Many people who travel to India experience a feeling of absolute love for the people, culture, scenery, cuisine and enigmatic lifestyle. It’s a wild nation of such extreme contrasts that it can tug on your heart quite intensely. Wherever you go, the people of India, in general, are incredibly kind and friendly. They are gracious hosts of their colourful country and welcome tourists with smiles.
If you don’t have time to explore the entire country, as it’s extremely vast, it is best to divide your journey into either Northern India or Southern India. Let’s see which is a better fit for you…
Northern India could be equated to the heartbeat of India as it’s full of activity, diversity and constant energy. It’s a lot more fast-paced than the south and is home to a vast and varied melting pot of cultures, people, languages and experiences. There is a lot of history in the northern area, with beautiful temples, forts and other buildings waiting to tell their magical tales. Try and squeeze Delhi, Old Delhi, Varanasi and Jaipur into your visit, as well as the Taj Mahal in Agra.
Northern India facts:
- Largest city: Delhi
- Area: 1,421 million km²
- Languages: Hindi, English, Urdu, Punjabi; Kashmiri, Dogri
- Landscape: Mountains, deserts, cities and villages, with loads of open, fertile space in between
- Known for: Himalayas, Jaipur, Taj Mahal, Varanasi on the banks of the Northern Ganges River
The highlight of my trip? Himalayas. Everything about Himalayas. The grandeur of the Himalayas, the diverse terrains, the energetic air, the fresh food, the real mineral water, the sweet people, the wildlife, the traditional houses, the inspiring stories of down-to-earth people in the Himalayas have been unexceptionally impressive. I have travelled extensively in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kashmir and Ladakh for backpacking, leisure and trekking. Living with the locals in the homestays in Himalayas has been so overwhelming for me that I lived with local families in Himachal Pradesh for 1.5 years when I took a break from my work.
Here are some more recommendations if you’re thinking about visiting this part of India for the first time:
- Take a shikhara ride on Dal Lake in Kashmir and uncover the interesting life of people living on the lake.
- Live with locals in their homestay in Himachal Pradesh and you would forget the hospitality of the 5 stars
- Go trekking in the Himalayas and see some of the most serene and untouched landscapes that will take your breath away
- Ladakh is a destination which I would recommend to anyone who wants to travel up north. This destination has so much of character and positive vibe, which has changed life of lot of travellers.
- Live in some farmstay in Uttarakhand and enjoy the farm fresh organic food and contribute to sustainable tourism.
- Travel responsibly. Leave only footprints and take only photographs – Medhavi, Ravenous Legs
Northern India Natural Attractions
- The River Ganges is a must-visit destination when travelling to Northern India. Make your way to the holy city of Varanasi and see what an integral part of daily life the river has become. Watching the rituals unfold before you is a truly beautiful sight to behold.
- While not really a natural attraction, the Taj Mahal is a wonder of absolute beauty, surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens. This destination, known as the world’s largest tomb, will have you completely mesmerised. Best to read up about the history before you go or hire a tour guide when you’re there to make the visit worth every moment.
- Situated near Rajasthan, Ranthambore National Park is a massive natural reserve that is home to India’s tigers. There are loads of other animals to take in on a safari, including leopards and striped hyenas, as well as some magnificent flora.
Difficult to pick one highlight only, but it would have to be Hemkund Lake at 15,197 feet. A glacial lake surrounded by 7 mountain peaks, it demanded quite a really long steep trek. The coldest, rainiest day of the trip was when we made this trek, so it meant a lot when we finally made it to the top and laid eyes on all that impossibly placid green water. It is also a much-loved place of worship and pilgrimage. Thanks to all the kind volunteers, we had hot glasses of tea and blankets waiting for us when we reached the top. After almost going hypothermic in my wet gloves, I was relieved when my fingers found sensation again.
I recommend getting in touch with a local beforehand, so you have someone to show you the ropes and guide you in a new country. Of course if you’re too adventurous to need a local or a guide, you could just as well find your own way too. As long as you follow the same common-sense rules you would in any new land. Not displaying your wealth, always looking like you have a destination, knowing a few words of the local language (Hindi), and being alert about your money and belongings.
In terms of travel, I recommend Ladakh for its raw and bizarre landscapes, though the high altitude can test your nerves. If you like your mountains tumbling in all shades of green and dipped in pleasant weather, there is a lot to love in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. If you want to be taken back a few centuries in time, remote Himalayan villages such as Netala will do just that. For more on these destinations, head over to my blog: Radically Ever After. – Namita Kulkarni
Food And Beverages
You can look forward to a number of different flavours in your foods in Northern India. Punjabi, Rajasthani, or Bengali favourites are abundant, and it’s said that Northern India curries are slightly creamier than those found in Southern India.
Curries like biryani and masala are found abundantly in Northern India and while they certainly pack a punch, they can be tamed down with roti or naan bread. Make sure you also try some parathe, which are Punjabi flatbreads that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner and typically come stuffed with a number of delicious fillings.
