- Eat: Curries, of course. Eat all of the curries, everywhere you go. Indian food is simply incredible. At lunchtime, go for a thali. For something around $1, you’ll be presented with rice, roti, dhal, a couple of curries, yoghurt & mango chutney. To avoid the dreaded “Delhi Belly”, follow the advice found below in the “beware” section.
- Drink: Chai. Sickly sweet, but incredibly welcome (especially masala chai). This drink will set you up with the energy you need to help you through the sweltering heat.
- Wear: More than you’d like to. This rule is especially true for ladies. Legs & arms (especially shoulders) should be covered so as to a) avoid causing offence, and b) avoid unwanted attention from men.
- Beware: It’s no secret that getting sick in India is pretty common. It’s best to eat at popular places and at the busiest times of day. Families with children among the clientele is a good indication of a trusted restaurant. Eat until you’re satisfied, but stop there (which may be a challenge, given how delicious the food tends to be). And for the love of all that’s good and pure in this world, DON’T DRINK THE TAP WATER!
When starting to write a backpacking guide to India, we realised that we were embarking upon an absolutely impossible task! India is such a huge, incredibly diverse and ever-changing country with literally hundreds of different languages and cultures! How could anyone ever write a comprehensive enough guide to cover everything?
The truth is – no one can, especially a non-Indian! So, we decided to enlist our pal, Shreya Nandi, Mumbai born and bred, to help us with this beginners’ guide to backpacking in India! With her help, we’ve written, what can only be called an ‘introduction’ (even though it’s just short of 7,000 words!).
Below, you’ll find everything from advice on how to get an Indian Visa, what vaccines you will need to travel, the best time of year to visit each state, and lots of inspiration on must-visit places!
Are you ready to dig in to what will undoubtedly be a life-changing travel experience? Let’s go!
Introduction to backpacking India!
Like the country, any formal introduction to it runs the same risk, of chaos and confusion. If you have ever read an Indian epic like Ramayana or Mahabharata, you will notice a literary tendency present in the narrative – of digression.
It picks a character and off it goes, leaving the development of the main narrative at a standstill. But when the thread rejoins, the design of the plot becomes even more layered, dense and starts making so much more sense.
Talking about India is the same! You might start with the Ghats of Varanasi, but you might end up reminiscing your climb to the cannabis fields of a Himalayan hamlet. The shock of treading the Mumbai slums of Dharavi might leave you overwhelmed, but it will break all the stereotypical images you have gathered over the years from a watch of Slumdog Millionaire, the Danny Boyle movie. India is indeed a country of unparalleled contrasts!
India is like a bubbling pot of curry – you miss a masala, you miss a kick! Like a richly embroidered tapestry – if you miss a thread, you miss a pattern. Like an oral retelling surviving many generations – you miss a character, you miss a lesson. And let me tell you, every element is pivotal in understanding India. So good luck (to you, the traveler and us, the enticer)! Let us put our best foot forward to explore India. First of all, the practical stuff…
How to get an Indian Visa
Getting an Indian Visa for UK Nationals
Backpackers from the UK can apply for E-Visa four days prior to the date of departure that will allow them to travel in India for a maximum of 60 days at a time or per entry and two entries per calendar year are only allowed per e-Visa. Also, you can only get 2 e-Visas per calendar year. iVisa is the most popular and trusted online portal to apply for your Visa. It has two options for the Visa process: Super rush take 18-24 hrs and standard takes about 72 hrs within which you will get your Visa on email. But if you want to travel for a longer period of time, apply for a 180 days regular tourist Visa that will also allow you multiple entries. For more information, click here
Getting an Indian Visa for EU Nationals
Travellers from other European countries can also apply for e-TV or e-Travel Visa. You have to apply four days prior to your arrival in India and entries are only permissible through airports listed in the e-TV website. Sometimes, this email Visa is also known as Visa-On-Arrival but unlike other VOAs, this one needs to be applied for before and you have to carry the print out of the email attachment with you when you go to the airport. There the e-Visa will be stamped on to your passport upon your arrival to India. So, don’t get misled by this VOA term with respect to Indian e-Visas and think that you can get one when you touch down in India.
Getting an Indian Visa for US Nationals
US travellers can apply for a Visa that has validity for a 5 or 10 years period but then also it allows a maximum stay of only 180 days at a time. E-Visa will only grant you permission to visit the country up to 60 days or two months. Long-term visas can be applied for, for which you have to send off your passport. You can apply for E Visa from any country, so it is pretty handy if you are already traveling. But for the long-term Visa, it is advised that you apply it from the US.
