North India Itinerary

Every part of India is so different from the others. And while most people know about the mega city of Delhi, the forts and palaces of Rajasthan, and the yoga capital of Rishikesh, North India still flies very much under the radar. It’s definitely one of my favourite parts of India, and this North India itinerary will show you all the best spots.

Covering the Himalayan foothills all the way up to the Himalayan peaks themselves, North India has some incredibly spectacular landscapes. But it’s much more than mountains, you’ll also discover Tibetan Buddhism in Ladakh, the holiest Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, and the old mosques in Kashmir.

If you have a month of your time, then this North India itinerary will help you travel in a loop up from Delhi to the Himalayas and back. Trust me, this is a real adventure; so be prepared for some long road trips, remote places, and friendly faces.

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Where is North India?

The term “North India” can be a little ambiguous, especially when it comes to which states and territories are included. Most people consider it to include Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Uttar Pradesh, and Chandigarh.

However, for the purpose of this itinerary, I’m mostly referring to the states north of Delhi as North India, especially those found in the Himalayas and Himalayan foothills. This excludes Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan from the list above.

With a month, you can explore these mountain regions of India quite easily. These states also share a similar climate, making them a little different to Rajasthan and other parts of India.

North India itinerary pin

Best Time to Visit North India

Depending on which parts of North India you plan on visiting, you can visit at any time of year. However, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh are best explored in the summer months. From May until October is when you can easily visit the Indian Himalayas by road and most of the sights and trekking routes will be open. This is when I recommend to do this North India itinerary.

Most of the rest of India sees monsoon weather at this time. This means when visiting Delhi, Punjab, and Uttarakhand, it will be very hot and rainy. However, with such a short weather window for Ladakh and the mountains, it means you’ll have to put up with the heat, humidity and rain in some places on this itinerary. This means you’ll have to pack a wide variety of clothing!

Road to Spiti Valley
Road to Spiti Valley

How to Get Around North India

Almost every part of North India is connected by some form of public transport, even the mountainous regions that seem impossible to reach will have some connections by bus or shared taxi.

You’ll find limited trains. The main routes on this itinerary are connecting Delhi to Amritsar and Rishikesh to Delhi. However, anywhere north of these places, you’ll be relying mostly on buses and shared taxis. The mountain regions aren’t accessible by train, but luckily the buses are quite reliable. You don’t necessarily have to pre-book bus tickets on most of these routes, but you can use RedBus for booking some of them, while others you’ll have to do directly at the station.

I should warn you though that some of these roads up to Ladakh and some parts of Himachal Pradesh are not for the faint hearted. They can be rough, unsealed, windy, steep, and very long. But, they are truly spectacular, and undoubtedly some of the most beautiful drives in the world. I did say it was going to be an adventure!

Driving to Lamayuru
Driving to Lamayuru in Ladakh

How Long to Spend in North India

This itinerary is focused on a month in north India. However, you could easily spend longer if you have the time. Adding a couple of days onto places like Dharamshala, Leh, Manali, and Rishikesh would be ideal. Or, you could add Rajasthan to the itinerary too if you had an additional couple of weeks to spare.

If you only have two weeks instead of a month , then you could do, Delhi, Amritsar, Dharamshala, Manali, Rishikesh and back to Delhi, which leaves out the Himalayan regions of the itinerary below, but still gives you a good taste of North India.

Alternatively, you could also do Delhi, Amritsar, Srinagar, Leh, Manali, and back to Delhi in two weeks, if you really wanted to get up to the Himalayas and skip some of the more tourist-oriented places.

