For anyone going to India for the first time, it’s a total sensory overload. The people, food, attractions, traffic, etc. is a lot to get used to for anyone who hasn’t seen it before. I can’t think of a single place I’ve been that I was more apprehensive about visiting than India because of all the stories I’d heard from others who had been there before. However, hopefully these tips and this basic 7 day itinerary will give you a decent idea of how to navigate Central India.
Day 1 – Arrive in Mumbai
Day 2 – Explore Mumbai
Day 3 – Depart Mumbai and Arrive in Indore
Day 4 – Maheshwar and Mandu
Day 5 – Depart Indore and Arrive in Bangalore
Day 6 – Explore Bangalore
Day 7 – On to your next advanture
Before diving in, know that India is a massive country and although the country is accessible via air and rail, it doesn’t mean getting from the airport or the train station to your hotel is necessarily a simple train or metro ride. Also, don’t expect easy access to major tourist stops just off public transport (other than buses). I say this because anyone who thinks they can hit all the big sites of India in one trip is seriously underestimating the time it takes to get from point A to B. I would strongly urge anyone to divide the country into manageable portions so you can see everything you want as well as not feel rushed during your trip.
Day 1 – Arrival in Mumbai
Most international flights are going to fly into either Delhi or Mumbai. Since you’ll be visiting Central India, you’ll be flying into Mumbai international airport. Arriving in Mumbai and getting through immigration is surprisingly easy in Mumbai and depending on your arrival time and the amount of passenger traffic, you should be able to get through without much hassle.
Remember that you will need a visa to enter India BEFORE arrival but India has made the visa process much simpler now in that certain countries can get an e visa vs. getting an actual visa. Although I’d recommend getting an actual visa if you have the time to plan, any backpackers who like the idea of just going should find this option really great. You can read more about my experience with getting an Indian visa HERE.
Getting an Uber from the airport is either confusing or I completely missed the signs. The Uber pickup is on P7 on the west side of the parking structure. If you’re on the east side, that’s where you’ll get a cab so make sure you go to the right location. Now since you’ll be in parking structure under layers of concrete, I found it massively frustrating to get a signal so you may want to find the Uber pick up spot first, then go inside or somewhere to request the Uber and then come back. I didn’t see any signs saying I was supposed to go to P7 or anything differentiating the east and west pick up spots so I was stuck for a good 30 mins. However, you’ll know you’re at the Uber pick up stop since you’ll see Uber personnel there directing traffic.
Depending on your arrival and the location of your hotel, it could take as little as 30 mins and as much as 90+ to get into town. Once you cross the bridge and get into Mumbai proper, there’s a good chance your driver will be navigating through pedestrians, tuk tuks, and other drivers who will do anything to improve their position. You’ll need a fair amount of patience if you arrive midday.
Day 2 – Explore Mumbai
I’d say you’ll want to wake up fairly early and get to the Gateway of India to get on the first ferry to the Elephanta Caves (you can read my review HERE). Just remember that the ferry takes an hour both ways so the earliest you can get back to Mumbai is around 1pm. If you get there a bit early, you can enjoy the Gateway to India as well before all the tourists arrive for the day. Otherwise, you can walk around when you get back but know that there will certainly be more people there at 1pm vs. 8:30am.
From there, I’d recommend taking a food tasting tour (you can read my review HERE) since a lot of those will occur during the late afternoon/early evening hours when it cools down and all the food stalls open up. It’ll be a long day but since you’re going to zip through Mumbai, it’s worth it and you can sleep in tonight.
At night, I’d recommend walking around and at the very least see the Victoria Terminus train station at night. It’s beautiful to see it all lit up at night and there is a viewing deck (for free) just across the street. If you’re still hungry after the food tour, you can walk around and look for any number of street vendors as they’ll be selling food all throughout the night.
Tip – I relied solely on Uber when I was in India because it was so cheap to use. However, finding a quiet or less hectic pick up spot so you can spot your Uber driver or so they can spot you can be really challenging. What I did was walk down to the Starbucks (about a 10 min stroll from the Victoria Terminus) and use that as my pickup point. I wouldn’t use Victoria Terminus or the Gateway of India as a pickup point since there will be so many people, it’ll be impossible to find your driver and vice versa.