P.S. E-Visas or ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) cannot be extended.
All other countries see your embassy.
Vaccines needed for travellers to India
Please see to it that you are up to date on the following vaccines of your home-country (US):
After confirming the above, take the following vaccination shots before visiting India:
- Hepatitis A & B
- Japanese Encephalitis
- Yellow Fever (especially if you are traveling from another country where yellow fever occurs)
It is advisable to check your last date of the flu shot and complete taking the vaccines mentioned above 4-6 weeks ahead of starting your journey so that they get plenty of time to start working. For more info, see here.
What is the best time to travel to India?
Bestowed with a unique location, India enjoys the bounty of many climes meaning that at any time of year it’s a good time to visit somewhere! Equatorial in the southern regions to tundra and alpine in the northern bits, the country has unparalleled beauty to boast about in every season.
Destinations and best season to visit them at a glance:
- Rajasthan & Central India – October to March
- Goa – October – May
- Kerala – September to March
- The Himalayas – February to May
- Delhi – Agra – Jaipur (Or The Golden Triangle) – October to March
- Mumbai – October to May
- Kolkata – October to January
Winter in India (High Season)
If you are on an introduction-to-India backpacking-spree, the best time of visiting the country is in winter i.e. between the months of December and March to check out all the ‘bragworthy’ destinations. Winter is very mild across India, the temperature ranging between 10-15 °C in the northwest region and 20-25 °C in the south.
In winters, the beaches will be gorgeous for sunbathing and the temple towns will be cooler to explore on foot, the Thar will offer spectacular sunsets without burning you to a crisp and the Ghats of Varanasi will be really a place to chill and introspect, but the pressure on your pockets will be steep too!
This is the ‘in-season’ time. Winter is a time for festivals and vacations around India, so besides the competition with the crowd giving you a hell in ticket booking and available accommodation, your budget will also deplete fast. But you are in for luck. India is a smorgasbord of exciting experiences that are peppered throughout all seasons. So consider these off-season options!
Summer in India (Low Season)
In the plains of Northern India, summer resonates with hot winds, dehydration, and sunstrokes. Scorching sun as well as high humidity make the daytime uncomfortable to venture out. So the best way to spend the summer is in the lap of the Himalayas or any high altitude hill station! Reach the remote reaches of the mountain like Ladakh or Spiti because the high passes are open for the season and access is comparatively easy.
Monsoon Season in India
Explore offbeat Goa during the rainy season with lashing shower and glowing greens and experience the raw-rustic slice instead of the hippie vibe. If constant rain is not a downer, then the whole stretch of the Western Ghats give you incredible spots of verdant greenery and cool climes to enjoy the restive rhythm of life.
Best Places to Visit in India for Travellers
Where to start?
South India is the best way to slip into the Indian rhythm gradually. It is packed with history, nature, wildlife, architecture, culture, food, spiritualism, hippie commune, rural life, hill stations etc. The places are less crowded and the chaos is a bit more controlled than in the North. Furthermore, train reservations are comparatively easily done and the distance between two points is not so large that you will spend all your time on a train journey.
However, if you are heading to India in summer, then South India is very hot and so is Rajasthan and the plains of North India. So for a cooler climate, you can stick to the hilly hamlets of the Himalayas.
Depending on what you’re looking for, you might want to check out the following places…
When nine states, two union territories and two islands share a coastline of 7516.6 km, you can rest assured that there will be plenty of beautiful beaches dotting them!
- Paradise Beach in Pondicherry is a personal favourite. So is Agonda Beach in South Goa. If you want to do a beach trek, do try out the seven connected beaches of Gokarna, Karnataka.
- Even in over-done Goa, you can still find some respite in hidden gems of Cola Beach, Gajlibaga Beach (famous for turtle hatching), and Butterfly Beach. Also, in Goa, you can go to beaches likeBenaulim and Vasolim for peaceful sunbathing.
- Radha Nagar Beach in the Havelock Islands in the Andamans will offer you white sandy beaches, blue water and you can wear the choice of your swimsuit without being ogled at!
- In South Kerala, you will find people raving about the clean beaches of both Marari and Varkala.
- In North Kerala, you can check out the Kannur or the Kasargod districts, they have gorgeous but less explored beaches so you can enjoy the calm and serenity.
