Backpacking India is insane—and by insane, I mean wonderful. You’ll travel thousands of miles across India by train and bus. You’ll crave masala chai, naan, and curry. And you’ll become desensitized to honking horns, but the pollution will forever disgust you.
Those you meet on the road are half the joy of traveling. Together with small groups of backpackers from around the world, I explored the Pink City of Jaipur by tuk-tuk, the Blue City of Jodhpur by foot, the capital city of Delhi by Uber, and so, so much more.
Cremation of dead bodies along the banks of the Ganges will have you reflecting on the shortness of life. Yoga and meditation will have you embracing your youth. Despite your religious beliefs, you will be exposed to numerous exotic spiritual practices during your Indian travels.
Backpacking India will forever change you and your perspective of the world. There’s no better time to backpack India than in 2019. My India travel guide for beginners will not only serve as a road map while you’re planning your India trip, but it will also be an invaluable reference while you’re on the road.
Backpacking India is Affordable
I backpacked for 5 weeks in India in 2018 and spent $1,072.94 USD excluding flights, my visa, and travel insurance. That’s just $30 a day on average. As you can see, backpacking India is extremely affordable.
There are plenty of luxuries that I could have done without and corners that I could have cut. But money was never my concern because everything in India is already cheap relative to the United States. If budget is your concern, you could easily spend half as much as I did and/or double your time in India.
The currency in India is the Indian rupee, denoted with a ₹. In early 2019, ₹100 is about equal to $1.40 USD. On average, dinner cost me ₹200 or about $3.00 USD, and I ate some pretty darn delicious Indian food for that price. Lodging, which was primarily hostels, cost me on average ₹500 a night or about $7.50 USD.
My Backpacking India Route
My backpacking India route had me sleeping in a dozen different Indian cities over the course of 5 weeks. I had a general idea about where I wanted to visit, but I improvised as I went, usually buying a train or bus ticket just a few days in advance. So please use my route as a guide and not a fixed circuit.
- Backpacking Mumbai
- Backpacking Goa
- Backpacking Jaipur
- Backpacking Pushkar
- Backpacking Bikaner
- Backpacking Jaisalmer
- Backpacking Udaipur
- Backpacking Jodhpur
- Backpacking Delhi
- Backpacking Varanasi
- Backpacking Rishikesh
- Backpacking Agra
I wish someone had given me the advice that Mumbai should not be your first stop on your backpacking India trip. I describe Mumbai as chaotic, overwhelming, and sprawling. Others describe Mumbai as the New York City of India. In either case, Mumbai (formerly called Bombay) will have you excited, exhausted, and on edge.
Travel from Rome to Mumbai
I spent two weeks in Italy prior to India. I flew Air India from Fiumicino airport in Rome to Mumbai with a 4 hour layover in Delhi. My flight cost me €301.27 or about $370 USD.
I chose to start my backpacking India travels in Mumbai over Delhi because my airfare was only €2 extra to get to Mumbai. In other words, a plane ticket from Rome to Delhi was €299 while a plane ticket from Rome to Mumbai was €301. I knew I wanted to eventually travel to Mumbai, so it was a no-brainer to pay an extra €2 to start my trip in Mumbai.
Free Mumbai Walking Tour
Definitely take a free walking tour of Mumbai with Yo Tours. You’ll see the Gateway of India, you’ll watch cricket matches in the park, and you’ll barely be able to see across the hazy Mumbai harbor.
After my Mumbai walking tour, our tour guide got a drink with the tour group. He and his friend then took our tour group to my one of favorite restaurants in India: Sahakari Bhandar. We ordered multiple dishes from the menu and shared them family style.
Eating with a local in India is a must. They will take you to the best restaurants (restaurants you normally wouldn’t consider) and know exactly what to order. We may have been the only non-Indians in the entire restaurant, but we ate like locals that day.
Bombay + Hollywood = Bollywood
Be sure to check out a Bollywood movie while you’re in the heart of Bollywood. Although the actors will speak in Hindi and there are no English subtitles, you will be able to figure out what’s going on from the overly dramatic acting. Best of all, the price of a Bollywood movie ticket is just ₹150 or $2.25 USD.
I watched Padmaavat at the Regal Cinema in Mumbai, a movie about the battle over a beautiful medieval Indian Queen. It was my first time watching a movie in a foreign language, and it was more entertaining that I expected.
Dharavi Slum Tour Mumbai
A slum tour of Dharavi in Mumbai was a true eye-opener for me. I learned a great deal about the slums of Mumbai on my slum tour.
Before the tour, I definitely had a negative stereotype that slum people were bad and dangerous. However, now I know that not to be the case. During my slum tour, I got to see hardworking employees, playfully mischievous children, loving mothers, and skillful craftsmen.
Some people are against participating in slum tours, and I get it. Put yourself in their shoes: you wouldn’t want a foreigner peeking into your house and taking a selfie. You’d feel like an animal in a zoo. Even more, the tour company is making money by exploiting the lives of the less fortunate.