Sunset from Tsemo Monastery
Sunset from Tsemo Monastery in Leh

Ultimate North India Itinerary: 1 Month in the Indian Himalayas

This itinerary does have you moving around a bit with some very long drives, but unfortunately (or fortunately, if you’re like me, and enjoy the long drives) that is just part of the adventure in this region. If you have more time, you can add in some rest days to recover from the long drives. Here’s the overview of my North India itinerary for one month:

  • Delhi 2 days
  • Amritsar 2 days
  • Dharamshala 2 days
  • Jammu 1 day
  • Srinagar 3 days 
  • Aru Valley 2 days
  • Leh 7 days
  • Manali 2 days
  • Kaza 3 days
  • Shimla 2 days
  • Rishikesh 2 days
  • Delhi 1 day
Tuk tuks in Delhi

Delhi – 2 days

How to get there: Fly into Delhi International Airport

Where to stay: Joeys Hostel (budget), Casa Central (mid-range) or Maidens Hotel New Delhi (luxury)

Best places to eat: Karim’s Restaurant (family owned for over 100 years) and Andhra Pradesh Bhavan Canteen (budget place serving cheap and delicious thalis and biryani)

While a lot of people fly in and move on from Delhi straight away, I suggest at least spending a couple of days there. While it can be chaotic, overwhelming, and loud, it is the heart and soul of India, and there’s actually a lot of things to do in Delhi.

With two days, I suggest the following places:

  • Old Delhi and Chandni Chowk: The middle of the city where you can find the main market area, incredible street food, and much of the chaos that India is known for.
  • Red Fort: The Mughal-era fort is in Old Delhi and houses a museum. It’s a beautiful place to wander around and admire the grand architecture.
  • Jama Masjid: The biggest mosque in the city is a centre piece of the Muslim community near Old Delhi and has some of Delhi’s best restaurants surrounding it.
  • Connaught Place: Delhi’s main shopping mall area with almost every brand and store you can think of housed in old colonial buildings.
  • India Gate: Huge arc memorial commemorating WWI and an impressive sight.
  • Humayun’s Tomb: A beautiful sandstone tomb built for a Mughal Emperor in 1572 and surrounded by stunning gardens.
  • Lodi Gardens: One of the most beautiful urban parks in the city, a British era green space with ancient tombs, trees, flowers and a lake.
Golden Temple Amritsar
Golden Temple Amritsar

Amritsar – 2 days

How to get there: Overnight bus or train from Delhi taking around 8-9 hours

Where to stay: Madpackers Amritsar (budget) or City View With Garden (mid-range) or Ranjit’s Svaasa Amritsar (luxury)

Best places to eat: Golden Temple (meals served all day free to everyone) and Kesar Da Dhaba (over 100 years serving Punjabi food)

The city of Amritsar is known for being home to the holiest site in the world for Sikhs; the Golden Temple. The complex is one of the most beautiful of its kind in India, with a shimmering gold temple jutting out onto a pond.

Millions of people visit the temple every year, and everyone is welcome to enter for free. You must cover your head (both men and women), but there are scarves available there to use or bring your own.

Golden Temple kitchen
Golden Temple kitchen

You really only need a few hours to enjoy the temple and eat at the world’s biggest kitchen. Serving food to everyone for free through all hours of the day and into the night in the complex, it’s one of the most incredible experiences to have in India.

If you have a bit more time on your full day in Amritsar, then you can also head out to see the wild and wacky Wagah Border Show. Every single day of the year, the Indian and Pakistan border police and military put on a show at the border crossing. There’s music and dancing, with some added aggression that is amusing and maybe a little concerning. It’s a very interesting thing to watch, albeit a little bizarre. You can get a taxi out to the complex or join a tour.

View from Bhagsu Waterfall
View from Bhagsu Waterfall

Dharamshala / McLeod Ganj – 2 days

How to get there: HRTC government bus from Amritsar in the morning taking around 7 hours

Where to stay: Moustache Hostel (budget) or The Unmad Dharamkot (mid-range)

Best places to eat: Chilly Beans Cafe and Bodhi Greens Vegan Cafe

Dharamshala or Dharamsala is a large town in the Himalayan foothills of Himachal Pradesh. It is known as Little Lhasa, as it’s been the home of the Dalai Lama since he fled Tibet decades ago. The town has a huge Tibetan influence, with many Tibetan refugees and Buddhists having migrated to the town to live.

