A common question for first time travellers to India is – should I go to the north or south? We spent a total of 5months travelling across India and were lucky enough to experience both the north and south of India extensively.
What we discovered is that both are incredible travel destinations. However, north and south India are vastly different with contrasting attractions. In this post we dive deep into what you can expect from a trip to both north and south India.
North or South India for First Trip: Which is Best? North India features the cultural golden triangle and south India has lush jungles and golden beaches. However, south India has a more relaxed atmosphere making it a great choice for first time visitors to India.
North and South India are both great travel destinations. Deciding on which to visit for your first trip will depend on your travel style and expectations. So which choice is best for you? The bustling cultural regions of the north or the relaxed lush valleys of the south?
For those wanting a sensory overload and culturally rich experience we would recommend the north. For travellers wanting a relaxing atmosphere and who might be a little worried about culture shock, we recommend the south.
In this article we will share our experiences of both north and south India and provide helpful information so that you can make the best decision for you based on your travel interests.
- Overview of North and South India
- Natural Wonders of North and South India
- Popular Travel Destinations of North and South India
- Wildlife of North and South India
- Off the Beaten Path Locations of North and South India
- Food of North and South India
- Safety of North and South India
- Pollution in North and South India
Overview of North and South India:
|Major Cities||Delhi 11 million
Jaipur 3 million
Lucknow 2.8 million
|Bengaluru 8.4 million
|Cultural Hustle & Bustle||Relaxed & Lush|
Natural Wonders of North and South India
When you think of India, natural beauty might not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, both north and south India are adorned with stunning natural attractions.
North India is graced with the epic beauty of the Himalayas and the mighty river Ganges, while south India has its lush jungles, tropical beaches and tranquil backwaters. Do you enjoy mountains and rivers or tropical beaches and waterfalls? To help you decide we have listed a few of north and south India’s top natural attractions.
Our Pick: North or South? – If we had to decide which was best to see natural wonders we would choose north India due to the vast beauty of the Himalayan mountains.
North India Natural Attractions:
Himalayas: North India is home to a large portion of the mighty Himalayan Mountains which can be experienced in the states of Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
During our time in the Indian Himalayas we soaked up the tranquil mountain vibes and the epic grandeur of the Himalayas. Some of the key places we visited were, Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, a village named Laluri in Uttarakhand and also Kasol and Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh.
River Ganges: North India is home to the mighty river Ganges. Perhaps one of the most famous rivers in the world this river is a holy site for hindu followers. Two great places to experience the Ganges are Varanasi and Rishikesh.
Thar Desert: In the state of Rajasthan lies the mighty Thar desert which links India to Pakistan. A great place to experience the golden rolling sand dunes in Jaisalmer, a desert city filled with history and culture. You can check out our Jaisalmer travel video below.
South India Natural Attractions:
Goa Beaches: The golden sandy beaches of Goa and Kerala are a major attraction in South India. Some of the most popular beaches include Varkala, Gokarna, Kovalam and Patnem.
Munnar Tea Fields: Lush green rolling valleys and endless picturesque tea plantations are a highlight in South India. Located in the region of Munnar many travellers escape the hustle of the cities to spend some time in these peaceful and scenic tea fields.
Kerala Backwaters: The tropical backwaters of Kerala are a popular tourist destination in South India. We visited the backwaters during monsoon and rented a houseboat for a night to explore the intricate canals and waterways of Alleppey, you can check out the vlog below.
Popular Travel Destinations of North and South India
Both north and south India have some great tourist attractions to visit. North India is home to the Taj Mahal and the culture rich state of Rajasthan where you will see women wearing brightly colour sarees, snake charmers and camels.
The south is where you will find god’s own country Kerala, one of India’s most beautiful states as well as many ancient temples such as Meenakshi Temple. So which suits you best? To help make your decision we have listed some of the top tourist attractions for both north and south India so you can see what peaks your interests.
Our Pick: North or South? – North India wins as far as tourist attractions go. Overall there was more to see in north India and the attractions in the north had the wow factor!
Popular Travel Destinations in North India:
- Agra – A large city located about 2 hours drive from Delhi which is home to Agra fort and the Famous Taj Mahal.
- Jaipur – The vibrant pink city of Rajasthan home to one of the most beautiful forts and palace complexes in India Amber Fort and Palace.