But the Dharavi slum tour with Reality Tours and Travel didn’t allow photography and is truly invested in the betterment of the community. I justified participating in the slum tour because 80% of profits go back into the Dharavi community. The 2.5 hour slum tour price was ₹900 or about $13 USD.
Dharavi is the largest slum in India and the world’s third largest slum. Over 1 million people live in just 0.81 square miles. Little did I know that Dharavi was the filming location for the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Many people probably tour Dharavi for that reason, but I guarantee that they’ll walk away from the tour with a more accurate perception of slums.
Zostel Mumbai Hostel
I booked 2 nights at the Zostel Mumbai hostel. The hostel has super friendly staff. They helped me get an Indian SIM card for my cell phone and helped me book my train ticket to Goa.
Aside from being conveniently located just 2 miles from the Mumbai airport (Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport), there isn’t much else around the Zostel Mumbai. Zostel is located 18 miles from downtown Mumbai. In Mumbai traffic, this will take you at least 1 hour 30 minutes. Yes, traffic is that bad.
Although I stayed in Mumbai for just 2 nights, I would recommend at least 3 or 4 nights in Mumbai if you can handle it. Mumbai is such a large city with so much to see. In fact, Mumbai is India’s largest city.
Why Do Indians Want Selfies with Foreigners?
As a white foreigner backpacking India, prepare yourself to be asked to take countless selfies with the locals. This is especially the case at tourist attractions such as the Gateway of India in Mumbai and the Red Fort in Delhi.
Typically, an Indian millennial will approach you and ask, “selfie?” I heard many different theories as to why Indian’s are so fascinated with taking selfies with white foreigners.
My thought is that many of these Indians will never be able to afford to travel to a developed country such as the United States or Europe. The closest they’ll get is meeting you. So being the friendly people that they are, they aren’t going to miss out on this opportunity of a lifetime.
Whatever the case may be, just know that if you say yes to a selfie with an Indian, a line may form, and you may spend the next 20 minutes more popular than the tourist attraction itself.
Goa may be the smallest state in India, but it certainly contends to be the most beautiful. Goa is full of picturesque beaches, lush tropical forests, and plenty of tourism.
I spent a total of six nights in Goa: three nights in North Goa and three nights in South Goa. I definitely could have stay here longer, but there was more of India for me to explore.
Travel from Mumbai to Goa
The best way to travel from Mumbai to Goa is by overnight train. Take train number 12223. The train departs Lokmanya Tilak Terminus in Mumbai at 8:50 PM and arrives in Madgaon Junction in Goa at 5:55 AM—a 9 hour journey. Mumbai to Goa distance by train is 563.8 kilometers.
My class third AC (3AC) train ticket from Mumbai to Goa cost me ₹1,835 or about $28 USD. My hostel in Mumbai booked the train ticket for me the day before departure, and since there were no seats left, I had to get a tatkal quota ticket. The tatkal quota allows last-minute passengers to get seats on a train for a premium. So when booked in advance, a 3AC train ticket from Mumbai to Goa should cost you around ₹1,100.
This was my first Indian train experience, and it was a pleasant one. 3AC class or above is a must when traveling by overnight train in India. I tried sleeper class (SL) from Delhi to Varanasi and back and it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable. Sleeper class doesn’t have blankets, pillows, or air conditioning whereas class third AC does.
Once in Goa, you can hire a scooter to take you from the Madgaon railway station to Calangute Beach in North Goa for ₹750 or about $11.75 USD. The trip is just over 50 kilometers and will take approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.
Calangute Beach is the largest, busiest, and most touristy beach in Goa. Calangute Beach is adjacent to Baga Beach. I was surprised by the amount of fully dressed Indian men and lack of Indian women on these beaches. I didn’t spend more than a couple hours on Calangute and Baga.
North Goa vs South Goa
The infamous dilemma: North Goa or South Goa? To that I say, why not both? North Goa beaches are infused with tourism and nightlife while South Goa beaches are less disturbed and more peaceful.
If partying all day and night to trance music is your style, you should be in North Goa. Specifically checkout Tito’s on Baga Beach and Curlies Beach Shack on Anjuna Beach. Trance music is so popular in Goa that it has it’s own genre of music appropriately called Goa trance.
If relaxing all day on the beach and yoga is more your style, you should be in South Goa. I recommend taking a few yoga classes with Deepak Kappala at the Patnem Garden Cottages just off of Patnem Beach. If you’re feeling especially spiritual, South Goa is a great place to get your yoga teacher training certification in India.
No matter where you choose to spend your time in Goa, you’ll be swimming in the Arabian Sea.
Don’t leave Goa without doing a sunset kayak trip. Sunsets in India are unreal. To witness the sun set over the edge of the sea is breathtaking. A two hour sunset kayak trip in Goa should cost you no more than ₹150 or $2.25 USD.
