The 2 BEST Indian backpacking routes
So the day is coming for you to book those tickets, but where are the best Indian backpacking routes? It is a massive country, after all, and it is your first shot. You would have saved hard for your money so you will want to get the most out of your time, surely? India has quite the reputation for being enthralling to the extreme. You will find that reputation proceeds itself. However, you cant see it all! Even with a whole year, you will still only be able to see a small fraction of what is on offer.
Even though there are oodles of travelling routes you could take in India, most tourists will opt to take one of two. There is one classic route to the north of the country and one to the south. With four to six months, you could sample them both. Any less, and I wouldn’t bother as it takes much longer than that to see it in depth anyway. The rule is never to try and cram too much onto one trip.
This post is not about planning your trip. It is only about the routes. I try to keep things as it says on the tin. I have learned I cant cover too many topics on one blog; else, it will be longer than the Doomsday Book, and you will need a power nap in between chapters. For the best Infomation on organising and executing your perfect dream trip, start by checking out my blog called how to plan a trip to India in 5 easy steps.
I recommend these two routes wholeheartedly as they both have the best tourist infrastructures the country has to offer. You will probably be super grateful for that structure as travel to more remote states can become very tough indeed. We have a lot to get through, so I have to get on with it, and I am going to start with the northern route. It seems as good as a place as any, so let us get to it.
The classic northern backpacking route Delhi to Kolkata.
Here is what I would imagine is the most popular of them all. The route takes in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal. There are variances on the route, of course, but many of the most iconic sights in the whole country can be found here. Some people fly in and out of New Dehli as seeing even the major sights can take months, and not everyone has that sort of time to play with. I have detailed posts on each area, so please check them out when you get the time. My guide to Indian travel routes is meant to be a brief overview only, so here we go, guys.
Backpacking in Rajasthan.
Rajasthan is India as you dreamed it to be. It is a place of maharajas, grand palaces and tiger filled jungles. Even the state capital of Jaipur is magnificent. Its ancient red city is one massive living museum. You could spend days just ambling around its narrow atmospheric backstreets, and with the elegant Amber fort as the crowning glory, this city alone could take you days to explore. There are many more magnificent forts to marvel at, such as Jaisalmer, Bundi and Jodhpur. I can guarantee you that each one of these places would leave you jaw-dropped and well worth the time invested.
If ancient forts don’t do it for you, the country’s most vibrant and colourful culture surely will. The insanely romantic city of Udaipur can keep you entertained for quite a while. The timeless Havelis and palaces make for an intoxicating backdrop against the scenic Lake Pichola.
Ranthambhore is also one of the best places on earth to spot the majestic tiger, and despite its harsh interior Rajasthan is home to an astonishing array of wildlife. I will now make an odd recommendation. If you are here for wildlife, I would suggest going to Jaisalmer for a camel Safari in the great Thar desert. That’s right; I am suggesting a wildlife safari in the desert. Not only is the Thar rich strangely rich in wildlife, but you will also see a very unique culture, and I have not seen anything else like it anywhere in the world.
It is also one of India’s most cost-effective states to travel in, so you get all this, and you can look forward to saving a few rupees. There is an excellent budget backpacker infrastructure in this state, so it’s a win-win all the way in Rajasthan.
Travel in Uttar Pradesh.
So let’s start with what is so special about this state. Well, firstly, it’s the people. There are a lot of them. In fact, there are 204 million of them. That’s over half of the population of every man, woman and child living in the United States crammed into an area smaller than Texas. This creates a riot of humanity, as you can well imagine. The incredibly fertile Gangetic plains have made it all possible. Human beings have settled here for thousands of years, and that has left endless wonders to keep the avid backpacker wide-eyed.
It is also home to India’s most iconic places, such as the elegant Taj Mahal in Agra or the sacred city of Varanasi. There have been countless documentaries covering the latter and for an excellent reason. Quite frankly, if Varanasi does not grab your attention, then nothing will. Surely nowhere on earth is a brash and in your face as India’s holy city of lights. Come and check it out for yourself and see if you dont agree.
Many destinations in this great state are underdogs with backpackers yet no less amazing. The grand monuments of the British Raj’s of the city of Lucknow are steeped in a turbulent and bloody history that will leave you speechless. The holy city of Ayodhya is no less grand, but few backpackers make the journey here. That is good for you as there is a whole ancient city for you to discover and you will have it largely to yourself.
However, my all-time favourite underdog in Uttar Pradesh is the tiny village of Chitrakut. It is easily accessible and not far from the city of Allahabad. The narrow streets here have plenty of charm to keep you entertained for days on end. Known as Varanasi in miniature, Chitrakut sees almost none of the publicity of its more famous counterparts. There are no burning ghats, and the town appeals primarily to Hindus who come from far and wide to bathe in its sacred waters.
