Rural India travel guide

One thing you will notice on our rural India vacations and their reviews is the abundance of names. Husna the female driver, Rawla Singh at the castle, Narendra’s family, Saurabh the guide, “our dearest friend Sunny”, and even Lily the goat! This familiarity sums up what is so special about rural vacations in India: they break down a population of over a billion people and put you on first name terms with Indians from all walks of life: from potters and chefs, to tribespeople and naturalists.
If you think India is Delhi and the Golden Triangle, think again. A fifth of the world’s population lives in India and two thirds of these live in villages – you have to go rural to discover India’s beating heart.
Names aren’t the only words you’ll learn; these trips require a whole new vocabulary. As you travel through backwaters and valleys, you might be stopping at dhaba (roadside cafes), keeping an eye out for nilgai and gaur (deer and Indian bison), attending a puja (feast of bells) or traveling by kettuvallam (houseboat). Wander through our rural India travel guide to find out how you can put names to faces on your India vacation.

Rural India map & highlights

India is vast, of course – so even with internal flights or overnight train journeys, you’re still going to have to narrow down your itinerary. In the steamy south, soak up traditional life in Karnataka and Kerala before finishing up on a Goan beach. Central India promises remote village stays and tiger reserves, easily combining Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In the north, choose between Rajasthan’s deserts and royal palaces, or the Himalayan setting of Ladakh. Or for something truly different, head to the salt-encrusted swamplands of Gujarat, or to Nagaland’s annual Hornbill Festival, in the far northeast. Remember, India’s climate varies hugely depending on season and location – so take this into account when planning where to go on vacation in rural India.

1. Chhattisgarh

Despite being central and close to attractions such as Kanha Tiger Reserve, Chhattisgarh remains well off the mainstream tourist trail. That means that life in its rural villages remains wonderfully traditional, temples such as 12th century Bhoramdeo remain free of tourists and haat (weekly markets) are still authentic, tribal affairs. Treks into the Maikal Hills with cattle herder-cum-guide are highly recommended.

2. Goa

Goa might not be the first place to spring to mind when you think of rural vacations in India, but inland, you won’t find a more rural idyll. Canoe along rivers and through mangroves, explore the Portuguese style architecture of the country houses, look out for swallows and the odd otter, or spend a few days on some of the quieter strips of coastline, relaxing and reflecting at the end of your trip.

3. Gujarat

Perched between Pakistan and the Arabian Sea, Gujarat is hard to define even by Indian standards. It has an epic coastline, striking Jain architecture, tribal villages, flock of flamingoes, skilled weavers and the Rann of Kutch – wetlands that dry into salt flats each summer. Gujarat is already off the beaten track, but rural tours here take you further – into temples, villages, ancient towns and heritage hotels.

4. Karnataka

The Western Ghats and Nilgiri Hills are at the heart of rural vacations in Karnataka, a wild province offering multi day hill treks, tiger and elephant safaris, and a ride on the UNESCO-listed train as it traverses gorges and waterfalls are all must-dos. Visit temples dotted across the state, dating back to the 12th century, then cool off in the colonial hill station of Ooty (2,240m), just over the border in Tamil Nadu.

5. Ladakh

Ladakh, the “land of high passes”, is dominated by the Himalayas, and rural vacations here take you beyond the gateway town of Leh at 3,500m, and out towards snowy peaks and remote valleys, following ancient caravan routes. Explore lunar landscapes, tiny bazaars, Buddhist and Muslim heritage and ride camels across dunes, preparing yourself for some of the most brilliant sunsets you’ll ever see.
Madhya Pradesh

6. Madhya Pradesh

Sprawled across the center of the country, this state is the “heart of India”. Here, you’ll find attractions such as the ruins at Mandu – believed to be the largest complex of forts, palaces and temples in Asia. Explore Bhopal’s Muslim heritage, the Hindu pilgrimage town on Ujjain, and the Buddhist stupa at Sanchi. Get your wildlife fix in Satpura, Kanha and Bandhavgarh National Parks, including tigers.

7. Rajasthan

While many travelers may flock here for the fine cities, rural Rajasthan is just as enticing. Explore highlands and plains on a weeklong horseback tour, or base yourself in a castle, now a luxury heritage hotel, in the Aravelli Hills, and take daytrips out to traditional villages, lakes and jacaran
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Rural India or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Abhijit Kar Gupta] [Map topbox: Tomas Belcik] [Chhattisgarh: Pankaj Oudhia] [Goa: Maikal Hills] [Madhya Pradesh: elkhiki] [Madhya Pradesh: Arian Zwegers] [Rajasthan: Nick Kenrick] [Karnataka: Mike Prince] [Gujarat: Wildnest Travel & Photography] [Ladakh: Karunakar Rayker]