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Backpacking In India (A Journey From The Himalaya To Kerala)

I discovered a love/hate relationship while backpacking in India. It’s a country that at once amazes and frustrates you often all at once. I have visited twice, the first time in 2001/2002 and again in 2006/2007, for a total of around several months.

It really is one of the most culture shocking countries that you could travel to, especially for a novice traveller.

The smell, noise, colours, history, modern chaotic to ancient, all intertwine together.

I had quite a few adventures when I was there but as I try to keep this website up to date with more recent adventures I have not delved too much into the past.

Although I did do an article about my time in the far north Himalayan province of Sikkim, as it’s one of my favourite areas in the world.

However I went through some of my older photos, and that last trip in 2006/2007 is actually one of the first times I used a digital camera and actually have photos from a journey.

That feels strange due to the fact that for nine years of travelling prior to that I have almost no images to show.

Ah, the digital age makes things so much easier!

If you were planning a three month trip to India then this also makes a good backpacking India route as a travel itinerary for you. It takes you through cities, mountains, national parks, temples, and the tropical south.

There are a lot of photos and I will run them in the order of the trip from the beginning to the end.


Backpacking in India

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Landing into any big Indian city for the first time, or if you have been away from India for a long time, is like a slap in the face.

Man, this country’s culture shocks the hell out of you.

This time around I had flown into Kolkata from Bangkok.

I’m not a huge fan of Indian cities but Kolkata was one of the less bad ones, and I still don’t really know why.

In Kolkata at sunset:

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Indian food is awesome such as this thali (an all you can eat curry sauce and rice dish) at a restaurant in Kolkata.

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Old yellow taxi cabs are famous in Kolkata.

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Busy, smelly, dirty, chaotic. Pretty much like every Indian city.

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After only spending a few days in Kolkata I headed away to escape to the peace of the Himalayas at Darjeeling and Sikkim.

I arrived during the start of winter in India (things to do in India in November).


Winter in The Indian Himalayas

The hiking is amazing and the people are generally chilled out, with a Buddhist vibe going on up there.

The scenery is out of this world, although I visited in the middle of winter and it was seriously cold.

Heading into the foothills of the Himalayas:

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There are many historic Buddhist monasteries in the mountains, in fact, backpacking in India you will find so many.

I was actually staying and meditating with Buddhist monks a lot and learning more about the religion.

Here’s a simple hint if you’re going to do the same – leave your mobile phone behind before entering a meditation session with the monks, or at least turn the notification sound off!

Thankfully they have a sense of humour.

Old monastery in Sikkim:

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Snowcapped winter peaks in Sikkim:

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Buddhist prayer flags are everywhere.

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After the Himalayas, it was time for more chaos in the rest of India.

Have a read of the 15 best places to visit in Sikkim.


Trains in India

Trains are the best way to travel around India and for longer distances jump in one of the 2nd class sleeper carriages.

Simple, but clean enough and fun.

A man sells shoes on the platform at a station in India:

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One of the most pleasant parts of backpacking in India is just cruising by the countryside on the train taking it all in.

You can even sit on the roof of some trains!

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2nd class sleeper train in India:

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Buddhist Pilgrimage in India

Bodhgaya is the place where Buddha attained enlightenment under a bodhi tree.

Nowadays it’s a big pilgrimage site for Buddhists worldwide where they sometimes hold international Buddhist conferences, with guest note speakers about the religion such as lamas in attendance.

Temple in Bodhgaya:

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Monks gather for a ceremony in Bodhgaya:

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One of my personal favourite photos from back then was with Buddhist monks carrying pots of flowers:

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A boy prepares flower rope for festivities:

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Monks from all the different sects of Buddhism can be found in Bodhgaya.

It’s a must-visit destination in India if you have the time in the north of India and are interested in Buddhism.

It’s a great place to learn more about Buddhism and is generally more chilled out than other areas of India, although it’s still busy.

