Backpacking in India is not as developed or evolved as in Australia or continental Europe. However, that is changing. The young, adventurous and energetic population of the country is exploring routes that haven’t been treaded, are growing fond of the rustic India that lies beyond the charming towering metropolises and the cultures that are rarely talked about are becoming the real experience.
India is a nation of nations. It has more cultural differences than in South America, more religions than in Europe, four times the population of the United States, more languages than the rest of the world put together and it is home to the colossal Himalayas, the omnipresent Indian Ocean, the seemingly unending Thar Desert and forests that would only have the Amazon as fitting comparison.
Backpacking in India can take a substantial part of your lifetime. It is impossible to travel across even a tenth of this vast ancient land in a few weeks or even months. Here is what you can consider if you are planning to go backpacking in India.
You ought to divide the country into four or five distinct parts. Accordingly, you must plan one backpacking trip exploring one region. Combine the states of Jammu & Kashmir including the union territory of Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand and the National Capital Territory including the capital city of Delhi for your tour across North India. Combine Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh into your tour across Central India. You can include Maharashtra in this tour but exclude coastal parts of the state including Mumbai. Include Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha and Chattisgarh in East India and the North Eastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya in a different tour. Carve out a tour for West India which may include Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa. Karnataka and Goa are geographically in South India but they would be easier to explore when you start off from Mumbai and travel southward. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telengana, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry can be your tour across South India.
Backpacking in India is all about deciding what you wish to explore and then you can pick a place or route accordingly. The subcontinent has everything to offer. If you want an amazing road trip, then start from Manali and travel to Leh. This is one of the best road trips, not just in India but in the world. The mountains, quaint villages along the way, the lovely weather, the food and the distinct cultural expedition will make your road trip a unique experience of a lifetime. You can start from Delhi as well and get to Manali by road.
You may want to explore forests, some interesting wildlife and you may want to check out the famous abode of the Royal Bengal Tiger. For that, you must get to Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. Thereon, you can take the road to Sunderbans. There are trains as well but you would have to get off at Canning station and then take a boat across the Matla River. In Sunderbans, you can explore the mangroves, take a boat ride while the sun goes down, gorge on some of the tastiest fish you have ever eaten and relish the clear starry skies at night.
If you would breathe some unpolluted air in the Sunderbans, then Ladakh would offer you a pristine world like no other. You may want to include Ladakh in your trip from Manali to Leh. Both Leh and Ladakh would take you across the states of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir up to the Himalayas. Ladakh would be refreshing, enlightening and bliss of solitude on a backpacking tour that can otherwise be quite frantic given the energy on Indian streets.
If you don’t wish to trek or embark on a challenging road trip to Leh, Ladakh or other parts of North India, then you can take the trains to the foothills of the Himalayas. You could go to Sikkim, which is a tiny state north of West Bengal. You can take a train from Kolkata, up north to New Jalpaiguri, a shuttle to Darjeeling or a car directly to Gangtok. Darjeeling is an amazing hill station and Sikkim has some of the most fascinating foothills of the Himalayas.
You could travel further east and explore the waterfalls in Shillong, which is fondly referred to as Scotland of the East. You could explore the Kaziranga forest in Assam. You could go trekking in Arunachal Pradesh. On your way back, you can explore the tea gardens of Assam and West Bengal, explore another forest called Dooars, which is near Darjeeling and then head back to Kolkata. You could even fly out of Bagdogra in Siliguri. That is the nearest airport to the narrow strip of land connecting mainland India and the north eastern states, also known as the chicken’s neck.
Goa is one of the most exciting partying destinations of the country. It is also the most popular beach destination in this part of the world. Backpacking in India would be incomplete if you don’t explore the beaches of Goa, the backwaters of Kerala, the safaris in Rajasthan, a tour of select temples, monasteries, mosques and churches across the country or you can plan very specific tours such as celebrating Holi in Vrindavan, some kayaking and river rafting in Rishikesh, a heritage tour exploring Varanasi, riding along the former French colonies of Pondicherry, touring the palaces of Mysuru, the serenity of Ooty or the end of the world at Kanyakumari where two seas, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea meet the Indian Ocean. It is the southernmost tip of the Indian mainland.
Use affordable public transport wherever and whenever you want. There are enough hotels and motels spread across the country. Food is inexpensive. Indulge in the local cafes, restaurants and dhabas instead of the fancy upscale addresses. More importantly, know where you wish to go and how long you should be there. If you are not stringent, then backpacking in India may be a tour that would never end.