How long should I go Backpacking in India?
So you have decided to travel to India? Well done for your choice as no other country gives you more bang for your buck, and no other country is as vibrant or colourful. Now to decide how long to travel here?
India is a vast country, and seeing anything takes time. Getting off the beaten track takes a lot more time. India is such a varied place; it can feel like you have gone to another country when you cross into another state sometimes. So the short answer to How long should I go backpacking in India? Is as long as you can.
Realistically some of us have responsibilities such as mortgages, children, jobs or their pet cat mittens they need to get back home to. So many of us cant take a year off and live out of a backpack.
It also depends on what you want to get out of your trip. If your goal is to see tigers, then you probably won’t need a year. But then, if you are on a spiritual quest, that will take much longer as there is so much to explore.
There are many contributing factors to this question and what you want is a very personal choice, and one I will have little impact on. The truth is India has a little something for everyone. From a few days away to relax to multi-day expeditions into the wild, you can find it all in one country. In this post, I will be looking at what your time will get you and what you can expect. The answer to that question will be based on your personal goals and how do they fit into the time frame.
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A weekend away.
While you can’t expect to achieve much in this amount of time, it is better than nothing, right? How much would you expect to see on the weekend anywhere? You can at least go on a city break, and some of India’s cities are fascinating. I have four recommendations that you will get something meaningful out of with your designated time slot.
Number 1 New Dehli.
This city has more people living in it that the whole of Australia. Now let that sink in for a moment. Delhi is a kaleidoscope of humanity and is sure to leave your jaw dropped. It has a fast and effective Metro system that can whisk you into the city from the airport in no time. For the best results, check out Old Dehli as you want to maximise your time, which is where all the juicy stuff is. For more information, check out my post on what this part of town has to offer.
Number 2 Chennai.
While there is not much to see in Chennai itself, it is only a short taxi ride to the fabulous Mamallapuram. This tiny town sits on the coast, and there are some ok beaches there. But the highlight is the remains of the Pallava dynasty dating back to the 7th century. These ruins are world-class and include the spectacular shore temple. While it is no castaway style adventure here, it is a relaxing little town, and there is very little hustle.
Number 3 Panjim (Goa)
While any trip to a Goan beach would be fleeting, it is still possible. If you must get your toes in some sand on your holiday, this is your best bet. Panjim is not without its charm. Far from it and if its culture you want its culture you will get. The town is dotted with magnificent churches leftover from the Portuguese colonial era, and they can rival anything you can find in Europe, particularly those found in Old Goa. Exploring this little slice of history is a lovely way to spend your time. Another plus point is the local food that I have only ever found in Goa itself. You can eat yourself silly here as it is delicious.
Number 4 Kolcutta
The city is associated in the west with poverty, and I would imagine the residence are not thrilled by that. The truth is its the intellectual capital of the country. There is so much to see here without leaving the city and all within easy reach of your hotel. If you decide this is for you, don’t miss the Victoria Memorial or the Flower Market. Calcutta is my favourite city, and I often use it as my entrance into the country because I love this city.
Two weeks away.
You can now leave the big cities but don’t go too far. With two weeks, you can take in a whole lot more, and if that is all you have, well, that is not the end of the world. If you plan what you want to do, you can actually cover quite a bit of ground. I would not try and cram too much in, though, especially if you’re going to head to Leh for a little trekking. Here are my very classic suggestions on what you can do with your time.
Number 1 Trekking in the great outdoors.
With two weeks outdoor enthusiasts can rejoice as you can fly to Leh and the top of the world. You will need some time to adjust. Give yourself at least twenty-four hours, but that is all down to the individual as it may take longer at that altitude.
My advice is don’t book anything more than flights from home. It works out way more expensive, and there are a gazillion agencies who can organise something if you need assistance and at competitive rates. Most package deals only allow for a day acclimatising, and what if your body is not ready? You simply won’t finish your trip and waste your money. Leave yourself with flexibility.
Quite frankly, if you are selective where you walk, such as on the Markha valley trek, you won’t even need a guide or porters. You may have to wait around for jeeps to get to the high mountain lakes or the Nubra valley if you don’t want to pay for the whole thing. It is not really that much of a problem anyway as they leave so frequently.
Number 2 Your great train odyssey.
In two weeks, you could fly into Dehli and out from Calcutta. This would allow you to take in some of the major sites such as the Taj Mahal, Varanasi and Bodhgaya. If you decide this quite epic journey is for you, then book all your train tickets from the tourist booking offices at whatever end you start. For more information on that, I have a post about getting around India.
The route I have just mentioned is suitable for those of you on a spiritual quest as it takes in Varanasi,. As you probably know, it is the most famous of the Hindu holy towns and the very heartbeat of its faith for many devotees. For more on that, I have a detailed post on backpacking in Varanasi. It also takes in Bodhgaya, and that is the place where Lord Buddha came to attain enlightenment while sitting under a Bodhi tree. It is one of the most auspicious sights for Buddhists, and there are meditation causes galore here.