How to Travel from North Goa to South Goa
The distance between the heart of North Goa and South Goa is approximately 85 kilometers or a 2 hour drive. If you stay at a hostel by #thehostelcrowd chain, you can take a shuttle from North Goa to South Goa.
I stayed at the Prison hostel in Anjuna in North Goa and they shuttled me to the Summer hostel in Palolem in South Goa for just ₹500 or $7.50 USD. In addition, you get a ₹250 discount on your hostel stay, so the cost of getting from North Goa to South Goa is essentially ₹250.
Old Goa Churches
Take a break from the beaches and parties of Goa and spend a half day in Old Goa. I got up early one morning to attended a Roman Catholic mass at the Se Cathedral. To my surprise, the mass was spoken in Konkani, a prominent language along the south western coast of India.
Other notable churches in Old Goa are the Basilica of Bom Jesus, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, and the Convent of Santa Monica and The Chapel Of The Weeping Cross. Many of these churches are UNESCO World Heritage Sites as part of the Churches and Convents of Old Goa designation.
South Indian Food vs Goan Food
Goa has it’s own cuisine heavily based around fish, but since I didn’t consume meat while in India, I ate a more traditional South Indian food diet in Goa.
A popular South Indian food to eat while backpacking Goa is masala dosa. A masala dosa is mashed potatoes, fried onions and spices wrapped in a light, crispy pancake. Masala simply means a mix of spices, and dosa is the pancake. Masala dosas are typically served with chutneys and sambar to dip.
Indian Hostels vs Airbnb
I stayed primarily in hostels while backpacking India except for one Airbnb in Panji, Goa. The only reason I stayed in this Airbnb was because the Old Quarter hostel by #thehostelcrowd was fully booked.
Thank goodness for Airbnb. Not only did Airbnb find me a place to stay for the night, but my Airbnb host was super informative and told me about the Goa Carnival festival and parade happening the next day. The Goal Carnival is India’s largest Carnival celebration. Despite this, I happened to run into my tuk-tuk driver from the night before at the Goa Carnival parade.
In general, I recommend staying in hostels while backpacking India alone. Hostels have a built-in network of like-minded backpackers with whom you can mingle. Consequently, the obvious downside to hostels is the shared dormitory experience.
In certain cases, like when hostels are fully booked or when you need some privacy, Airbnb is a great backup that are still very affordable in India.
Jaipur, the capital and the largest city in the Indian state of Rajasthan, is known as the Pink City. Although Jaipur was my third stop in India, this was the first time I really felt like I truly experienced Indian culture. Mumbai was too hectic, and Goa was relaxing and tropical.
Jaipur is part of India’s Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is a tourist circuit which connects Delhi
In Jaipur, I got a lot of dust in my eyes. But when the dust cleared, I saw my first elephants, monkeys, and camels and visited countless temples, forts, and palaces. I spent three nights in Jaipur: two days exploring Jaipur and a one day side trip to Ranthambore National Park.
Travel from Goa to Jaipur
From Goa, I took an IndiGo flight to Jaipur with an overnight layover in Bengaluru a.k.a. Bangalore.
I spent the night sleeping on a supremely comfortable recliner in the Plaza Premium Lounge. Thanks to my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, I have free and unlimited access to thousands of VIP airport lounges worldwide with Priority Pass. I highly recommend this credit card for all backpackers.
Anyway, my flight from Goa to Jaipur was $133 USD which was more than I wanted to pay; however, this is understandable since I only booked my ticket the day before. You can usually fly from Goa to Jaipur for less than $60 USD if you book far enough in advance.
A much cheaper and longer alternative would be to take the Marusagar Express train number 12978. The journey from Goa to Jaipur by train is 1,875 kilometers and will take 29 hours. The price of a 3AC train ticket will set you back just ₹1,770 or $26.50 USD. For comparison, the price of SL is ₹670, 2A is ₹2,575, and 1A is ₹4,430.
I opened the Uber app in the Jaipur airport to find a new option called UberMOTO. UberMOTO is just like a regular Uber ride, except with a motorcycle. Most of all, it’s super cheap. The 13 kilometer trip from the 5 minJaipur airport to the Moustache Jaipur hostel took 30 minutes and cost me just ₹95 or $1.50 USD.
I would recommend downloading Uber before you travel to India. I used it countless times, and as you can see, it was very affordable.
Jaipur Forts, Palaces, and Temples
There are numerous forts and palaces in Jaipur, but don’t worry, you can visit most of them in a day or two. My favorite was the Amber Fort and Palace. Other notable attractions are the Nahargarh Fort and Palace, the Jal Mahal palace, and the Hawa Mahal palace.
I do not recommend visiting the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur. A mere 5 minutes here left me bored, so I left.
If you want to see monkeys, check out the Hanuman Temple in Jaipur. The Hanuman Temple is rightfully known as the Monkey Temple. You don’t even have to climb up to the temple on the top of the hill before you start to see monkeys.
