Backpacking India complete guide 2021
Here is a country that features on many of our bucket lists and for an excellent reason. Just thinking about backpacking India conjures up visions of the exotic and the grand. The reality is no less magnificent than your expectations. Quite frankly no other country on earth is as vibrant or colourful as India in my opinion. There is so much to grab your attention; it’s hard to know where to focus it sometimes. I have spent almost half a decade travelling around the Indian subcontinent, and I still feel like I have seen nothing.
Maybe you dream off feeling your toes in the powdery white sands of the picture-perfect beaches of the Andamans, or maybe you want to search for tigers in lush jungles that could be straight out of Rudyard Kiplings Jungle Book. Or perhaps you want to find yourself on the snowy peaks of the mighty Himalayas. Whatever it is you are looking for India has you covered. There are oodles of reasons that could drive a person to grab a rucksack and head to this incredible country.
Before I start, I want to make it clear to my readers what this post is about and what it’s not. This post will not be covering where to go in India as I have buckets of posts on suggestions, and there is no point trying to cram half-hearted descriptions into one post. Nor will I be talking about what to put in your rucksack as I have a whole book you can download to tell you that. This post is about what to do when you actually arrive, and you want to start Backpacking India.
I will also state that there is no point covering COVID19 issues as they change so fast, and this blog would be outdated by next week. In England, we dont know what we are doing tomorrow let alone in six months. For up to date information on travel restrictions check out the Indian Bureau Of Immigration COVID19 page.
Now we have spoken about what you can expect to discover in this post we can get on with the good stuff. If you plan your first trip or your third, it still pays to read blogs from other travellers to learn what they know. It really helps learn from other people’s mistakes to create the trip you want with as fewer complications as possible. This post will be packed with all my best tricks and tips to help you navigate your way across the country. With that said, let’s get started.
As soon as you arrive in India, you will be enthralled and probably overwhelmed by the country’s intensity. You will find it is radically different from anywhere else in the world no matter where you land. I would recommend the first thing you do is settle down. Find a hotel and get over your jetlag and get used to your new surroundings. If you have the energy check out the local sights and dont go crazy on the local food to start with as delicious as it all is.
Your digestive system will probably struggle with the richness of the heavily spiced cuisine, and the ubiquitous Delhi belly is definitely not unique to just Delhi. The last thing you want is a bad belly on top of jetlag. Until I become used to things, I tend to eat a western breakfast and a local dinner. There will be plenty of options to eat the standard-issue tourist fair in almost any city you land in. They tend to have a well-developed infrastructure for backpackers as we have been coming to India for a very long time.
Although I must confess, all of the worst cases of food poisoning I have ever had have been from tourist restaurants, so be selective on where you eat partially to start. If you are coming from the west where our food is heavily treated to stop any forms of bacteria living in it, your digestive system will find this a struggle so be cautious but not paranoid.
This post will not be covering cost either as I have a whole section of this website of working out your budget and saving money while you are on the road. I will say those blogs that talk about Backpacking in India for 10 dollars a day are full of it and I think it is very unsound advice to be handing out. As nice as it is to believe the truth is India is hurtling into the modern world at breakneck speed. Every time I visit the cost of living increases. Not to mention cutting yourself short of a daily budget will greatly affect the quality of your experience.
For example, the iconic Taj Mahal is currently priced at 1300inr for foreigners to enter in 2021. That’s already about $17 based on today’s exchange rates. It is just not possible guys! For a realistic overview of what your money will get you, please take a look at my post on working out your daily budget. It will pay in dividends if you have a good idea of what you will be spending before you arrive as no one wants to go home early, right? Whatever you do, once you have worked out your daily budget, keep a record of your spending so you can better manage your money.
Managing your time while backpacking in India.
Taking it slowly does not end with when you first arrive. It is a trend that should remain throughout your trip, regardless of how long or short it is. The speed you travel is another major contributing factor that will dictate the quality of your experience. I often see travellers who have insane ideas of what is achievable and cram far too much into their itineraries.
Its all very nice to say I will spend two days here and one day here when you are writing it on paper. The reality is woefully different. Not only is there a very high chance that getting from one place to the next will not always be as smooth sailing as you would have imagined, but you can lose time easily.
For example, if you were to visit one of the heavenly beaches in Kerala and plan for two days that can easily turn into a week as you become lulled into the tropical bliss.
Or perhaps you want to visit Hampi, and you look at the map and think you can see it all in two days. Well, you can, but you will miss out on all its charms. It is not just a few ruins; there is also The mesmerising landscapes to take in. There is also the possibility of rock climbing, birdwatching, bear watching, otter watching, cooking lessons, mountain biking, boating and hiking. The odds are that once you are there at least one of these things will appeal to you, and everything takes time.
It is a good idea to have a route drawn up before you leave your home country. This will minimalise backtracking and wasting your precious time. Not only will it prevent you from spending all your time on public transport instead of actually doing something, but it is also far more cost-effective. I would suggest you draw your proposed route on a map to see how effective your trave will be. You will want it to be as circular as possible when you sketch it out for maximum productivity.
Plan your journey to India.
Get a guide book and plan your journey. Planning your dream trip helps me get up on a Monday morning and face my working week as I am sure it will for you. It will also prove to be useful if you have an understanding of what to expect.
Many travellers would say that’s rubbish and it’s much better to turn up and see where the wind takes you. In reality, that is not a good long term plan as you will spend a lot more money than you need to and probably be subject to countless scams. Not to mention that may place you in unnecessary danger. Knowledge is definitely key to getting the most out of your time while backpacking anywhere.
