Our country has a lot to offer for tourists and travelers who seek luxury or frugality, natural beauty or a buzzing modern life, tranquility or adventure. It is no wonder therefore, that India features at the top of the backpacking list of millions around the globe. Diverse experiences, the warmth of the people, the culture, the festivals, the music, the food, the natural beauty, the diversity – all these act as a lodestone for backpackers from all corners of the world. If you are a backpacker looking for some unique experiences in this diverse country, read on the find out about the destinations that must be on your bucket list.
1. Have the Journey of a Lifetime in Ladakh
Ladakh is the holy grail of backpacking in India. You cannot be a backpacker unless you visit this heaven. Pristine snow-clad mountains, the soothing sound of flowing rivers, clear blue skies, exhilarating and breath-taking views, and diverse topography offering some of the best and most challenging treks – all this thousands of miles away from the maddening crowds to give you a perspective on life. The hospitality and humility of the local folk is the cherry on the cake. But don’t just go there because it is every backpacker’s must-visit destination, go there to reflect on your life and see how it brings a positive change in your story.
2. Experience the Solo Backpacker’s Paradise in Spiti Valley
Spiti Valley is a real treat for all your senses – sights, smells, sounds, feels and tastes – as the altitude keeps increasing and the temperature keeps decreasing. Each pit-stop and landmark on the way will leave you mesmerized and awed. This backpacking trip is best enjoyed solo, since it allows you the freedom of charting your own journey, enjoy the flawless beauty of Mother Nature and have amazing once-in-a-lifetime experiences
3. Enjoy Tropical Bliss in Goa
Sun, sand, tropical beaches, clear skies, lush greenery, the old world colonial charm – Goa definitely packs a punch. But the fun doesn’t end there. There is something for everyone here – pubs, casinos, great food, luxury retreats, budget escapades, adventure sports, peace and tranquility, beautiful breeze, superb music and err… booze. And if all this is not to your taste, then just unwind on the beach with a great book and get lost in your own world. Let the magic of Goa soothe you and relax you to your toes.
4. Have a Taste of Grandeur in Jaisalmer
A bustling town in Rajasthan, Jaisalmer is home to a grand citadel made of yellow sandstone. It offers a great chance to explore royalty and luxury in the true sense. Or you can camp in the open desert, spend time star-gazing, go on a desert safari, enjoy breath-taking views of the town and the desert from the top of the fort, see the magnificent havelis and soak in the folklore in this magical place. There are also plenty of shopping options for those looking for clothes, jewelry, souvenirs or trinkets. And no experience of Rajasthan is ever complete without the taste of succulent, decadent delicacies that it has to offer.
5. Discover Inner Peace in Gokarna
A must-visit backpacking destination, especially for solo travelers, Gokarna is a small beach town that is famous for its temples, and of course the beaches. You can trek to the Kudle beach, Om beach, Paradise beach and spend time in swimming (caution advised) or just meditating and catch the sunset and the moonrise. Catch brilliant views of palms scattered around golden sands and clear, blue waters, visit the temples and just spend some time with yourself to think, meditate, reflect and find your inner peace.
6. Encounter Thrill and Spirituality in Rishikesh
An exciting combination of the two, Rishikesh has a lot to offer the mean backpacker. You can enjoy the various adventure activities like rafting, rappelling, rock-climbing, bungee jumping, hiking etc. You can explore your spiritual side by staying in an ashram where you can practice yoga, meditate, get a relaxing ayurvedic massage or venture a trip to the Ganges and enjoy a dip in the holy river and witness the pooja and the Ganga Arti. The town also offers spectacular views of the nearby mountains and the clean waters of the Ganges. And a visit to the Laxman Jhula is a must.
7. Watch How Time Stands Still in Hampi
Catch a train or bus till Hospet, Karnataka and then hire an auto-rickshaw to take you to this ancient hinterland Hampi. The calm, softly-flowing river adds to the charm of this quaint town. Take a stroll around town and visit the Elephant Stables, Lotus Mahal, Virupaksha temple, and just amble around admiring the historic architecture or shopping for trinkets. By dusk, cross the river in a ferry to come to the other side of town that offers many budget accommodation options. You can catch the sunset from the Matanga hill, a short trek away. Hampi attracts a lot of hippie and foreign backpackers, and having a quiet dinner with some of them in a small cafe is the perfect way to end the day.
