When we think of road tripping, our mind automatically jumps to fanciful images of driving through USA’s Route 66 or Scotland’s North Coast 500. Yet we tend to forget about the routes less traveled. India as one of the most diverse countries in the world contains stunning landscapes which contrast yet complement one another through their colors. And these breathtaking views come hand in hand with a culture insistent on welcoming every wanderer into their country with open arms. Follow this guide’s selection of the top seven best road trips in India and you’ll leave this magnificent country with special memories which will last a lifetime.
Manali to Leh
We couldn’t write a guide to road tripping around India without including the infamous Indian stretch Manali to Leh. This journey is truly indescribable and is said to grant travelers with a new sense of self. Yet along the way you’ll be sure to question your sanity and limits – especially when driving up the notorious Rohtang Pass where the risk of avalanches and landslides hangs in the air. This pass is located at a whopping 3978 meters, so don’t dare attempt this if you have even the slightest fear of heights! A not so fun fact: the Rohtang Pass translates from the Ladakhi language – the Tibetic language spoken in the Ladakh region – to ‘pile of corpses’, referencing the sheer number of travelers who have died on the road. Therefore, although it can be easy to become distracted by the views, it’s best to keep both eyes on the road at all times and save taking in the scenery for the pitstops.
Yet don’t let this formidable pass dissuade you from experiencing one of the greatest road trips out there. Normally open from early June until mid-September, this road trip is a comfortable 478 kilometers long, allowing for travelers to stop and rest for a few nights but not become mentally exhausted like on week long slogs. And there are plenty of fantastic stopover points like Khoksar where locals cook up delicious cuisine for weary adventurers. Although this road trip certainly isn’t for the faint hearted, looking out over the lofty white peaks at what feels like the top of the world is an indescribable experience.
Bangalore to Munnar
Next up is the short but sweet road trip from Bangalore to Munnar. This ten-hour road trip along the Udumalpet Route – covering a distance of 485 kilometers – is a wonderfully scenic drive along the NH 44 and 48 with a selection of wonderous stopovers to choose from. Whether you’re in the mood for a little bit of culture, the Chandira Choodeswarar Temple is only an extra thirty minutes up the road. Or if you fancy getting back to nature, the Hogenakkal Falls are only a small jump away.
The road may be curvy but there are not many dangerous blind spots on route. We recommend that such a trip should be made during the monsoon season, at the point where nature is truly brimming with life. Don’t get distracted as you stare out into the distance at the picturesque greenery only enhanced by the abundance of waterfalls. This route truly offers travelers the opportunity to experience nature at its peak.
And when you arrive in Munnar, the slog of the road trip will be more than worth it. Munnar is the destination where the mountain streams of Nallathanni, Mudrapuza, and Kundala meet. This incredible display of natural beauty attracts tourists from around the world, especially in May when the weather is just right. They all come together at Top Station to witness nature at its finest, overlooking the Western Ghats. It’s a road trip that you must drive at least once.
Pamban Bridge to Rameswaram
When contemplating road trip culture, many of us picture an interminable slog. Traversing half a country in only a couple of days sometimes doesn’t seem worthwhile for the laid-back traveler who wants to relax on their holidays. Yet sometimes, the most worthwhile road trips are short in length but great in momentousness. The drive from Pamban Bridge to Rameswaram is just that – twenty minutes of pure pleasure. This 100-year old railway bridge, surrounded by calming green and blue waters, is certainly an engineering marvel. And it’s been through a lot – even surviving a large-scale cyclone in 1964 that obliterated the port town Dhanushkodi.
Although there aren’t many trains on this route, if you plan carefully then you could be lucky enough to catch the train crossing the bridge or even the bridge opening for ships to pass by. An average of ten to fifteen boats and ships pass beneath the bridge each month. Consequently, to witness this, you’d have to possess a large dosage of change on your side.
One top tip to ensure that your road trip won’t be stressful in any way is to drive on the road bridge outside of peak travel hours. During rush hours, traffic on the bridge sometimes slows to a halt – given that the bridge is the only way in to Rameswaram. Although if you have an aversion towards getting up early and traffic doesn’t stress you then spending more time in the middle of the sea could be an advantage! And once crossing the bridge into this holy town, you just have to visit the divine Rameswaram Hindu temple, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Ahmedabad to Kutch
Ahmedabad to Kutch is a beautiful journey to start of a weekend away. One top tip from travelers is to start early due to this brief stretch of India covering four hundred kilometers, therefore estimating a journey time of ten to eleven hours. Our favorite part of this journey just has to be driving through the translucent white beauty of the Rann of Kutch – meaning ‘desert’ in Hindi – which is reputedly the largest salt desert in the world.
