Where to Go
There are so many different places to visit in India, a lot of the time your personalised itinerary is going to come down to personal preference: what do you want from your trip? However, with such a diverse culture, it can be overwhelming to know exactly where to go – because everywhere looks amazing.
To make it a bit easier, we scoured and hunted for the absolute best places to go to experience all the best the country has to offer.
Definitely one for the first timers, although even if you have visited before the beauty and magic of Delhi never quite fades away. India’s capital city, Delhi can come as quite a vulture shock for newbies, but it’s the best way to immerse yourself in the local culture of the country before heading to more remote locations.
The skyline of the city is dotted with incredible mosques, ancient forts, and monuments that still remain from the Mughal rulers that once occupied the city over a thousand years ago. There’s also a number of beautiful gardens perfect for relaxing, and escaping the hectic daily life of the city.
Known as one of the most spiritual places in India, Varanasi is a city that’s not like anywhere else on the world. A holy city undoubtedly, head to the riverside Ghats to experience the spiritual rituals that locals here undertake every day; from bathing, to burning the bodies of the dead.
On the surface, the city looks dirty and ramshackle, but delve deeper to explore the true magic of the place – and spend an evening at a Gangas Aarti ceremony.
The best place in India if you want to immerse yourself in the local culture, Kolkata is the capital of West Bengal but it’s often overlooked by tourists – which is great if you want to escape the crowds during the high season. It’s perfect for those that love history, experiential travel, and experiencing the day-to-day life of locals.
The buildings might look crumbly, but look past that to discovered hidden restaurants serving traditional – and amazing – Bengali cuisine, unique boutique stores, and a truly engaging heritage. Plus, it’s here that the Durga Puja takes place every year – one of the biggest festivals in the region.
The perfect relaxing break amidst a likely hectic itinerary, travelling in a houseboat along the Kerala Backwaters showcases the stunning beauty of the Indian countryside. The waters here are palm-fringed, with the lush green landscape proving to be very tranquil, while the houses and villages here are so remote it’s like travelling to another world.
You can’t visit India and not travel to the golden sandy beaches that line the coastline of Goa. The top beach destination in the country, visitors are lured here every year with the promise of parties, an amazing nightlife, and a lazy day sleeping off the hangover next to the sea.
An area that perfectly blends history, culture, nature, adventure, and parties, the north is always more action-packed while the south is more tranquil – so get the best of both worlds when you stay here.
What to Do
From cultural hot spots, to religious temples and fantastic tiger reserves, everything about India combines to make it one of the most unique and interesting places you’ll ever visit.
Explore the Temples
India is one of the most religious countries you’ll visit, and there are artefacts and symbols of their deities all over the country. Known as the land of temples, the temples across India have been the centre of ideas, architecture, sculpture and arts throughout history, standing tall and dominating the landscape wherever they were placed.
The Lord Jagannath temple in Orissa provides food prepared under the scrutiny of Goddess Mahalakshmi, while the Meenakshi Sundareshwar Temple in Tamil Nadu is adorned with technicolour animals, gods, and demons.
The temples across India are symbols and windows into the country’s soul and history, and they’ll teach you more than any guidebook ever could.
Hike the Himalayas
The Himalayan mountain range is one of the most famous – and dramatic – in the world, and no backpackers trip to India is complete without at least an attempt to hike the snow-capped peaks.
While the west is where you head for spectacular views, the east has the paradise-like Sikkim, with giant butterflies and orchid forests. The Markha Valley and Hemis Festival trek is the most popular of all hikes across the Himalayas; here, travellers can spot the largest monastery in Ladakh, and even snow leopards if you’re lucky.
Holi Colour Festival
One of the most famous festivals in the world, India’s Holi Colour Festival sees people from all over the world gather to celebrate the victory of good over evil. The way to do this? Throw buckets of coloured powder all over each other.
People typically celebrate dressed all in white, to see the bright colours of the festival splattered across their clothes as they head home. The festival is celebrated all over India, but the most energetic and vibrant parties occur across the north of the country.
Sleep under the stars in the desert
Head away from the city to experience the true tranquillity and peace that can be found in the Rajasthan desert. Head out on a camel safari to where tents are set up for the night in the middle of the desert, underneath a twinkling sky full of stars – more stars than you could hope to see in any light-polluted western land.