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Schoolchildren gather by a picture of the Buddha:

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What a big contrast it is moving on from Bodhgaya to one of the most sacred cities in India: Varanasi.

Tip: My favourite book on Buddhism that I was reading is ‘The Art of Happiness’ by the Dalai Lama.


Holy Varanasi

I don’t particularly like Varanasi to be honest so I’m puzzled by how the hell I have been there twice.

This is full, full, full on India!

Yeah, all those stereotypical Indian vibes come out in Varanasi.

Cows everywhere, and the underlying (pun intended) cow-shit. It’s a dirty place, with narrow winding alleys in the old city.

It’s a very holy city on the Ganges River where Hindus come to burn the dead and spread the burned ashes in the river. Although sometimes not the whole body burns and you will see floating arms etc in the water.

Dead young children just get rowed to the middle of the river and dumped in.

Some people drink this “purifying of the soul” water. Seriously. No seriously, wtf.

Varanasi:

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Bloody cows everywhere.

Cows are holy animals in India in the Hindu religion. Don’t expect to find a beef burger there.

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Religious holy man:

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Next up were the erotic temples of Khajuraho.


Erotic Temples of Khajuraho

The temples in Khajuraho are adorned with erotic carvings depicting all trips of sex activities.

It was after all India that brought the world the Kamasutra.

It’s also got some relaxed parks around the temples so is a good place to relax as well.

Temples of Khajuraho:

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Kanha National Park

It was impressive enough but at this point, I wanted to escape the crowds and get off the beaten path more, so headed into the centre of India to Kanha National Park.

This was the inspiration for the Jungle Book and the park is a protected area for tigers.

It’s remote and away from it all.

After busy cities it was perfect.

Traditional countryside of India.

There are no fences to the national park and it is filled with tigers which are protected there, and they could be anywhere.

Some brave people living around the park just walk around.

I was told it was safe enough from tigers away from the centre of the park, so went for short walks into the bush.

I had the overwhelming sensation that I was being watched by a tiger.

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Tiger spotted!

Spending almost a week in Kanha National Park I spotted several tigers.

They are such beautiful cats.

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There are plenty of other animals around as well such as monkeys.

In fact there are so many monkeys in India that you can find them in the middle of cities scrambling along the sides of buildings.

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Sunrise is a great time to go and trek to try and spot a tiger.

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 – Quick side-note on hotels while backpacking in India.

Being a backpacker backpacking in India means travelling cheaply and staying in budget accommodation.

Along with that comes the budget bathroom facilities. Not for everyone but it does the job and only costs you a few dollars a night.

I’ve spent multiple times in India in $1 a night cheap and absolutely terrible rooms.

They are very far from great but save you money for the more fun things. You have to intersperse that with the occasional nicer rooms to save your sanity though.

I remember one trucker hotel room I stayed at for 50 cents a night that was so disgusting I had to take multiple showers in my next hotel to wash the feeling off.

The room below is luxury compared to some!

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South India

I stopped at a few various places after Kanha National Park including the city of Hyderabad.

But I was mostly aiming to get to the more chilled out south of India by then and hit up the beaches and mellow coast vibe of Kerala.

Hyderabad:

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Kerala India

Kochi, the provincial capital of Kerala is nothing special, but there is old spice route trading history there, and some relaxed beach vibes with fishermen using old fishing nets techniques.

Have a read of some of the highlights on things to see and do in Kerala.

At sunset watching over the fishing nets:

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So peaceful.

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It’s a meditation for the mind.

That’s what a lot of this backpacking in India trip had been. Meditating, getting sober, getting healthy, feeling good.

Then it all changed.

This sunset from a beach in Kerala is the last photo I have before my life was flipped upside down, as something very serious happened to me.

This ended my backpacking in India journey.

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But despite what happened to me, India will always hold a strange place in my heart, and if you visit you may well feel the same.

It is a journey for the soul.

Go backpacking in India and go on the journey for yourself.


