The Top Road Trips in India Perfect for an Adventure

The Leh–Manali Highway has an average elevation of 4,000m
The Leh–Manali Highway has an average elevation of 4,000m | © PhuntsokK / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Poonam Binayak
India Writer6 May 2021

There’s nothing more exciting than hitting the road with the windows down, volume up and a bunch of friends in tow. In a country like India, so colossal and diverse, the exhilaration of a road trip is amped up a notch. Here are the best road trips in this South Asian country.

Mumbai to Goa

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Vagator Beach with Chapora Fort behind, North Goa, Goa, India. Image shot 02/2008. Exact date unknown.
Vagator Beach with Chapora Fort behind, North Goa | © Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

An absolute mecca for car and bike enthusiasts, a road trip from Mumbai to Goa is nothing short of mesmerizing – all scenic beauty, with Western Ghats from end to end – and a top choice among Mumbaikars. The Pune-Kolhapur route via NH4 can be covered in 10 hours non-stop over 590km (366mi); with four lanes, this is the preferred and safest route, but numerous toll booths along the way mean paying again and again. Thrill seekers may enjoy the Chiplun-Ratnagiri route via NH66, which covers 577km (358mi) in 12 hours non-stop; with winding roads, narrow curves and fewer toll booths, this route goes past paddy fields and coconut plantations. Both routes have ample and delicious gastronomic options along the way to stay satiated.

Best time to go: September to March

Manali to Leh

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This road trip is off-the-chart breathtaking and needs to be experienced for yourself. With some deadly twists and turns, the snow-capped mountains, distinct valleys, spectacular landscapes and stunning monasteries will spice up your journey. The distance between Manali and Leh is 478km (297mi), and should be spread out over two days. With an average elevation of 4,000m (13,000ft), make a stopover at Keylong and again at Sarchu to relax and acclimatise yourself to the high altitude.

Best time to go: June to September

Visakhapatnam to Araku Valley

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Landscape with mountains in the background, Ananthagiri Hills, Araku Valley, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India
Araku Valley, Andhra Pradesh | © LLC / Alamy Stock Photo

The journey from Visakhapatnam is 114km (70mi), which can be covered in three or four hours, and winds through curly roads, verdant canyons and serene hills. Overlooking the magical Bay of Bengal, majestic waterfalls, forested hillsides and coffee plantations can all be spotted along the way – all with a dose of camera-worthy beauty. When in Araku Valley, visit Borra Caves and Tatipudi Reservoir.

Best time to go: October to March

Guwahati to Tawang

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One of the absolute must-take road trips to take in northeast India is Guwahati to Tawang, which can be covered in approximately 14 hours across 509km (316mi). The roads are rough but well worth it for the mesmerizing scenery unfolding at every turn, both snow-clad mountains and lush greenery. As it’s an extensive road trip, make a stopover at Dirang in West Kameng to witness the Buddhist culture at Kalchakra and Ngingmapa Monastery, or stop at Tezpur in Assam and explore its cultural and historical attractions. Don’t forget to indulge in the lip-smacking momos at one of the many stalls on the way.

Best time to go: March to October

Chennai to Pondicherry

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Pancha Rathas also known as Five Rathas or Pandava Rathas in Mahabalipuram with tourists and locals visiting on a sunny day with blue sky.
Pancha Rathas, a Unesco World Heritage site, in Mahabalipuram | © Paul Springett 06 / Alamy Stock Photo

Over just 155km (96mi), a trip from Chennai to Pondicherry (nicknamed the ‘Paris of the East’) can be achieved in only three or four hours via East Coast Road. The beautiful sight of the sea on one side and the reflection of the sun on the water just add to the pleasure of the route, which goes through Mahabalipuram (make a pit stop at this Unesco World Heritage site to enjoy its beautiful beaches and fill up), Idaikkazhinadu (check out Alambara Fort), Marakkanam (known for large salt pans), Mudaliarkuppam (relax in the boat house and indulge in water sports) and Kalpakkam (a nuclear facility). Almost every mile presents a picture-perfect photo opportunity.

Best time to go: October to February

Shimla to Manali via Mandi

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Aerial View of Shimla City From The State of Himalaya, mountains
Aerial view of Shimla | © Raushan Singh / Alamy Stock Photo

Those with a passion for photography will instantly fall in love with this camera-ready road trip. Manali is merely 247km (153mi) from Shimla, which can be covered in a seven-hour drive via NH205 and NH3. With beautiful mountains on one side and deep valleys and verdant greenery on the other, this road trip will definitely leave drivers spellbound.

