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12-Day Perfect India and Nepal Itineraries with Add-On Options

12-Day Perfect India and Nepal Itineraries with Add-On Options

By Ruby ZhaoUpdated Jul. 8, 2022

India and Nepal border each other, providing you a splendid cultural and scenic discovery combo in South Asia. As there are no direct flights from America or Europe to Nepal, most travelers get to Nepal via India. These two countries are usually visited as a combo.

I have spent a great amount of time researching and visiting the popular areas as well as off-the-beaten-path routes in these two countries. Here I use all we have learned to help you create wonderful memories from your India and Nepal travels.

Why do we suggest 12 days as the length of the tour? Firstly, 12 days has been the choice of most first-time visitors, and it is enough to cover the main highlights without wearing yourself out. If you prefer shorter days, just skip some of the activities recommended. If you have longer holiday, a few extension options are listed at the bottom.

How many days should I stay in India and Nepal?

Tengboche, Nepal Visit the village of Tengboche in Nepal with mountains capped with snow

The answer will depend on your travel interests.

If this is your first time to India, we would suggest you spend 8 days in India and 4 days in Nepal.

If you’re keen on natural wonders and trekking, 7 days in Nepal and 5 days in India are suggested to you.

India is around 21 times bigger than Nepal. From the spectacular Himalayan landscapes in the far north to the numerous World Heritage sites, historical and cultural cities, and vast deserts in the north, to the relaxing beaches in the middle, to the romantic backwaters and dense forests in the south, India can meet most people’s requirements for an overseas tour.

Nepal, though much smaller, also provides diverse travel experiences, holy cultural discoveries in Kathmandu Valley, different levels of trekking routes around Mt. Annapurna and Mt. Everest, and wildlife safaris in Chitwan National Park.

Is it convenient to get to Nepal from India?

Nepal has only one international airport: Tribhuvan International Airport (IATA: KTM) in Kathmandu.

To get to Kathmandu from India, there are non-stop flights available from Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi, and Kolkata.

Suggested Itinerary 1: The Classic Route for the First-Timer to India and Nepal

Taj Mahal The India trip is not complete without visiting Taj Mahal in Agra.

If you haven’t visited India and Nepal before, India’s Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur) and the cultural center of Nepal (Kathmandu Valley) are must sees.

Day 1: Arriving in Delhi

Delhi, the capital city of India, has the most convenient international flight connections to other countries, such as:

  • US: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington
  • UK: London
  • Canada: Toronto, Vancouver
  • France: Paris
  • German: Frankfurt, Munich
  • Netherlands: Amsterdam
  • Australia: Melbourne, Sydney
  • The United Arab Emirates: Dubai

Being a symbol of new India and old India, Delhi is usually the first stop on an India tour to get a first impression of this incredible country.

You might be shocked by the bumpy roads and the super-crowded traffic in Old Delhi. No matter how broad the road is, it seems it is always not enough.

When reaching New Delhi, you might feel “am I in the same city?” This is India, super different from other countries and super different even within the same city, which makes it an amazing place to visit.

Suggested read: 13 Best Hotels in Delhi

Day 2: Soak in India’s Incredible Past and Present-Day Lifestyle

Jama Masjid The sacred Jama Masjid

Some of the most interesting things to do in Delhi are:

  • Admire the sacred Jama Masjid. It is the biggest mosque in India. Imagine how magnificent and solemn it is when 20,000 Muslims pray there. It’s a good place to appreciate the evolution of Muslim culture in India.
  • Discover the bustling Chandni Chowk market. Taking a rickshaw through the market is a great way to discover local people's lifestyle. The lanes are narrow and bumpy. Hold your bag tight as it might fall out of the rickshaw. It is also a good place to select some souvenirs to bring back home.
  • Visit the Qutab Minaret and Humayun's Tomb. It is a good opportunity to get to know the great figures of Indian history and their splendid dynasties.

Some guidebooks suggest visiting the Red Fort in Delhi. We don’t recommend it so strongly if your journey includes Agra. The Agra Fort and the Red Fort are similar, but the former is better kept and has more to see.

