With so, so much to see in India, itinerary planning can be challenge, especially if you’ve only got a couple of weeks. So to save you some time, here is an example itinerary with ideas and recommendations on places to visit in this incredible country.
Planning a 2.5 week India itinerary
As with most of our trips, we were keen to see as much as possible during our short time in India, whilst also allowing some time to recharge the batteries. We had 2.5 weeks in total and a couple of ‘must-haves’, like the Taj Mahal and the Goan beaches.
In the end, we decided on a three-part itinerary: the Golden Triangle, Mumbai and Goa.
For the first part of our trip we chose to draw on the expertise and help of a professional tour operator. For the rest of the trip we travelled independently. Although a first for us, combining an organised tour with self-travel worked really well and allowed us to visit all top sights on our list.
Golden Triangle with Magic Tours of India
The first part of our trip, the Golden Triangle, was organised and facilitated by Magic Tours of India, who designed a tailor-made itinerary for us. Magic Tours were very responsive to our wishes and altered the itinerary several times until we were 100% happy. Our account manager also offered to sort out hotels for us but respected our decision to book our own accommodation. I just prefer to choose hotels myself and there didn’t seem to be much of a cost difference.
We were provided with a car and driver at our disposal throughout the entire tour and private English-speaking guides at every stop. Although he didn’t speak a word of English, our driver Yash-Paul was fantastic and we communicated just fine using hands and feet. All our guides spoke fluent English and were very knowledgeable. It was fantastic to be given an individual tour at all major sights.
A representative from Magic Tours met us at Delhi airport, provided us with detailed information about our tour as well as background information to all the sights we were going to visit. We were given an entire folder of information! He also introduced us to our driver, who dropped us off at our hotel in Karol Bagh.
Exploring New and Old Delhi
Delhi is by far the most noisy, chaotic, dusty city I have ever been to. But its two parts, New Delhi and Old Delhi, couldn’t be more different from each other.
The former characterised by impressive, colonial architecture and wide open spaces, the other a sheer labyrinth of dark, narrow streets, stuffed to the brim with anything that moves. Our guide gave us a tour of both, including a brief rickshaw tour of Old Delhi. He told us that even Delhiites struggle to spend more than a couple of hours in this Old city, so exhausting is the experience. Nonetheless, one of my all time India highlights.
I also recommend taking a look at Humayun’s Tomb, Qutb Minar, the Red Fort and Gandhi Simtri, Mahatma Gandhi’s home where he was assassinated in 1948.
The wonder of Agra
After a couple of days in Delhi, we headed to Agra, where we couldn’t wait to see India’s most famous symbol.
The Taj Mahal is a magical monument, and admiring it in all its glory just after sunrise is somehow emotional, this building makes you feel something. It’s massive but so intricate and beautiful. We got our first look at dusk, from across the river. It’s easy to understand why the riverbank is a popular place for a romantic evening stroll.
But seeing it up close, in the morning, is something else. Yes it’s incredibly busy, and you probably struggle to take the perfect ‘Princess Diana’ picture, but it doesn’t matter. It’s truly mesmerizing, and the crowds seem to disappear in its shine.
After he built the Taj Mahal to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son and confined in the Agra Fort until his death, longingly looking at his wife’s mausoleum from his prison cell. Agra Fort is a world heritage site across the river from the Taj Mahal and in my opinion not famous enough, it is fantastic.
We also visited the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, a beautifully intricate mausoleum fondly referred to as ‘Baby Taj’.
It was only a short stay, but our Hotel Atulyaa Taj was absolutely fine. Dinner was served on the roof top, with musical entertainment, next to the little swimming pool.
On the way to Jaipur, we visited Sikandra – the Tomb of Akbar the Great, which is considered an architectural masterpiece for its perfect blending of Hindu, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Jain elements.
We also stopped at Fatehpur Sikri, the old capital of the Mughal Empire that was abandoned after only 14 years due to a shortage of water.
Upon arrival in Jaipur we checked into the brilliant Umaid Bhawan Heritage Hotel. Decorated to the top, spacious and nicely furnished rooms, helpful staff, a romantic roof top restaurant, and there’s a pool, too! We would have happily stayed longer!
