Backpacking India on a Shoestring: All You Need to Know
If you are planning to travel India the backpacking way, whether for a few days or for a longer period, you’ve come to the right place. This blog is for you. From Backpacking Itineraries to help you scape your trip so that you get to all the right places to tips for solo women, accommodation and food information and costs, to local transport tips, what to do, what not to do, and more, you will find it all here.
Here are the basics of all you need to know about backpacking India on a shoestring.
On a shoestring budget, you can easily work on a tight $20 per day budget.
Accommodation in most places will range from $3 to $10. This is the cost for a room for 1 or 2. Dormitories are a bit cheaper, but aren’t available everywhere. Zostel is my favourite hostel chain in India. Reliable, safe and clean. But you won’t find a Zostel everywhere you go in India, either. For other hostels, check out this website.
Food (drinks not included), and basic local transport should be covered in another $10.
India is a land of versatility, which you will soon see for yourself. You can live from 20$ a day (for two), to $ however much you would like to pay spend per day.
Backpacker accommo is easily available at almost all places in India, owing to the mass backpacker crowds that the country receives each year. Starting free, basic backpacker accommodation in India can cost you anything between Rs 50 (1$) to Rs 500 (8$) a night, depending on where you are. And at what time of the year. Seasonal variation in prices at tourist locations can be as steep as steep as 50%.
India has thousands of delicious dishes to pick from! If you are comfortable with street food, it is easy to eat a meal well inside the budget of Rs 50 (1$). Remember, there are many safe street food choices read: tummy-safe street foods of India. Restaurant meals can start from Rs 100 (2$) to Rs 500 (8$) per head, ranging up for fine dining. Read: Indian food
At most places, barring the metros and tier A cities, local bars would stock beer starting at Rs 100 ($1.50). There are many options, and booze is quite easily available everywhere. You might want to look for ‘English Wine Shops’ (which sell not only wine but all types of alcohol), as the domestic shops usually carry cheap, unregulated only home brews. read more. Also, most of these ‘Wine Shops’ close between 8 pm and 10 pm, so you might want to buy your stock well before that. Look for dry days. There are nationally declared as no alcohol days. Mahatama Gandhi’s birthday (October 2nd), for instance, is a dry day.
There are a few dry states in India, where alcohol is banned by state law. Gujarat is dry, and Kerala and Tamil Nadu are soon to follow. Except these, booze is easily available anywhere in India.
Transport can be divided into inter-city (or state) or local. To get from one destination to another, I always travel by road to cut costs. Plus, it enables me to enjoy the many unique sights en route. India is a beautiful country, with new surprises at every other bend. Other transport options include air, rail, bus or private taxi.
Travel within cities or local transport is very easy and convenient in India, albeit a bit crowded! There are many options such as local buses, rail, metro, tuk-tuk (auto rikshaw), hand pulled rikshaw, tricycles, taxi. If you prefer the luxury of your own vehicle, it is surprisingly simple to rent a motorcycle/mopeg, jeep, (usually, the renters won’t ask you for a driving licence, it is advisable to have one though) or a chauffer driven car. If you are travelling in a large group, an SUV or a mini bus can be hired. Read More
Must Do List
India is big. As in massive, colossal. And no matter how much time you have, you can’t see everything! Heck, I was born here and I still haven’t seen it all. Still, there are tons of places that you must not leave without visiting, many of which you will figure out on your own. Here’s my must-do list for you:
This is where I was born (as was nomadic travel) and of course I feel a certain bond to Rajasthan, but that’s not why I recommend it. Rajasthan is different, in a history, ancient ruins, desert moon, solitary and mysteriously beautiful manner. There’s so much history here, preserved beautifully. Majestically. It’s tough not to feel it in the air. Traditions and customs adorn colourful attires and here you will come across vividly decorated camels, intricately tattooed, storytelling nomads, peacocks dancing in palace grounds, musicians playing melancholy string instruments by a desert sunset. Here, you will also find people letting it all go and getting high on Bhang (men, women and children!) during the festival of Holi!
I was born in Jaipur, the Pink City, and also the capital of Rajasthan. If you are looking to meet tons of interesting people, including other travellers, see palaces and spend sunsets dining at fortresses, Jaipur’s your place.
Jaipur is the great marriage of tradition and modernity. My father grew up in a Haveli (palace). Many of his generation did. Jaipur is a land where kings once lived, and their legends still linger. Jaipur was awarded the United Nations title of ‘Heritage City of India’. Must see in here is the Jal Mahal (palace on water), Amber Fort and the little known Nahar Garh Fort.