- Also try out Kavvayi in Kannur district where you can enjoy both the backwater and the sea together. You can even swim in the backwaters.
- Bekal Beach will give you a fabulous sunset with the backdrop of a historical fort.
India: History & Culture
You can find traces of all the time periods tucked away neatly in known and unknown parts of India…
- From the caveman paintings of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh to the ruins of Indus Valley civilisation in Dholavira, Kutch…
- From the latest golden touches of Mughal Era in the form of Taj Mahal, Jama Masjid, The Red Fort and the colonial hangover of Victoria Memorial in Kolkata or the Gateway of India in Mumbai – you can see history unfolding right in front of your eyes!
- In Rajasthan, you can live the royal Rajputana culture of opulent palaces, colorful clothes, mesmerising handicrafts while humming the folk tunes of Manganiar songs and enjoying the mystique dancing of Kalbeliya women swirling around you in the deserts of Thar.
- Likewise, in the south, you will find the remnants of erstwhile glorious Vijayanagar Kingdom in Hampi where you will catch the best of both human wonder and natural wonder.
- The temple towns Tamil Nadu will drench your eyes with awe – Madhurai, Mahabalipuram and the Chettinad region demands a must visit.
As a friend once quipped, the taste of Indian curry changes every 100 km. So if you are looking for a perfect curry, it DOES NOT exist. And if you go region-wise, don’t forget to treat your tongue to some delicious taste:
- Delhi & Punjab – Butter chicken with Naan bread and various kebabs if you are a nonvegetarian. For vegetarians, try their rajma-rice or chana masala.
- The South – Crispy dosa crepe with a masala filling accompanied by piping hot bowl of sambar and a cooling coconut chutney to ease off the spice hit. Rice forms the staple and south India has a way with it to cook up a delicious steamed variety of idli or the fried variety of uttapam. Don’t forget filter kaapi (traditional South Indian coffee)!
- The West – Both Goa and Konkan coast of Maharashtra are famous for their seafood. You will find Portuguese influence in some dishes of Goa like Xacutti and cafreal. Don’t forget to try the Goan sausages (somewhat like chorizos) with pao bread.
- The East – In West Bengal or Odisha, don’t forget to try their river fish delicacies and of course the sweets.
- Northeast India – Haven for food lovers who want to go low on spices and crave for their share of pork and beef. You will get a lot of tribal cuisines here where food is prepared in the simplest way with local herbs and plants. Go light on the heat because after all, the famous chili of Bhoot Jolokia comes from this region only.
- In the Mountains – You will see a lot of Indians gorging on Maggie (similar to instant ramen noodles) in the mountain backdrop which is like a culinary cult of recent times among the Indian travelers especially. But you can definitely give it a miss and enjoy more traditional Tibetan cuisine like momos (steamed or fried dumplings) and thukpa (hearty noodle soup) if you are visiting Ladakh, Sikkim or Himachal Pradesh (Dharamshala, McLeod Ganj).
India is the land of mountains with many moods. With seven major mountain ranges, the country offers everything – from the lofty peaks of the Himalayas to its other eastern extension in the Purvanchal Range which crosses the seven sister states of Northeast India giving it its lush green beauty and awe-inspiring waterfalls.
- If you want to enjoy the snowy peaks – pick between just gorging on the sights from any hilly hamlets in the cozy valleys of Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal or Jammu and Kashmir.
- Or if you want to scale the mountains and do a trek in the Himalayas, go for Stok Kangri in Ladakh, Chadar Trek or Seven Lakes Treks in Kashmir.
- Less arduous treks will be the Triund trek in Dharamshala, Western Himachal.
- The Central Indian Satpura Range, the oldest mountain range of the Aravalli covering Indian states of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat and best enjoyed in Mount Abu or a trip to Udaipur in Rajasthan.
- The biodiversity hotspot of the Western Ghats is comprised of ranges like Nilgiris, Anaimalai etc and crosses states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.
- You can enjoy safaris in National Parks nestling in these ranges like the one in Bandipur or simply enjoy living on a coffee/tea estate or the high elevation of hill stations like Ooty and Kodaikanal.
