Meander down roads unknown as you drive to these beautiful destinations in India from Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru. Whether the mountains, beach, or just the road is calling your name, there’s a road trip for you. From the pristine valleys to sand dunes to untouched beaches, India’s landscape offers as much variety as one can get in most parts of the world combined. In conversation with Tushar Agarwal, co-founder, Adventures Overland, a leader in cross-country and international driving expeditions, we discover India, one highway at a time.
Agarwal, who has completed a road trip around the globe twice over, talks of the growing demand for Indian trips. Adventures Overland’s previous bestseller trip, ‘Road to London,’ a 50-day, 16,000 km drive, has been paused since the pandemic hit. Though countries are slowly lifting travel restrictions, Agarwal says that travellers who used to go abroad for a holiday every year, are now looking to India for unique experiences. Adventures Overland’s Spiti Valley expedition received an overwhelming response this year, prompting the founders to launch a second edition of the same. Focusing on different locations at different times of the year, Agarwal is also organizing trips to Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and North-east India. Repeating a quote by the Dalai Lama, “Once a year go someplace you’ve never been before,” Agarwal tweaks it and says, “Once a year go someplace in India you’ve never been before.”
Dubbed the ‘Land of the Gods’ Uttarakhand is paradise for adventure lovers. Drive 240 km from the capital, with a halt in Dehradun to reach the tranquil town of Rishikesh. Thrill seekers can go river rafting on the rapids of the Ganges. From there, you can head further north to the station Auli, where you can ski down snow-capped mountains that are your constant companions. Trek in the Garhwal Himalayas, then drive down to Joshimath and the famous Valley of Flowers. If you still have time on hand, check out the quiet town of Binsar where you can stay at luxurious resorts, like the Mary Budden Estate or The Kumaon. Wildlife lovers will not want to miss a visit to Jim Corbett National Park, a 5-hour drive from Binsar. Lucky ones will spot the Royal Bengal tiger, and Asiatic elephant; Jim Corbettt has the largest numbers of tigers amonst all Indian national parks.
When to visit: November
In just five hours you can escape Delhi, drive along the NH48, to reach the cultural hub of Jaipur. As you travel through the royal state, there is no shortage of luxurious palaces, havelis and forts to reside in. Make your way from Jaipur to Jaisalmer, where the magnificent sand dunes await you. From the Golden City as you arrive at the Blue City of Jodhpur, you can visit the Mehrangarh Fort or dine under the stars at Indique Restaurant in Pal Haveli. A 250 km drive from Jodhpur will take you to the City of Lakes. In Udaipur, enjoy the sights at Ambrai Ghat, boating on Lake Pichola, Jagmandir, and Ahar Museum. Complete your trip with a short stay at one of Udaipur’s many palace hotels, Taj Lake Palace, The Leela Palace, The Oberoi Udaivilas or the newly opened Raffles hotel, before heading back to Delhi.
When to visit: December to February
While Day 1 of your road trip from Mumbai to MP may be a long 11-hour drive, the sights in the heart of the country are well worth it. Reach Indore and visit the palaces of Rajwada and Lalbagh, browse Sarafa bazaar, and take in the mesmerising Kaanch Mandir. As you drive from Indore to Khajuraho you pass many important landmarks, including the Tropic of Cancer, the Sanchi Stupa, a 3rd century BC Buddhist structure. A 30-minute ride from Khajuraho are the Raneh falls, aka the Grand Canyon of India. Nearby is the Ken Gharial Sanctuary, a wildlife sanctuary, where you can sight endangered gharial crocodiles, nilgai, sambar, chinkara, chital, wild boar, and vultures.
From Khajuraho travel 4 hours to Bandhavgarh, where you can stay at luxury hotels like Taj’s Mahua Kothi and the Samode Safari Lodge. Wake up early for a morning safari at Bandhavgarh National Park and you may spot a royal Bengal tiger. Don’t worry if you don’t though, Kanha Tiger Reserve is just a 6-hour car ride away. On the way to Kanha make sure to stretch your legs at the Mandla Plant Fossils National Park. At Kanha experience a night safari in the quiet of the forest reserve. As you make your way back to Mumbai, stop by at Amravati for the night, then head to Shegaon, where the local kachoris will sustain you during the 12-hour drive back to Mumbai.
When to visit: August to February
Drive along the western coast of Maharashtra, where the view of the sea is never ending, and the beaches are unfettered with footprints. Take a Ro-Ro to Alibaug, Mumbai’s crème de la crème’s favourite getaway, then drive further down the coast all the way till Ratnagiri. 275 km of thoroughfare is peppered with spotless beaches. Forsake the more well-known beaches of Ganpatiphule for the less popular Anjarle beach, Velas beach, an olive ridley turtle hotspot and the small black sand Hedvi beach. Dapoli, a good place to pause, also has a fabulous white sand beach. The route is also a haven for foodies, as small eateries with classic Konkan seafood are easily available. For the devout, a stop at the Ganpatiphule temple is a must. Those who prefer a relaxing stay, head further down to Coco Shambala, a 4-villa luxury property on the Sindhudurg coast.