I’m not sure how I feel about Jaipur as a city if I’m honest. I got the impression it’s quite vast, with no real centre. But there’s a lot of good stuff to see: Jaipur City Palace with the Hawa Mahal (Windpalace) façade. Jantar Mantar – a collection of astronomical instruments from the 18th century, including the world’s largest stone sun dial. And then, outside the city, the Jal Mahal (Waterpalace) with its bustling promenade and the magnificent Amer Fort, the 16th century hilltop palace.
Celebrating Holi Festival of Colour
Our stay in Jaipur coincided with the Holi Festival of Colour. After several days of buildup the festival culminates in a day of fun-filled, colourful celebrations and contagious happiness. It was such a joy to witness and partake in this special event. We were soaked in all kinds of coloured powder, like walking rainbows. Turns out, yellow is by far the hardest colour to get off your skin and can last for days!
India’s most populous city – Mumbai
After a few days in Jaipur we said Good-bye to our driver and caught a flight from Jaipur to Mumbai. As the largest city in India by inhabitants, we expected Delhi-like chaos all over again. But Mumbai couldn’t be more different if it tried. Huge buildings, wide streets, space, and generally a very relaxed vibe.
We loved Mumbai and spent a lot of time just wandering around, exploring different areas of the city. We enjoyed watching people play cricket at the Oval Maiden, strolling along the sea promenade, nicknamed ‘the Queen’s Necklace’, and marvelling at the colonial architecture. A short boat ride away, we visited the Elephanta Cave Temples dating back to the 5th-6th century.
Our hotel, Residency Hotel Fort, was fantastic value for money. Yes, the room was on the small side, but clean and central, around 10 minutes walk from Chhatrapati Shivaji station. And a fresh and generous breakfast was also included.
Unforgettable experiences in Mumbai
There’s lots of fantastic food in India, but one of the best lunches we had was at Britannia, a long-standing Parsi restaurant. The owner, Boman Kohinoor, whose father started the business, proudly watches over the restaurant and greets all guests personally. Apparently the recipe for one of his most famous (and absolutely delicious) dishes, the berry pulau, was brought from Iran by his wife. Boman told us about his love for the Royal Family and showed us some of his treasured Royal memorabilia. Shortly after our visit, we heard in the news that William and Kate paid him a visit during their tour of India. He must have been chuffed to bits.
We caught the overnight train from Mumbai to Thivim, and from there a taxi to Candolim, Goa.
Taking a train in India is unusually complicated – you need to book your tickets in advance, but only find out if you’ve actually got a seat (or cabin in our case) if your name appears on the piece of paper stuck to the outside of the carriage. The Man in seat 61 provides a very helpful and practical summary of all there is to know a out train travel in India.
Our hotel, Seashell Beach Suites, in Candolim turned out to be a piece of heaven, with lovely rooms, a good sized pool and the best Lamb Biriyani I’ve ever had. There are plenty of restaurants along the main road in Candolim, admittedly they are a bit hit and miss but we also found a few gems there. Viva Goa, a tiny seafood restaurant, and Café Jazz stood out.
At lunchtime, we often wandered along the beach to Pete’s Shack where we enjoyed tempura vegetables and stuffed parathas and a refreshing lassi while watching the waves. There are lots of restaurants and cafe shacks along the beach, but we particularly enjoyed the tranquility of Pete’s, and it quickly became one of our favourite places of all time.
After nearly two weeks travelling around India, we had a wonderful time just relaxing by the pool, digging into food and enjoying a cool beer by the beach. One day we ventured out to Panjim, but quite frankly it was a bit of a let-down. It’s a nice enough town but after having visited so many magnificent places throughout our trip across India, Panjim failed to impress us.
Our return journey involved a short flight from Goa to Mumbai, where we spent the night in an airport hotel before boarding our flight home the next morning.
It might sound like a cliché, but I fell in love with India – its colours, food, rich history and culture make it a place second to none. Having said that, while on the surface it might easily be mistaken for paradise, it is far from it. India is a place of extreme contrasts, and some realities of its society can be difficult to understand and hard to witness. Nonetheless, India is a unique country that is changing rapidly. We only saw a small part of it this time, there’s still so much to see and I can’t wait to come back.