India trip in 2 weeks? How first-timers can plan their holiday

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(CNN) — Packing the vertiginous experience that is India into two weeks might sound like a foolish proposition. But it’s utterly possible if you’re smart about it — and quick on your feet.

Traditional wisdom has been to limit yourself to a single experience or region — beaches or temples, north or south.

But with increased air connectivity and cheap flights, first-time visitors to India can take in a proper sampler and even slow down in places long enough to enjoy it.

Days 1-4: New Delhi and Agra

New Delhi's magnificent monuments, like Humayun's Tomb, appear out of the blue around nondescript corners.

New Delhi’s magnificent monuments, like Humayun’s Tomb, appear out of the blue around nondescript corners.


Start with New Delhi, of course, and spend three days settling in.

There’s nothing like a late-night drive around Connaught Place, the Rashtrapati Bhavan and neighboring buildings to get an initial feel for the capital and the eminent monuments of the British empire.
Stay somewhere central and close to the Lodi Gardens, which you should tour early morning or evening, chasing this with a visit to Humayun’s Tomb, and finishing off with some live qawwali music in Nizammuddin (if it’s Thursday) and an opulent meat meal at Karim’s.

Wake up early on day two (you’re jet lagged, after all, so this should be easy) and tour old Dilli, breakfasting in Parathewalle Gulli before a Red Fort visit and Chandni Chawk trawl. Shop at Janpath or the more upmarket Khan Market, then enjoy dinner at one of New Delhi’s many hip eateries.

On day three, stroll through Hauz Khas Village, full of boutique shops and restaurants, have lunch there and then visit the Qutub Minar in Mehrauli — ending the day with a meal at one of the nearby establishments, most with a view of the monument.

On day four, load your gear into an air-conditioned, chauffeur-driven car and drive to Agra for the day visit to the Taj Mahal and old Mughal city of Fatehpur Sikri.

Days 5-6: Jaipur and Udaipur in Rajasthan

Hawa Mahal translated means "Palace of Winds" or "Palace of the Breeze."

Hawa Mahal translated means “Palace of Winds” or “Palace of the Breeze.”

Mark Kolbe/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images

Instead of heading back to New Delhi then, take a four-hour train directly to Jaipur in Rajasthan from here and tour this charming city of palaces, forts and bazaars for some very manageable sightseeing and shopping.

An afternoon at the Hawa Mahal, lunch at Spice Court or LMB, shopping at Johri Bazaar with a break for delicious kachoris at Rawat, followed by a visit to the Amber Fort covers your basic ground.

About 10 years ago I had to take a sleeper bus to your next stop, but today a swift, reasonable flight will get you there. Fly to Udaipur in an hour for a day in the city of the Lake Palace, which is what you’re here to see.

Days 7-10: Mumbai and Goa

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is Mumbai's main train station. Locals call it VT after its former name, Victoria Terminus.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is Mumbai’s main train station. Locals call it VT after its former name, Victoria Terminus.

Gareth Copley/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

Here’s where you depart a little from a more conventional north India-focused itinerary; skip Varanasi and fly directly from Udaipur to Mumbai, distilling your north Indian experience into the four individual experiences you’ve just had.

On your first day in Mumbai, spend a few hours cruising Colaba and the historic facade of Taj Mahal Palace hotel. See the main train station, formerly known as Victoria Terminus, and check out art galleries and boutiques on Arthur Bunder Road as well as eclectic fashion boutique Bombay Electric.

Eat local, whether it’s seafood at Trishna, Indian fusion food at Indigo or Bademiya kebabs on the street — all in Colaba — and end the day with a sunset view of the Gateway of India, a drink overlooking Marine Drive at Dome.

For dinner and after pick from one of Mumbai’s best new restaurants and clubs.

Focus your second day on the other side of that heart-lifting sea link drive to Bandra; walk around this hipster suburb and later, visit a local club.

Fly out to Goa on day three for respite from city life.

You’ll need at least two days on the halcyon northern beaches of Morjim and Mandrem, with breaks for the old churches in old Goa, Siolim and Panjim. Head to Bomra‘s in Candolim for a more fancy dinner or Goan family-style dining at Souza Lobo in mainstream Calangute; or head to Sublime for proper fusion food.

Days 11-14: South to Kerala

Enjoy a picturesque trip on Kerala's backwaters.

Enjoy a picturesque trip on Kerala’s backwaters.

AFP/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

The best way to chase a few days on the beach is a little backwater time — fly to Kochi for the Kerala experience.

A day in Kochi strolling around heritage home Fort Cochin, full of fishing nets and Portuguese houses, will prepare you for the last leg of this journey.

A two-day backwater package to Kumarakom, preferably to Coconut Lagoon, is a beautiful end to your Indian odyssey. Back in Cochin at the end of two weeks of travel, you’ll have only one last short flight back to New Delhi.

All of the internal flights you’ll take will range from roughly $40-$60 (Rs 2,500-4,500) and most are an hour or two long, saving the first-time India visitor time and energy.

Yes, you’ve left out Amritsar’s Golden Temple and Khajuraho’s erotic sculptures, beautifully crumbling Kolkata, the hill station of Darjeeling, the southern foodie cities of Bangalore and Chennai, Puducherry’s French colonial atmosphere, skiing in scenic Kashmir, trekking in the starkly beautiful Himalayan landscape of Ladakh and much more — but that’s what your second, third and fourth visits are for.

Consider this, ambitious traveler, simply a taste of the delights that await your next trip.

Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2011. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.

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