Think about what is it you really want to get out of your time on the road backpacking. You saved hard for it, so it makes sense to get what you actually want from your time and money. There is a lot of reasons to come after all, and everyone is different. Some of you might be nature lovers and some might be history buffs. It may be the thrill of adventure travel that put the wind in your hair or perhaps you want to find yourself on your very own spiritual quest.
Once you have decided this, I would implore you to remember you can’t see it all. India is a vast country with a multitude of landscapes and cultures that are radically different from the next. My next trip will be to Northeast India and Odisha. I have had to budget at least half a year to see just this part because that’s simply how long it takes. If you have a look on the map, you will see just how small an area that is. If you have a month and have decided you want to see India’s north and south, I suggest you reconsider.
Yes, you could fly from one end of the country to the other and spend two weeks in each, but your experience would be so fleeting you would miss a large part of what makes these places so magical. If you have a month focus your time on one or two states only.
For example, even to take in the main highlights of Rajasthan will comfortably swallow up that time. Once you have taken in Pushkar, Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bundi and Ranthambhore, that will be the best part of your month over with. These places are so radically different and equally magnificent. You will almost certainly have a far richer experience if you take the time to absorb what’s on your doorstep rather than try and cover unnecessary ground only to spend your time in transit.
Transport in India.
After you have decided where you are going, you have to decide how you will get from one place to the next. There are many options to choose from so let us briefly take a look at each one.
Air travel In India.
There are plenty of budget airlines to ferry you from one end to the country, and sometimes it is just practical to utilise these services as there is not much in the cost and India is a massive country. Some train journeys can take days. Unless you are a train enthusiast, you will probably want to avoid that if possible.
Train travel in India.
You cant fly from one town to the next so when it comes overland travel riding the Indian railways is the undisputed king. There are over 3000 train stations in the country to choose from, and the train tracks fan out like a misshapen spiders web making almost everywhere accessible. The Indian railways are the single largest employer of people to be found anywhere on earth. Getting the train is an experience unto itself.
It is hard to make sense of this as efficient as it is, so I have written an in-depth post on getting around India to help my readers make sense of where and how to book the tickets. The trains are as comfortable as you pay them to be, but considering the costs of even the more luxurious classes, they are still very reasonably priced in relation to ours. I will include a link to the Indian railway’s website for further information, and to check availability.
Please read my post as it contains a lot of information. It would be impractical for me to include everything in just one post, such as utilising the tourist quota or explaining the different classes. It can be nothing but beneficial for you to arm yourself with the relevant information. I genuinely would like your trip to be as smooth and enjoyable as possible.
India by bus and jeep.
Both public and private bus services connect almost every town. These run at competitive rates, and there will be times you will almost certainly need one. Again all the relevant information can be found in that post I gave the link to above. In the upper reaches of the country and in the Northeast you will find jeeps replace busses. Make sure you check the jeep is roadworthy and negotiate how much space exactly you have just bought because they can become insanely overcrowded.
Getting around Indian cities.
Getting around cities is easy enough as there are tuk-tuks and taxis everywhere. The problem is with this option is you will have to negotiate a price every time you get one, and they drive a hard bargain that can become exhausting on your soul after days on end. There are also several scams you may fall victim to. Again I have an in-depth post on these and many other of the common scams you are likely to encounter. I would recommend reading that post as well as the scams are many and you are very likely to encounter a truckload of them on a long trip.
You can get around having to negotiate for a taxi all the time by using the Uber and Ola apps. I would recommend you instal on your smartphone as soon as you arrive. These services are available in most large cities all across India. If you can work out the public bus service, this is a handy way to save some money although it can be a confusing and time-consuming way to get around.
Accommodation in India.
It must be a shock to no one to discover there are oodles of hotels to choose from, and they greatly vary in cost. your best bet is either compare online or check out the guide book for price comparisons. Something to note is things work differently in India compared to most places elsewhere. If you book online as you would normally do with booking.com or something similar, it will actually work out quite a lot more. Walk-ins can potentially get a significant discount if you bring your best poker face and bargain hard.
Another interesting point is there are no rules against hotel owners putting up pictures from ten years before. What you see online is often not what you get in reality, and if you have booked and paid already, there is nothing you can do about it. I have seen a lot of disappointed faces over the years from this little scam over the years.
Ok here is a pro tip for you, If you are more than one person you have a major advantage. One person can wait with the bags, and the other can go to several hotels to find the very best places to rest your head. The way it looks is you have no luggage, indicating you already have a room and no hotel owner wants you walking out. Everything is a negotiation in India and booking a room is no different. By doing this, it gives you an advantage from the start. I know it can seem exhausting after a long journey, but that little bit of extra effort can save you good money.
As the cost of living increases, I have seen several super-budget hostels pop up in the big cities for backpackers. They are by no means comfortable, but they will have to do if you are travelling on a tight budget. These places are only common in cities that see a lot of backpackers. I wouldn’t expect that elsewhere. For example, when I travelled through Gujarat, I was very limited on anything that did not cost a couple of thousand rupees a night, so some states are more budget-friendly than others. If they see many foreign backpackers, you will probably find something not necessarily clean but cheap.
Summary of my post on Backpacking India.
That should do as a good introduction to backpacking India. I gave plenty of links to other posts; otherwise, this one would be so long it would be indigestible. I did not cover staying healthy while backpacking either so here is a link. That’s a whole lot of further reading for you, and I am sure you will find it all of value. I really enjoyed writing this post, and I did the whole thing in one sitting. I hope you enjoyed reading it as half as much as I liked writing it.
The information I have provided has come from years of experience. I make sure my work is always sincere and honest. I will never recommend something I don’t genuinely think is a good idea. Ok, I have babbled on enough now, so if you have any questions, then please leave them in the comments section below, and I will get back to you. That’s all, for now, folks so until the next time my fellow intrepid traveller’s happy backpacking.
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