If you want to truly sample the diversity of India, I suggest you experience anyone festival in this ‘land of festivals’. You will see the verve and fervour of one festival celebrated in multiple ways around the country. Some suggestions below…
- Holi – The festival of colours is celebrated during the spring season. You can consider places like Vrindavan where widows play ‘flower holi’ and Barsana for its traditional ‘lath-mar-holi’ style of celebration, Pushkar for a psychedelic experience which is the latest ‘trance’ trend, Basant Utsav of Shantinekatan West Bengal among poetic song and dance session where Holi is played with dry colour.
- Navratri – you can visit Mumbai or Ahmedabad if playing Garba (traditional dance) is on your mind, or if you can brave the crowd, visit Kolkata to do some pandal-hopping, see breathtaking lighting shows and gorge on awesome street food central to the spirit of the festival.
- For other popular festivals like the Pushkar Animal Fair, the opinion is it has become very mainstream and touristy and backpackers are divided in their opinion as to whether cover it or not. For something completely offbeat, Hornbill Festival in Nagaland from 1st to 10th December will give you a glimpse of various Naga tribes and their unique customs and costumes.
Spirituality is a strange concept. You might not get a soulful experience in the holiest of places yet life reveals itself to you when you are encountering the simplest of adventure many miles from a holy shrine.
- That said, the virtuous air of places like Varanasi cannot be denied. The ghats of the Ganges and serpentine lanes leading to many temples, naga sadhus dotting the sight, Sarnath where Buddha taught after he attained his enlightenment, delightful street food, an evening boat ride to see the aarti, yoga by the river will definitely calm your inner turmoil. Other places to explore spiritualism will be Bodh Gaya in Bihar, Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Rajasthan, Kedarnath Temple in the mountains of Uttaranchal, Golden Temple in Amritsar etc.
You just need to pick the backdrop for this soulful sojourn – mountain, jungle or beach, because there are a plethora of good yoga schools everywhere.
- If you are in the lap of Himalayas, Rishikesh will offer you a lot of certified yoga centers where you can opt for either a beginner’s course or a teacher training course.
- Looking for a drop-in class? That is also possible! In Kerala, Shivananda Ashram comes highly recommended by regular backpackers and serious Indian yoga practitioners.
- If sun-sand-and-sea is your call, then go Goa. It also has a plenty of yoga schools where you can practice on the beach, eat organic food, cleanse your system and detox.
India: Backpacker Hangouts
First-time solo backpacking in India can become a bit nerve-wracking especially when you are finding your way in those initial days. Some company means a lot then! And it is quite an irony that although backpackers frequent India, the cheap hostel concept with a common area to hang out is still in a developmental stage.
Hostels are there but they are not that cheap! And the cheap accommodation like guesthouses and small hotels don’t have lounge areas like other Southeast Asian countries’ hostels do. But there are places where you will come across other backpackers frequently and grow your tribe like in Hampi, Goa, Gokarna, McLeodganj, Bhagsu, Rishikesh, Pushkar etc.
India: National Parks
Watching the wildlife in their own habitat is absolutely thrilling, especially when it comes to the national animal of India, the Bengal Tiger. Winter is the time when sightings increase due to the pleasure of warm sun and therefore you can catch a glimpse of the elusive feline in the wildlife sanctuaries and national parks of central India forests like Bandhavgarh where the tiger density is highest. But if your tour plan is just around Rajasthan, then do visit Ranthambore National Park. With its beautiful landscape and picturesque Ramganga river, Corbett National Park also ranks among the top places for wildlife spotting and bird watching.
India: Off the Beaten Track
Winter is also the best time to visit the seven sisters of Northeast India: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. If you can stand the extreme cold, then the remote state of Sikkim (also part of the northeast but not included in the seven sister’s list) makes for a must visit. The gorgeous sight of the peaks of Kanchenjunga, verdant green forests and intriguing tribes of the region will make a quirky feast that will be hard to forget! For certain places in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, you will require prior permission. This is due to the proximity to China border.
India Travel Routes / Itineraries
If you’re overwhelmed with all the amazing places to visit in India (it’s no wonder!), here are some suggestions for how to tackle India…
2-weeks in India
(Stick to one or two states)
To ease the pain of planning, two weeks sing the best if instead of packing as many destinations as possible, we assign an activity or two that we want to indulge in and plan around it.
Winter, beaches and South India is a classic combination (you can check out Varkala in Kerala or Gokarna in Karnataka) and so is summer, mountains and North India (Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir). Two weeks will be a good start to a beginners’ course in yoga at places like Rishikesh and Goa or an Ayurveda course in Kerala.
