Out of the dozens of countries we have now travelled to, I think India was the most daunting when it came to planning a route.
And, as you might have already guessed, it comes down to one simple reason …
India is huge!
It is almost the size of a small continent and, with so many hundreds of towns and cities to choose from, it’s almost impossible to know where to start.
Well, after weeks of research and speaking to fellow backpackers who have been there, we designed a 3 week India itinerary that covered many of the most famous cities.
And, in the end, I’m really happy with how it turned out!
So, if you’re looking to visit many of India’s most famous sites and cities, such as the Taj Mahal or the city of Mumbai, and you’re limited to just 3 weeks in India, then this is the itinerary for you.
One of the things I love most about India is how cheap it is to travel the country in relative comfort and style.
However, that being said, they really rip you off with their visa fees!
It’s by far the most expensive visa we’ve ever had to pay and it is also the most ridiculous to try and navigate and fill out.
Which is such a shame as I think charging so much above-the-odds for a visa is stopping so many budget travellers from gaining the opportunity to visit.
As a UK citizen, I had to pay $USD136 for a 2 month visa with 2 entrances.
It was annoying having to pay this much, seeing as we only had 3 weeks to spend in the country.
But alas, someone makes the rules and we have to stick to them.
If you want to take some of the complexity out of arranging things, then you can get your Indian visa from e-Visa or a similar online agency. Do note that they charge a fee for their service, but it does take a lot of the stress out of the process.
If you're happy to sort your visa yourself like we did, then here are a few sites you can use when sorting your visa:
Now that's out the way, let’s get down to why you’re actually here ….
Here is our final 3 week India route that covered many of the major tourist spots.
NOTE: You can travel this route in either direction. We chose south to North as we started our journey in Sri Lanka and ended with a trip to Nepal.
Here's a map of the route we took ...
Goa, in itself, is a very large area that you should take time to explore.
We spent a few nights up near Vagator Beach in the north and then a couple more nights in the south near to Benaulim Beach.
To be honest, I would not recommend going to Vagator, despite so many reviews online saying it’s the nicest beach in the whole of Goa.
Instead, check out this awesome guide on Goa beaches that Cazzy wrote and create your own 5 night mini Goa itinerary.
If you really want to experience Goa, then I recommend taking an overnight train at some point.
It is possible to book a space in a First Class sleeper cabin that has air conditioning at is very comfortable and affordable.
Alternatively, book yourself a day train and that way you get to see more of the spectacular Indian countryside.
For me, Mumbai was the pinnacle of what you believe India to be like. It is a huge, crazy, hectic city that is bursting with people, colour and life.
By spending 3 nights here you really get to take it all in and explore the city in its entirety.
Alternatively, you could spend just 2 nights and then take the train north to Udaipur.
However, this would be an incredibly long journey. We flew instead.
Udaipur is a pleasant mix of typical Indian business, alongside historically significant sites.
To really make the most of Udaipur and enjoy everything it offers, you ideally need to hire a moped for the day and head outside of the city to explore the local lakes and forts.
Alternatively, you can book a space on a bus tour that takes you to many of the ones much further out.
Jodhpur is famously known as the Blue City, due to the large array of buildings covered in blue wash that makes them stand out beautifully from the right angle.
Again, there’s plenty to do here. But what I will say is that you 100% must stay in the same place as what we did!
It was cheap, architecturally stunning from the inside and had prime views of the famous Mehrangarh Fort.
Next on our 3 week backpacking route of India we have the extremely famous religious city of Pushkar.
At certain times of the year, this small charming city becomes one of the most densely populated areas anywhere in India.
It plays host to the famous Camel Festival which is hosted in November each year.
We just missed out on it, but likely wouldn't have got accommodation anyway, as the entire city books up weeks (or even months) in advance!
It is also a crucial pilgrimage site in India as it contains India’s one and only Brahma temple.
We were fortunate enough to be staying in Jaipur during the epic Hindu festival of Diwali.
