Road trips in India are my favorite way to travel. On a road trip, you can see the transition from one place to another. You notice the subtle changes that take place as the land, water, and culture change slowly. A road trip allows you to travel at your own pace, pausing wherever your eyes want to take in a bit more or you crave a Chai Pakora or Idly Wada or Poha Jalebi or Lal Cha.
While all road trips are fun, there are some that are so beautiful that the journey itself is the destination.
Here are some of the most scenic road trips in India that I have enjoyed, along with those that are still on my wish list.
This sparsely populated region of India and Himachal Pradesh will remain one of my favorite road trips. Start from Shimla, the capital city that is bustling with activity. Move on to the Apple country and then the Kinnaur region where everyone wears the Green Himachali cap.
Slowly move to Spiti valley where the cold desert stuns you with its silence and breathtaking landscape. Pass through Lahaul to admire Chandratal Lake between Kunzum Pass and Rohtang Pass. End your journey at Manali where you feel as if you are back in civilization.
July August is the best time to do this road trip when Kunzum Pass is open.
Konkan and monsoons are synonymous. It rains for about 6 months making the whole place lush green. When you drive from Goa to Ratnagiri or around that area, all you see is the narrow strip of grey road surrounded by million shades of green. Waterfalls can appear anywhere on the roadside. The best place to be surrounded by waterfalls is Amboli Ghats. But there are other falls like Savdav Falls and Marleshwar falls.
You can also use the Konkan railways just to admire the landscape and waterfalls.
Peak monsoon time is the best for this road trip.
Srinagar is the delicate city surrounding the beautiful Dal Lake full of houseboats. It has an aura of romance, probably built by the numerous Hindi films shot here. As you start driving towards Leh, you pass by beautiful Pahalgam where you see horses taking the tourists around. If it is Amarnath Yatra time, you will see pilgrim camps at Baltal. It is fun to see helicopters taking pilgrims to the hilltop.
At Zozi La Pass the landscape changes, with greenery and colors making way for the barren mountains of Ladakh. Stop at Drass War Memorial and maybe take a stop at Kargil. Look at the moonlike landscape near Lamayuru monastery or admire the ancient paintings of Alchin Monastery.
Relax after reaching Leh as you do need acclimatization.
Summers are a good time to do this road trip, although I enjoyed a mini road trip around Leh in winter too.
You can begin this trip from Tezpur on the Assam-Arunachal border. Or you can think of the adventure beginning at Bhalukpong in Arunachal. Visit the Orchid Sanctuary but just look out on the road and you will see wild orchids everywhere, hanging from tree trunks or peeping from the bushes.
Tenga Valley is one of the most beautiful valleys covered with a thick cover of green on its mountains. Look for Kiwi orchards here. Bomdila is the default halt on this Arunachal Road trip.
We could not visit Tawang due to bad weather but I am told that the drive is also mesmerizingly beautiful.
Summers is a good time, though it would always be cold in the mountains.
Rajasthan is the most tourist-friendly state in India. You can take many trips like the ones I have listed in Jaipur. However, the one that distinctly stands in my memory is the one from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. The straight road cutting through the vast Thar desert is an experience. All you see is the golden sand all around, sometimes in small dunes, dry Khejri trees, and some bushes.
Decked-up camels add color here and there. The road is not crowded, so you almost feel as if you are driving to infinity. Your eyes can see far and wide. Urban eye probably has never seen such wide vistas. Explore the city of Jaisalmer or the ghost town of Kuldhara or visit Jain temples like Lodurwa.
Winters is a good time to do this trip.
East Coast Road in Tamil Nadu which takes you from Chennai to Pondicherry is a beautiful drive passing by Mahabalipuram with many temples to see. Go a little further and you can see Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram.
Take a small detour towards Kumbakonam and then further to Thanjavur. You can admire the temples like Brihdeeswara Temple in Thanjavur, Gangaikondacholapuram nearby, and Airateshwara in Darasuram.
A little ahead you can visit Thiruchirapally or Trichy for Srirangam.
This is a road that takes you on the historic temple trail of Cholas.
You can do it all year round but summers can get very hot, so winters are a little bit better.
Madhya Pradesh is one of my favorite states to travel to. There are many road trips that you do here including the popular Narmada Parikrama. However, let me tell you about a smaller one that takes you to cities that are best known for their queens. You can begin your trip from Indore and drive to Mandu.
Mandu is best known for its queen Rani Roopmati. Her stories can be heard at every spot in the hilltop town. I loved the Roopmati’s pavilion from where she could see Narmada. Do not forget to appreciate the brilliant water management systems of Mandu.
From here drive to Maheshwar built by my favorite queen Ahilya Bai Holkar, thanks to whom we see so many temples in India. It is the most beautiful riverfront on the banks of Narmada. I remember Lingarchana – the worship of a lakh plus Shivalingas that is still done in the palace. Shop for Maheshwari Saris or take a boat ride on Narmada to admire its beauty.
Next drive to Burhanpur, where Mumtaz Mahal of Taj Mahal fame died and was buried for some time. It is an ancient city on the banks of the even more ancient river Tapti. On your way, you can stop at Omkareshwar to pay your respect to the Jyotirlinga where Adi Shankaracharya studied and meditated.
The popular tourist circuit of Bihar covers the world heritage site of Nalanda along with Rajgir. It also takes you to Gaya, Bodhgaya, and Barabar Caves and lets you taste some Bihar delicacies like Khaja and Lai.
You can also include Vaishali if you like. However, the reason I recommend this Road trip in India is to see the simplicity of its countryside and the way this land used to be. I have seen the landscape without much industry, with clean villages and simple people.
This is a standard driving route for anyone wanting to visit the capital of Meghalaya. The whole route is scenic but what I remember the most after so many years is Umiam Lake. Surrounded by hills and mountains this lake seems to be full of clouds reflecting in it.
Now here I have two favorite routes located on the diagonally opposite ends of the country. One is Temi Tea Estate which you drive around Gangtok in Sikkim. You see the green rolling hills as you drive through the Himalayan ranges.
Second is the drive to Munnar. You literally drive through the tea gardens. I will never forget my visit to the Tata Tea Museum. Of course, the tea gardens of Assam are also lovely but they are more on the plains.
Kashmir to Kanyakumari is a road trip that demands endurance. I do hope to do it someday.
Narmada Parikrama which takes about 15 days to complete is high on the wishlist.
I want to travel on the ancient trade routes like Uttarpath which is now partially in India and Dakshinpath which is completely in India.
Roads of North Eastern states are yet to be explored.
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