Are you planning to take a break and spend your gap year in India? Well, it is rightly said that India is a vast country that's too hard to be explored in a lifetime! Yet, in a year, you can surely cover some of the most significant parts of the country, which will not only enrich you as a traveler but also broaden your consciousness and make you a more knowledgeable person.
Before you start hunting on the internet about what all you can do to make your gap year in India more meaningful, there's a list of the top 101 things to do in India which you shouldn't miss out during your journey.
Keep your pen and paper handy, because you need to make your checklist while reading this article!
(To keep it easier, this list has been made according to the various Indian states and the top things that you must do while you are there)
Jammu & Kashmir
1. Stay in a 'Shikara' (Boat House) on the Dal Lake in Srinagar, the summer capital of the northernmost state of India, Jammu & Kashmir. The Dal Lake is popularly known as the 'Jewel in the crown of Kashmir' and it'll be an experience to spend a night on a boat in this picturesque valley.
2. Take a trip to Leh - Ladakh (Jammu & Kashmir) to experience the cultural influence of Tibet in India. Explore the gorgeous Hemis Monastery, Diskit Monastery, Thiksey Monastery, Spituk Gompa and more. The Buddhist aura in this place is absolutely worth experiencing.
3. While in Ladakh, spend an afternoon on the banks of the Pangong Lake (also known as Pangong Tso) which is located at an altitude of 4350 meters. This 134 km long lake extends from India to China - yeah, you read that right!
4. If you are seeking some more adventure and wanna get closer to the Himalayas, then you must surely go for a trek. The most popular treks in Jammu & Kashmir that aren't worth missing are - Stok Kangri Trek (20,182 feet approx), Kashmir Great Lakes Trek (11,500 feet approx), Chadar Trek (happens on the months of December - January) and Markha Valley Trek (17,060 feet approx).
5. Spend a few days in Himachal Pradesh ('Dev Bhoomi' or 'The Land of Gods') and experience the goodness of volunteering for the underprivileged children in Palampur, a small Himalayan town.
6. Take a trip to Mcleodganj (Himachal Pradesh) which is also known as 'Little Lhasa'. It's the place where the Tibetan government-in-exile is headquartered, and you must pay a visit to the monastery of His Holiness The Dalai Lama.
7. Marked as the 2nd best paragliding spot in the world, you can't miss experiencing the thrill of gliding down from Billing to Bir, in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh. Gaze at the valley below while swinging with the air and capture the view of the snow-capped mountains all around.
8. Rent a bike from Manali and ride up to the Lahaul & Spiti Valley - one of the most pristine & untouched parts of the country. Making a bridge between India and Tibet, ‘Spiti’ (Literally translating to ‘The Middle Land’) truly is a mystical place. Visit the Ki Monastery, Tabo Monastery, Nako Monastery. Walk down the apple orchards, visit the fossil fields of Lhangza, and make sure to send postcards from the highest post office in world, Hikkim!
9. Experience the bliss of Valley of Flowers Trek through the Nanda Devi National Park, in the state of Uttarakhand. Marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this place is nothing short of paradise. You'll be absolutely stunned to see such myriad colors and shades of nature, surrounded by the lofty snow-capped mountains. On this trek, you'll also get a glimpse of the Nanda Devi (25,636 ft approx) which is one of the highest Himalayan peaks in India.
10. Spend a week in the 'Yoga Capital of the World' - Rishikesh and learn the art of cleansing your body, mind, and soul. Located on the banks of the River Ganges, Rishikesh is a popular destination among people from all across the world, who come in search of serenity. There are several Ashrams, where you can attend yoga and meditation sessions.
11. While in Rishikesh, don't forget to visit the 'Beatles Ashram'. It's the place where your favorite band, The Beatles, had spent their time finding inner peace, back in the 1960s.
12. Head towards the Jim Corbett National Park in the Nainital District of Uttarakhand, for some thrilling rendezvous with the wilderness of India. Currently housing around 150 tigers along with several other species of animals and birds, this is the oldest national park in India, which was established in 1936 as Hailey National Park to protect the endangered Bengal tigers.