If you plan to volunteer for some organizations who are working with locals for social good, you can check out places like Dharamshala in western Himachal Pradesh or Auroville in Pondicherry. Ten days Vipassana courses are available at places like Igatpuri in Maharashtra or any other fourteen centers nation-wide for travelers looking for intense meditation.
If you want to get a glimpse of the rich tribal traditions then head to Northeast India and visit states like Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. If history is your goals and you want to go temple town hopping then South India is your best bet but if yesteryear royal splendor attracts you then Rajasthan is the place to be.
3-weeks in India
(Stick to one or two states)
This is an ideal quantity of time to devote to exploring:
- Option 1: A smaller, tightly knit and compact region like a Northeast India (Meghalaya + Majuli but not during monsoon season unless you are a pluviophile and can brave the flood that threatens the plain of Assam every year), the trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh – Manali – Spiti for seeing the austere side of the Himalayas and live the unplugged life in true sense of the term, the Kumaon or Garhwal region of Uttaranchal for experiencing hilly hamlet rustic lifestyle and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
- Option 2: A big state with a plethora of diversity on offers like Rajasthan, Karnataka or Kerala.
One month in India
If you plan ahead and sort out your ticket booking (both train & bus) then India exploration can be a breeze. You can maximize your month-long sojourn in two ways –
- Slow paced and intense exploration of one region – The country can be neatly divided into East, West, North, South, and Northeast. And there is plenty to experience wherever you go. An ideal southern romp will look like covering places like Hampi, Hassan, Badami, Mysore, Kodagu, Gokarna, Ooty, Kumarakom backwaters, Munnar, Cochin, Pondicherry, Rameshwaram, Hyderabad, Bidar etc.
- Creating a circuit of important destinations and do a hurricane paced trip which will leave you insanely tired but dizzy with happiness and overwhelmed with the intensity that the country has to offer. Start from Delhi and then go to Agra for Taj Mahal, Jaipur, Pushkar, Jaisalmer, Bundi, Udaipur, Mumbai, Goa, Gokarna, Hampi and then top it all off with a Kerala tour and exit from Cochin. This is a perfect plan to see the North, West and the South of India all in one trip!
3-months in India
Now we are talking he really slow travel which is apt for experiencing all the gems of multiple regions in India.
Start from Rajasthan and dedicate a whole month in exploring its splendours. Visit all the key cities like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bundi, Jaipur, Udaipur, and Pushkar. After that, head out to the mountains of the North after a brief stopover at Delhi to check out its historical monuments.
Devote another 3 weeks traveling the corners of Himachal Pradesh and visit Shimla, Kullu, Manali, Narkanda, Sarahan, Dharamshala, McLeod Ganj, Bir, Billing, Rishikesh, Haridwar etc. Top off your North coverage with a short trip to both Agra and Varanasi.
Now for the final month on your hand, experience the amazing South. Goa, Gokarna, Varkala, tea estates of Munnar in Kerala, national park of Periyar, a houseboat in Alleppey, ayurvedic massages, quaint hill stations. You can round off your trip with partying wildly in Goa before exiting the country from Mumbai.
6 months in India
If you divide India vertically into two sections, then you will see that the three months in India will cover exactly the left half of the country. If you add another three months to your itinerary, you can also explore the right half of the country which has amazing places like West Bengal, Northeastern states, Odisha with its temple, culture, and beaches, Vizag,
Pondicherry and finally the tip of the extreme south of India i.e. Kanyakumari. Also, in these six months, you can also flesh out your Himalayan exploration more and can include Ladakh or Spiti – a clear 7 to 10 days trip in itself! Use the time to live with the locals and experience their daily life. I feel more than temples or yoga, this gives you a far intense spiritual experience.
Budget for Backpacking India
Food Prices in India
Prices differ according to the city with expensive metropolitans charging you more for the same products. But all in all, Indian street-food and mid-level restaurants are still very budget-friendly.
- Breakfast – You can expect a couple of vada-pao from a Mumbai small shanty-stall for INR50 or less than a dollar and that can do nicely for breakfast.
- Snacks – If you want to pile on potassium, bananas are very cheap here and you can buy a dozen for a dollar. Bags of munchies and biscuits will have their MRPs printed on the back of the packet and the price generally starts at around INR10.
- Water – A litre of mineral water will set you back by INR 20 per liter.