For those of you on a more hardcore spiritual journey, I recommend you hunker down somewhere and focus on your goals. Good places for this are Goa, or even better is Rishikesh. While the route I stated does take in some pretty extraordinary sights, you will find your experience a little rushed as the train journeys are so long.
Another option for your train odyssey and one many people will choose is to focus on Rajasthan. You can fly in and out of Dehli. Organise all of your tickets from the tourist office in New Dehli train station, and then you are set. Two weeks is enough time to dip your toe into this enchanting state. It is well connected by rail, and that makes getting from place to place a breeze. You can also indulge in some outstanding wildlife viewing at Ranthambhore. Or even catch a camel into the desert from your palace in Jaisalmer. Again I have provided links to further your interests if either of those grabs you.
Number 3 Keeping it south.
The last suggestion I will give for this section is staying down south. The south of India is a very different beast from the north. Obviously, I would not recommend trying to see both with a couple of weeks to play with, but you can certainly get a little something for your time if you plan what you want to see. I have said this in multiple posts, and for a good reason. Employing this strategy and not just seeing where the wind takes, you will maximise your time and be cost-effective.
I would recommend choosing just one state, such as Karnataka or Karala and focus on that. Pick up a copy of the lonely planet and read the highlights of that state. Pick three or four things that take your fancy and focus on those. I wouldn’t push more than that as it may begin to compromise your experience if you have to spend all of your time on a bus.
The south has a little bit of everything you could possibly want, including some decent beaches, which is in short supply in the north. Blessed with a long and beautiful coastline, there is plenty of room for you to soak up a little tropical ambience.
The western Ghats occupies a portion of all three states down here, and they are some of the most biodiverse parts of the planet. Needless to say, nature lovers can fill their boots and its all very accessible as long as you are sensible, don’t try and cover too much ground.
Those on a spiritual quest can’t go wrong in Kerala. The home of Avevedic medicine and with all kinds of treatments and causes on offer.
As I have stated before, it is all very personal what you want to get out of your time. You could come back three times for two weeks and undertake each suggestion I have made. If you were to do that you would undoubtedly feel like you were coming to a different country every time. That is how utterly different they are from each other. So it is possible to get out there and get your teeth into this massive country with just a little bit of time. Some people can’t do more, and I have met people throughout the years who have come back to India, again and again, using this method.
Your one-month dream trip.
Now you have a little more legroom to see the country in all of its splendour. With a whole month, I would suggest flying in to somewhere and out through somewhere else. It is not a fabulous amount of time since, as I have already stated, the country is vast! You could take the itineraries for the two weeks I gave and combined them as well. So take two weeks in Rajasthan and then carry on to Calcutta from New Dehli.
Extend your desert adventure.
For example, take two weeks in Rajasthan and then carry on to Calcutta from New Dehli. While this would take in many the show-stopping sights, please bear in mind they are also the most stressful to visit and give a poor reflection of how kind and hospitable the Indian people are.
Like a lot of countries where you visit the big tourist spots, there will be people you have to deal with that can see you coming. They can spot people who are unfamiliar with how things work a mile off, and the odds of you being conned in some way is very high indeed. I don’t think there is a tourist alive who has embarked on this route that would disagree.
I have a whole post called, is it safe to visit India? Please read this post and save yourself some stress as it arms you with the knowledge of a lot of the most used scams. It includes overcharging for products or services. Believe me when I say it has no reflection on how the local culture actually is as most Indians are some of the most hospitable people you could ever hope to meet. Do not be deterred from this as what you will see will blow your mind trust me. Instead, be prepared for the countless scams you are sure to encounter on what is probably the most popular backpacking route.
Extend your spiritual journey.
For those on a spiritual quest, you can fly straight into Dehli then bury yourself in the spirituality in Rishikesh for a couple of weeks. From there, you can carry on to Calcutta via Varanasi and Bodhgaya. That route is sure to whet your appetite for more and takes in some incredible sites simultaneously.
Extend your southern journey.
If you head south, one really lovely suggestion is to fly into Bangalore and out through Trivandrum. My advice is to leave Bangalore as soon as you can as there is not much there. Bangalore has a good nightlife and an excellent restaurant scene. While this is true, you most probably have a Truckload of that in your own country. So move on somewhere else such as Mysore or Hampi as soon as you can.
There are so many destinations to grab your attention on this route; it is just a case of assessing what suits you. I will give a brief rundown of some of my favourites.
1 Hampi is a world-class archaeological site, and it would be a real shame to miss it. These ruins and the surrounding countryside will keep you busy for days so bear that in mind if you decide to visit. For more information on that, click the link here.
2 Gorkana is a set of beaches in the north-west of the country. It is nowhere near as busy as Goa, but it still has a lively beach scene. If this floats your boat get there as fast as you can, it is quite far from your end destination and as I said, one month is not long when everything is so damn incredible.
3 Nagarhole National park is rich in biodiversity, and while it costs a bit, you will be rewarded with getting to spend time with some of India’s show-stopping wildlife. This includes a healthy population of tigers and elephants. Not to mention the new celebrity couple that, if your very lucky, you will spot. A Leopard has paired up with a black panther, so it draws wildlife photographers the world over as there is only one of this in the world.