13. In the land of the Sikhs, lies the architectural marvel of the Golden Temple - a sacred monument where prayers are said to turn into blessings. Cover your head while stepping in, and soak in the auspicious vibes of the place. You can also take a dip in the holy water surrounding the Golden Temple.
14. Taste the lip-smacking 'Langar' food that's served at the Golden Temple in Amritsar - it's totally not worth missing out!
15. About 5 mins walk from the Golden Temple, you'll reach the Jallianwala Bagh - a garden of immense historical importance. It's the place where hundreds of innocent Indians were killed in 1919 by British General O'Dwyer. You can still see the bullet marks on the walls of the garden, which has now been transformed into a museum.
16. Join the patriotic retreat ceremony at the Wagah Border (India - Pakistan Border). Hundreds of people gather around this place every evening, to witness the celebration where the army personnel of both the countries pays tribute to their respective motherland.
17. Stop by a highway Punjabi Dhaba to binge on the delicious spicy food (Butter Chicken to be specific!) and a glass of Lassi (a popular traditional yogurt-based drink).
18. You just can't afford to miss visiting the Taj Mahal - one of the seven wonders of the world. that was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife, Mumtaz. Located on the banks of the River Yamuna in Agra, this 'Monument of Love' will surely leave you awestruck with its beauty. While in Agra, you can also visit the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, located on the outskirts.
19. Travel to Lucknow for a gastronomic experience and indulge in savoring the taste of the 'Nawabi' cuisine - kebabs, biryani, malai kulfi and more! Talking about kebabs, try out the Tunday Kebabi who makes the best beef kebabs with minced meat and a mix of hundred spices - it's the best you've ever tasted!
20. The Lonely Planet describes Varanasi as 'One of the most colorful and fascinating places on Earth' and we can't disagree with that! One of the world's oldest continually inhabited cities, Varanasi is the holy city of the Hindus where you'll get to explore hundreds of temples and meet the Sadhus, meditating on the riverside. Set out for an evening boat ride on the Ganges, witness the grandeur of the 'Ganga Aarti' and feel the devotion of the people flocking in this city.
21. One of the most popular festivals celebrated in India is Holi - popularly known as 'the festival of colors'. In case you are lucky to be in the country during the month of March (the date of Holi varies every year), you can head towards Barsana, a small town located at a distance of about 42 km from Mathura, where Holi is celebrated with grandeur and pomp. Get some colors thrown at you, and make some memories that you can cherish forever!
How can one miss the good things that the capital of the country has to offer!
22. Explore the popular UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Delhi like the Qutub Minar, Humayun's Tomb, and Red Fort.
23. Visit the Jama Masjid - one of the largest mosques in India, that was also built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The mosque has a capacity to accommodate more than 25,000 people for namaz (prayers).
24. Delhi is a shopper's paradise! So don't forget to hop around the markets of Chandni Chowk, Janpath, Connaught Place, Karol Bagh, Dilli Haat and more. Polish your bargaining skills and buy the best souvenirs that you can take home back after your gap year in India.
25. To make your experience more enriching, how about making a difference to the developing society in India? During your Delhi days, you can opt to volunteer for the Street Children Program and spend some time teaching the kids for a better future.
26. Welcome to the Royal Land of the Rajputs! Visit the Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal, Amer Fort and Nahargarh Fort in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Eat at Chokhi Dhani and get 'Mehendi' (temporary tattoo with henna) art done on your palms by a local artist.
27. Feel the chills and explore the ruins of Bhangarh, which is said to be a haunted place!
28. Go for a desert safari and a camel ride in the 'Golden City' of Jaisalmer. Make sure to catch a glimpse of the mesmerizing sunset behind the sand dunes, and camp under the starlit sky.
29. Visit the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. You can also try out ziplining here - to get an aerial view of the fort! Walk down the narrow blue lanes of this town (which might give you some Moroccan feels) and stop to shop some amazing handmade dolls!
30. Head towards Udaipur, 'the City of Lakes' for a more luxurious retreat. Explore the City Palace, Sajjangarh Fort, Sahelion Ki Bari and spend the evenings on the banks of Fatehsagar. Experience the luxurious dining at any of the lakeside restaurants, if you don't mind spending a few extra bucks!