8. Revel in the Calm and Charm of the Desert in Kutch
Venture to the largest white desert in the world to experience the unique culture and living conditions of the people in this region. Halt at Bhuj and visit the Pragmahal Palace, the Aaina Mahal, the Swaminarayan Temple and the Hamirsar lake. Travel to the Rann (local permits may be required) to see vast stretches of white sand, as far as the eye can see. Experience emptiness, nothingness as you see miles and miles of desert-lands stretching in front of you. Stand and watch a herd of camels pass by. Catch the sunset surrounded by the eerie silence of the desert, and stay back for some time to stare at the starry night. See and experience the frugality of desert life. Enjoy dinner in a local dhaba, to experience the true essence of Kutch. A cherry on the cake would be if you visit during Rannotsav, the annual desert festival. Let the silence, calm and charm of the desert wash over you, and let this one time in the desert be an experience to be cherished for a lifetime. After all, Kutch nahi dekha, toh kucch nahi dekha!
9. Get Your Adrenaline Pumping in Zanskar Valley
One of the most remote places in the country, Zanskar Valley is a marvel situated in the Ladakh region. It offers one of the toughest river rapids in the world on the river Zanskar, and is a favorite of all adventure geeks. In winter, the most hardcore trekkers throng here to undertake the famous Chadar trek, where they undertake the extremely risky task of walking on the frozen river. There are also other adventure activities like the Markha valley trek, Keylong treks and even snow leopard spotting. To top it all, the people, the culture, the food, the weather and the breath-taking views of the clear, blue skies, the snow-capped mountains and the daunting terrain, all help in making some unforgettable memories.
10. Experience the North-eastern Hospitality in Meghalaya
Perhaps the most beautiful of the North-eastern states, Meghalaya has an innate old-world charm to it. Visit Shillong’s Bara Bazaar for some retail therapy, the uniquely magnificent Elephant Falls, the rain-iest place on earth i.e. Cherrapunji, the mysterious Mawsmai Caves, the Kaziranga National Park, the much-talked-about Hanging Root Bridges and the mesmerizing Nohkalikai waterfalls. Spend some time in the monasteries or churches, eat some authentic cuisine in the many cafes or street-food joints here, and have a wonderful trip in the midst of natural beauty and warm humanity.
11. Enjoy the Amalgamation of Culture and Nature in Dharamsala
Dharamsala is the perfect destination for those seeking some respite from their monotonous routine. It offers a taste of spirituality and peace that can be found in abundance in the monasteries here. A trip to the Triund valley is a must, if you are looking for some thrill and natural beauty. Relax in the home of the Dalai Lama at McLeodganj and unwind in some western-styled cafes, visiting the world’s highest cricket ground and the tea gardens. Explore the culture and colors in this beautiful city and be one among the locals. It is also a great time to indulge in some volunteering opportunities to give back to the society. Explore and experience the Himalayan hospitality, the beauty and wonders of nature, the peace and calm away from the madness and rediscover yourself at this fantastic location.
12. Encounter God’s Own Country in Munnar
Experience the beauty and bounty of nature in God’s Own country at Munnar in a truly unique way. Surrounded by lush greenery all around, Munnar offers the perfect respite for the parched soul. Wake up to the chirping of birds and a gorgeous sunrise, amble around and explore the tea gardens, visit the Mattupetty dam, the national park or enjoy some boating. Or you could just travel to Alleppey to experience the houseboat on the backwaters, kick back with a book and watch the world go by.