Do not leave Jaipur without visiting Bhagat Mishthan Bhandar. Bhagat Mishthan Bhandar is a public food court right across the street from the Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur. I ate lunch and dinner here twice and tasted food from at least a half dozen food stalls.
Bhagat Mishthan Bhandar is not street food. I really wanted to taste panipuri when I was in India, but I did not trust the street food enough to do so.
Panipuri is a fried crisp filled with a mixture of flavored water, spices, and chickpeas or potatos. Big red flag ingredient here—flavored water. Unless you want to flirt with Delhi belly (read diarrhea), do not drink or consume unfiltered water in India.
Even though the Bhagat Mishthan Bhandar food court was really clean and well kept, I did my due diligence and had the chef show me the filtered water that they used to make the panipuri. I also recommend that you follow similar precautions and don’t take any chances with consuming unfiltered water while backpacking India.
Backpacking Ranthambore National Park
Ranthambore National Park is one of the best places to see a tiger in Rajasthan, India. Although I can’t speak from experience, because my safari in Ranthambore was tiger-less, I did see a wealth of wildlife and natural beauty in Ranthambore.
Travel from Jaipur to Ranthambore National Park
In order to get from Jaipur to Ranthambore National Park, take the Jaipur Pune SF Express train number 12940 from Jaipur and get off at Sawai Madhopur. The trip takes 2 hours 20 minutes. It costs ₹160 or about $2.45 USD to travel the 132 kilometer distance.
I encourage you to book your return ticket right away. I made the mistake of waiting until I got to Sawai Madhopur to book my return ticket and was told that the train was sold out. Luckily, I called my travel agent in Jaipur, and he was able to get me on the train back to Jaipur. My return ticket cost me twice as much or ₹320, but that’s a lesson learned.
How Much Does a Ranthambore Safari Cost?
When booking through a local Sawai Madhopur hotel, I paid ₹2,000 or about $30 for a 4 hour evening jeep safari in the Ranthambore National Park tiger reserve.
You have a couple of options when selecting a tiger safari in Ranthambore. You can pick the cheaper 16 person canter or the more expensive 6 person jeep. The jeep was only 25% more expensive, so I went with that option.
Tiger safaris run twice a day in Ranthambore: once in the morning and once in the evening. Safaris typically last for 4 hours. Ranthambore is split up into 10 zones. Your safari is assigned to a single zone, so you are not guaranteed to see a tiger.
While you may not see a tiger, you will most definitely see peacocks, kingfishers (birds, not the beer), parakeets, sambar deer, chital or spotted deer, nilgai or blue bulls, wild boar, and more. And at the very least, if you look closely, you can find tiger footprints in the dirt!
Pushkar is a small town in India that is build around a small lake. There is not nearly as many “tourist attractions” to see in Pushkar when compared to Delhi, Jaipur, and Mumbai, which means it’s a great place to relax. A couple of days is sufficient to spend in Pushkar.
Definitely walk, don’t cable car, up to the 720 meter high Savitri Mata Temple just outside of Pushkar. The Savitri Mata Temple itself isn’t that interesting, but watching the sunset from behind the temple is a must.
I experienced my first bout of Delhi belly in Pushkar. I blame it on the train station food that I ate in Sawai Madhopur the night before. The diarrhea stuck around for a good six days.
Travel from Jaipur to Pushkar
Take a bus from Jaipur to Pushkar for ₹230 or about $3.50 USD. The 150 kilometer trip from Jaipur to Pushkar will take you approximately 3 hours 30 minutes by bus.
As with anywhere in India, you can book your bus through your hostel or a local travel agent. Don’t pay more than ₹50 or ₹100 in addition to the cost of the ticket for their service. If they ask for anything more than that, they are trying to rip you off.
The Madpackers Pushkar Hostel
I booked two nights at The Madpackers Pushkar hostel. This was after I checked into the Moustache Pushkar hostel, and checked out of there 15 minutes later.
Moustache Pushkar is built around a large grassy courtyard, so it has a really spacious layout which I appreciated. But when I got to my room, it wreaked of smoke, and my roommates didn’t smell too good themselves.
As a result, I checked out of Moustache Pushkar hostel and made my way over to The Madpackers Pushkar hostel. This proved to me again that, just because you liked a hostel chain in one city in India, you may not like it in the next. For example, while the Moustache Jaipur hostel is great, the Moustache Puskar hostel is not. Furthermore, I hated the atmosphere at Zostel Goa, but enjoyed Zostel Mumbi very much.
The Madpackers Pushkar is probably one of the most expensive hostels in Pushkar. The Madpackers Pushkar cost me ₹1,000 or about $15 for 2 nights. But breakfast is included, and the staff is really nice (especially Mr. Awesome) so it is totally worth it.
How to Be in a Bollywood Movie
To be a film extra in Bollywood, you have to be in the right place at the right time. Being a white foreigner will greatly help your chances to be an extra in a Bollywood movie.