- Khajuraho – A UNESCO World Heritage site and where you will find the ancient Karma sutra temples of the hindu and jain religions.
- Jaisalmer – Step back in time to the epically beautiful golden desert city of Jaisalmer where camels roam and extravagant havelis can be found!
- Varanasi – One of the oldest cities in history, this holy place is located on the banks of the Ganges river and is filled with rich tradition and a spiritual essence.
- Udaipur – The Venice of India, this beautiful city of white washed buildings overlooks the stunning Lake Pichola.
- Jodhpur – Home to Mehrangarh Fort the blue city of Jodhpur is an exciting city with narrows streets, bright blue building and rich Rajasthani culture.
- Rishikesh – The home of spirituality and yoga, Rishikesh is located in the foothills of the Himalayas and is a beautiful small city located on the banks of the Ganges River.
- Himachal Pradesh – This mountainous state is home to many hills stations, a great escape from city life where the beauty of the Himalayas is endless.
- Amritsar – The Punjabi city home to the dazzling golden temple and the interesting border ceremony that occurs daily between India and Pakistan.
Popular Travel Destinations in South India:
- Kochi – The charming port city of Kochi is a tourist hotspot in south India home to Fort Kochi, colonial architecture and the fascinating chinese fishing nets.
- Athirapally – The wild jungle land of waterfalls, a great place to escape the bustle and enjoy nature…many choose to stay in eco tree houses when they visit this region.
- Goa – Golden beaches, eco cafes, beachfront bungalows, market stalls and live music. Goa is a place for those wanting a great mix of nightlife and beach vibes!
- Chennai – Although large in population, chennai is the laid back city that will give you an authentic look into south indian culture. Check out our full travel guide if you want to know more.
- Madurai – Step back in time to the ancient city of Madurai home to many ancient marvels including the impressive Meenakshi Temple.
- Pondicherry – A dreamy costal town that was actually once a french settlement. Pondicherry is the captivating blend of south Indian culture and french architecture.
- Mysore – A charming heritage city in South India that still embodies its royal past. With rich tradition, bustling bazaars and historic royal places, Mysore is one of South India’s most visited cities.
- Ooty – Ooty is an ex British colony and popular hill station in South India. Although its bustling centre is chaotic you can easily escape to the lush valleys and tea gardens of the outer Ooty region.
- Alleppey – Home of the beautiful backwaters where you can hire a houseboat and relax and enjoy the intricate waterways.
- Hampi – A popular place for travellers where you will find ancient ruins among an interesting landscape of boulders, desert hills and green palm trees.
Wildlife of North and South India
India is abundant with wildlife and eco-sanctuaries. Known as the home of the Jungle book and the land of tigers, India is home to 70% of the world’s tiger population. Travellers can experience Indian wildlife in both north and south India.
There are actually countless sanctuaries where you can witness nature and wildlife across India and we have listed the top 3 wildlife sanctuaries for both north and south India below.
Our Pick: North or South? – It’s dense jungle and large amount of wildlife and vast number of sanctuaries to choose from makes south India the best choice if you are after a wild India experience!
Top Wildlife Sanctuaries in North India
- Ranthambore Tiger Reserve: A popular national park for travellers due to its location near the tourist hotspot of Jaipur. This vast national park is home to many animals including sloth bears, deer, leopard and tigers. We met a kiwi family who actually visited this park and saw toe tigers on their safari!
- Corbett National Park: Located in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand this is the oldest national park in India and is home to many animals including wild elephants and a very large population of bengal tigers.
- Pench Tiger Reserve: This tiger reserve is located across two states Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Home to many wild animals including the tiger, Pench is also known as one of the most important bird sanctuaries in India.
Top Wildlife Sanctuaries in South India
- Nagarhole National Park, Karnataka: With one of the highest populations of tigers in India this reserves is also the national park with the highest density of wild asian elephants in India.
- Bandipur Tiger Reserve: Located in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, this national park is teeming with life and has the second highest number of tigers in and wild elephants in India.
- Periyar National Park: We visited this national park located in the mountainous region of Thekkady in Kerala. This stunning natural reserve is home to leopards, Indian bison, elephants and tigers. Unfortunately due to monsoon rains the park was closed for safari at the time we did manage to go but a bit of a 4 wheel drive trip on the border of the sanctuary. You can see all our Thekkady adventures in our travel video below.