This paradise on the edge of western India is a popular spot to witness spectacular sunsets and sunrises. You’ll feel like you’re starring in a cheesy rom-com! And when you reach Kutch, your efforts will be rewarded when partaking in a little sightseeing by visiting the Aaina Mahal’s mirrored interiors and the breathtaking Vijay Vilas Palace. If you need a stopover en route, the widely acclaimed Wild Ass Sanctuary is Gujarat’s finest. As well as being one of the last places in the world that you can see the endangered Indian Wild Ass, this UNESCO World Heritage Site contains around 2100 animals.
One word of warning is to choose your time of travel wisely. Due to the Rann of Kutch being a sealine desert, constant flooding occurs during the monsoon season for a period of one month. Therefore, we recommend avoiding a road trip between June and September and instead, driving through these two spots in winter between November and February. What’s more, you’ll be able to attend the incredible Rann Utsav festival and bask in the diverse culture and beauty of the Kutch under the light of the full moon.
Kolkata to Digha
Are you the kind of driver who gets a thrill when revving up the speed on flat roads that stretch out for miles? This simplistic and pleasing road which runs between Kolkata and Digha will certainly provide this adrenalin rush. Zooming through India with a backdrop of lush greenery isn’t an experience to be missed, and this three-hour drive of only one hundred and eighty kilometers won’t disappoint. Although any good driver should always be careful whilst driving, this highway is in prime condition and is without major potholes, allowing even the driver to sit back and relax at the wheel while taking in the lush scenery.
If you enjoy this relaxing stretch of road so much that you want to prolong your road trip, then we recommend venturing off the beaten track to check out some of the other hidden beaches which lie outside Digha. And if you’re a little peckish when on the road then the abundance of dhabas (roadside restaurants) and Bengali sweet shops will keep your hunger at bay.
And Digha itself is also a glorious seaside resort town to kick back and relax for a while. Road tripping may be fun but it’s also exhausting, so walking along the sandy beach and through the Amarabati Park is what every road tripper needs to switch into relaxation mode. And when the locals tell you that they also go weekend trips away to this paradise, then you should certainly listen.
Mumbai to Goa
The southwestern state of Goa is indeed beautiful – yet the road trip from Mumbai to get there is one that compliments the saying that life isn’t all about the destination, but the journey taken to reach it. There are two popular routes for this road trip to choose from: via the NH 4 or the NH 66.
Route number one ensures that getting to paradise has never been simpler, as the road along the NH 4 is flat as a pancake and in optimal condition. Averaging a total distance of 590 kilometers, it will take a good ten and a half hours without stopping to reach Goa, so prepare yourself with plenty of snacks. Yet if you forget to pack some food then you can enjoy some on the roadside snacks on the way: with local recommendations being the dhabas at Kolhapur and Satara. This route is for those travelers who enjoy some nice and easy driving as a means to relax between the urban buzz.
Route two is even longer, lasting for a total duration of twelve hours. One additional sacrifice of choosing this route is the early rise, as you and your fellow travelers will have to hit the road by around 6am in order to miss the onslaught of rush hour traffic. Yet by cashing in the time early on, you’ll reap in the benefits with the abundance of scenic beauty on offer. And if you do want to split the journey up into two days, then idyllic spots such as Karnala Bird Sanctuary and the Ganpatipule Beach are great pitstops. This road trip is for the thrill seekers out there who wish to treat every day as a new adventure.
The Golden Triangle (Delhi to Agra to Jaipur)
We’ve been saving the best for last. Road tripping the Golden Triangle is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic road trips in the world. The route is nicknamed the Golden Triangle due to not only the cities creating a triangular-shaped course on the map yet also thanks to the rich cultural heritage prevalent in each of these vibrant hubs.
So, how much time do you actually need to properly tackle this notorious journey? As the distance between each destination is around two-hundred to two-hundred and fifty kilometers, we’d recommend taking anytime between a week and two weeks to tackle this trip. Many locals and travelers recommend ten days as the perfect amount of time to complete the Golden Triangle.
Delhi as the Indian capital hosts is both dynamic and shocking – in the sense that poverty and excessive wealth exist alongside each other. Yet within this confusion and stratification, a vibrant culture exists within the bazaars and malls. Agra is, of course, infamous due to its Taj Mahal which is undoubtedly the most extravagant and breathtaking memorial to ever exist. And last but not least, Jaipur’s incredible monuments and red-washed buildings aren’t to be missed.
Driving between each city takes roughly between four to six hours but even so, isn’t for the faint hearted. The Yamuna Expressway and the NH8 between the three major Indian hubs can be extremely hazardous with lots of long traffic. Yet they are also awash with culture thanks to the numerous dhabas and restaurants dotted alongside them. The best time to undertake this ultimate road trip is from August until March. And when you finally get around to it, we can confirm that you won’t be disappointed.