31. Pay a visit to the Karni Mata Temple in Bikaner, which is also popularly known as 'The Temple Of Rats'! The temple is essentially famous for sheltering approximately 25,000 black rats along with a few white ones! It is said that if you can spot a white rat, you'll be blessed with good fortune.
32. Guess you don't want to miss a chance of spotting a White Asiatic Lion in the wilderness! Go for a wildlife safari in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, the only home to this endangered species.
33. Spend a couple of days exploring the Rann of Kutch, the largest salt desert in the world. It'll be a sight to behold! To witness the best of the white desert, one should visit there during the Rann Utsav, which happens between November and March.
34. Visit the Sabarmati Ashram on the banks of River Sabarmati in Ahmedabad. It's the place where Mahatma Gandhi had lived a considerable period of his life. The simplicity of the place and tranquil ambiance will surely make you fall in love.
35. Explore the Buddhist Caves in Junagarh. Carved out of Monolithic Rock, this 2000-year-old three-tiered structure was built during the reign of Emperor Ashoka and is considered to be one of the earliest monastic settlements in India.
36. Feel the Bollywood vibes while in Mumbai and gaze at crashing of waves at Marine Drive! The financial hub of India, this city has a life of its own and you'll surely feel the beats while you are there. Join the hustle and bustle, binge on Pav Bhaji and Vada Pav at Juhu Beach, click some photos with Gateway of India in the backdrop and walk down the beaches of Mumbai.
37. Visit the Elephanta Caves located on an island (accessible by boats/ ferries from the Gateway of India), marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
38. Head out for exploring the unconquered islands of Murud and Janjira where the mighty fort stands amidst the Arabian Sea! An amalgamation of Konkani and Arabian heritage, this fort can be reached by ferry from Mumbai.
39. Take a trip to Mahabaleshwar - a small town located in the Sahyadri mountain range. Go for short hikes and experience the bliss away from the chaos and cacophony of city life!
40. If you are in Maharashtra during the month of September, make sure to join the celebrations of Ganesh Chaturthi (a festival where Lord Ganesha is worshipped). Marked as a popular Hindu Festival, it is celebrated with grandeur in the Western part of the country.
41. Rent a car and drive from Mumbai to Goa via NH 66. The journey covering a distance of approx 570 km would be nothing less than an adventure!
Welcome to the Hippie Paradise of India!
42. Well, there's so much to do in Goa that you need to make a checklist before you land up here! Stroll on the beaches of Candolim, Calangute, Morjim, Agonda, Palolem, etc., and soak in the sun.
43. Binge on delicious plates of seafood and savor the taste of Portuguese style cuisine, along with Feni (a local Goan alcohol made of Cashew).
44. Don't miss out the nightlife of Goa! It's absolutely fantastic to be on the beaches until late, with live music and amazing company.
45. Explore the forts and churches of Goa, that were built with a Gothic and Portuguese architectural touch.
46. Located on the Goa - Karnataka borders, the Dudhsagar Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in India that is totally worth a visit. Set amidst the Western Ghats, the gushing water from the streams creates an illusion of milk ('Dudhsagar' literally translates to 'Sea of Milk') flowing through the mountains. Make plans for a day trip during your stay in Goa.
47. Visit Hampi, the capital of the erstwhile Vijayanagar Empire, which is now marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the banks of the Tungabhadra River, the Group of Monuments including the Virupaksha Temple, the Vittala Temple, the statue of Narasimha and the stone carved Chariot are perfect examples of artwork that were created during the 7th Century.
48. Explore Mysore ('Mysuru' as it has been renamed) which has been chosen as the cleanest city in India. Visit the Mysore Palace, Chamundi Hills and the Mysore Zoo (Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens) which is one of the oldest and most popular zoos in India.
49. Spend a couple of days in the Madikeri District, and walk down the trails of the Coffee Plantations in Coorg. Visit the Dubare Elephant Camp to get closer to the gentle giants - and you can also volunteer to take them for a bath, feed them and even take a free ride if the mahouts are willing!