- Lunch & Dinner – Lunches, if comprised of street food will cost you as little as INR 100 whereas it will be INR 150 to INR 300 at a mid-range restaurant inclusive of a bottle of soda or a glass of fruit juice.
- Precaution – Non-vegetarian dishes are more expensive and meat is generally advisable to be had from restaurants rather than street-stalls!
Transport in India – Prices and Booking
- Trains – Train is your friend while traveling to India. Reserved non-AC sleeper coaches are the best, though it is not advisable to book them during the sweltering summer months. If you want to travel comfortably, AC compartments are the best of both worlds – comfort and relative hygiene but the price will be almost double the non-AC one. There are trains like Rajdhani, Shatabdi or Duronto where the meal is included in the fare. The fare might range from $15 for 100 km in an express train in 1AC to less than a dollar for 100 km in the same express train in a general compartment (unreserved). Find the right fare for your route here.
- Buses – Local buses will cost you very less like an INR 10 for a 2 km ride (BEST buses of Mumbai), but these will be within the city. If you are plying inter-city on overnight semi sleeper or sleeper buses, then that will set you back by around INR 600 or upwards. The tariff will grow if it is an A/C bus (always check bus review of redBus) and according to the distance covered.
- Flights – Like elsewhere, flight rate fluctuates based on season timing, the sector you are flying in, festival, holidays and weekends. Indigo has earned a place of trust among frequent flyers as a dependant airline which sticks to time and other related services. But then Air India gives free food. So choose accordingly as the fare difference is very minimal any which ways. Prices generally start from INR1000 and above for budget domestic airlines.
- Autorickshaws – In cities like Mumbai, you will find these popular three wheelers taking the road like a king at a measly amount of INR 18 per 1.5 km. They generally go by the meter. Midnight charges are different and for the same distance mentioned before they will charge INR 27. But the meter is not a norm everywhere, so prepare to hustle and bargain. Especially in places like Delhi, Chennai, and Bangalore, you have to do a healthy bargaining before fixing a fair. According to many seasoned travelers, INR 100 should at least see a travel of 4-5 km.
Accommodation in India
- Hostels like the Zostel, Road House or Backpacker Panda chain can provide you dorm accommodation ranging from $3 to $10. Always compare rates in websites like booking.com and goibibo.com.
- Mid-range hotels can start from INR 1000 and above for a double room. For reputation and service, always check the hotel in TripAdvisor.
Tour Prices in India
- Foreigners have inflated entry fees to all the tourist attractions which can range from INR 100 to INR 1000 and if you consider taking a guide then it is an additional INR 500.
Accommodation in India
Hostels are still an up and coming concept here in India. Though there are decent hostel chains present like the ones mentioned above, they are mostly restricted to areas frequented by the backpackers. So for instance, you will get nice hostels in places like Udaipur, Goa, Pushkar, Varanasi, Khajuraho, Hampi, Jaipur, Agra, Rishikesh etc. In larger cities like Mumbai and Delhi, you will also find non-chain hostels with more ‘boutique’ atmosphere.
Just check their reviews on TripAdvisor before zeroing in on one. In small cities like Bundi, Aurangabad, Nashik, Bidar, Kodagu etc you will get small guesthouses or pocket-friendly homestays with locals. Instead of dorm beds, you will get a room to yourself and in most cases, even attached bathroom.
While major hostels can be booked on booking.com, smaller places need to be shopped around a little. Sometimes landing up at a hotel/guesthouse gets you the best deal too.
Transport in India
Trains – Before, IRCTC was the best bet you had to register and book trains online. But for that you need to have a local cell phone number because they send you OTP (one time password) in order to complete your purchase. Getting a local SIM and number is not always easy, so many backpackers would face a lot of frustration while booking train tickets. Now, 12Go has come to the rescue! You can book trains, buses, flights etc very easily.
Buses – Like trains, buses especially the inter-city buses, have a local app called redBus. Though the constraint remains the same that you need to possess an active local SIM on your phone. Other times, you can just show up on the pickup/starting point and head to a small counter from where you can purchase your ticket.
Flights – Try for GoAir and IndiGo for inter-city flights. They are the best punctuality and service wise. Many backpackers place their trust on websites like Skyscanner and Kiwi to compare prices and get deals. Alternatively, always check the flight prices on the company website of the airlines.