Backpacking in India Itinerary For 3 Months

This post was just to give you an idea of what backpacking in India is like, but it also makes a great India itinerary for 3 months there. The whole trip took me around 3 months so fits perfect for that.

This is an outline of the exact route I took so you can see for yourself. India is so huge that it will just be a glimpse of what the whole country has to offer.

It will take you through bustling cities, Himalayan Mountains, remote countryside, temples and history, and beaches in the south. It really is some of the best India has to offer.

I tend to travel slow and this is reflected in my journey. If you travel fast and have 3 months for an India itinerary then you could see a lot more, such as the forts of Rajasthan in the west of India.

Also, there is so much to do between all the places I went to. This is just a rough guide itinerary.

The backpacking India route:

1.Fly into Kolkata.

2. Took a train to Siliguri where I connected to a jeep to take me to Darjeeling. However, there is an option for a small steam toy train to take you from Siliguri to Darjeeling. In fact, if I was visiting again for sure I would take this train.

3. Went from Darjeeling to Gangtok where I organised a jeep to take me on a road trip into the Sikkim Himalayas.

4. After Sikkim headed back to Darjeeling, then Siliguri, where you can connect to a train to Bodhgaya (you may need to change trains on the way).

5. Spend some time taking in the ambience of Bodhgaya with its Buddhism vibe.

6. From Bodhgaya head to Varanasi for some epic Hindu vibes on the Ganges River.

7. Then go down to Khajuraho to see the temples on the way to Kanha National Park (Kanha Tiger Reserve).

8. Go from Khajuraho to Jabalpur where you can connect to a bus to Kanha Tiger Reserve. Spend time exploring the park by jeep to find some tigers, and just enjoy being in the countryside of India.

9. I then did a big jump straight down to Hyderabad from Kanha. Go to Nagpur and connect by transport from there. As noted in the article I was dying for some beach time at this point.

10. After a few days hanging out in Hyderabad it was another big jump down to Bengaluru, with a connection onwards to Mysore to explore the palaces there.

11. From Mysore go up into the cool heights of Ooty hill station to escape the heat.

12. Mysore to Kochi and the beaches of Kerala.

13. Fly out of India from Kochi.

 


You can find good deals for accommodation in India at Agoda (my favourite website for booking places to stay):

 

And as what happened to me in Kerala at the end of the trip it’s important to take travel insurance for a trip to India.

I personally used World Nomads Travel Insurance for backpacking in India.

This is all the gear I would use for a backpacking trip to India.

Other links:

Also, it’s easy to get sick from the water in India so take some water purification device like the ones recommended here.

If you’re travelling India as a solo female traveller then take a look at some great destinations to go to.

One of the famous places in India to visit is the Taj Mahal but I didn’t make it there, but a friend did and went visiting the Taj Mahal with kids.

I hope to get to the Taj Mahal on another visit.

If you liked this article about backpacking India a share would be appreciated! –

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12 thoughts on “Backpacking In India (A Journey From The Himalaya To Kerala)”

  1. I admire you, Jonny. Doing the Himalayas in wintertime requires some serious fortitude, not to mention a lot of warm clothing. Did it add a lot of bulk to your backpack?

  2. Great information. You shared backpacking for India information is absolutely useful. I would like to visit the post once more of its valuable content. Thanks for sharing this blog.

  3. Pingback: 10 Of The Cheapest Countries To Visit (Around The World)

  4. It’s a nice & very informative article for those who want to plan a trip for an extreme adventure trip.

  5. You sound very bitter about certain parts of India, and while I did hate a few places here, mostly the noise and cow shit everywhere, I did find Varanasi quite interesting and it ended up being one of my favorite memories while my six weeks in India..

  6. Wonderful information. It’s an awesome informative article for all people who love to travel around the world as well as those people who want to plan a trip for an extreme adventure trip especially in India.

    Thanks for sharing this blog.

  7. Pingback: Kanha Tiger Reserve (The Best Wildlife Adventure in India)

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