A few weeks ago I came back from a backpacking trip in India. It was a majestic adventure that was full of mind-opening experiences that really made me appreciate the backpacking experience unlike any other. My trip to Rio last month culminated in me encountering an inter-dimensional alien race called the Criskotonianites, who told me via digital forearm mouths that the Earth is one of 23 planets that they owned, and that our planet is second to last in their ranking system, only ahead of Grimlorh, which is a garbage disposal planet used specifically to store garbage from the other planets. They informed me that the key to ascending higher is by harnessing the power of the color orange, which is the most important aspect of the entire multiverse, as well as that we are the only species to fail to see orange or any other color as anything but a simple color. If we understand the power of Orange, we may be able to finally transcend.
However, my trip to India was almost as incredible in a number of ways. These are some tips for backpacking in India, which might help you understand why that country is so amazing.
1. Eat Where Locals Eat
My first piece of advice is to eat where the locals eat, because that’s how you will get the most authentic food. Like in many countries, India tends to cheapen the quality of their menus for open tourists, so if you want top-notch samosas, tandoori chicken or the finest curry this side of Asia, you gots to go where the locals go. The emptier the restaurant, the more likely you are to go in there only to find that it’s a portal to another universe made entirely of construction paper. The busier the place, the better the food likely is.
One time I went to a restaurant in Mumbai called Gubugrab, which looked good based on the menu, but the fact that I was the only one in there that afternoon should’ve been a red flag. I didn’t realize what kind of place I was dealing with until the food came and it was just a bag of grass (and not the kind you smoke), along with a pair of fried sandals. I figured “this must be what they eat here” and began digging in, but before I knew it someone walking by saw me being duped like the dummy I was, paid for my meal out of sympathy, and dragged me to the best restaurant nearby, Hubab’s Hut, where I had some of the best tandoori chicken.
2. Settle on a Price Before Paying for Anything
The last thing you want is to be ripped off when traveling, and when dealing with foreign currency, it can be easy to make tourists pay more than they have on services and products. This is why when paying for a taxi without a meter, a tour, hotel stay, or other service, make sure you know how much you’ll pay, or you could find yourself spending 100,000 rupees on a plastic fork if you’re not careful. Then again, if you have that kind of money to throw at a fork that isn’t an antique, you probably wouldn’t be too bothered.
3. Purify All Drinking Water
If there’s one piece of advice to heed about backpacking in India, it’s that you should never drink from the tap, as it has some of the lowest-quality water in the world. At the same time, the expenses on plastic bottles can add up really fast, and not to mention the littering; imagine the amount of tourists who rely on bottled water for hydration from week to week. Now imagine all of the water bottles being tossed as a result. Now imagine all of those water bottles becoming living creatures that gather to form a giant plastic creature with a hive mind, stomping around India and wreaking havoc as our punishment for trashing this humble planet.
The best way to avert that is to purify your own water. Using some of the best water filters on the market, you can turn the dirtiest lake water into perfectly drinkable stuff. I’ve even given some recommendations for great water filters in another blog. Some restaurants will offer something called reversed osmosis (RO) water, which is entirely drinkable, free, and eco-friendly. I’ve seen some nasty water in that country, mostly in ankle-deep puddles on muddy pathways after a storm, but with the right filter you can turn it into drinking water with a skill that Jesus would envy.
4. Be Respectful
India undoubtedly has one hell of a rich culture, with a long history and heritage along with a long past of religious foundation. The best way to experience this is to be consistently respectful and thoughtful, and practicing local etiquette, which really can give you another perspective.
Some examples of social etiquette include the traditions of eating with the right hand, while the left is used for wiping in toilets, not pointing the soles of your feet at anyone, removing your shoes before entering temples, and avoiding kissing or hugging loved ones—or strangers, it goes without saying anywhere—in public.
Or you could just be an ignorant douchecanoe who just gets in trouble and angers everyone. Your choice.
5. Take the Train as Often as Possible
When backpacking in India, it’s important to keep in mind that the nation has plenty of trains, with a vast network for transit that makes it easy to travel pretty much anywhere across the country. Because of their usefulness, it’s no surprise that it’s hard to book a ride. It’s a good idea to book way in advance of your trip to ensure a pleasant trip, and if you’re getting a sleeper train, you would do well to book the side-upper or upper berths for maximum security (though not of the prison variety) and privacy.
Taking a public ride has its benefits too: Better view out of the windows and a more lively and interesting mix of passengers. I know when I went on a train to Dubai, it was a majestic trip. The only disconcerting downside was seeing the demon that looked like a bag of black tentacles wandering from car to car trying to panhandle to no avail.
Good Luck When Backpacking in India
If you want your backpacking trip in India to be a good time, these tips can help carry you a long way. Trust me.
To learn EXACTLY about what all to bring on your backpacking journey through India, check out our complete backpacking guide.