Day 3: Fly from Delhi to Varanasi (the Holy City)

Monk beside the Ganges River Monk beside the Ganges River

Varanasi is the holiest city for Hindus. It is also called ‘India’s Light’.

It takes about 1½ hours by air. A morning flight is suggested, so that you can watch the highly-choreographed Ganga Aarti ceremony from 6pm to 7pm at Kashi Vishwanath Temple. It is a form of thanksgiving ritual to the Lord Shiva. There is no fee to visit it, but you might be encouraged to donate after the ceremony. Don’t feel pressure to do so. It is up to you.

Taking a boat ride on the Ganges River in the late afternoon is also worthwhile. You can see pilgrims washing their bodies, praying, and performing ancient rituals. 

Day 4: Explore Varanasi, Afternoon Flight to Jaipur (The Pink City)

Hawa Mahal in Jaipur Hawa Mahal: Take a photo with the landmark of the 'Pink City'.

If you don’t mind getting up early, another highlight in Varanasi is enjoying a boat ride at sunrise to see India people washing their clothes in the Ganges, performing yoga, and praying with flowers. These have been the rituals of daily life for centuries.

After breakfast, take some rest in the hotel or spend some time wandering around the old city of Varanasi. Unlike in New Delhi, there are no bright grand architectures in Varanasi. What you meet most are numerous temples, shrines, devotees, as well as poverty.

Days 5–6: Enjoy the Pleasant Pink City — Jaipur

A romantic dinner in the Amber Fort in Jaipur A romantic dinner in the Amber Fort in Jaipur

Being the capital of colorful Rajasthan and part of the Golden Triangle, along with Delhi and Agra, Jaipur is frequented by travelers all year round. It was painted pink in 1876 for the visit of Queen Elizabeth I.

Suggested places/activities in Jaipur:

  • Hawa Mahal: Take a photo with the landmark of the 'Pink City'.
  • Amber Fort: Admire the splendid achievements that medieval India gained in architecture and art.
  • Jaipur's City Palace: Explore the luxury residence of the maharajas of Jaipur.
  • Jantar Mantar: Admire the wisdom of the ancient Indians in astronomy and mathematics.
  • Enjoy a sunset view and a panoramic view of Jaipur City at Nahargarh Fort.
  • Visit a local family to learn how to cook some Indian cuisine.
  • Visit a local bazaar by tuk-tuk. The pink buildings, noisy motorbikes, wandering cows, colorful spices, and ladies with saris will show you the incredible daily pageant of India.

For a honeymoon or anniversary trip, a romantic dinner in the Amber Fort (1135 AD Restaurant) would leave some special memories for you and your love. It would be an awesome experience to visit the fort at night as well.

Day 7: Drive from Jaipor to Agra, Enjoy a Romantic Sunset View of the Taj Mahal

Enjoy a Romantic Sunset View of the Taj Mahal Enjoy a romantic sunset view of the Taj Mahal

It’s about 4 hours from Jaipur to Agra by car. Arriving at noon or early afternoon, you’d still get time to visit the Baby Taj (Itmad-ud-Daulah's Tomb).

We suggest you visit the Baby Taj before the Taj Mahal. The Baby Taj will lead you into a more intimate knowledge of its marble construction, colorful mosaics, and stone inlays. The Taj Mahal has similar construction art, but has more impressive buildings, and touching stories.

If it is sunny when you arrive in Agra, it is rewarding to have a visit of the Mehtab Bagh (‘Moonlight Garden’). It is a prefect place from which to catch the romantic sunset view of the Taj Mahal. Sit with your beloved on a stone for a photo with the Taj Mahal behind and the Yamuna River flowing beside to record a love-filled memory between you.

What's Inside the Taj Mahal? >>>

If the weather is not good for a sunset view of the Taj Mahal, you could enjoy a relaxing afternoon tea in a rooftop bar with a Taj Mahal view instead, or take a visit of the Fatehpur Sikri, about 1 hour from Agra on the way from Jaipur. It is a city built by Emperor Akbar in 1569, but was deserted later because of a lack of water.  

