Ten things to keep in mind while backpacking in India
From getting squashed in the local trains of Mumbai, to trekking in the mighty Himalayas in the north or enjoying the back waters of the south, India has adventure for every person’s taste. With many religions, languages, food, festivals and traditions to discover, the country is indeed one of the best places to backpack, suiting everybody’s pockets. Here are 10 tips while backpacking across India.
1. Respect all cultures
With Hinduism being the majority religion, the country also has Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism and many more. With a rich cultural heritage and deep rooted traditions, all religions are treated with respect. Remove your shoes before entering a temple, cover your head before entering a gurudwara, recite the Tibetan mantra in the monasteries. Also, most Indians eat with their right hand and sit cross legged while eating on the floor. Keep these in mind.
2. Travel to the right places during festivals
With so many religions, there are so many festivals, but the real culture feel is witnessed when they are celebrated in the right place. Holi, the festival of colours should be celebrated in Vrindavan or Mathura. One should experience, Durga Pooja in Kolkata, Onam in Tamil Nadu, Buddhist Hemis festival in Ladakh, Ziro Valley festival in Arunachal Pradesh and the Raan of Kutch, White desert festival in Gujarat.
3. Eat where the locals eat
Here you get food servicing all taste buds. From getting authentic Israeli food in Kasol, Himachal Pradesh to real Tibetan food or even spicy Maharashtrian food or the famous South Indian delicacy, India has a multi-variety of tastes. This is best experienced only at the local food stalls and not fancy restaurants.
4. Book the right seat
If you are backpacking in India, you have to travel by trains. The Indian Railway transports almost 2.5 crore passengers daily. With a mixture of ethnic groups travelling every day, this is the right time to meet locals and other travellers like you. Its best you book an upper berth in case of a long journey in a sleeper class as you will get some privacy. The draw back about travelling by the AC compartment is that you cannot see a clear view from your window.
5. Look for hostels, guest houses with a kitchen
If you are backpacking in India for the first time, you will find a lot of variety in hostels in the city and plenty of guest houses, a little away from the city. Look for ratings and reviews online before making any bookings.
6. Agree on a price before you do anything
Especially in metropolitan cities of India, if you are new to the place, you are bound to be cheated. Do a little research before taking a cab or a rickshaw and ask for the same price. Or best just take public transport. Travelling in India is an experience by itself.
7. Ask and you shall receive
If you are lost or hesitant and your map in accessible, do not panic, ask instead. Take help from people because, here people are ready to help you all the time.
8. Stay safe
If you are backpacking to a place in India for the first time, see that you have your passport in a hidden place. Keep your money, documents in different places. You can keep a soft copy of your documents on your cellphone. Also see that you have some extra cash in hand as most remote villages do not have ATMS.
9.Take the offbeat path
With the rate of tourism increasing every day, India is just getting more and more commercial. Instead take the offbeat path. True backpacking is only in offbeat India where real cultures still prevail. One example of an offbeat path is the village of Malana in Himachal Pradesh. People here are known to be descendants of the Aryan race. Another is the Apatani tribe of the Hari village in the Ziro Valley, where the women were forced to look ugly.
10. Go with the flow
Finally, go with the flow. Being welcomed by people who will never judge you, India is a place where you have to absorb everything and just move. Do not worry about the destination here, because not only the physical terrain but the cultural disparity along the journey will make you fall in love with this place.
‘Indians are the Italians of Asia and vice versa. Every man in both countries is a singer when he is happy and every woman is a dancer when she walks to the shop at the corner. For them, food is the music inside the body and music is the food inside the heart. Amore or Pyar makes every man a poet, a princess of a peasant girl if only for second eyes of man and woman meets’
-Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
Text: Ravina Banze