In the streets of Mumbai, I ran into a white Australian who was on his way to being an extra in a Bollywood movie. Unfortunately, his agent didn’t need anymore extras, so I wasn’t able to join him. Since Mumbai is the heart of Bollywood, Mumbai is your best bet to be in a Bollywood movie; however, it’s not your only opportunity.
I was battling Delhi belly in Pushkar, so I gave up Indian food for the day to help with my stomach. After reading good reviews, I went to La Pizzaria Pushkar for dinner around 7:30. As I walked into the restaurant, I made a comment to the two white foreigners in the front about the emptiness the restaurant. The white foreigners proceeded to tell me that they were about to travel to Bikaner to play extras in a Bollywood movie.
A few minutes later, their agent showed up and asked if I also wanted to be in extra in the Bollywood movie. I, of course, said yes, but not without immediately worrying that it was a scam. As a group, we did our research and discovered that the Bollywood agent was legit. So after dinner, a total of seven of us grabbed our bags, hopped into two cars, and headed off to Bikaner for a full day of filming the next day.
I wasn’t planning on traveling to Bikanner; however, when I got the opportunity to be an extra in a Bollywood movie, I jumped on the chance. Bikaner is a city in the Indian state of Rajasthan that shares its western border with Pakistan.
Other than spending the day on the Bollywood film set in Bikaner, I didn’t do any traveling around Bikaner. One of the few attractions that is worth checkout out in Bikaner is the Karni Mata Temple, which is actually located 30 kilometers outside of Bikaner. Also know as the Bikaner Rat Temple, this temple is home to over 25,000 revered black rats.
Travel From Pushkar to Bikaner
The trip from Pushkar to Bikaner is 260 kilometers and will take 5 hours by car. Our insanely reckless driver got us to Bikaner from Pushkar in 4 hours 30 minutes while squeezing in a couple of stops and running over a stray dog.
Aside from being shocked at the sheer number of stray dogs, I had previously wondered why there were so many three legged dogs in India. After our driver hit the stray dog, we could clearly hear the dog crying and see that his left hind leg was broken. The dog was still able to walk and there was nothing we could do, so we proceeded to our destination.
My Experience on a Bollywood Movie Set in Bikaner
I played a British soldier in a Bollywood movie called Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. The filming location was the Laxmi Niwas Palace in Bikaner. I was with eight other white foreign extras.
Just like the rest of India, I found the Bollywood movie set to be unorganized and chaotic. Different people were telling us conflicting instructions. There was a lot of downtime which we used to swap stories about our backpacking India experiences. During the 11 hour day, I’d estimate that the director captured a total of 20 minutes of film of which probably only 30 seconds will be used in production.
Breakfast on set was decent, but lunch was kind of gross. I’m really glad they had water for us, or I may have passed out wearing my sleeved British solider costume under the heat of the Bikanner sun.
How Much Do Extras Get Paid in Bollywood
I would have participated as an extra in a Bollywood movie for free, but I was generously paid for my time with the following compensation:
- ₹1,500 cash
- Transportation by car from Pushkar to Bikaner
- One night lodging in a Bikaner hotel
- Breakfast on set
- Lunch on set
- Snacks and water throughout the day
- ₹200 for dinner
- Prepaid rickshaw taxi to the Bikaner train station
- A ₹605 3AC train ticket from Bikaner to Jaisalmer
I was asked to come back on set the next day, but I declined. My friend came back on set and was given a major role in the Bollywood movie where he speaks lines. He even has scenes where he’s talking to the queen, Kangana Ranaut, who is a major Bollywood star. He got paid ₹3,000 per day and was on set for over a week.
Jaisalmer is a beautiful Indian city in the middle of the Thar desert. A sandcastle rising from the center of Jaisalmer will take you back to another era in time.
One day you can spend wandering the narrow streets of Jaisalmer Fort, while the next day you can ride a camel into the sand dunes of the Thar desert and sleep under the stars.
I spent three full days in Jaisalmer including an overnight camel safari, but I could have stayed here for another day or two.
Travel From Bikaner to Jaisalmer
In order to get from Bikaner to Jaisalmer, take the Leelan SF Express train number 12468 from Bikaner Junction and get off at Jaisalmer railway station. The trip takes 5 hours 30 minutes. It costs ₹605 or about $9 USD to travel the 318 kilometer distance on 3AC class.
Only downside to the Leelan SF Express is that the train leaves Bikaner at 11:15 PM arrives in Jaisalmer at 4:50 AM. Absolutely nothing is open at 5 AM in Jaisalmer. Luckily, the door to the Moustache Jaisalmer hostel was unlocked and I was able to sleep in the common area until the staff arrived in morning.
Jaisalmer Hostels Are Cheap as F*ck
The cheapest lodging that I’ve seen while backing India was in Jaisalmer. I stayed at the Moustache Jaisalmer hostel for two nights. The nightly rate for a 6 bed mixed AC dorm was ₹149 or just $2.25 USD. Best of all, I must’ve been the seventh guest at the hostel because I got a dorm room to myself.