Day 8: Soak in the Love and History of Agra, Drive Back to Delhi

Agra Fort Agra Fort showcases the luxurious lifestyle of India’s former royal family

If getting up early is not a big hardship to you, we strongly suggest you visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise. As the sun gradually reaches its rays onto the ivory-white marble, it is perfect time for the stories between the fifth emperor of the Mughal Empire Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal to be revealed to you by your guide. In addition, the Taj Mahal will be much less crowded at sunrise, as most tourists come after the breakfast.

Agra Fort, showcasing the luxurious lifestyle of India’s former royal family, is a magnificent 16th-century fortress made of red sandstone. From Agra Fort, you can get a faraway view of the Taj Mahal. The emperor Shah Jahan was forced by his son to stay inside the Fort for eight years. What sustained him was seeing his wife’s tomb (Taj Mahal) from the window every day.

It takes about 4½ hours to drive from Agra to Delhi.

Days 9–11: Flight from Delhi to Kathmandu, Explore the Kathmandu Valley Area

Kathmandu Durbar Square Visit Kathmandu Durbar Square

The Kathmandu Valley covers three areas, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan. They are around 30 minutes’ driving from each other. As the cultural center of Nepal, temples can be seen nearly everywhere in the Kathmandu Valley.

Here are some of the most recommended landmarks/experiences in Kathmandu Valley. They are within walking distance of one another or 10–20 minute’s driving:

  • Kathmandu Durbar Square
  • Swayambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple)
  • Pashupatinath Temple
  • Boudhanath Stupa
  • Bhaktapur Durbar Square: similar to Kathmandu Durbar Square, but less crowded
  • Take the famous 1-hour Mount Everest Flight to admire the south side of Mountain Everest and other peaks like Shisha Pangma.

If you visit Nepal in the dry season (from mid-October to early April) and like to enjoy a panoramic Himalayan views including Mount Everest, an overnight stay in Nagarkot should be on your list. It takes about 1 hour from Kathmandu to Nagarkot.

Day 12: Say Goodbye to Nepal and Fly Back Home

Suggested Itinerary 2: Himalaya Trekking in Nepal with a Sip of India

Himalaya Trekking in Nepal Himalaya Trekking in Nepal

Though you will probably pass through India (Delhi’s airport) to reach Nepal, considering a hardest-to-easiest approach, we strongly suggest you start in Nepal and then end your tour in India. Hiking in Nepal requires plenty of energy.  

The trekking difficulty suggested in this itinerary is from low to medium. The routes are suitable for most travelers including 10+-years-old children.

Days 1–3: Arrive in Kathmandu, Enjoy the Kathmandu Valley

The ancient buildings in Kathmandu The ancient buildings in Kathmandu

Journey back to the Middle Ages in the hidden Kathmandu Valley palaces.

Feel the strength of belief when touching the exquisite sculptures and flying prayer flags.

Day 4: Fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara

Paragliding in Pokhara, Nepal Paragliding in Pokhara, Nepal

Pokhara is the getaway for most Himalaya trekking routes.

It takes around 30 minutes by air from Kathmandu to Pokhara. By car, it takes about 6 hours.

You can enjoy a leisurely afternoon wandering around Pokhara or enjoy a boat ride on Phewa Lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Suggested read: Best 3 Domestic Airlines in Nepal >>>

Days 5–6: Hiking near Pokhara

Marvelous Mountain Hiking in Pokhara Marvelous Mountain Hiking in Pokhara
  • Drive from Pokhara to Phedi. Trek to Dhampus: 6 km (4 miles), 2–3 hours

From Pokhara, take the scenic drive to Phedi of about 30 minutes.

From Phedi, a 1-hour uphill walk will take you to Dhampus village at 1,700 m (5,600 ft) above sea level. Then walk through villages with stunning mountain views. Dhampus is famous for yoga treks and meditation.

  • Trek from Dhampus to Sarangkot: 20 km (13 miles), 6–7 hours

Today, you can hike down hill to Sarangkot at altitude 1,500m (4,900 ft). Sarangkot is a popular hill station for Annapurna range, sunset, and sunrise views.

The reason for staying a night in Sarangkot is to see its amazing panoramic mountain views and a sunset and sunrise.