It can be a bit confusing but within the Dharamshala area, you’ll also find McLeod Ganj, Bhagsu and Dharamkot, all smaller towns close together. But basically, the main bus station is in Dharamshala, then you’ll want to get a taxi to Mcleod Ganj (5.5 km up the mountain) or Bhagsu (just 1.5km past McLeod Ganj).

Most travellers hang out in Bhagsu or Dharamkot, which are quieter places on the slopes of the Himalayas, and home to great cafes, yoga retreats and meditation centres, and viewpoints. I tend to stay in Bhagsu, as it’s walking distance to most sights (if you don’t mind walking).

Here’s my must do activities while in Dharamshala:

Jammu – 1 day

How to get there: HRTC government bus from Dharamshala bus stand in the morning taking about 7-8 hours

Where to stay: Sandy’s Homestay (mid-range)

It’s a bit of a push but if you have the stamina, I’d recommend getting the bus from Dharamshala in the morning, arriving in Jammu in the afternoon, and jumping straight onto a night bus to Srinagar. While it’s a lot of travel on a bus in a 24 hour period, there’s not really any reason to stay in Jammu for the night and there’s very limited accommodation places.

Dal Lake at sunrise
Dal Lake at sunrise

Srinagar – 3 days

How to get there: Overnight bus from Jammu leaving between 8-9 pm

Where to stay: Zostel Srinagar (backpackers) or Lake Boulevard Guesthouse (budget) or Houseboat Altaf (mid-range)

Best places to eat: Mughal Darbar (traditional Mughal and Kashmiri food) or Krishna Vaishno Dhaba (local restaurant that is always packed full of diners)

Arriving in Srinagar instantly feels like you’ve left India and ventured to a new country. It’s a very different city than anywhere else, but it’s incredibly beautiful, with plenty of things to see, and very friendly people.

Sellers at the floating market
Sellers at the floating market

Set around the shores of Dal Lake with beautiful surrounding mountains, most people stay on a houseboat, or you can also opt for a guesthouse in the city as well. Either way, you’ll want to explore the lake a bit by boat, especially to the floating market early in the morning.

I recommend three days for Srinagar on this North India itinerary, simply because between the lake, the Mughal gardens, old fort and mosques, local food and markets, you can easily fill in time. Plus, it’s an interesting place to just chat with the locals and gain an insight into life in Kashmir.

Read more: 10 Best Things to Do in Srinagar

Horse riding in Aru valley
Horse riding in Aru Valley

Aru Valley – 2 days

How to get there: Shared taxi to Pahalgam from Srinagar taking about 3 hours and then another shared taxi to Aru Valley from Pahalgam for less than an hour

Where to stay: Rohella Guesthouse (budget) or Aru Eco Resort (mid-range)

From Srinagar, I highly recommend exploring the mountain areas of Kashmir before heading to Ladakh. The rich green mountains of Kashmir are very different to further north, and appear almost as if they belong in Austria or Switzerland.

East of Srinagar beyond the town of Pahalgam is Aru Valley, a stunning, pristine valley that is home to just a few guesthouses and camps run by locals. You can just stay a night or two to see the mountains, and head off on a day hike to get some pretty spectacular views if you have time.

Instead of Aru Valley, you could stop in Sonamarg, which is on the way to Leh, north of Srinagar. This would break up the long road journey to Ladakh from Kashmir and offer a closer look at some mountains too. However, Aru Valley has a more hidden, authentic feel, and offers more hiking options during summer.