Off the Beaten Path Locations of North and South India
Getting off the beaten path is our favourite way to travel. It’s where we have some of our most memorable travel experiences. These are the truly authentic travel moments that may not be as glamorous as tourist hotspots, but will leave you with travel memories that will last forever.
We have ventured off the beaten path many times while in India and the lists below include some of our favourite offbeat locations in north and south India.
Our Pick: North or South? – North India is home to some incredible off the beaten track locations and come out on top for us in this category.
Off the Beaten Path in North India:
Laluri is a tiny mountain village located in the foothills of the Himalaya in the unexplored state of Uttarakhand. Located 3 hours north of Rishikesh, Laluri is a tranquil village where you will discover authentic homestays, rural village life and beautiful mountain scenery. If you want to find out more, you can read our full guide to Laluri village here>>
Bikaner: Known as the Red city, Bikaner is a great place to get off the beaten path in Rajasthan. Here you can experience all the culture and vibrancy of Rajasthani culture without the hordes of tourists. Bustling bazaars, epic forts and palaces, historic templates and roaming camels can all be found in this small but lively Rajasthani city.
Orchha is a truly magical place in North India and is a charming village which is adorned with ancient temples, palaces, forts and monuments. Orchha is yet to be discovered by mass tourism and you can step back in time and explore these incredibly old and beautiful monuments without the crowds! You can watch our Orchha travel vlog below and read our>> full Orchha travel guide here >>>
Spiti Valley: An extremely difficult place to reach, but if you are up for the adventure, you will discover an otherworldly place. Steeped in Tibetan culture, Spiti valley is a treasure trove of ancient monasteries, stone villages and magnificent Himalayan scenery. To find our more, you can read our full Spiti Valley guide here >>
Off the Beaten Path in South India:
Virudhunagar: A tiny unassuming village in the heart of Tamil Nadu, located about 1 hour south of Madurai. Virudhunagar is a vibrant display of authentic Tamil life with bustling bazaars, ancient temples and colourful buildings. It is also close to a tiny village called Chittoor which was one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen. The sleepy village of Chittoor is a maze of vibrancy coloured homes, friendly locals and roaming farm animals. You can see Chittoor and Virudhunagar in our travel vlog below.
Udupi – A sleepy offbeat coastal town in the state of Karnataka. Udupi is known for its Hindu temples and delicious coastal cuisine, there are even backwaters to be discovered here. It is also close to Shri Murudeshwara Temple second tallest Shiva statue and the Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary. The best thing about Udupi is that the nearby beaches are much cleaner and less crowded than what you will find in tourist hotspots such as Goa.
Wayanad – The lush rural districts of Wayanad has some of south India’s most dramatic scenery. Wayanad is a great place to spot wildlife and is also popular for incredible jungle tree house stays. This unspoilt natural region is a great place fpr nature lovers wanting a more off beat experience.
Rameshwaram: For those wanting to get truly off the beaten path, The island of Rameshwaram a great place to visit. Rameshwaram is a shabby but character filled fishing town located at the very southern tip of India. This is one of the counties most sacred hindu sites and is also home to a beautiful secluded beach named Ariyaman Beach.
Food of North and South India
One of the things we miss most about India is the incredible food! You can check out our India food vlog above for proof! Before travelling to India we didn’t realise how diverse the cuisine is across the country.
Food in India can change from state to state, city to city, so it is hard to generalise with such large and loosely defined areas such as north and south India. But, we will do our best to describe the nuancesof both north and south Indian cuisine based on our experiences and the food we tried while travelling.
Our Pick: North or South? – North India food suits our taste buds better, maybe this is just because we are use to eating north Indian food back home in New Zealand?
|Food Type||North India||South India|
|Staple Dishes||roti, samosa,
|dosa, idli, sambar|
|Consistency||thick & creamy||watery|
|Heat||mild/medium||hot & spicy|
|Condiments||yogurt /curd||coconut milk|
|Protein||Chicken||goat & seafood|
|Staple Grain||wheat / dal||rice|
|Spices||garam masala||huli pudi (sambar powder)|
|Dominant Herb||fenugreek leaves||curry Leaves|
Food in North India
Similar to what is served in many Indian restaurants abroad, north Indian curries are packed full of flavourful spice and are often rich and creamy. In north India you will find many wheat based foods such as roti, nann, baati, kulcha and paratha.
