11 Ultimate Backpacking Trips in India

Kodaikanal hill country in Tamil Nadu, India landscape
Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu: Image by Sathish kumar Periyasamy from Pixabay

Do you feel curiosity and an aching to travel every time you scroll through an amazing Instagram feed? India and its surreal beauty often do that to people. Even the most discerning travelers are driven to dream of backpacking trips in India.

India is a backpacking paradise in its own accord. Its rugged mountains, snow-capped peaks, sprawling deserts, lush forests, exotic beaches and holy Ganges are sure to put you in a travel frenzy! Whether you are looking for an extra dose of adrenaline or seeking a peaceful retreat off the beaten path, this country can never stop mesmerizing you.

If you’re the kind who packs all-weather and all-terrain gear, then backpacking trips in India are perfect for you to tick off some great bucket list experiences.

Gear up for a road trip from Manali to Leh

One of India’s legendary road trips, Manali-Leh is something right out of a traveler’s wildest dreams. A two-day journey through treacherous mountain passes and harsh Himalayan terrain, the 487km road certainly makes for a journey of a lifetime. Two days of extreme outdoor conditions, immensely high motoring roads, ethereal natural beauty and awe-inspiring scenery—it’s the perfect combo of quaintness and excitement.

One of the most scenic routes of India, the uphill journey through Rohtang Pass and Baralacha La will surely remain embedded in your memory—and on your Instagram feed—forever! Stop at postcard-perfect villages on the way, soak in the beauty, binge on some steaming chai and Maggi and experience the best this road trip has to offer.

How to get there: From Delhi catch a bus or train to Manali, then get a car from Manali for the journey onward. You can rent a bike (if you are confident about your biking skills; the roads are pretty treacherous!).

Explore Kerala’s quaint backwaters

Kerala’s backwaters can be considered the perfect tranquil setting to reconnect with nature and yourself. These serene stretches of lakes, canals and lagoons lying parallel to the Arabian seacoast see a huge influx of intrepid travelers and backpackers from all over the world. Forget about hotels on land; hole up in a houseboat floating these waterways for a few nights, relaxing in the bosom of enchanting nature.

Alappuzha, also known as the “Venice of the East,” is most popular for its houseboat cruises. The backwaters of Alleppey, Kuttanad and Kumarakom on the banks of Vembanad are also sure to lift your spirits right up to seventh heaven. Savor the taste of beef roast and Malabari porotta as you let the gorgeous sunset sink into your memory.

How to get there: Hop aboard a train (Trivandrum Station) or book yourself a flight to Kerala (Cochin or Trivandrum Airport). The backwaters are just a cab ride away from these places. Pre-booking of houseboats is suggested, as Kerala’s backwaters is one of the most popular tourist spots in India.

Unwind your soul & practice yoga while living in the Himalayas

When you think of traveling to India, perhaps yoga is one of many things that flash on your mind. Well, why not? Known as the “Yoga Capital of the World,” this is the land where yoga originated in the ancient days. A perfect way to connect to your soul and get it in sync with your mind and body, yoga isn’t just a way of fitness, but also a path of healthy living.

While you plan your amazing trip to India and work on your travel bucket list, make sure to keep a couple of weeks for yoga! And what can be better than living in the quaint Himalayan town of Palampur, overlooking the snowcapped mountains. Here you can learn the art of yoga, while spending some meaningful hours volunteering with the little ones?  Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

How to get there: Palampur is located in Himachal Pradesh in north India. It’s just an overnight bus ride from New Delhi.

Go for a trek in the Himalayas

People trekking in the Himalayas
Hiking in Nepal: Image by Squirrel_photos from Pixabay

An amazing trek in the Indian Himalayas will surely leave you with some serious post-vacation blues. The states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttaranchal and Sikkim are known to have some of the best Himalayan ranges for trekking. From easy-going moderate treks like Triund or Kheerganga, to extremely challenging trails like Kedarkantha, and Indrahar Pass, there’s a Himalayan trek for everyone! Lace up your trekking shoes and pack in those body warmers; it gets really cold with every ascent. Treks are truly the best way to experience the raw beauty of the Himalayas. Are you ready for the adventure?

How to get there: The states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Uttaranchal are located in the north of India and are easily accessible from New Delhi. It’s usually an overnight bus journey to the base, from where your trek will begin. Sikkim being in the northeast is a bit far, but you can fly from Delhi to Badogra, the nearest airport, or from Kolkata to Pakyong.

Take a dip in the holy waters of Ganges in Varanasi

Steps and boats on Ganges in varanasi; backpacking trips in India
Ghats (steps) on the Ganges in Varanasi: Image by Kraig Seder from Pixabay

Get in touch with your spiritual self, and transported back in time, while walking through Varanasi’s narrow alleys and backroads. The chaotic streets and ghats swarming with religious devotees is a place for great life lessons and also for experiencing the best of Hindu spiritualism. The most sacred river in India, it is believed that a dip in the holy river of Ganges can wash off your sins and rejuvenate your mind and soul. Lose yourself in the chants and prayers in the ghats and explore the multilayered city and its ages-old history! 

How to get there: You can choose either a flight or an overnight train from Delhi to Varanasi.

Go for a camel safari and explore the forts of Rajasthan

Experience the rugged beauty of the golden sands in Rajasthan and live like a nomad (Banjara) in a desert camp. How about that for a unique experience in India? The home of Indian royalty, this state boasts extraordinary forts, majestic palaces and havelis and the amazing Pink City, Jaipur. Rajasthan is truly a treat for your senses! Visit the many colorful cultural festivals and get ready to fall in love with the local people and their traditions. From the Amer Fort in Jaipur to the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, you’ll be awestruck with the incredible grandeur of the places.