Read more: Travel Guide to Aru Valley in Kashmir

View from Tsemo Monastery Leh
View of Leh from Tsemo Monastery

Leh, Ladakh – 7 days

How to get there: Bus or shared taxi from Srinagar taking about 12-14 hours

Where to stay: Raybo Hostel (budget) or Rock Castle Residency (mid-range)

Best places to eat: Tibetan Kitchen (best place to try local dishes and Tibetan food) and Bodhi Terrace (a rooftop restaurant offering vegan and gluten free food, with a stunning view across the mountains)

I would recommend setting aside at least a week for Leh, Ladakh. It’s a long, but spectacular drive from Srinagar to Leh, taking in some of the most jaw-dropping views along the way.

Then, you’ll likely need at least a day or two to relax and adjust to the sudden rise in altitude to 3,500m in Leh. This will give you time to explore the town at a slow pace, including the main market, cafes, Leh Palace, and Central Asian Museum.

Pangong Lake
Pangong Lake

After you feel up to it, I suggest taking a day trip to Thiksey Monastery and Hemis Monastery, two beautiful and important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries that will offer an insight into the region.

Then, I recommend taking 3-4 days to do a sightseeing tour over Khardungla Pass to Nubra Valley, Hunder, Diskit, and Pangong Lake. With 4 days, you could add on Turtuk too. You can either hire a private driver or join one of the many shared tours leaving Leh every day during high season from May until September.

Read more: Comprehensive Travel Guide to Ladakh

Manali – 2 days

How to get there: Government bus or shared taxi from Leh taking about 14-16 hours

Where to stay: Young Monk Hostel (budget) or Hotel Apple Flower (mid-range)

Best places to eat: Shiva Garden Cafe and Renaissance Italian and Mexican Restaurant

No North India itinerary would be complete without a stop in Manali. What was once a small mountain village on the edge of Beas River has exploded into a huge mini-city across both sides of the water and up into the hills behind. The popular getaway in Himachal Pradesh offers Delhi residents an escape all year round, with snow fields in winter and a cooler, yet still rainy climate in summer.

New Manali town is where you’ll find the bus stand, mall road, and bustling streets. But, it’s Old Manali where the backpackers and foreign travellers hangout. Full of tourist shops, hippy cafes, and cheap accommodation, it’s a nice little haven to rest in between long driving days.

While lounging in the cafes all day is a good option, you can also explore a little bit if you have time. I recommend checking out:

  • Manu Temple in Old Manali
  • Hadimba Devi Temple
  • Jogini Waterfall
View of Kaza from Buddha Statue
View of Kaza from Buddha Statue

Kaza, Spiti Valley – 3 days

How to get there: Shared taxi or bus from Manali taking about 10-12 hours

Where to stay: Surkhang Homestay (budget) or The Alpinist Retreat (mid-range)

Best places to eat: Sol Cafe and Cafe Piti

Get ready for some more awe-inspiring landscapes on a trip to Spiti Valley. You might be sick of long driving days, but this is worth it if you have the stamina. The drive from Manali to Kaza takes the new Atal Tunnel and then continues on a pretty rough, dirt road for the rest of the way.

It’s not for the faint-hearted, crossing waterfalls, washed out corners, and a high pass over 4500m, Kunzum La. However, the incredible views watching the terrain change from green mountains to the high altitude desert once more is breathtaking (quite literally!).

If you have an extra couple of days up your sleeve and take a private taxi/vehicle from Manali to Spiti Valley, add a stop on the way at Chandratal Lake for 1 night.

Key Monastery
Key Monastery

The good thing is after being in Ladakh, arriving in Kaza at 3,800m should not affect you too much. I recommend at least three days to really explore the area and enjoy the landscape. Spend a day walking around town, visiting the main monastery in Kaza, and trying the local food at Cafe Piti.

Then, head off on a day trip to Komik, Hikkim, Langza, Kibber and Key Monastery with a taxi driver. These are some of the highest, remotest villages in the world. Then spend a day on another day trip or even overnight trip to Pin Valley or Tabo or Nako (Tabo and Nako are on your way to Shimla so it can be convenient as your last night in Spiti Valley).