Suggested read: Everything You Need to Know about Trekking in Nepal >>>

Day 7: Beautiful Sunrise, Sarangkot to Kathmandu, Delhi Flight

Annapurna Annapurna sunrise view

Depart Sarangkot after an early start for sunrise and a more leisurely breakfast. It takes about 30 minutes’ driving from Sarangkot back to Pokhara. It also takes about 30 minutes from Pokhara to Kathmandu, where 15+ flights depart each day to Delhi. A flight takes about 2 hours.

Day 8: Soak in India’s Incredible Past and Present-Day Lifestyle

India Draw flowers on arm in India

Some of the most interesting things to do in Delhi:

  • Admire the sacred Jama Masjid, biggest mosque in India.
  • Discover the bustling Chandni Chowk market by tuk-tuk.  
  • Visit the Qutub Minaret and Humayun's Tomb.
  • Learn how to cook Indian dishes in a local family's house, or skip learning cooking and just enjoy a dining experience with a local family to learn about the local culture, taste local food, and make new friends.

Day 9: Delhi to Agra

enjoy a romantic sunset view of the Taj Mahal from Mehtab Bagh (‘Moonlight Garden’) Enjoy a romantic sunset view of the Taj Mahal from Mehtab Bagh (‘Moonlight Garden’)

Driving from Delhi to Agra takes about 4½ hours.

Visit the Baby Taj before the Taj Mahal in the afternoon, and then enjoy a romantic sunset view of the Taj Mahal from Mehtab Bagh (‘Moonlight Garden’).

Day 10: Agra

Taj Mahal Visit Taj Mahal at sunrise time to avoid the large crowds.

Soak in the love and history in Agra by visiting the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort.

Learn the art of decorating marble, if you’re interested in this handcraft. Or add a visit to the deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri, which is around 1 hour’s driving from Agra.

Day 11: Agra Back to Delhi

Visit the spice market in Delhi Visit the spice market in Delhi

Spend around 4½ hours journeying by driving back to Delhi. Enjoy a relaxing afternoon in the National Gandhi Museum or wander around a local market for some souvenirs.

Tips: You might read some information about train journeys between Delhi and Agra. I do not quite recommend train journeys in India due to hygiene factor in trains and railway stations. Also, many trains are not very punctual resulting in further inconvenience. 

You could extend the tour by another 2 nights to visit Jaipur, the Pink City, famous for various markets and marvelous palaces) before getting back to Delhi to make the tour 13 or 14 days. It takes about four hours from Agra to Jaipur and 5½ hours from Jaipur to Delhi. See Itinerary 1 above for that option.

Day 12: Fly Back Home from Delhi

Great Options for Family Groups

1. National Parks for Wildlife Safaris

Tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park in India Tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park in India

Besides the historical sites and mountain wonders, both India and Nepal have marvelous national parks for wildlife safaris.

Ranthambore National Park in India and Chitwan National Park in Nepal are both brilliant in their own ways. It takes 3 or 4 days respectively for these extensions.

If you can only do one, how to make the choice?  

Decide what you’d like to see/do… Ranthambore National Park is most popular for tiger safaris. You may also see deer and birds there. A jeep safari is the only way to explore Ranthambore. No walking tours are allowed for safety reasons. While in Chitwan, there is little chance to see tigers, but you’re more likely to see rhino and elephants. Besides a jeep safari, walking safaris and canoe/kayak rides are also available.

Rhinocero in the Chitwan National Park Sarari in the Chitwan National Park

See what fits with your itinerary and travel preferences… If it includes both Agra and Jaipur, you can add Ranthambore National Park in between. It is around 3½ hours’ driving from Jaipur and around 5½ hours from Agra.

If you’re concerned about long car journeys, Chitwan National Park can be reached by a 30-minute flight from Kathmandu to Bharatpur and then a 1-hour drive. Driving from Kathmandu, it takes about 5 hours, similar to the time from Agra to Ranthambore.

3. Visit a Local Family, Learn to Cook Some Indian Dishes

Typical Indian Food Typical Indian Food

Visiting a local family is a quick way to discover authentic Indian life. It’s a good opportunity for your children to get to know how daily life is in this very different country.