50. Located in Kushalnagar in the Kodagu District of Karnataka, the Namdroling Monastery is the largest teaching center of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in the world, which is totally worth a visit. While most of the people think that it's just the Himalayan Regions of the country that has Buddhist influence, Kushalnagar is an outstanding exception!
51. If Goa was too mainstream for you, then you should probably try exploring Gokarna - a more peaceful beachside alternative! Bordered by the Arabian Sea, Gokarna has some postcard perfect beaches where tourists haven’t yet started flocking - make sure to add it to your bucket list!
With the Western Ghats, coastlines, backwaters, and lagoons - Kerala is aptly named as 'God's Own Country'.
52. Attend a traditional Kathakali Dance Show. You can also seek permission to peep into the green room and get a glimpse of the artists while they get dressed for the show! It's gonna be a unique experience to see how the men put colors on their face and gear up for the show.
53. Pepper, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Saffron & Nutmeg - Pick up the spices you love from the local markets of Thekkady. You can also go for a walking tour of the spice gardens and fill your lungs with the rich aroma.
54. If you are in Kerala during the months of August and September, you can cheer for the Snake Boat Race Festival that happens in the backwaters of Kerala. Thousands of people gather to witness the men paddling their boats in unison.
55. During your days in Kerala, you can attend Yoga sessions and indulge in getting relaxing Ayurvedic Massage. It's a perfect combo to soothe your senses and calm your soul.
56. Spend a day on a houseboat in the backwaters. Gaze at the palm-fringed banks and savor the Malabari delicacies cooked by the local boatmen.
Tamil Nadu & Pondicherry
57. Travel to Kanyakumari, the coastal town in the state of Tamil Nadu, which is also the southernmost tip of peninsular India!
58. Explore the pristine hill stations of Ooty, Coonoor, Kodaikanal, Vattakanal, and others. Spend a few days in the tea estates, go for a toy train ride, and find yourself in nature's lap.
59. Drive down from Chennai to Pondicherry along the East Coast Road. Pondicherry was once the largest French Colony in India and the colonial charms can still be felt here. Walk down the beaches and explore the white town, where the cafes have delicious French cuisine to offer you.
60. Visit the Aurobindo Ashram, popularly known as Auroville, on the outskirts of Pondicherry. This place hosts people from all over the world and connects them with spiritual bonds. Rent a cycle and explore Auroville, stop for a glass of refreshing Kokum juice and attend meditation sessions to seek some inner peace.
Andaman & Nicobar Islands
61. White sandy beaches, palm-fringed beaches, turquoise water, coral reefs and the tropical atmosphere make the Andaman & Nicobar Islands a perfect destination for a week's retreat! (Believe me, when I say this, it's a great alternative to Thailand!)
62. Go for scuba diving and snorkeling from Havelock Island and Ross Island.
63. Experience the beauty of the natural structures of stalactites & stalagmites inside the Limestone Caves of Baratang. Take a speedboat ride from Port Blair to the caves of Baratang, crossing the mangrove forests on both sides.
Andhra Pradesh & Telangana
Say ‘Hello’ to the Land of the Nizams!
64. Take a tour of the city of Hyderabad, enjoy a plateful of Paradise biryani (world's best biriyani, as they say!) and Haleem, sip on a cup of Irani Chai (tea) and visit the Char Minar in the old part of the city.
65. You can't afford to miss the Golconda Fort, that was built during the 16th Century. Hire a guide to know the stories behind the fort - it'll be a treat for history lovers!
66. Pay a visit to the Tirupati, in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, which houses the famous Hindu temple of Sri Venkateswara that is frequented by millions of devotees each year. The grandeur of the place and the buzz of the devotees will definitely leave you speechless.
67. Travel to the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh and explore the Undavalli Cave Temples, which are said to be the finest example of the rock-cut architecture of the Buddhists in India. Originally carved out in 2nd Century by the Buddhist monks, these temples later transformed to Hindu temples in the 7th Century. The most striking feature of the Undavalli cave is the 5-meter long statue of the Lord Buddha, carved in the reclining position. Another major attraction of the cave is the sculpture of the Lord Vishnu, which is made out of the single granite block.