We found many north Indian states to be large vegetarian and the use of grains such as chickpeas and dal very common. Yogurt or curd is also a staple food item in the north as a main condiment and ingredient in curries. It is in north India where you will find delicious fired street snacks such as Samoa’s and the famous traditional masala chai (tea).
Food in South India
Being closer to the coast you will find much more seafood options in South India. Meat is also generally more widely available in south India, although there are many delicious vegetarian dishes as well. The climate in south India is humid and tropical which is why coconut is a staple time in many south Indian dishes and is used in many south Indian chutneys and curries.
Rice is a staple food in the south as opposed to the north where wheat, dal and other grains are more common. You will find a wide variety of dishes made from rice such as idli, dosa and Uttapam. Generally food in south india is lighter, and their curries are often runnier than the thicker curries found in North India. You will also notice south Indian food is much more tangy and spicy than in the north.
Safety of North and South India
Surprisingly we found India to be a very safe travel destination. Yes there are places that are unsafe in India, but overall we found the kindness of the people made us feel safer in India than we have in many other countries including Vietnam and Morocco. We have even compiled a list of safest places in India which you can find here >>.
When it comes to comparing north and south India there are safe places in both regions. While traveling in India we experienced safe travel and the kindness of locals in both north and south India From the kind man helping us onto the right bus in Chennai south India (view the moment here at 1.21). to the tailor who repaired my dress for free in Udaipur north India…you can see that moment in the video below at 4.07.
Our Pick: North or South? – Overall we felt south India has a much more relaxed vibe, making it feel safe and easy to travel through.
Crime Rates in North Indian States
- Rajasthan – 224
- Haryana – 381
- Delhi – 1273
- Uttar Pradesh – 153
- Uttarakhand – 133
- Punjab – 140
- Himachal Pradesh – 200
- Jammu and Kashmir – 280
North India has some very safe places and some areas where you need to take extra care. The mountain states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh felt extremely safe and they had a very peaceful and welcoming vibe. Although we didn’t run into any safety issues in north India, some places did feel more ‘dodgy’ than others, so we made sure not to roam about late at night and always kept our valuables hidden.
As you can see by the statistics above, Delhi and Haryana have partially high crime rates and are known across India to be some of the more dangerous states so be sure to be mindful of this before travelling here. One great tip is to travel with locals or at least start your trip with a local family through Couchsurfing or Workaway. Friendly locals will ensure you only visit safe places and will make you feel much more at ease about travelling in India.
Crime Rates in South Indian States
- Kerala – 534
- Tamil Nadu – 246
- Karnataka – 193
- Andhra Pradesh – 243
The south Indian state of Kerala has been known as a very safe state. However, in recent years crime rates have risen and Kerala has now the second highest crime rate in India second only to Delhi. From our experience, we did find Kerala very safe and did not feel threatened or afraid at any moment.
We also spent a lot of time in Tamil Nadu, where the locals are extremely friendly and kind and we found Chennai to be one of the safest most relaxed metropolis cities of India. Overall we felt that south India felt more relaxed and safer for travel than north India.
Although we had a very positive experience in south India and never ran into any trouble, it’s important not to ignore these crime rates and to exercise common sense while travelling. You can also check out our full guide to >> (opens in a new tab)”>avoiding travel scams here >>>
Pollution in North and South India
Unfortunately 13 of the world’s most polluted cities are situated in north India. You will notice a clear difference in air quality when comparing north and south India. While many cities in north India reach hazardous zones as far as air quality is concerned, there are no cities in South India that currently have hazardous air quality levels.
You will also notice trash and rubbish pollution to be more prevalent in north India than in South India overall. The cleaner streets and air is one reason why many people recommend visiting south India for first time travellers to India.
Our Pick: North or South? – South India wins here…..the south has much cleaner air and the streets have less trash.
Most Polluted cities in North India – Data from June 2020
|City in North India||PM2.5 / Air Quality||Alert Level|
Most Polluted cities in South India – Data from June 2020
|City in South India||PM2.5 / Air Quality||Alert Level|
So thats our summary of north and south India. As we mentioned earlier which one you decide to travel to for your first trip will depend on your travel style, but we hope this information will help make your decision easier! If you have any further questions about the differences between north and south India let us know in the comments and we will try our best to answer as best we can!
Cheers, Native Travellers
INTREPID & OFF THE BEATEN PATH TRAVEL STORIES, GUIDES, TIPS & HACKS