4 The Coorg region is a rich coffee-growing area in the Western Ghats. It is incredibly scenic and rich in wildlife. It makes for a super relaxing getaway. There are endless chances to stroll around the countryside or relax and soak up the tropical ambience.
5 Kannur is a series of beaches for those who want a little break away from it all. The beaches are empty, and there are stacks of them. This is true tropical bliss, and you are still on the mainland.
6 Cochin is an eclectic mix of historical treasures. There are remnants of the British Raj Portuguese, and Jewish monuments are all over the old town. This place is restored to perfection and makes for the perfect destination for those who want a little class from their break.
7 Munnar is a set of tea estates in the Western Ghats that are so beautiful it can hurt your eyes. Wildlife is abundant at every turn. This place can keep you entertained for day and days. You don’t need to pay for much because the true joy is merely walking in the wilds of Kerala and taking in the raw beauty of this magnificent state at its best.
8 I couldn’t get away without mentioning the iconic Keralan backwaters as they are stunning in the extreme. You can hire a canoe or a traditional luxury barge up and down the canals. Or you can walk around and see where the worlds most famous spice comes from and savour the tropical.
This brief list is in no way exhaustive, but if you undertake this quite perfect route, this is where I would advice pointing your attention at first as they are the real highlights of these two states. However, please don’t try and see all eight in one month as that would be painful and impair your experience.
A month of real beach bliss.
For those who seek nothing more than tropical bliss, then get a flight to the Andaman Islands. Your permit is free, and it lasts for one month conveniently for you. Now I have travelled to many countries and hung my hammock from many a coconut tree. Nothing I have ever seen compares to this island chain, and that is honest. The big-hitting Island is Havelock, and I have a separate post for that and many more. I didn’t recommend it in the two weeks section as while it is possible, it would be a little rushed, and it is hard to leave paradise. It is only slightly more manageable after a month, if I am honest.
Your six-month saga.
Now we are talking! You can get out and really see something good. Don’t be fooled, though, that six months will tick by very quickly. When you have a six-month window, it is easy to plan on covering vast amounts of ground, and I would implore you not to do that. It doesn’t look far on a map, but the country is massive, and you can easily spend the bulk of your time getting from one place to another if you are just trying to cross stuff off. Travel slowly and take in what you are seeing. It will enrich your experience and be way more cost-effective.
You do, however, have a little more time to invest in those hard to reach spots such as the Zanskar or Spiti Valley. This also applies anywhere in the northeast as it can take a massive amount of your itinerary to see this. It can easily swallow up half of your trip if you want to see it in depth. Things run in time in these places and definitely not on time. But if you are adventurous, then these places should definitely be considerations for you.
I am a big fan of adventure travel so what I like to do is work out a route that pushes my limits for some time, then take a break somewhere relaxing like the Andamans or down south on the coast.
A useful tip for you to maximise your time is to draw your proposed route on a map of India and try to work it in a circle. This avoids unnecessary backtracking and spending more time than you have on transport. Another alternative of cause is to fly into one airport and fly out of another. All the time minimalising your backtracking of cause.
If you are on a long trip, it is fair to assume costs will be an issue and I have several posts that you will find helpful on this topic. In my post, how long to travel in India? I cover your daily spend and whatever it is you decide will really get you. Obviously, the more money you chuck at it, the more you can do. While no other country offers better value than India, it is not as cheap as some people will tell you.
My second post on the issue is called whats the cost to travel to India for a month? In this article, I cover how to structure your money once you have decided on that daily spend.
In my third and final post on money issues, I talk about tips that you can apply not to lose money while you’re on the road and this is called how to travel to India cheaply. It is a little unimaginative in the title, I know but, don’t hold that against me.
I know with six months it can seem like you have all the time in the world but do plan what you want to see. Planning your six-month saga can give you a reason to get out of bed on a Monday morning, and it is a pleasure to dream. Practically the more you know about what to expect and how to get there, will inevitably give you a richer experience. Get a guide book such as the lonely planet and start planning as soon as possible.
You will have the luxury of mixing up the parts of the country that interests you and I cannot overstate it enough how different they are from each other. I am just throwing it out there but, India dolls out one-year tourist visas on request should you want one. You have to leave the country for any amount of time after one hundred and eighty days. One very possible thing is after you come home, you will be planning your next big trip as soon as you can to this incredible country.
In summary of my post, How long should I go backpacking in India?
I think the most important thing for me to point out is my suggestions are far from exhaustive and if you have any questions you might think I will be able to help with such as would my plan work? Or how much do you think this would cost? Then do not hesitate to ask. I have spent almost half a decade travelling here, but my journey is far from over. I do, however, have a good understanding of how things work for a visitor, so don’t be shy to ask.
So that about wraps up my post on How long should I go backpacking in India? It turned out to be a long question to address, and thanks for getting to the end. So until the next time, my fellow intrepid travellers, happy planning.
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