Cheap hostels in Jaisalmer probably have something to do with the fact that Jaisalmer is in the middle of the desert. Because it’s so far away from the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, lodging in Jaisalmer is super cheap.
Best Camel Safari in Jaisalmer
The best camel safari in Jaisalmer is the Trotters camel safari. This Jaisalmer camel safari costs ₹2,250 or about $34 USD. The overnight camel safari includes:
- Transportation from Jaisalmer by Jeep
- Freshly cooked breakfast
- Three hour morning camel ride
- Freshly cooked lunch
- Two hour afternoon camel ride
- Dinner on the sand dunes of the Thar desert
- Sleeping under the stars on the desert sand with provided pillow and blankets
- Another freshly cooked breakfast
- One hour morning camel ride
- Transportation by Jeep to the Serene Oasis and the Khaba Fort
- Transportation by Jeep back to Jaisalmer
- Shower facilities in Jaisalmer
During my camel safari in Jaisalmer, I rode a camel named Mango through the Thar desert. I slept on the desert floor under the stars just 50 kilometers from the Pakistan border. Based on my unforgettable desert safari experience, I highly recommend a Jaisalmer camel safari with Totters.
Udaipur was my least favorite city India. Aside from the Udaipur City Palace, I didn’t find too many interesting things in Udaipur.
I stayed one night in Udaipur on my way from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur. I stayed at the Bunkyard Hostel Udaipur for ₹450 or about $6.75 USD and had my laundry done through the hostel for ₹210 or $3 USD. A highlight of the Bunkyard Udaipur hostel was the amazing view of the sunset from the rooftop deck.
Travel From Jaisalmer to Udaipur
Take an overnight bus from Jaisalmer to Udaipur. The 550 kilometer trip will take about 12 hours 30 minutes by bus with stops. I bought my air conditioned sleeper bus ticket from a travel agent for ₹650 plus ₹100 commission so about $11 USD total.
Udaipur City Palace
The main highlight in Udaipur is the City Palace, and to be honest, I wasn’t that thrilled with it. I also purchased the audio tour of the City Palace. The City Palace Udaipur entry fee is ₹330 and the audio tour is an additional ₹200. I did my best to listen the whole way through the audio tour, but I got bored by the end and skipped through a few stops.
To me, a the highlight of Udaipur was seeing the City Palace and Lake Palace from a boat in Lake Pichola. The Bunkyard Hostel Udaipur arranges boat trips around Lake Pichola for an expensive ₹400.
Jodhpur was one of my favorite cities while backpacking India. I arrived here by bus early in the morning and left by train at night, so I only stayed here for a matter of 16 hours. But in that short time, I fell in love with Jodhpur, the second largest city in the Indian state of Rajasthan.
While trying not to get lost in the endless narrow streets of Jodhpur, you should make a point to visit the Jodhpur Stepwell (Toorji Ka Jhalra Step Well) and the Jodhpur Clock Tower (Ghanta Ghar).
Travel From Udaipur to Jodhpur
Take an overnight bus from Udaipur to Jodhpur. The 260 kilometer trip will take about 7 hours by bus with stops. Faster buses are available, but I picked a slow one in this case to maximize my sleeping time. I bought my air conditioned (A/C) sleeper bus ticket from a travel agent for ₹580 plus ₹100 commission so about $10 USD total.
Overnight buses in India are quite an experience. You will probably feel ever bump and turn in the road, and you may get startled in the middle of the night to the sound of honking horns, but there’s nothing like waking up in the morning at your next destination—except maybe trains, which are a lot quieter and smoother.
If your budget allows it, book an A/C sleeper bus. You can get a non A/C sleeper bus tickets for less than half the price. If you really want to stretch your dollar, you can always take the local bus for something like ₹10 or ₹20, but I don’t recommend this.
And please, please, please only book a sleeper bus seat in a row by itself. Otherwise, you will end up sleeping next to a stranger.
The Blue City of Jodhpur
The best thing to do in Jodhpur is to watch the sunset from the rocky outcrop at the southwest side of the Mehrangarh Fort. This place doesn’t have a name that I know of, but I like to call it Sunset Rock Jodhpur or Sunrise Rock Jodhpur.
Finding your way to Sunset Rock Jodhpur is not easy. You can access Sunset Rock Jodhpur directly from an unmarked alley on the west side of the outcropping or by following an unmarked trail along the south side of Mehrangarh Fort. In either case, there are lots of steps for you to climb up.
Sunset Rock is my favorite place in Jodhpur because of the 360 degree panoramic view of Jodhpur. You are able to see a multitude of blue buildings—a unique perspective that you cannot appreciate from the streets below.