Day 3 – Indore and Explore
Depending on your airline, you’ll have to either head over to the domestic airport or the international airport. Although they are the same technically, they’re located in different areas so if your flight leaves from the domestic airport, you’ll want to make sure you’re dropped off at Terminal 1 (aka the domestic airport).
Remember that air travel in India is much more of a process due to security concerns so you’ll want to give yourself a little more time than you might give yourself for a domestic flight in the US. To enter the airport, you’ll need to go through a security check where they’ll check your boarding pass (or proof of travel) along with your passport. Your bags will also be scanned and you’ll have to go through a metal detector (but this is a general screening and not the formal security screening).
When checking in, if you paid for your ticket with a card that isn’t issued in India, you won’t be able to check in online or even at the airport kiosks. You’ll need to go to the counter where they’ll need to verify the card you used is actually yours so again, if you’re like me and like to have everything ready before arriving at the airport, give yourself some extra time. As a side note, it was my impression that the check in staff were NOT in a hurry to keep the line moving so you may end up spending more time in line than you plan.
Then, you need to go through airport security where you’ll need to not only remove all electronics from your bag, you’ll also need to remove all wires, batteries, camera, and anything else electronic related. If you don’t, your bag will be set aside and they’ll ask you to remove everything and then put it back through the scanner. All this just takes more time so I’d say all told, it took a good 90 mins to get to my gate from the time I first arrived.
Your flight from Mumbai to Indore is about 90 mins so it’s a quick flight. I flew IndiGo (you can read my review HERE) and I thought the flight was enjoyable. They even tried to do a full service on the flight even though they didn’t reach my seat since I was near the rear of the plane and the flight is way to short.
Arrival at Indore Airport is like arriving at a regional airport since it’s small and incredibly easy to navigate. However, the airport is a good 20 to 30 mins away from the “city” so it’s a bit of a drive. Luckily, Uber is super cheap here so it won’t cost much.
Tip – When choosing a place to stay in Indore, try to stay out of the center of town. Although you may want to stay there since that’s where all the markets are, the city is incredibly hectic and loud so if you want any sort of quiet, it’ll be nearly impossible to get. However, you can easily get to the town with an Uber and it shouldn’t take more than 20 mins to get to the city regardless of where you are since the city isn’t that large.
Indore also has a massive food market but it really doesn’t get going until about 9pm so you’ll have ample time to get there and taste all the food. If you get there earlier than that, the market is basically a giant swap meet selling all kinds of random things EXCEPT food so if you like to eat early like I do, it could be a long wait. I was also warned from a few people that the food cooked at the market may not be the most hygienic so you’ll have to eat at your own risk.
Day 4 – Maheshwar and Mandu
So the only real reason to come to Indore is to visit Mandu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s certainly well worth the visit. While you’re in Indore, you might as well visit Maheshwar since you’re right there, but Mandu is certainly the main attraction (you can see my review of both HERE). It’s really worth the visit but this is an all day trip and you will be exhausted by the end of the day. It is a lot of walking and add the early start and I was plenty exhausted by the time I got back to my hotel.
Tip – Since you’ll be taking a few Ubers during your short stay in Indore, just ask one of them if you can hire them for the day. Since Indore is a small city, almost any Uber driver will either offer their services or will be ecstatic to drive you for the day. You’ll also get a much better deal negotiating directly with the driver vs. going through your hotel or a tour.
Day 5 – Depart Indore and Arrive at Bangalore
After an exhaustive day at Indore, a late wake up call might be a welcome change of pace. Where you go next is entirely up to you. You will have a few options but you’ll also want to think about where you want to depart from (to eventually leave and go onward). If you want, you can certainly go to New Delhi since there are a lot of flights from Indore that fly nonstop. You could also go backwards to Bombay and spend a couple days back to where you started.
I decided to go to Bangalore for 2 reasons. First, I hated the idea of going backwards in my journey and wanted to explore a new city. Secondly, Bangalore is the 3rd busiest airport in India (behind Delhi and Mumbai) so getting an international flight from Bangalore is going to be fairly easy. Since I was going onward to Sri Lanka, it was the best option for me that would not only get me a direct flight to Sri Lanka as well as shorten the flight time.