When I visited Jaipur in 2019, I visited a family in a small alley. They showed great hospitality. The kitchen was “territory” under the control of the hostess and her daughter-in-law. They introduced me to some favorite dishes including three varieties of Indian bread and three main dishes: butter chicken, bean curry, and a potato dish. The most interesting thing was to learn how to use the various Indian spices. Try your hand at cooking like the Indians.

Don’t be surprised if the hostess starts to sing or dance when cooking in their happy kitchen. Like you see in most Indian movies, singing and dancing are part of their daily life.

Suggested read: Indian Dining Etiquette >>>

Romantic Options for Honeymoon Travel

India is not just a destination of fantastic palaces, holy temples, and marvelous forts. The romantic beaches in central India and the idyllic backwaters and jungles in southern India attract numerous honeymooners each year.

1. Spend a Few Nights at a Relaxing Beach in Goa

Spend a Few Nights at a Relaxing Beach in Goa Relaxing Beach in Goa

Goa is one of the smallest states in India and is well-known for its brilliant beaches, delicious seafood, and Portuguese heritage

Some of Goa’s best beaches include Querim, Arambol, and Sinquerim, where you can indulge in many activities such as sunbathing, swimming, water-skiing, parasailing, fishing, and scuba diving.

Goa is also famous for being a spiritual center and is a great place to try yoga or traditional Ayurvedic treatments.

Traditional Ayurvedic treatment in India Traditional Ayurvedic treatment in India

It takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes by flight from Delhi to Goa. From Jaipur, it takes about 1 hour.

3–4 days at least are recommended for this extension.

2. Take a Romantic Backwater Cruise through Canals in Kerala

Take a Romantic Backwater Cruise through Canals in Kerala Take a Romantic Backwater Cruise through Canals in Kerala

The backwaters of Kerala, surrounded by coconut plantations, are areas where rural villages are connected by canals. It is rightly called the ‘Venice of the East’. There, most villages use waterways and boats as their main method of transportation.

You can take a houseboat ride through the placid waters to enjoy a peaceful night tasting the local snacks and admiring the starry sky on the upper deck. Next morning, you will wake up with the palm-fringed shores, the lush mangrove forests, and the emerald paddy fields.

To reach the backwater areas, it takes about 3 hours by air from Delhi to Kochi (also called Cochin) in Kerala, and then a 1½-hour drive to Alleppey. Kochi is a port city. Its romantic colonial streets are definitely worth a visit too.

3–4 days at least are needed for this extension.

3. Explore the Blue City of Jodhpur

The bright blue buildings in the old part of Jodhpur The bright blue buildings in the old part of Jodhpur

Jodhpur, quite different from Jaipur or Udaipur in culture and surroundings, is also located in Rajasthan.

It is the closest city to the rolling dunes of the Thar Desert and is a great base for visiting the desert tribes.

Jodhpur is most famous for its bright blue buildings in the old part of the city. In Jodhpur, you can get lost together exploring the medieval passageways or take an expedition out to the desert to have dinner under the stars.

It takes about 6 hours by car from Jaipur to Jodhpur. Flying from Delhi to Jodhpur takes about 1 hour.

4 days at least are needed for this extension, once again.

4. Have a Romantic Experience Viewing the Palaces of Udaipur (White City)

Lake Palace in Udaipur (White City) Lake Palace in Udaipur (White City)

Udaipur is a green oasis city, full of beautiful lakes and built into rolling hills, making it very different from any other city in the desert state of Rajasthan. It is a tranquil and a perfect place to go and relax after exploring other areas of India.

The hotels in Udaipur are built specifically to help you relax with large pools, spas, and beautiful gardens. The city is also full of decadent palaces, which can be seen from boats that meander through nearby lakes.

Lake Pichola and Fateh Sagar Lake are the most popular lakes to visit in Udaipur. From a boat on Lake Pichola, you can see the City Palace Complex and the Ambrai Ghat (broad riverside steps for bathing). A boat ride on Fateh Sagar Lake will take you through the rolling green hills and forests.

It takes about 7 hours by car from Jaipur to Udaipur. Flying from Delhi to Udaipur takes about 1½ hours.

3–4 days or more are recommended for this extension.

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