Within moments of the sun setting, you will begin to hear dozens of mosques chanting prayers over loudspeakers as you look out across the city in every direction. Although Hinduism is by far the most practiced religion in India, over 10% of the population are Muslims practicing Islam.
Seeing the sunset over The Blue City while listening to the Islamic prayers was one of the most memorable experiences during my backpacking India trip.
The Madpackers Jodhpur Hostel
The Madpackers Jodhpur hostel is the best hostel in India hands down. Although I didn’t stay here overnight, I did purchase a hostel day pass for ₹200 which allowed me to enjoy the unlimited hot breakfast, shower, and hang out.
Like the other two Madpackers hostels (Delhi and Pushkar), Madpackers Jodhpur has some of the friendliest staff. Madpackers Jodhpur also has surprisingly modern facilities including a massive common area with a huge flat screen TV, gaming systems, kitchen with island, multiple filtered water dispensers, an extra long dining table, and so, so much more.
When I go back to Jodhpur, I will definitely be staying in Jodhpur for a few days and staying at Madpackers.
If Mumbai Is India’s New York, Delhi is India’s Washington, DC. Not to say that Delhi isn’t chaotic, because it it, but Delhi, like DC, has a ton of monuments, memorials, museums, and places of worship.
If you want to treat yourself and don’t mind dropping close to ₹2,000 or $30 USD, eat the breakfast buffet at Machan inside the famous Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi. I stuffed my face here for a couple of hours one morning and tasted exotic fruits, fresh juices, and delicious breads amongst other breakfast foods.
Travel From Jodhpur to Delhi
Take an overnight train from Jodhpur to Delhi. The price of a 3AC train ticket is around ₹900 or $13.50 USD. The 618 kilometer trip from Jodhpur to Delhi will take you approximately 11 hours by train.
Be sure to carefully take a peak out of the train door on your journey. It seems like there’s a lot of action going on alone the train tracks. I’ve seen everything from teenagers playing cards to old men squatting down to take a poop and children playing cricket to families enjoying dinner together.
The coolest Uber feature I’ve used in India is UberHIRE. Available only in select Indian cities including Delhi, UberHIRE allows you keep your Uber for multiple destinations. UberHIRE is perfect for backpackers in India because it allows you to make trips with multiple stops.
I booked an UberHIRE with a fellow backpacker in Delhi for six hours. After riding around Delhi all day in our Uber and making over a half dozen stops, our total fare came out to be ₹1,080 or approximately $8 for each of us. I can’t decide if I like the price of UberHIRE or the convenience better. Either way, UberHIRE is definitely something you should check out in India.
Delhi Forts, Memorials, and Tombs
Entry into a lot of the attractions in India costs foreigners an exorbitant amount more than locals. For example, the price of entry into Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi is ₹30 for Indians and ₹500 for foreigners—that’s over 16 times more! Even worse, the Taj Mahal charges foreigners ₹1,000 while locals pay just ₹40.
With that being said, I wasn’t too thrilled with Humayun’s Tomb, which can be argued is similar to the Taj Mahal. The Taj on the other hand: well, let’s just say I saved the best for last…
The Red Fort in Delhi is worth checking out, but by this time in my trip, I had seen enough forts in India, so I decided to skip going inside. Similar to Humayun’s Tomb, the Red Fort price is ₹500.
The Gandhi Smriti in Delhi is a museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. This is where Gandhi spent his last days. The site where Gandhi was assassinated is marked by The Martyr’s Column. Entry into Gandhi Smriti is free.
Religions of India Tour in Delhi
I learned a great deal about Indian religions during my backpacking India trip, especially while I was backpacking Delhi. Here are some places of worship, and a quick explanation of each religion, that I visited in Delhi.
- Hinduism is the religions of Hindus. Hindus worship and practice Hinduism at a temple. The Akshardham is the largest Hindu temple in Delhi.
- Islam is the religion of Muslims. Muslims worship and practice Islam at a mosque. The Jama Masjid of Delhi, is one of the largest mosques in India.
- Sikhism is the religion of Sikhs. Sikhs worship and practice Sikhism at a gurdwara. The Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is a Sikh place of worship in Delhi.
- The Bahá’í Faith is the religion of Bahá’ís. Bahá’ís worship and practice the Bahá’í Faith at a Bahá’í House of Worship. The Lotus Temple is Bahá’í House of Worship in Delhi.
This list does not include other notable Indian religions such as Jainism, Buddhism, and Christianity. The most noteworthy Indian religion is Hinduism with over to 80% of the population practicing.
After removing my shoes, I spent an hour inside the Lotus Temple. The Lotus Temple is shaped like a flower. Like all Bahá’í houses of worship, the Lotus Temple is open to all religions.
After removing my shoes and covering my hair, I toured around the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib which includes the gurdwara itself, a large holy pond, and a kitchen. I spent a couple hours with some fellow backpackers volunteering our time preparing food. The Gurudwara Bangla serves 10,000 free meals everyday. Anyone and everyone is welcome to a free meal at the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib.