The flight from Indore to Bangalore is about 2 hours and an easy trip. Since Indore is pretty much a regional airport, it won’t take too long to check in and get through security. The whole airport is only 1 terminal and there’s isn’t much to do at all so I’d say getting there 2 hours prior is more than enough time to get to your gate (unlike other airports). However, remember what I said about not being able to check in online if you bought your ticket with an overseas credit card.
I will say you’ll want to keep an eye on the monitors for gate changes since while I was there, although there were only 4 departures, there were 2 gate changes (how does that work?).
Upon arriving in Bangalore, getting into the city is about as simple and organized an operation as I’ve ever seen. Just follow the huge signs toward the Uber pick up area. They’re clearly marked and there is a giant area marked Uber Zone to get your ride. You just order your Uber and you’ll be given a 6 digit code that you provide to the driver as you get to the front of the line. If you’re in a rush, you may want to order an Uber X vs. a regular Uber. The line for the regular Uber is much longer than the Uber X line and the cost is about a $1 USD (if that) more. But that’s up to you. There was no shortage of Uber drivers coming to pick up passengers.
Getting to the city from the airport is about an hour drive (all depending on traffic) and having gone through Mumbai, Bangalore is exactly the same. In terms of where to stay, you really can’t go wrong (from my impression). If you’re looking for a central location, you might want to check around the Cubbon Park area even though it is mostly high end hotels. However, it is near a lot of high end shops (for the shoppers) as wells museums and Commercial Street where you can find all sorts of shops. I stayed at the Marriott about 20 mins northwest from Cubbon Park and thought it was fine (you can read my review HERE).
Day 6 – Explore Bangalore
Bangalore is a big city but you really don’t need to spend too much time here because there isn’t much to do. One of the main tourist draws is the Bangalore Palace but I found it underwhelming and total waste of time and money (read my full review HERE).
However, I would recommend visiting Cubbon Park. It’s super easy to get to via the metro if you don’t want to take an Uber and to be honest, it was probably my favorite place to visit in the whole city. It’s just a nice, quiet park in the middle of the city that gives you a much needed respite from the noise and chaos of the city. Locals go there to hang out, have a picnic, or meet up with their partners for a date. Kids also go there after school and many of them were very happy to see me and eager to come over and practice their English. A group of high schoolers eagerly came over and started to talk to me about all sorts of things. It kind of reminded me of how some people in Indonesia came over to take a photo with me and other tourists as a form of bule. I thought it was fun and their excitement was infectious.
You can also visit the massive ISKON temple and join the Hare Krishnas for a service. The temple itself is free to visit but if you donate 300 rupees, you can get a sort of speed pass up to the top. I’d recommend that since it’ll allow you to avoid getting in the way of the locals who are there to worship. You won’t miss anything but it is less crowded and you’ll also be guided through the main temple. You’ll learn the prayer chant by the main guru (don’t know if that’s the right terminology) and you walk through the main temple. The best part of the whole experience comes at the end because they have a ton of food for you to eat. They’re all cheap to buy and you can get a lot of different types of food. I’m not a vegetarian but I didn’t miss a single meat product as I stuffed my face with all the different foods.
Day 7 – Depart
After a full week in India, it’s time to move on, but don’t worry since you’ll have to come back. Remember that you’ve only scratched the surface of India so doing it in one trip is impossible unless you have a few months to spend.
When leaving Bangalore, just know that it is a giant mess that makes no sense (read my full review HERE) so make sure you give yourself enough time.
I would not recommend India as a country for someone to visit for their first solo trip overseas. It’s incredibly overwhelming with the crowding, cars, noise, and poverty in many areas. When I visited, it was my 40th country traveling solo but even I found it overwhelming. The toughest transition for me was the number of people along with the cars and noise. It took a few hours of me walking around to get used to.
That said, I NEVER felt unsafe in any way. Of course you’ll want to take the normal precautions that you take when visiting any country but I never felt threatened in any way. Now I can only speak for myself but that was my experience.
Central India was a real treat for me. I love visiting UNESCO sites and other historic sites so the city I enjoyed most was Indore because walking around Mandu was a real neat experience. Although it was a bit of a pain to get to, it was certainly worth the time and effort. Just mentally prepare yourself for huge change in scenery since I think even the most seasoned traveler will admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed their first time to India.