Madhya Pradesh & Chattisgarh
Welcome to the 'Heart of India'! There's so much to do in Madhya Pradesh that you would actually need a month's time to just explore this one state! Anyway, if not all, try to tick off a few from your checklist!
68. Known for its impeccable sculptures, erotic rock carvings, and fine art specimens - Khajuraho has been marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's totally worth a visit. Often denoted as 'The Land of Kamasutra', the temples of Khajuraho portray ancient India's architectural delight as well as a symbol of love and passion.
69. Madhya Pradesh has several wildlife zones, including the Kanha National Park, Bandhavgarh National Park, Pench National Park and Panna Tiger Reserve. One can't just afford to miss the tiger safaris here, and you'll surely stand a chance of getting a glimpse of this royal national animal.
P.S - Pench is also famous for being the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s 'The Jungle Book'.
70. Visit the quaint town of Ujjain, and see the temples that are excellent specimens of Bundela art and architecture, from ancient India.
71. Take a tour of Sanchi and explore the Stupa (UNESCO Heritage Site) that was built by Emperor Ashoka as a hub for Buddhism. Sanchi, undoubtedly, is one of the best destinations for spiritual tourism in India.
72. Explore the beautiful forts and palaces in different cities of Madhya Pradesh, from Gwalior to Orchha, Indore, Bhopal, Mandu, Chanderi, Bhind, and others.
73. Spend a couple of days in Jabalpur, a town on the banks of River Narmada, and get awed by the beauty of granite & sandstone hillocks. Take a trip to witness the picturesque Dhuandhar (Smoke Cascade) Falls, located at Bhedaghat 30 km away from Jabalpur.
74. Visit the Chitrakoot Falls, known as Niagara Falls of India, is the largest waterfall in the country that falls from a height of about 100 feet and widens up to 150 meters in peak rainy season.
75. Visit the breathtakingly gorgeous Konark (Sun) Temple, that was constructed in the mid-13th Century. Boasting the grandeur of Kalinga architecture and intricate erotic sculptures of Maithunas, this temple would never fail to excite the history buffs and someone who enjoys photography.
76. About 35 km from the Konark, lies the coastal destination of Puri bordered by the Bay Of Bengal. It's not just another beachside town, but Puri is also visited by hundreds of devotees who flock to see the Jagannath Temple.
77. In case you are in Odisha during the months of June or July, you must be there in Puri to join the festival of Chariots (Ratha Yatra). It's one of the most vibrant Hindu festivals, marked by beautifully-decorated wooden chariots carrying the idols of Gods, and the devotees usually pull that chariot across the town.
78. Odisha has a large tribal population including some popular tribes like Bondo, Didayi, Barogadaba, Kondhs, and Dongarias. If you wish to get the real taste of the rural life, you must go for a tribal village tour to get an insight of their lives and get to know their culture.
79. Go for bird watching at the Chilka Lake, a brackish water lagoon. And in case you get lucky, you'll have the opportunity to spot dolphins here as well.
80. Chill on the beaches of Chandrabhaga and Chandipur, and binge on some delicious local coastal food. Watch the sun going down the horizon and click some postcard perfect pictures.
Bihar & Jharkhand
81. Explore the enchanting ruins of Nalanda - one of the earliest centers of education in the world. Also known to be one of the longest-running universities in the world, Nalanda has been visited by great scholars from different countries over the centuries and is marked as a UNESCO Heritage Site.
82. Visit the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, which is said to be one of the most important sites for the Buddhists. It is the holy place where Lord Buddha attained 'Enlightenment' and formulated his philosophies of life.
83. Attend a few sessions to learn the Madhubani painting - a local form of art which infuses a lot of colors in eye-catching geometric patterns.
84. Spend 10 days in complete silence, meditating for more than 10 hours every day at the Dhamma Bodhi Vipassana Center.
85. Live for a few days in Calcutta, popularly known as 'The City of Joy', which used to be the capital of the country for a long period under the British rulers. Feel the madness of the city and explore the various monuments including the Victoria Memorial, St.Paul's Cathedral, Birla Mandir, Indian Museum, Howrah Bridge and more.