How to get there: Buses and trains are the best options for traveling from Delhi to Rajasthan. You can also go for a crazy road trip from Rajasthan to Varanasi; that’ll let you tick off some amazing stops in the former, while you soak in the serenity of the latter!

Trek up to Dudhsagar Falls

Dudhsagar Falls; backpacking trips in India
Dudhsagar Falls on Mandovi River in Goa: Image by Bishnu Sarangi from Pixabay

Dudhsagar Falls literally translates to “Ocean of Milk.” This trek is a fascinating experience and a must on backpacking trips in India. Bordering the states of Goa and Karnataka, Dudhsagar Falls in its full flow appears like streams of milk gushing down the hill, roaring like a clap of thunder. Monsoons are the ideal time to enjoy this waterfall in the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary. Take a train to Londa junction and then a bus or taxi to Kulem (Goa side) or Castle Rock (Karnataka side). Then hike about 12 km toward the base of the waterfall. There’s also an alternative mud road for hiking, but it’s not suggested during the monsoons since it might be full of leeches!

How to get there: Take a flight to Bangalore, Karnataka. Catch a train from Londa Junction to Kulem, the nearest station to the falls, and then trek down to the waterfall’s base. Or you can also catch a flight to Goa and take a cab or bus from Madgaon to Mollem, then hire a jeep from Mollem Village to the falls. Get started with your planning!

A boat safari through the mangrove forests of Sundarbans

Deer in Sundarbans
Deer in the Sundarbans (Mangrove Swamps) on the Ganges: Image by Tareq Shuvo from Pixabay

Sundarbans safari is truly an off-the-beaten-track adventure and a must for backpackers traveling to India. Sundarbans is famed for its populace of man-eating Royal Bengal tigers and for being the world’s largest mangrove forest. A safari in this mist-shrouded national park will truly be an experience of a lifetime. A night boat ride through the river, with eyes peeled into the dense jungle, is a thrill that we wouldn’t want you to miss on your trip to India! Soak in the beauty of rural Bengal, as you spend your days here and fill yourself with the freshness lingering in this part of the country!

How to get there: Take a flight to Kolkata from Delhi. There are many river cruises operating in Kolkata that can arrange all-inclusive safaris in Sundarbans. You can also take a car or bus from Kolkata to Canning, just 64 km from Sundarbans, and take a boat from there.

Explore the ruins of Hampi

When it comes to backpacking trips in India, you can surely not skip exploring Hampi! The magnificent ruins amidst rocks and amazing landscapes will readily transport you back to a bygone era. History buffs are sure to fall in love with this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which still holds on to its charm and aura. Located on the banks of the Tungabhadra River, the entire place is dotted with ruins of temples and palaces of the Vijayanagar Empire. A panoramic look of Hampi will make you pause for a moment and soak in its awesome beauty. And it’s not just about the temples; there’s a lot more you can explore while backpacking in Hampi.

How to get there: You can fly to Bangalore, from where overnight trains run several times a week. You can alight at Hospet Junction and take a local bus or cab to Hampi. 

Party at the hippie paradise of India, Goa

Colorful Goa music festival
Goa Music & Dance Festival: Image by Anette Kölling from Pixabay

Goa, otherwise known as the “Hippie Paradise of India,” is the place where travelers go to cut loose and party hard! A favorite amongst backpacking trips in India for all kinds of travelers from around the world, Goa is your one-stop party hub. Goa’s beaches are also very popular for water sports and activities like scuba diving and parasailing. Meanwhile, the beach shacks are famous for their “mama-mia” Goan delicacies. The flea markets are a bit on the expensive side, but who could resist some authentic Goan handicrafts and tie-and-dye products? The best way to explore Goa is on a scooter, which is easily available for rent. So bring out your beachwear and be ready to get tanned as you soak in the sun!

How to get there: There are daily direct flights to Goa from Delhi, but you can also take a train. 

Celebrate Holi in Vrindavan

Yellow dye spilling over Holi participants; backpacking trips in India
Holi Festival: Photo by Yogendra Singh of Pexels

There’s nothing like going out with a group of like-minded people and drenching each other in myriad colors! There’s a saying in Hindi, “Bura na mano Holi hai,” which means “Don’t feel offended, after all, it’s the festival of colors!” Anything is allowed, from you attacking your friend with a fistful of color to them attacking you back with squirt guns of colored water! The riot of colors that unfolds in Vrindavan, the childhood playground of Lord Krishna, is a sight to behold and an experience that you’ll cherish for a lifetime. Devotees from all around the world gather on the grounds of Vrindavan to celebrate Holi in all its fun. Pack your white kurta—t’s going to be an authentic Holi experience!

How to get there: You can take a private car or cab directly to Vrindavan from Delhi. There are no direct trains or buses up to Vrindavan, but you can catch a train from Delhi to Mathura; from there take a bus or cab out to Vrindavan.

Now, you can sit down and start planning your backpacking trips in India! While I know it would surely be difficult to cover all the places mentioned above, you can try and tick off as many as you can. As they say, “A lifetime isn’t enough to explore India!” So, make the most of your journey and create everlasting memories.

About Riyanka Roy

Website: https://www.backpackingromance.com/

I’m an ordinary girl with some extraordinary dream. I love to believe in the miracles of destiny, and I want to travel all over the world, spend time with the natives, binge on local food and absorb their culture. I feel I’m born with gypsy blood, and stagnation makes me feel claustrophobic. Life, for me, is like a book and whatever we do adds more chapters to it. I enjoy writing about whatever I come across, for each and every bit helps in making the chapters more and more colorful. You can follow my footsteps on Instagram.

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