From Jaipur, go to Pushkar, where although the main attraction is the Brahma Temple, you must not miss the temple of Savitri Devi, wife of Brahma, who sits on a hill overlooking the temple of Brahma with a jealous wife’s wrath that has lasted centuries. It is said that he cheated on her and she cursed him so that he would only ever have one temple, while other gods had thousands. Pushkar houses the only Brahma temple in the world.
West of Pushkar, at the beginning of Thar desert, lies Jaisalmer. Take a camel safari into the desert here, ride into the sand dunes and listen to Rajasthani Banjara (nomadic) musicians sing sad, solitary love songs that echo into the silences of the desert.
Udaipur & Jodhpur
Off the beaten track in Rajasthan: If you are a history and culture buff, curious about Rajasthani culture, set apart a few days to visit some of the smaller non-touristy villages. Try Vanasthali, the university village of widows.
You’ve probably, definitely heard about Rishikesh from a Yoga enthusiast. Everyone has. Rishikesh definitely can be called the Yoga capital of the world. But, it’s so-oo much more! With narrow bridges across the Ganges, and the Beatles Ashram, it’s a must, must go. Read all about why you must visit Rishikesh, here.
Note: Many beaches in Rishikesh have rocks painted with writings like ‘Nude Beach’. DON’T go taking off your clothes and skinny dipping in the Ganges. It is forbidden. There are NO nude beaches in or around Rishikesh.
Old, peaceful, and unique. Benaras, or Varanasi, (or Kashi) is the oldest functioning city in the world. Along the most fertile river of India, Ganga, in the North, lie a series of ancient civilisations: Varanasi, Rishikesh etc. These were the first settlements that India developed around. Assi and its neighbouring ghats make up the backpacker section of Varanasi.
Dharamshala: McLeod Gunj, Bhagsu, Triund & Dharamkot
The Dharamshala conglomeration of towns (or district) is a definite go-to. Yes, it may have become a backpacker’s hub over time, but it attracted travellers for a reason.
McLeod Gunj: McLeod Gunj is the home of the Dalai Lama, and is a Tibetan refugee city. It is quiet and beautiful and is a unique mix of Indian and Tibetan cultures. Monks roam about flashing new iPads and the tastiest momos I’ve eaten are sold as street food.
Bhagsu: Above McLeod Gunj, lies the hippy backpacker town of Bhagsu, with its musical café’s, unexpected rendez vous and steep block staircases cut right into the mountainside. Bhagsu is a stunning exhibit of the Himalayas, and is ridiculously cheap (though now getting more expensive), don’t miss the Bhagsu cake here.
Dharamkot: Above Bhasu, lies Dharamkot, with its quiet Yoga retreats and hidden trails you could explore all day long. Also worth a visit. Do not miss the trek to Triund, a flat mountain top, and a camping site, sporting a stunning close-up view of the snow-capped peaks around. Weather permitting, sleep in one of the caves, then trek down to the river for a chilled wash. Next, trek up to the Snow Line Cafe.
Manali & Vashisth, & Parvati Valley
East of Dharamshala, lies Manali, a bypass city or a transit point, with the highest National highway in Himachal Pradesh. Backpackers usually head up to the quieter and cozier towns of Old Manali and Vashisth with its hot springs, yoga classes and Angora Rabbits.
Close to Manali, lies Parvati Valley. Parvati Valley is the Hash capital of the world. But it is more than just that. The famous Malana charas grows here like common weed in the fertile soil. Also known as devlok, or abode of the gods, Parvati is a hidden paradise, with green slopes and blue skies,rivers and waterfalls. Trek through Kasol and the many villages of Parvati to the hot springs in Kheer Ganga. Must not be missed! If you are in tie for the Rainbow Gathering here, it is a must visit.
Very high in the Himalayas (route through Battal) between 3000 to 6000 m altitude, lies Spiti Valley. A high altitude desert, with gigantic cliffs, scaling mountains on both sides and a turquoise river flowing though a very wide valley. Spiti Valley, both landscape wise and culturally, is definitely nothing like anything you have ever seen before.
Off the beaten track: Do NOT miss the little known Chandrataal Lake, or lake of fairies en-route Kaaza in Spiti Valley. The lake changes colour according to the time of the day and position of the sun, and legend says that all who look upon it are hypnotized by its mystical beauty.
Since this is a brief summary about backpacking India, I won’t go into too much detail. If you have any questions at all, feel free to Contact Me or drop a comment below. I’d love to hear from you! If you are a girl planning to backpacking India alone, I have a special section Solo Women Travellers’ just for you. Also it would be helpful if you acquaint yourself with emergency protocols to be followed in times of distress. Contrary to what you may have heard, the Indian Police are extremely helpful, especially after the strengthening of women’s rights and women’s protection laws. Read here about emergency protocols, tourist helpline numbers (24/7 in 16 languages) and more.
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