(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.
Days 1-4: New Delhi and Agra
New Delhi’s magnificent monuments, like Humayun’s Tomb, appear out of the blue around nondescript corners.
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Start with New Delhi, of course, and spend three days settling in.
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.
Days 5-6: Jaipur and Udaipur in Rajasthan
Hawa Mahal translated means “Palace of Winds” or “Palace of the Breeze.”
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
Days 11-14: South to Kerala
Enjoy a picturesque trip on Kerala’s backwaters.
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.