The best places to travel in Kolkata
Of all of the major cities, tourists are likely to enter. This one is my favourite. As the state capital of West Bengal, Kolkata is the gateway to many of the countries top tourist draws. With an enormous international airport, it is easy to access.
Kolkata is often associated with Mother Teresa’s story and her work helping those living in extreme poverty. If you are unfamiliar with that story, check out the link provided, as it makes for a compelling and accurate tale. However, many local people are not thrilled at the portrayal of their home town. I have to say I see their point. While there is indeed a lot of poverty, Kolkata is widely regarded as the country’s intellectual capital, and it’s seen as a good thing to send your children to university in this epic city. It is both affluent and cosmopolitan in modern Indian culture, so this image offends some of its proud inhabitants.
For the intrepid traveller, Kolkata positively overflows with things to keep your attention. From grand architecture and manicured parks to some of the best food on the subcontinent. This city has it all and with only a fraction of the hassles that come with cities like Dehli. I know many of you will want to rush off to your chosen destination, but I implore you to give it the chance it deserves. Even though it is hectic and overcrowded, it is sure to be one of the most memorable city breaks you will make in India.
The southern route – Goa to Tamil Nadu via Kerala.
This is definitely another of the most recommended routes for first-time travellers to India as there is an outstanding tourist infrastructure here as well. Despite it costing a little more than the north, it is still excellent value and backpacker-friendly.
Everything will be radically different from the route I have just covered. Down here, everything is lush and green. There is mile upon mile of beautiful coastline for you to explore. The pace of life is overwhelmingly more relaxed, and even the food is different. In all reality, you could visit the north on one trip and come to the south on the next. It would still feel like you were on a brand new holiday in a brand new country. There is a lot to get through, and I dont want you falling asleep on me, so let’s get back to it!
The best places in Goa.
Well, here is a state quite unlike any other. Its culture is quite unlike anything you could expect to find elsewhere in the country. The people are largely Christian, and despite everyone talking about the dreamy beaches, it was the cathedrals that really caught my eye. The Portuguese left them sprinkled across the state during their occupancy and quite honestly could compete with anything we have in England. The beaches are indeed dreamy, and many tourists come here and wind up staying indefinitely or at least until their visa runs out.
Many people come here to sample the legendary Goan beach life. You can spend your time relaxing or partying hard in one of the many bars and clubs. It is easy to meet your fellow travellers here and make new friends or simply get lost in a book. It is all down to your preferences, to be honest.
Goa is super tourist-friendly, with mountains of international restaurants selling everything from fine sushi to pie and chips. It is perfect for those people who have missed a little taste of home from their long travels across the country. However, whatever you do, please don’t neglect to try the local cuisine. Goan food is out of this world and not to be missed. Try the chicken xacuti, or perhaps sink your teeth into an authentic vindaloo to truly travel your taste buds.
The best places to travel in Karnataka.
For me, Karnataka is one of the most spectacular parts of the whole country to explore period. Steeped in history and deliciously tropical. There is a truckload of sights for you. So much, so it is hard to know where to start but let me try.
Here you can find some of the countries best national parks are home to some of the most incredible animals to be found on the planet, such as the Asian elephant or the black panther. Wildlife enthusiasts can fill their boots good and proper in a place like Nager Hole national park or the world-famous Bandra.
History Buffs can go wild as well on the boulder-strewn landscapes of Hampi. Get ready to spend several days trying to get to grips with this place as there is so much to see. One thing that is for sure, you will never forget your time here as one historical wonder after another will take your breath away. If you have not had enough, make sure you swing by the cosmopolitan city of Hyderabad to check out the mighty Golconda fort. This fort reminded me of how I have always envisioned Camelot to be if it were a real place. Check it out and see if your imagination agrees with mine.
There is also mile upon mile of stunning coastline to explore, although the most popular is Golcana beach. It’s a bit of a deceptive name as it is not so much a beach as a collection of them. This place has been drawing in backpackers for years for the stunning scenery and as a laid-back alternative to Goa. If you are a pure hedonistic beach lover, why not try them both and see what you prefer? Go on, treat yourself.
Backpacking in Kerala.
Well, this is definitely one of the most popular states to travel in. India’s spice coast is world-famous. The lush and fertile Western Ghats spectacularly dominates the interior of this state. So what are the Western Ghats? From a geological perspective, they are a crumple zone that formed when the Indian subcontinent drifted over a geothermal hotspot as it separated from Africa and drifted towards Asia. This caused something akin to blistering on the surface of the land. Today It is one of the most biologically productive places on the planet. Life has taken every conceivable form here and can not fail to impress.
