It's easy to extra-pack for a trip to India. Apart from clothes for different climates, many backpackers bring photo gear, a laptop and toiletries. But each year, a few student adventurers go out with nothing more than what they can carry on their shoulders in a backpack. They camp or stay in hostels. They wash their clothes in the sink or river banks. They cook their own meals or buy food from street vendors. They ride buses or the overcrowded local trains. They are the true Indian Backpacker.
India appeals to backpackers across the globe, because it’s the cheapest to eat and sleep and enjoy the best of both the worlds.
English students backpack to India during their ‘gap year’ between secondary school and college. Many Australian students too follow the same routine. A few Israelis make religious pilgrimages to India once they serve in the army. Americans often backpack between graduating from college and entering their new jobs. Our aim is to take every Indian student for a backpacking trip after their school board exams or their challenging college semesters. We Indians are missing out on the real adventure that is not possible anywhere in the world. The best part is that we have the advantage of being an Indian, and are aware of most of the tactics to follow, so that we don’t get cheated by anyone on our backpacking trips.
Staying at hostels is one of the best ways to meet people your own age on the road from diverse backgrounds and countries. It can be really convenient, especially for female backpackers, since hostels are the best places to find groups to go out with. Hostels in India can run as little as a few hundreds a day, but you get what you pay for. They can be noisy at all hours of the night. The rooms may be small with only the basic necessities. In India, it usually means living without air conditioner, and since most of us Indians are quite adjusting, it might really not be such a big problem.
Saving too much can also be dangerous and might spoil your backpacking experience. Many hostels are in unprincipled neighbourhoods. While India is a fairly safe country, backpackers shouldn’t let their guard down. Pick-pocketing is common in heavily touristed areas all over India.
Eating cheap meals saves you a lot of money but at the same time beware of the risk of getting sick from unprocessed water, which is the biggest cause of illness among backpackers in India.
Adventure travel is not limited to any particular season in India. Different regions have a different season all over the country. You can easily pick up a destination to backpack depending on your personal choice of season/climate. The rainy season would be ultimate for hiking and trekking through the hills of Shimla, Kashmir or Leh whereas for the summers, the best selection would probably be a session of parasailing.
In fact, there are a lot of clubs that have formed to coordinate group activities for backpackers, including paragliding, deep-sea diving and hot-air balloon rides.
Backpacking is not only meant for budget travellers, there are companies now who plan a trekking tour and include servants to cook food and set up camps for backpackers, but the weight of the backpack still has to be managed by themselves.
Most backpackers who travel by themselves and not any trekking company, however, don’t have servants setting up camps. Living on a shoestring is at all times a dare, especially in India, where pinching pennies means tasteless hotels, suspect food and exhausting travel. But the few who of us, who brave it, are pleased with an
up-close and personal view of India, which backpackers will probably never fail to remember.