Jaipur is already an incredibly exciting city filled with so many historic sites to explore.
On any other day of the year, it is a busy place to try to walk, ride or drive through.
But during Diwali, this goes to a whole nother level!
The streets are filled with millions of people celebrating the Festival Of Lights, with children constantly setting off fireworks and firecrackers either into the sky or underneath boxes so they explode.
Though there are a few key sites to see in Agra, there is one main reason this should be on your 3 week India route …
The Taj Mahal.
This is easily India’s most famous monument and it’s hardly a wonder why.
It is truly magnificent and, despite being talked about and praised so widely, it really does live up to expectations.
Just make sure you book yourself into a hotel in Agra near to the Taj Mahal so that you get to stay outside of the busy city centre and can get there as early as possible in the morning.
As the capital of India, it’s only fitting that your 3 week trip through India should either end, or begin, in New Delhi.
It is jam packed full of things to do and is a city that truly does seem to be booming.
For me, it was a little too busy and getting in and out of the city to the outskirts is an absolute nightmare.
But then again, would you expect any less?
Another reason why we picked all of these major cities in our 3 week India itinerary is because it is relatively straightforward to get between each one.
There are 4 main modes of transport you can use in India …
For the majority of journies, we used buses, and these can usually be booked very cheaply a day or two before from one of the many tour operators dotted around each city.
In fact, when in Udaipur, we went ahead and booked our bus tickets from Udaipur to Jodhpur and Jodhpur to Pushkar.
The second mode of transport that we used was train.
We took 2 train journeys, one being an overnight train from Goa to Mumbai and the other being a train from Jaipur to Agra.
The first one we booked by visiting the train station in Margao (Goa) directly and the second one we booked in Udaipur at the same tour operator who booked our bus tickets.
It is possible to book train tickets online through this website, however after numerous attempts of trying to validate our account I simply couldn't get it to work.
Instead, we booked through a tour operator who used the exact same system but charged a booking fee of around $USD0.50 each.
So for a dollar in total we saved ourselves a whole bunch of hassle and stress in trying to book them ourselves.
The third mode of transport that we used was flying.
We had two flights in total, one being from Mumbai up to Udaipur and the other being from Chennai, which is in the south of India, to Goa.
I didn't add Chennai into this 3 week itinerary of India, simply because we were only there as a stopover destination on our flight from Sri Lanka.
Flying is by far the most convenient way of covering large distances across India.
Our 4th and final mode of transport in India was Uber.
As well as using it in most cities in order to get around from place to place, we also used it to go from Pushkar to Jaipur.
It worked out as about twice the price of a bus, but this is a small price to pay for higher levels of comfort and for at least an hour shaved off the journey time.
Though this turned out to be an ideal 3 week route for us, it doesn’t mean that it’s ideal for you.
We chose this route because it covered many of the most historic and significant cities in India, and made good sense geographically.
Importantly, it covers the famous Indian Golden Triangle, which means visiting the 3 important cities of New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.
However, you are limited to just 3 weeks and want to spend more of your time relaxing and enjoying the coastline, you might wish to extend your time in Goa and cut out a few of the cities.
I still recommend trying to fit in the Golden Triangle tour if possible.
Alternatively, you might be keen to spend time practising yoga or getting away from the hustle and bustle of the cities.
In which case, there are a number of retreats dotted across India, particularly in the north.
Also, if you do want to change up your itinerary then think strategically about how you will get from place to place.
If possible, book any flights or train journeys as far in advance as possible.
First Class AC train tickets book up weeks in advance, so try and get a solid itinerary in place before you arrive in India.
Other than that, all you have left to do is embrace the hectic nature of India and prepare yourself for a true explosion of the senses!
As long as you enter the country with an open mind, then there’s no reason why you won't truly love your time there and have an unforgettable experience.
If there’s any places you think I missed off and that you have included in your own final 3 week India backpacking itinerary, then let me know in the comments below!