Here, travellers will get to visit small desert villages where curious and friendly locals will show you their homes with abundant pride.
Kanha Tiger Reserve
India is littered with tiger reserves but hands down the best is the Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh. Here, the tigers roam is vast forests that stretch for miles, and while your chance of seeing the tigers is probably slimmer than at some of the smaller parks, you know the tigers are enjoying a better life.
The reserve here covers 2059 square kilometres, with massive populations of deer and antelope – including the southern swamp deer which can’t be found anywhere else in the wild. Plus, there’s langurs, birds, the odd Indian bison, and some wild boars and jackals as well – although the main star of the show is, of course, the tigers.
Visitors can go on safari ventures to one of the four zones in the reserve, of which two ar4e the best for tiger sightings: Kisli and Mukki. Make sure you book well in advance, as the popular zones can often sell out months ahead.
Read More About India
Best Time to Visit India
India has a dry season and a monsoon season, which means when it rains it pours. The best time to visit from that perspective is between October and March, when the monsoon season has passed, and the weather is dry and pleasantly warm. However, this is the peak travel season, which means it is subject to heavier crowds.
In terms of festivals and events, January sees Republic Day, which celebrates the founding of the Republic of India on 26th January 1950. The biggest even on the social calendar, the bets celebrations are those held in Delhi, where travellers will see a military parade along Rajpath, and even pigeon races in Old Delhi.
May sees mango season come into fruition, and if you head to Maharashtra you’ll find the best sweet and juicy Alphonso mangoes. There’s also the Nehru Trophy Boat Race in August, and the Pushkar Camel Fair in November.
How Much Does it Cost
Not necessarily the cheapest tourist destination in Asia, there’s no denying that India is easily navigable on a budget. In fact, the country offers some of the best value for money of any country in the whole world, which is part of what attracts so many visitors every year.
A daily budget here could easily be less than $30 a day, if you’re saying in hostels, eating street food, and using tuk tuks.
Typical costs while backpacking across India:
Pint of beer
India is already really cheap, but there are always ways to save on costs. The best one would be to set a price for everything before the event – whether that’s a tour, or a tuk tuk ride, setting a price ahead of time means you have more options for bargaining. With trhat in mind, it’s also worth practising your bargaining skills, because this will come in very handy.
Another tip is to try and eat from street food carts, and cheaper local restaurants, you’ll save money, and have a much better food experience – trust us. Also, when travelling cross country, don’t bother investing in the top-range train tickets; there’s barely any difference in what you’ll get, you’ll just pay quite a bit more.
What to Pack
India is a developing country, which means a lot of “must haves” from home will be hard to find while you’re backpacking – especially in the country. That’s why when you’re heading to there, you need to decide what actually is essential, and ensure you’ve packed it so you’re not caught out at a later date.
These essentials include: a charger, an Indian adapter, water bottle – with purifier, you’ll thank us later – charcoal tablets to help with the vastly different cuisine, mosquito wristbands, earplugs, and a first aid kit.
You’ll also want to make sure you have some comfortable walking shoes, conservative clothing – that’s loose, to protect against the heat – toiletries, a lightweight rain jacket, and a towel. These are all things you can pick up while you’re over there though.
As always, a backpacker hostel is the best way to stay safe at night and save a bit of money – with a typical hostel costing less than $10 a night for a shared room. Hostels are the best way to meet fellow travellers and discuss the best places to see and visit, and they’re always convenient and easy to find.
There’s also a number of guesthouses and budget hotels dotted around the country which will cost between $10 and $20 a night, if you fancy mixing it up a bit.
Food and Drink
Everyone has heard of – and probably tried and loved – Indian food. It’s a staple for families around the world, but it’s true when they say that you’ve never had a curry until you’ve had one in India.
India is more than just curry though. While you’re there, you need to try the paneer, a soft white fresh cheese popular in north India, and there’s even curry for breakfast – yes, you read that right. In south India, curry for breakfast is a speciality, typically made up of sambars and coconut chutney, served with dosas – rice based pancakes – and idlis, which are cylinders of pressed rice.