If you find yourself in Varanasi, make sure you try a banarasi paan, which is betel leaf doused in aromatic spices and sugary, sweet syrups. Phirni is another north Indian dessert made from ground rice, milk, cream, sugar and saffron.
Southern India has a gentler appeal than her northern counterpart. The beautiful beaches found in Goa and Kerala are a huge draw for the area, as is the second largest port and gateway to Southern India, Chennai. Southern India has the largest population of elephants in the country and is also home to a number of nature reserves. Avoid travel to the south between May and September, unless you want to get washed away by the annual monsoon.
Southern India facts:
- Largest city: Chennai
- Area: 635,780 km²
- Languages: Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Urdu, Sourashtra
- Landscape: Beaches, tropical forests
- Known for: Kerala, Goa, Chennai, Tamil Naidu
Although I loved almost everything about my time in South India, a highlight was enjoying freshly caught fish in Fort Cochin. We wandered down to the harbour, picked our fish from the local fisherman selling them there and were immediately whisked off to a street side restaurant to watch our catch be barbecued. The simple meal of rice, salad, and barbecued fish cost less than £5 but it was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten!
If you’re thinking thinking about visiting Southern India for the first, here’s quick tip: just do it! Spend more time there than you think you’ll need — there’s lots more to see and do than the famous backwaters and some of the best things aren’t obvious (like my fishy highlight) – Lucy, Wanderluce
Southern India Natural Attractions
- Kerala is the lush, green, tropical paradise that offers respite from the frenetic Indian lifestyle. Head to the beautiful beaches of Varkala and Kovalam for a day of sun on palm fringed shores.
- Fort Kochi (Cochin) is an age-old trading post on the spice route and has now become a haven for colourful restaurants, cafes and quaint hangouts. The history still lingers in the air through crumbling buildings and small reminders of the past. From here you can take a drive to Alleppey where you can hire a canoe or get on a houseboat and explore the multitude of canals.
- A day trip to Tiruvannamalai will offer the most memorable hike up the holy mountain of Arunachala. Explore temples, shrines, vegetarian cafes and yoga ashrams along the way for a truly beautiful and enlightening experience
Travel to: India
Discovering the hidden gems of North Kerala is an absolute delight. The region isn’t widely explored by tourist like other parts of Kerala and as such it is a great place to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of Kerala. Instead of visiting the popular tourist destinations do your own research and look for off beaten path places. They are not only pocket friendly and peaceful, but also give one a great insight into the lives of locals! Homestays and Farmstays are excellent options for stay instead of hotels. – Sifti, India Untravelled
Food And Beverages
Looking for a delicious culinary experience in the south? Make your way to VV Puram Food Street in Bengaluru for a multitude of exciting street foods, including jalebis, paddus, dosas and obattu, among many other delectable curries, snacks and sweet treats.
Curries in the south tend to have a more watery appeal than their creamier cousins up north. You can expect the same colourful, aromatic spices as well as flavours that you will dream about for days to come. Also, expect to eat plenty of rice and loads of legumes and pulses.
If seafood is your pleasure, then Chennai and Kochi will offer the freshest and tastiest meals you could dream of.
You won’t find a shortage of bottled water in India while liquors and local beers are available most places (although there are dry areas where they don’t sell or serve it).
Unlike north India that is home to the Himalaya regions and the Thar Desert – two contradictory terrains, southern India offers a laid back experience that is a combination of lush green mountains and incredible beaches that are spread across the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, and Maharastra. The most popular and recommended state to visit would be Kerala for its backwaters, pristine beaches, and Ayurvedic experiences. And if you are looking to experience the picturesque mountains and a slice of history, architecture, and temples, Karnataka should be on your list!
The ideal way to travel through south India is to start from Kerala or Karnataka as both the states are more welcoming, composed and safe for travelers. Travelers complete the journey in Goa, passing through these two states either from the north or the south. The best time to visit south India is winter that occurs between October to February, although the temperature doesn’t vary extremely during the rest of the year.
Must visit places in Kerala:
- Kovalam/Varkala (beaches), Alappuzha (backwaters), Wayanad & Munnar for mountains.
- Karnataka: Mysore (Heritage & Yoga), Bangalore (Huge green gardens + great nightlife), Hampi (ruins + hippie vibes), Chikmagalur (coffee plantations & mountains), and Gokarna (Beaches)
- Tamil Nadu: For all the majestic ancient temples – Madurai, Kanchipuram, Tanjore, Mahabalipuram & Vellore.
- Puducherry (Pondicherry) – A town bearing French & Portuguese influences. – Reshma, The Solo Globetrotter
So have you made your decision?
Vastly different and almost seeming as if they are different countries, both Northern India and Southern India are deserving of your exploratory exploits, but which one will you travel to first?