Best time to go: outside monsoon season (mid-September to mid-July)

Ahmedabad to Kutch

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Man walking through Great Rann of Kutch with his camel, Gujarat, India
The Great Rann of Kutch, Gujarat | © RooM the Agency / Alamy Stock Photo

A trip from Ahmedabad to the Land of White Salt Desert (that is, Kutch) would take approximately seven hours, covering a distance of 400km (248mi). Admire the beautiful landscapes, gorge on lip-smacking food and witness the exquisite art and culture of Gujarat while riding past the unique huts lining the roads from Ahmedabad to Kutch. The roads are well-developed, but start early before they get crammed with traffic. When you reach Kutch, make sure to visit the Wild Ass Sanctuary in Kutch, home to over 3,000 wild donkeys, Chari-Dhand, which is a bird watcher’s heaven, and the nearby Hodko Village to buy exquisite handicrafts.

Best time to go: October to March

Kolkata to Digha

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Almost every Kolkatan will swear by this quick weekend beach getaway from Kolkata. This scenic stretch of 184km (114mi) is lined with verdant trees and picture-perfect landscapes that will leave drivers awestruck. Digha can be reached from Kolkata within four hours via NH16 and NH116B, and there are scores of dhabas along the way to stay fuelled. While in Digha, soak up some sun on the beach, gorge on delicious seafood, enjoy the spectacular sunset on the beach or go for a pony ride in the shallow waters.

Best time to go: July to March

Darjeeling to Pelling

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India, West Bengal, Darjeeling, Batasia Loop
The Batasia Loop in Darjeeling | © Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Lush tea gardens, majestic mountains and scenic landscapes on all sides are a sight to behold on this road trip. Darjeeling and Pelling are 72km (44mi) apart, and this distance can be covered within four hours. Stop at a tea garden and sip a refreshing brew for an energy boost. The roads are perfectly maintained, offering a smooth ride throughout, and they’re studded with numerous food joints.

Best time to go: March to June, September to December

Mumbai to Mount Abu

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Mumbai skyline from Malabar Hill, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, Asia
Mumbai skyline from Malabar Hill | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

The beautiful route from Mumbai to Mount Abu passes from urban towns to hilly terrain over a distance of 765km (475mi), which can be covered within 12 hours via NH48. Not in a hurry? Go all out and experience three different cultures along the way: Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. But the trip is as wonderful as the destinations. Scores of dhabas and eateries line the route, such as at Vadodara or Ahmedabad, and driving into Mount Abu greets travellers with lush greenery and misty mountains.

Best time to go: July to October

Bangalore to Ooty

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India, South India, Asia, Tamil Nadu, Near Ooty, Udhagamandalam, landscape, Nilgiri Mountains, Nilgiri, Mountains, Ooty, cows, l
The Nilgiri Mountains near Ooty, Tamil Nadu | © Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

This road trip calls out to nature lovers: pass miles of nature on both sides and marvel at the picturesque route, embellished with lush green mountains and scenic landscapes. Ride past the dense, calming and soul-refreshing forests of Bandipur as well as the historic palaces of the ancient city Mysore. Be greeted with untapped beauty: you’ll find acres of tea plantations, majestic waterfalls and clear lakes. The route stretches along NH275 for 278km (172mi), which can be covered within six hours, and it’s dotted with many eateries en route to fill your belly.

Best time to go: October to June

The Golden Triangle (Delhi–Agra–Jaipur)

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This list would be incomplete without mention of the classic Golden Triangle, which binds the three historically and culturally rich and diverse cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur via the Yamuna Expressway and NH8. This road trip is exceptionally picturesque, with dhabas and restaurants dotting the best-maintained roads to quench hunger. Though this trip covers a distance of 449km (279mi), which can be driven in seven hours, stretch it out to two or three days, and tick off the places in between: from the historic sites in Delhi (like Jama Masjid and Mughal Red Fort) to architectural and historical marvels of Agra (like Taj Mahal and Agra Fort) and to Jaipur, the Pink City (check out City Palace, marvel at the architecture of Hawa Mahal and historic Amer Fort, and shop for traditional Rajasthan clothes and jewellery at popular local bazaars like Tripoli Bazaar and Chandpole Bazar).

Best time to go: August to March

These recommendations were updated on May 6, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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