Read more: A Travel Guide to Spiti Valley in North India

Shimla at sunset
Shimla at sunset

Shimla – 2 days

How to get there: HRTC government bus from Kaza via Rekong Peo (you’ll have to spend a night in Rekong Peo most likely unless you continue travelling through the night)

Where to stay: Hosteller Shimla (budget) or Jakhu Vibes (mid-range)

Best places to eat: Indian Coffee House (longstanding old school tea and coffee house serving South Indian food) and Himachali Rasoi (traditional North Indian food)

You’ll need to obtain a permit to take the road via Tabo and Nako to Rekong Peo and onto Shimla from Kaza (but it saves you heading back the same way to Manali). Head to the Deputy Commissioner Office in Kaza to fill out the paper work and then you can book a bus ticket to Rekong Peo from Kaza for the next day. Read more about it in my guide to Spiti Valley.

There is a daily bus leaving for Reckong Peo at around 7am and taking around nine hours. Then to reach Shimla, there are a few buses each day travelling the long 10 hour journey from Rekong Peo. I’d recommend staying the night in Reckong Peo (or Kalpa which is a nicer village not far from Rekong Peo) to break the two bus journeys up.

Shimla used to be a small hill station that the British and Indian elite would use to escape the heat of Delhi. Now it’s become a huge sprawling city spread across the rolling hills of Himachal. It’s still a beautiful place to visit, but it can be extremely busy.

There’s not a whole lot to do within the town itself, but simply spend time walking around the streets and main area called Mall Road and The Ridge, which are filled with market stalls, restaurants and great views. Or, you can opt for a half-day walking tour with a guide if you want to learn a bit more from a local.

Shimla makes for a convenient place for a stopover, especially after visiting Spiti Valley and Ladakh and on the way back towards Delhi. Two days is enough to check it out and move onto Rishikesh.

Rishikesh Ganges River
View of the Ganges River in Rishikesh

Rishikesh – 2 days

How to get there: HRTC bus from Shimla to Dehradun or Haridwar (ask to be dropped at Nepali Farm, the stop closest to Rishikesh) either overnight or during the day taking around 9 hours

Where to stay: Blue Jay Hostel (budget) or Seventh Heaven Inn (mid-range)

Best places to eat: Wheatgrass Cafe (tiny healthy cafe at cheap prices), Tat Cafe (beautiful view of the Ganges, wide variety of food), Rustic Road Cafe (delicious Indian food at reasonable prices, plus gluten free and vegan options), and Pure Soul Cafe (healthy, vegan and gluten free friendly cafe)

Depending on what you want to do in Rishikesh, you can spend a couple of days or much much longer. Known as the yoga capital of the world and a sacred place turned hippy town made famous by The Beatles who visited in the 1960s, Rishikesh attracts backpackers, yogis, wellness warriors, adrenaline junkies, and digital nomads.

Yoga studio
Yoga studio

Located across both banks of the Ganges River, the town is filed with many yoga ashrams and meditation centres. They all offer walk-in classes, yoga teacher trainings, and retreats. But it’s not all about the yoga, vegan cafes, and sound healing classes. There are also some fun adventure activities to do nearby as well.

Here’s what I recommend you do over 2 or more days in Rishikesh:

  • Enjoy a walk-in yoga class (I highly recommend Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram pictured above)
  • Wander around the graffitied Beatles Ashram
  • Eat yummy vegan food
  • Evening Aarti Ceremony on the Ganges
  • White water rafting down the Ganges River
  • Kunjapuri Temple at sunrise
  • Bungee Jumping
  • Walk to Neer Waterfall or the Secret Waterfall
The Beatles Ashram, Rishikesh

Delhi – 1 day

How to get there: Many buses leave for Delhi from Rishikesh throughout the day and night or you can take the train as well

Back in Delhi, you can either tick off some more sights that you didn’t see at the beginning of your trip or you can just relax before your flight home. I hope this North India itinerary helps you plan your trip!

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