13. Soak in Peace and Tranquility at the Parvati Valley
Rightly called the Amsterdam of India, Parvati Valley offers a great escapade from the woes of city life. Here, you can just chill by the riverside in Kasol, enjoy hikes of varying lengths and altitudes, experience mystery and spirituality at Manikaran, go on a gastronomic adventure in the smallest of cafes serving local, European and even Israeli cuisine, throng to the music festivals and tame the hippie in you at the bustling night life, get an adrenaline rush through trekking and rafting or just amble around the bustling markets and bazaars for some retail therapy.
14. Unfold Himalayan Treasures in Sikkim
If you feel like running away from your daily life and need a breath of fresh air, head to Sikkim. Experience the cultural diversity and the rugged natural beauty in this town nestled in the Himalayas. Visit Gangtok, the Nathu-la pass, the Tsongmo Lake, Lachung, Yumthang, Lachen, the Borong Tsa-Chu hotsprings and Pelling. Gorge on some local cuisine and street-food especially hot momos (dumplings) and enjoy retail therapy. The unique experiences, the spellbinding beauty of nature and the warmth of humanity will be a welcome retreat to break the monotony and humdrum of daily life.
15. Revel in the Picturesque Seaside at Varkala
A backpacker haven in South Kerala, Varkala is the perfect place to just get lost without a care for the world. Wake up to the golden sunrise, trek to the North Cliff to get a twang of sea breeze, hop down to the beach to enjoy the golden sands and the sparkling blue waters of the Lakshadweep sea, visit the Janardhana Swamy temple and the Anjengo fort. By nightfall, guzzle down some drinks in the little bars and pubs in town, make friends with fellow backpackers and enjoy a deep slumber. Picturesque beaches, serenity in the air and the untouched beauty of Varkala will leave an impact on your troubled minds.
16. Confront India in its Oldest City of Varanasi
Expect the unexpected in this holiest of cities, Varanasi. Take a holy dip in the Ganges, visit the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, get immersed in spirituality during the Ganga arti, see the holy sadhus in penance, take a boat ride on the river, get an oil maalish (massage) on the riverside and see Hindu last rites being performed at Dasaswamedh Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat. Walk around the city or take a tuk-tuk to catch the mosaic of humanity, culture, tradition, trade and find the calm beyond the chaos. Watch the grandeur in the cows and dogs on the street, its alleys overflowing with humanity, the tens of thousands of temples, the hundreds of shops selling mithai (sweets) and bhaang (spiced drink) in this old city – older than history, tradition or legend. See and feel how the people revere the mighty river like a Goddess, who is worshiped and loved like a mother. Experience humanity at Kashi and re-discover yourself in this holy city.
17. Feel the Spiritual Connection at Pondicherry
Pondicherry is a beautiful melting pot of varied cultures. Explore the White town to see the beauty and the old-world charm of the French architecture, visit the Manakula Vinayagar temple, the Aurobindo Ashram or amble around the Rock Beach. Your trip is incomplete unless you visit the Auroville and the beautiful gardens in its premises. Take a day trip to the Paradise Island to enjoy the golden-white sands of the beautiful beach and laze around in the shacks. Enjoy some authentic French cuisine in the many French cafes in town, enjoy some street-shopping and get a taste of the wonderful amalgamation of Tamil and French cultures in this vibrant town.
18. Ride the Nostalgia Train in Darjeeling
Darjeeling is famous for the unmatched beauty of the clear blue sky, the snow-clad mountains, the breath-taking horizon and of course, the aromatic, fragrant tea gardens. Visit the Lloyds botanical garden, watch the sunrise at Tiger Hill, get spiritual at the Mongolian Ghoom Monastery, experience nostalgia on the Darjeeling toy train, visit the enthralling Rock gardens, the Japanese pagoda and explore the tea gardens. And being a bustling market place, don’t forget to shop for some goodies. The sheer natural beauty and the spiritual gateways is sure to refresh and rejuvenate your tired soul.
These are some of the most popular and varied destinations for the Indian backpacker. Many places like Ooty, Coorg, Kanyakumari, the Sunderbans, Pushkar, Majuli and Dehradun among others, deserve an honorable mention. All these destinations offer a plethora of opportunities and experiences to the backpacker and is certain to leave him/her with unforgettable memories. Has the wanderlust bug bitten you already?