Dont forget to checkout the Keralan backwaters as long as you are in this incredible place. It is home to a district culture that has learned to thrive on its productive and unpredictable waters. You can walk among the farmlands that produce everything from the tenderest coconuts to the finest cardamom. It is sure to be eye-opening, and if the culture does not get you, the impressive wildlife surely will.
There are countless national parks to visit and by far the most famous Perrior House. However, it is not the most impressive, in my humble opinion. There is so many to choose from, and this one has the handicap of being overwhelmingly busy, although some animals like elephants are not especially hard to spot.
Kerala is simply fantastic, and I would even go as far as to say that no Indian travel guide would be complete without covering this iconic state. Travel here is very much recommended as there really is nowhere else quite like it. The long and beautiful stretch of coastline is intensely tropical. It is known as the Malabar coast and is legendary among backpackers for its beauty. Its reputation proceeds itself, and it is indeed as beautiful as the stories will lead you to believe.
Most tourists will stay in the south of the state on beaches such as Kovalam or Varkala. Although I strongly suggest checking out the more remote beaches of the north. Here you will find endless stretches of sand to sink your feet into, and yours will largely be the only set.
Kerala is blessed with an ancient culture that is still very widely practised. Colourful and distinct, it is a delight to discover. There are unusual customs everywhere, from elaborate interpretive dances to fire walking. This state has some customs that you will never forget you witnessed, trust me. Kerlan cuisine is synonymous with good food, so please do not neglect to branch out and sample some local fare. There is simply too much to say about this place, so I have to stop before this article becomes far too long, but you get the point, right?
Exploring Tamil Nadu.
Again, this state is completely different from anywhere else. It sits at the very bottom of the county and just a stone’s throw from Srilanka. I know I keep saying that there is nowhere else like it, but it does not change the fact it is true. Despite it being next to Kerala and the same western Ghats juts into the state like an unstoppable rock wave, it is completely different.
Tamils cling tightly to their unique customs despite how fast the country is hurtling into the twenty-first century. As soon as the working day is done, temples buzz with activity, and it is hard not to get caught up in it all.
For me, by far, the most impressive thing about visiting this state is its wonders of antiquity. This state has seen many Hindu civilisations rise and fall over the years, and each has left its treasures for you to discover. Some are massive and can take the whole day to walk around, like in Madurai or Tanjore. Its intricately carved towers are famous worldwide, with some containing hundreds of sculptures on a single pillar that seem to reach the sky effortlessly.
Others are as small and elegant as the beautiful 8th century Shore Temple in Mamallapuram near Chennai. It could take you weeks to even see even the most famous of this states landmarks, in all fairness, so don’t leave your itinerary too tight if history is your thing.
The old French colonial town of Pondicherry has become one of the most unusual cities in the country. With its relaxed lifestyle and its wide clean streets, it is striking in the extreme. There is plenty of fine food, and there is a bohemian feel to it. Ex-pats and locals alike engage in every spiritual pursuit imaginable here. I recommend coming, if not for anything else but seeing how different it is compared to just about anywhere else in the world.
As I stated, the western ghats also spill into Tamil Nadu, and the biodiversity is no less enthralling for it. There are some fine hill stations to escape the baking plains below when you have had enough of the sunshine. The most famous of them all has to be Ooty. The mist-covered mountains can hide the heritage building that dots the landscape. It is hard not to be impressed with this place, and no one would blame you if you got stuck here for a month.
If Tamil Nadu does feature on your itinerary, do not neglect to check out the local cuisine. Cooking is a passion in this state and has its own style of greatness. You could do a lot worse than sinking your teeth into such delicacies as chicken Chettinad or the softest idlis around. I just found it a shame I kept getting full as I just wanted to keep going.
In summary of my post on the best Indian backpacking routes.
Now here ends my post on the two best Indian backpacking routes, and they really are. Stick to the places with the best tourist infrastructure until you get used to how things work. Some tourists will say that they dont want to go somewhere touristy. I would say tourists want to go to these places for a reason. I would imagine there is hardly a person alive who would not be blown away by the Taj Mahal’s elegant splendour or the sumptuous beauty of the Keralan beaches.
Of course, these are only a couple of the routes you could potentially take, but these really are the best two, especially if you have never been before. They also take in some of the most iconic sights the country has to offer.
I hope you enjoyed this post and found it of value. As usual, It has been written based on my own experiences, and it contains my sincere experience. If you have found this to be for you and have any questions, do not hesitate to ask. Just leave them in the comment section provided, or better yet, sign up for my emails. There you will get both my very best India to travel advice and round the clock support from me. Just ask away, and I will do my very best to make sure your dream trip goes as smoothly as possible.
With that said, it’s time for me to go so you can get back to your busy lives. So, until the next time, my fellow intrepid travellers, happy planning.
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