Safety whilst backpacking India
How to avoid getting sick in India
Online forums are brimming with suggestions from practical sounding keeping probiotic tablets handy to folksier East European home-remedies like downing glasses of whiskey and vodka to combat the bacterial attack. But are they enough to defeat Delhi Belly?
Indian streets throb with absolutely delicious gems which are so tempting that you will be left salivating. A glass of freshly pressed sugarcane juice with a squeeze of lime and a smattering of rock salt with suspicious ice-cubes. A bowl of fruit chaat with cut fruits topped with chaat masala. Crispy fried samosas and sugar syrup dripping jalebis.
Indulge but also follow some simple commonsensical advice to not get sick in India…
- Tame your temptation and only go to roadside restaurants where you can see locals crowding and the surrounding that looks hygienic.
- Avoid restaurants that have lots of flies and no running water.
- Eat only the food that is cooked in front of your eyes.
- Don’t drink tap-water.
- Fill up your bottles with filtered water that you will get in every hostel or get your own filtered water bottle before you set off on your travels.
- Don’t eat spicy food if you can’t handle it.
- Use mosquito repellent cream to keep the insects at bay to avoid malaria or dengue in case you are camping out.
- Use hand sanitiser before all meals.
- Keep yourself hydrated – water helps the tummy and helps the body to deal with the heat.
How to avoid getting scammed in India
- Travel Ticket Scam: To score tickets from reliable sources especially at the concerned ticket windows and don’t rely on touts with their false promises.
- Souvenir Scam: Often local drivers driving you around or your guide will suggest emporiums or apparently state-run souvenir shops, but be wary of buying anything from there because they get hefty commissions for bringing buyers. Instead, if you feel you have to buy, consult fellow travelers who have bought something similar. Practice the art of haggling while purchasing any souvenir, the best way will be to avoid the first shop you come across and check at least five others for a competitive pricing and start bargaining from there.
- Day Trip Scam: Often local transport men will overcharge to take you around to all famous places or a whole day trip. Like souvenirs, here also ask around and bargain. Don’t hesitate to ask local shop owners or an Indian tourist or some backpacker who has been to the region before to inquire about cheap local buses and their fares. Alternatively, there are social media forums for backpackers where you can put up such questions in advance and get help while planning it.
- Travel Package Scam: Always cross-check fares online (transport, accommodation, activities etc) to avoid being scammed by travel agencies who claim themselves to be government-run and earning your trust in the process but who will sell you the same travel package twice or thrice the amount.
- VIP Lines at Holy Place Scam: Paying extra for VIP treatment especially in holy places like Tirupati where you are promised a faster ‘darshan’ by jumping the queue at an inflated price but you end up waiting for the same amount of time which you initially had to if you had paid the regular price.
- Food Scam: Although street food in India is extremely cheap, but confirm the price of the whole dish before tucking in. Sometimes, a dish like chole-bhature will comprise several different elements like the fried dough (bhature) and the curried grams (chole) and curd. Confirm the price of the whole dish because some scammers charge exorbitantly for all the separate elements afterward but only display a false price of just one to lure customers.
Read more about travel scams in Southeast Asia here.
Travelling India Solo – Tips
- Keep handy Xerox copies of your IDs (passport) and an original ID card (like a driver’s license) because you never know when an authority demands to see them. It is advisable especially while traveling on a train.
- Reach train stations well before the time train is scheduled to depart.
- Train bookings are better to be done at least a week in advance due to ungodly rush most of the time.
- Whenever you are booking online at a hotel or hostel, confirm your seat over the phone before you arrive.
- Negotiate. Bargain. Haggle. There is really no shame in demanding the right price if you feel you are being overcharged. Read tips for haggling here.
- Carrying cash: You will not get ATM always everywhere, so carry cash but well-concealed.
- Don’t flaunt valuables like laptops and iPhones.
- Cover your knees and shoulders while visiting temples and your head while visiting a dargah or a Sikh temple.
- Travel responsibly and leave as less of carbon footprint possible.
- Practice patience and keep your positive attitude handy and spread smiles wherever you go.
Travelling India as a Female Traveller – Tips
When the fourth pillar of democracy (read: media) is in a wobbly state and constantly attracting brickbats for reporting news with bias, you are left with a lot of concern over the actual state of a country you want to visit. Are women travellers in India really safe?
Well, India will sweep you off your feet and you will be tempted at every step to let go of your inhibitions. But do you give in to that? Yes and no.
Confused? Follow these simple steps of safety and travel to India fear-free!