86. Stay in Calcutta during the Durga Puja (in the months of September/ October). Witness the glory of the celebrations and binge on some amazing Bengali cuisine - including fish curries and various types of sweets.
87. Take a trip to Sundarbans - a part of the Ganga Delta Region, which is said to be the original residence of the Royal Bengal Tigers. Go for boat rides through the narrow streams flowing amidst the mangrove forests - and who knows, you might just spot a tiger!
88. Travel to the Himalayan town of Darjeeling, also known as 'The Queen of Hills'. Explore the tea estates and enjoy a toy train ride on the mountain trails. Gaze at the Kanchenjunga (the third highest peak in the world) while sipping on a cup of freshly brewed Darjeeling tea.
A tiny state bordered by Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal - Sikkim is an offbeat paradise where you can spend a couple of weeks during your gap year in India.
89. Visit the charming monasteries of Sikkim, including the Rumtek, Enchey, and Pemayangtse Gompa, that are breathtakingly beautiful.
90. Drive down the Silk Route that leads to the Nathula Pass, on the Indo-China border at an elevation of 14,140 ft above sea level.
91. Feel the adrenaline rush and trek up to Goecha La (known to be one of the most romantic Himalayan treks) approx 16,000 ft above sea level, and find yourself amidst the snow-clad mountains. It'll be the journey through the Kanchenjunga National Park where you'll get to spot the diverse flora & fauna of the region.
92. Drive up to an elevation of 17,800 ft above sea level, and spend a few hours on the banks of the Gurudongmar Lake - which is one of the highest freshwater lakes in the world.
'Seven Sisters' of India: Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura, Assam, Manipur, and Mizoram
These 7 states together forms the Northeastern part of India - and it’ll be an incredible journey across this land.
Note: Though most regions in India’s Seven Sister States are freely accessible, there are certain parts where foreigners need to obtain Restricted Area Permit / Protected Area Permit
93. Your trip to India will be incomplete without exploring Assam. Home to one-horned rhinos, Kaziranga National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is a place worth exploring and you shouldn't skip it for anything.
94. Indulge in the rural lifestyle of Majuli, which is known to be the world’s largest riverine island, located in Assam, on the Brahmaputra River. The island is also home to Little Grebe, Large Cormorant, Spotted Billed Pelican, Open Bill Stork, Darter, Grey Heron, White Adjutant Stork, Purple Heron, Lesser Adjutant Stork, Pond Heron, and more.
95. Visit Mawlynnong, a small town in Meghalaya, which is known to be the cleanest Asian village. Hike along the Living Roots Bridge in this region and get awed by the unique creations of nature.
96. Take a trip to Dawki, a hidden paradise lying in the India - Bangladesh border. The Umngot River flowing through this place is one of the cleanest rivers in the world, and its crystal clear water might give you goosebumps! A boat ride on this river would be absolutely worthwhile.
97. Visit Nagaland during the Hornbill Festival to feel the pulse of the tribal life and enjoy the vibrating ambiance. This festival happens every year, during the first 10 days of December and it's marked as a cultural heritage of the Naga tribes.
98. Visit the Loktak Lake in Manipur, which is one of the largest freshwater lakes in India and also the only floating lake in the world. It has a lot of organic matter and vegetation, known as Phumdis, that gives it a floating appearance. You must also visit the Keibul Lamjao National Park (world’s only floating national park) hosting diverse flora & fauna.
99. Explore the mysterious temples of Unakoti in Tripura, closer to the Bangladesh borders. The rock and hill cliffs of this place have been carved with hundreds of exquisite stone images of Shiva and other Hindu divinities, making it a place of attraction for travelers from all over the world.
100. Awaken the music lover in you! Experience the world-class music festival at Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh, where musicians from different countries gather to perform and entertain the masses from all across the world. The Ziro Music Festival is truly a heaven for music buffs and culture enthusiasts alike.
101. Travel to the Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, located at an altitude of approximately 10,000 ft. It is known to be India’s largest and the world’s second-largest monastery.
Now that you know what all you can do during your gap year in India, what are you waiting for? India's calling you, pack your bags!