When to visit: December to May (for olive ridley turtle sighting), June to August (for a green monsoon drive)
From the metropolitan city of Bangalore, there is a lot to be explored within a short distance. While there are three roads to the ancient city of Mysuru, we recommend the Channapatna route, which passes through the toy town of the same name, an attraction that children are sure to love and adults to admire. Channapatna toys have been awarded the GI tag for their inventiveness. While you must leave early to avoid traffic, you can also visit Srirangapatna, a town that houses the Ranganathaswamy temple and Tipu Sultan’s summer palace. As you arrive at Mysore, head to any local joint that serves up its namesake dosa. In the ancient city itself, pack in a visit to the grand Mysore Palace. Textile aficionados can visit the government silk weaving factory. History buffs will enjoy a stay at the Lalitha Mahal Palace, or the Royal Orchid Brindavan Garden Palace & Spa. Extend your vacation to the hills of Coorg, with added 3-hour leg via the Mangalore-Mysore Highway or NH275. The charm of Coorg will have you relaxed in no time, and the hill station has some wonderful luxury properties like the Tamara, Evolve Back or Taj Madikeri. Explore its many coffee plantations, or the kid-friendly elephant training camp at Dubare. You can even marvel at the splendour of a Tibetan monastery, the Golden Temple, in Coorg. Alternatively, from Mysore, you can even go 90 km further south to Mudumalai National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary and try your luck at spotting the elusive tiger.
When to visit: October to February
From Bengaluru, there are three ways to the French colonial town. The shortest route is around 320 km, via NH 77, and takes about 6.5 hours; en route you can stop at Chandira Choodeswarar Temple or the Arunachaleshwara Temple, on the foothills of the Annamalai Hills. The second route, passing through Vellore-Arcot, takes around 7 hours, and lets you visit the 16th-century Vellore Fort. For the more adventurous traveller, an alternate 9-hour route exists, through NH75 and NH206, with unusual sights in transit. You can visit the historic city of temples, Kanchipuram, and pay your respects at the Kailasanatha and Ekambareshwar Temples. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mahabalipuram is also on the way, and its carvings and Shore temple are a must-see. As you reach Pondicherry, a walk along the Promenade beach is a necessity. The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is also a hotspot amongst tourists. For a complete luxury experience stay at the Palais de Mahe, Le Pondy or La Villa.
When to visit: October to March
For the love of the road:
Agarwal says, “if you ask me, Spiti Valley is the best road trip in India.” Novelist Rudyard Kipling in one of his books described Spiti Valley as “a place where the Gods live.” No more reassurance is needed to explore this pristine terrain in Himachal Pradesh. Lesser known than Ladakh, and less challenging, Spiti Valley has a peaceful Buddhist vibe. One can begin the drive to Spiti from the city of Chandigarh, go via Shimla driving through the Hindustan-Tibet Highway and circuiting back via Manali. The valley is dotted with quaint hotels, such as Hotel Grand Dewachen Earth Retreat or Spiti Village Resort. Send your friends and family a letter from the highest post office in the world, in a village called Hikkim. Travellers can even visit the world’s highest motorable village Komic, a place that is now 100% Covid vaccinated.
When to visit: In the months of June, July, and September
The untouched, less explored terrain of north-east India should be on everyone’s bucket list. The areas of West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh are easily accessible by flight, you can land at Guwahati or Siliguri. Make sure to carve out a good 2-3 weeks to immerse yourself in the culture and raw beauty of the region. Start at the popular British-era hill station of Darjeeling, where you can roam lush tea gardens, check out views of Kanchenjunga, meditate at the Japanese Temple and Peace Pagoda. From there on, journey into the state of Sikkim, where activities include a sky walk in Pelling, a trip to Nathu La, the highest altitude pass that connects India with Tibet. Don’t miss one of the highest lakes in India, the sacred Gurudongmar Lake, a detour that’s worth experiencing.
From Sikkim, drive towards Assam where you are greeted by the Root Bridges of Cherrapunjee, and the unparalleled wildlife of Kaziranga National Park. A day trip from Cherrapunjee is the village of Mawlynnong, once declared the cleanest village in Asia. Another must-see is the biggest river island in the world, Majuli, in the Brahmaputra. The island is known for the craft of traditional mask-making. 176 km from Majuli, one can get lost in the World Heritage Site of Ziro Valley in Arunachal Pradesh. Once in the valley, check out the 500-year-old Meghna Cave Temple and Midey, a popular trekking spot amongst a thicket of blue pine trees in the forest. End the trip with a visit to the second largest Buddhist monastery complex at Tawang, then drive back towards Guwahati to catch a flight home.