- Travel smart and trust your instincts – practice safety tricks like sticking to a group while exploring deserted places or walking back from a bar at night or for a late night taxi ride.
- If you decide to celebrate Holi in iconic places like Pushkar or Vrindavan, have a ring of well-meaning fellow travellers around you before you go berserk drinking and dancing in the street. A lot of men (local and others) try to take advantage of the crowd and the ensuing chaos.
- Wear your confidence and look sharp and alert as if you know the place whenever you are travelling. That will minimise your chance of being isolated as a naive and vulnerable soft target.
- In hippie places like Goa or Hampi, you might be approached by random Indian male with their friendship offers. If you are not creeped out already and want to see where it goes, keep the initial meetings to public places till you are absolutely sure of his intention. And if your gut says no, kindly listen.
- Have a safety net in place – like sharing your GPS location with someone you trust and give them a heads up to your plan.
- Use Google to the best of its capability. Intrigued by a place? Research about it. Know a little about the place, entry/exit, nearest hospital or police station (no harm in looking), mode of transport available.
- Travelling in a bus or train at night and feeling irritated with attention from men? Strike up a friendship with a family travelling. It will give you a glimpse of Indian culture plus the safety in numbers and someone local to stand up for you if anything goes south!
- If you are accosted in the streets repeatedly for pictures, then just give off the vibe of being not interested and politely refuse and keep walking.
- Do carry a can of pepper spray (any Indian pharmacy will have) and safety pins. If in a crowd, you feel groped, pin the man.
Helpful Traveller Language Phrases in Hindi
- Namaste – Hello
- Shukriya – Thank You
- Mera naam _________ hain. – My name is ___________.
- Mujhe Hindi nahi aati – I don’t know Hindi.
- Ye kitne ka hain? – How much does this cost?
- Mujhe paani chahiye. – I want water.
- Mujhe khana chahiye. – I want food.
- Mujhe ________ jana hain. – I want to go to ________.
(You can fill in the blanks with words ranging from bathroom/washroom/loo to any other place you might want to go to like name of a destination or bus stop/police station/hospital).
- Toilet kaha hain? – Where is the toilet?
- Mai __________ se hoon. – I am from _______________.
(You can fill in the blank with the name of your country).
- Kaise? – How?
- Ye mera hain. – This is mine.
Travel Guides India
Check out our travel guides to the best places to visit in India below! Scroll further down and you’ll find some important travel info (visas, the best time to visit etc.) as well as an overview of each region and a clickable map!
A Short Introduction to India… (An Impossible Task!)
Love it or hate it! India cannot be compared. It is a unique country that has its own rules, morals and way of life. It is a fascinating place that makes you think, wonder and tests your flexibility on every level.
On 15 August 1947 India became an independent nation with New Delhi as its capital. It had been a colony of the United Kingdom since 1858. The fight for independence started in the late 1880s when well-educated Indians began to question the colonial power.
Such men as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh dedicated their lives to the freeing of their country.
India consists of 28 states and seven union territories.
The list of 22 official languages includes among others Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Nepali, Konkani, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and English.
Mumbai is its most populous city followed by Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata. About 1.21 billion people live in India which combines many cultures, traditions and religions.
Approximately 80% are Hindus, 13% are Muslims, 3% are Christians, 1.6% are Sikhs, 1.5% are Buddhists, 0.5% are Parsis and 0.6% are others including Jews and tribal religions.
Numerous states and cities attract a large number of tourists each year.
Rajasthan is famous for its historic cities and its Mughal architecture which can be observed in such cities as Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer and Pushkar.
Kerala is known for its beaches at Kovalam, Fort Kochi and Varkala, the connected rivers known as backwaters, the hill stations in Munnar, Wagamon and Ponmudi, and several wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.
Goa and its numerous beaches have been popular among travellers since the 1960s.
Popular cities include Kolkata and Darjeeling (West Bengal), Dharamsala and Manali (Himachal Pradesh), Rishikesh (Uttarakhand), Delhi, Agra and Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), Mumbai and Pune (Maharashtra), Hampi (Karnataka), Chennai and Madurai (Tamil Nadu) and Pondicherry (Puducherry).
Quick Travel Facts for Travelers to India!
You need to apply for a visa before you visit India. Normally tourists apply for a tourist visa, which is valid for six months.
- Time: GMT + 5:30 hours
- Currency: Indian rupee (₹)
- Telephone Code: +91