In terms of drinks, Lassi is a poplar yoghurt drink which can be had salted or sweet, and then there is, of course, Indian chai – a tea usually served milky, and very sweet.
Cultural differences could encompass a whole range of different things, and wherever you go there is a list of dos and don’ts that society follows. With western countries this is always pretty easy and familiar but travel further afield and you have to pay more attention to the local cultural to avoid offending people accidentally.
A few things to bear in mind when backpacking through India:
- Play it safe and always dress conservatively
- When entering a temple or mosque, remove your shoes and leave them at the door
- Food is typically served in a “thali” – a tray or plate that can hold several dishes
- It’s traditional to greet people using “Namaste” – placing both hands together and bowing slightly, although in urban areas this is often overlooked
- Refrain from standing within an arm’s length of others
- Do not touch others on their head
English is widely spoken across India, which is very helpful, but it’s also a good idea to learn a few phrases as well. Not only will it help you make friends with the locals, who can show you around and give you local tips, but it will also help to barter with people to get better deals.
With that in mind, here are some handy phrases to help you get around India:
- Shukhriya / Dhanyavaad
- Haan / Nahin
- Kahan milenge…
- Bathroom kahan hai
- Ye kitne ka hai?
- Aap kaise hain?
- Maaf kjiye
- Mai samijha nahi
- Thank You
- Yes / No
- Where can I find…
- Where is the toilet?
- How much is this?
- How are you?
- I don’t understand
The transport system in India is alarming at first; cars, bikes, tuk tuks, and more all bustling around the roads at an alarming pace, and make sure you watch out for the random animals strolling across the highways as well.
With that in mind, it’s definitely not recommended that you hire a car for while you’re there. instead, travelling across country via train is the best mode of transport as it’s comfortable, affordable, and there are a number of different tickets you can get.
There’s also buses, which are good to get across cities but not amazing or long distances – although if you’re lucky you can hunt down some that are air-conditioned.
The classic Indian mode of transport is, of course, the tuk tuk, but these can be expensive. Similar to taxis, they’re favoured with tourists, and you can often bargain down the price if you’re good at haggling.
Visas are required to enter India no matter where you’re travelling from, as is a passport that’s valid for at least 180 days after your trip, with two blank pages. This can be applied for online, and must be done at least 4 days before arrival in India.
The only exception to this are those from Bhutan, the Maldives, and Nepal who do not need a visa, unless they’re entering via mainland China.
Is It Safe?
Generally speaking, India is safe for tourists, with the most common crimes across the country being theft, armed robbery, and rape – but these are not typically targeted at foreigners, especially if you keep your guard up as you always should.
The 106th safest country in the world, there are a number of easy habits to adopt to make your trip safer. For one, always agree fares and payments in advance – being told you can “pay as you like” is definitely a bad sign. You should also never accept food or drink unless you saw it being prepared, as it could have been spiked.
A Brief History
India was once home to one of the oldest civilisations to ever exits on Earth: the Indus Valley civilisation, who called India their home thousands of years ago. That was until roughly 300 BC, when the Maurya Empire took over and rule, becoming one of the largest empires in the world.
The Gupyta Dynasty between 319 and 554 AD is known among scholars and historians alike as India’s Golden Age, producing new developments in science, great art, and advanced culture.
The rise of Islam during the 10th and 11th centuries had a massive effect on the Indian culture, with the Turks and Afghans both invading and ruling as the Delhi Sultanate, and years later the Mughal Empire rose to power and ruled for over 300 years.
It wasn’t until the early 1500s that the Europeans discovered and began to explore India. Britain eventually took control over the country as part of the British Empire, which lasted until the early 1900s when the Indian forces began to battle for their independence. Led by Mohandas Gandhi, non-violent protests were made against the British, and in 1947 India gained its independence.
- India is home to a floating post office in Dal Lake, Srinagar
- It is the wettest inhabited place in the world
- Shampoo was invented in India, using natural herbs. The word shampoo actually derived from the Sanskrit word champu, which means to massage
- Water on the moon was discovered by India
- India is the world’s second-largest English speaking country
- Freddie Mercury and Ben Kingsley are both of Indian descent
If you really want to make the most of your time in Spain, then check out these useful resources. When you’re backpacking, it’s always better to be safe and prepared than winging it.
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