Leh (J&K) at 11,500 ft AMSL in the Himalayan north is wonderful in it’s own right and most manageable of all of India. It is arid and part of the Tibetan Plateau so precipitation is infrequent though the two roads in begins to snow-in by later October. (Jet Airways flys in easily from at least Delhi.) The town is comprised mostly of Buddist with some Kashmiris that come over from Shringar to do the selling. There are also some local Muslims and an amplified mosque calls to prayer near daily before sunrise. Guesthouses are 400 IR along Changspa Rd. The narrow streets are made up of dogs and dust; it is India, after all. But there are French, German and Israeli tourists as well. Trekking is cheap. I dismissed a homestay trek in Marka Valley as too easy (you walk jeep roads between tiny unelectrified villages) but regretted it; I had the time and it can be done without a huge production. There are several gompas and monasteries within a short drive like Lamayuru, Alchi. Local bus is a riot! Shared jeep taxis to Marka are cheapish (700IR?). Trekking up Stok Kangri (20,100) is magical, strenuous but not technical. It takes three days. You can see China and Pakistan from its tapered granite summit.
Manali (HP) is 340 km southwest of Leh and a spectacular drive on motorbike or auto. It is high like Leh but has large evergreen trees and is more temperate. It is popular with South Indians and foreigners alike. Kasol (HP) is nearby and a pot smoker oriented travel spot; I passed.
Traveling clockwise through the Spiti Valley (Losar, Kaza, Nako) is arduous but heroic (at least on the motorbike). But one can reach Shimla (HP) and Dehradun and Rishikesh (Uttarakhand) more directly from Manali. I can ask the German, a well traveled friend, about the latter two as you get closer to deciding. Rishikesh and Dehradun, along with Leh, is where I’d focus first for one trip. Shimla’s toy train connects to Kalka outside of Dehli and is a useful station for onward travel should you want to leave the cool mountains for the plains. The mountain town of Chitkul is a haul from Shimla, but interesting and if couple with a storied Rupin Pass trek, perhaps worthwhile.
Amritsar (Punjab) in the Indian portion of the Punjab has the golden temple, important to Sikhs. The boarder with Pakistan has a gate closing ceremony each evening. The city can be smoky and very dusty with fewer like-oriented tourists; many are old British but some are young. The food here, Punjabi, is delicious! You must find chicken saagwala from a messy street side dhoba. (And Leh’s chicken tikka at Budshar Inn is to die for!)
Rajasthan is the Thar desert and I think safe. There are plenty of tourists but you might feel you’re being sold to more so than anywhere outside of the in-your-face big cities, particularly Jaisalmer. The forts at Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur are quite amazing, the latter with the best vibes. Bikaner is not as isolated as Jaisalmer and so an apparent substitute for some travelers. Jodhpur has a good train station so I hopped on with bike to Goa along the Konkar Railway from there. I never heard anything in particular to make me think I messy up skipping Jaipur and Pushcar.
Goa is hot and about the beach though the warm water is brown and looks sharky. It’s hot even in December. It’s not my scene to rave but Goa used to be heady. The scene moves with the season. Gokarna (Karnataka) was sleepy, Palolem nice, Vagator (Goa) nice. The warm whether is conducive to spice farming, and the Portuguese had a colonial interest in the area and an elaborate slave port in Africa en route in the times of the Merchant of Venice. So there are Catholic churches and pork.
Kerala is next on my to-experience list. Indeed, I thought it was safer but the state has had two nasty gang rapes this past month alone. Reading Times of India at a Lavazza espresso cafe in Leh will frighten you to move beyond the simplicity of the Himalayas. But along Kerala’s coast are mountains good for motorbiking, rivers and forest. The crazy sounding Thiruvananthapuram, once called Trivandrum, sounds to be the area in recent events, and so just like other South Indian cities. Avoid Dehli (fly through to Leh but don’t exit the airport if you don’t have too), Mumbai seemed perhaps more manageable, Bangalore (Karnataka), now Bengaluru, seems as safe as its attitude nativist.
Varanasi is out there a ways and folks going on to Nepal often stop, and the Taj Mahal is not too far outside of Dehli. Hampi near Bengaluru may have a similar feeling; massive architecture in the middle of nowhere. Yet Varanasi has the Ganges though its headwaters it Uttarkhand may be of interest too. India has been a going-concern civilization for three thousand years, with temples and markets and populations that thrive and collapse. Yet people still defecate in the open and some 600,000 villages remain unelectrified.
Uber brief travel thoughts in re; India 🙂