Festival in summer
Visit my Ladakh Trip Highlights blog post
You can take the bus, but only during the right season, when the roads open and mountain passes are safe. You must explore Ladakh by car and bus.
Ladakh’s capital, Leh, is a dusty town with a fond Tibetan heart. It’s not beautiful like the landscapes around it, but it offers a vibrant mix of bazaars, monasteries, and stunning mountain views. Explore its sidewalk street shops, where shop owners spin their prayer wheels as they await business, and hike to Shanti Stupa for panoramic views. Acclimatize before embarking on treks.
15. Nubra Valley
Nubra Valley is a stark Ladakh landscape with vibrant life. Bactrian camels walking across sand dunes, Buddhist monasteries clinging to cliff sides, and rugged mountains house turquoise glacial lakes. Nubra’s charm lies in its dramatic contrasts that look like an alien landscape, juxtaposed with the warmth of nomadic communities. Pass through Khardung La, the world’s highest motorable pass, or sipping apricot tea with locals, Nubra Valley is a stunning landscape.
Getting Around: What is the best way to get around India?
Navigating your 3-month India adventure? Public transport reigns supreme for budget-conscious backpackers, offering an immersive experience with its quirks and charms.
Buses: My go-to for city hops. Choose VIP sleepers for comfort (book online via RedBus or 12GoAsia). Local buses are slower, hit more stops, and require small change. English proficiency varies, so prepare for some charades. My Gokarna arrival at 3 am was…adventurous (think cows and darkness). Check out my guide on how to deal with language barriers.
Hated the Indian sleeper bus: uncomfortable seats, anxiety-inducing bathrooms, and near-abandonment stories left me scarred. But hey, budget travel!
Trains: Convenient and comfy, they whisk you city to city, with bathrooms onboard (squat or broken western, be warned!). Booking at stations or through agents (no online option yet) is the norm. Find all the details in my Guide to Indian Trains!
Rideshare apps: There are a few rideshare apps but I like Uber
Definitely check out my other India transit guides:
Is India Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
Overall, I’ve felt more safe traveling India than I have in my own country. My tolerance level may be higher than others as I’ve lived in different metropolitan cities and traveled different countries.
Solo Female Safety: I felt safer in India than at home, but awareness and street smart traveling is key. Sexual harassment exists, and while media portrays India as a rape capital, research reveals other countries fare worse (research various world population sites on rape by country per capita to gain a better perspective).
Bonus: Dive deeper into my guides for the full experience!
- My 3 month India packing list
- Getting an India Tourist Visa for Americans
- Trip planning for India
- Rajasthan roadtrip itinerary- 8 days
- 25 Things to Know before traveling India (READ BEFORE YOU GO)
- my crash course as a solo traveler and an interview with another female solo traveler.
What would you add to this India backpacking route? I’ve laid out a 3-month backpacking itinerary India that takes you through 15 cities to visit in India. Would you try it?
Notes: 3 month backpacking itinerary India, cities to visit in India for 3 months, India backpacking route in 3 months