Hindu vs Hindi
On a side note: don’t mix up Hindu and Hindi like I did. As mentioned, a Hindu is a person who practices Hinduism. On the other hand, Hindi is a language.
While over half of India speaks Hindi, the second most common language in India is English. Therefore you won’t have trouble finding someone who speaks English in India, especially in the cities.
The Madpackers Delhi Hostel
After I had such good experiences at The Madpackers Pushkar and The Madpackers Jodhpur hostels, I booked two nights at The Madpackers Delhi hostel.
Two nights in a mixed dorm at The Madpackers Delhi hostel cost me €1,298 or about $10 USD per night. This includes a complimentary hot breakfast. The price of Madpackers is generally more expensive than other hostels, but the this relatively inexpensive “luxury” is totally worth it if your budget allows.
No backpacking India trip would be complete without backpacking Varanasi. Backpacking Varanasi will leave you covered in human ashes, high on bhang lassi, and sick from the insane amount of air pollution.
Varanasi, situated on the banks of the Ganges, is the holiest of seven sacred Hindu cities. Hindus pilgrim to Varanasi from all over India. Some come to Varanasi to wash away their sins by bathing in the holy waters of the Ganges, while the dying come to Varanasi to spend their final days before being cremated and having their ashes dumped into the river. Hindus believe that their soul will achieve nirvana if their ashes are dumped into the Ganges.
Travel from Delhi to Varanasi
A train from Delhi to Varanasi will take you between 9 and 12 hours. The price of a sleeper train from Delhi to Varanasi is €600.
My hostel in Delhi couldn’t book me a train ticket to Varanasi because tickets were sold out for the next few weeks. But they told me to go to the International Tourist Bureau at the New Delhi railway station and they might be able to help.
Aparantly, a certain number of seats are reserved on some Indian trains for foreigners. Otherwise, Indians would fill up all the seats making it impossible for tourists to utilize the trains.
So I went to the International Tourist Bureau in Delhi and bought my Varanasi train tickets. The International Tourist Bureau doesn’t charge commission or a fee for these tickets.
While I managed to get my Varanasi train tickets for a good price, it wasn’t a completely pleasant experience. I did have to wait in line for about an hour and listen to some obnoxious Australian hippie talk about her love-hate relationship with Indians. But I suppose that comes with the territory.
Varanasi Burning Bodies
The Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi is famous for burning bodies. This cremation ghat left me in awe for a good two hours while I watched, smelled, and heard multiple dead human bodies burn right before me. Harish Chandra Ghat is the other burning ghat in Varanasi. Nearly 300 bodies are burned on the banks of the Ganges everyday.
I found it interesting that only men are allowed to attend the cremations. Women are thought to be too emotional and would cry, ruining the funeral. Another reason is that some women were have said to have leaped onto their burning husband’s body in a romantic act of desperation to avoid a life as a widow.
It’s worth noting that the stairs leading down to a river are called ghats. There are 87 ghats along the Ganges River in Varanasi. I certainly didn’t know what a ghat was before visiting Varanasi.
The Ganges River in Varanasi is one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Toxic wastewater flows directly into the river where it combines with human ashes, bones, and other human remains. Despite the pollution, Indians will religiously bathe in and even drink the holy water of the Ganges, believing that it will wash away their sins.
Situated in the foothills of the Himalayas, Rishikesh is a great place to escape the chaos of larger Indian cities and relax in the mountains. The Ganges River flows untainted through Rishikesh (compare to Varanasi), so white water rafting in Rishikesh is safe and fun.
I spent a total of six nights in Rishikesh: three nights in Tapovan at the Bonfire Hostel and three nights in Swarg Ashram at the Shiv Shakti hostel. Unless you’re doing yoga teacher training, which is quite popular in RIshikesh, six days is more than enough to spend in RIshikesh.
Travel From Varanasi to Rishikesh
Although you can take a series of trains from Varanasi to Rishikesh while avoiding Delhi, I decided to train to Delhi and bus to Rishikesh. Surprisingly, a train to Delhi followed by a bus to Rishikesh is slightly faster. Plus, you get to take a break in Delhi for a few hours.
In either case, it will take you between 18 and 24 hours to get from Varanasi to Rishikesh by train or bus or some combination.
Holi Festival Rishikesh
I celebrated the Holi festival of colors while I was in Rishikesh. Although Holi is a Hindu festival, lots of non-Hindu Indians across India partake in the festivities.
Holi is a two day festival consisting of dancing, drinking bhang lassi, and of course lots of color. Holi powder, also know as Gulal, is the colored powder that participants throw and smear on each other during Holi. The colors of Holi symbolize the coming of spring and the triumph of good over evil.
Rishikesh Day Hike
For a good day hike in Rishikesh, walk towards the Tat Baba Cave. Continue on the trail and up the mountain. There will be vendors along the paved trail selling water and snacks, but I suggest you pack your own before your embark. A couple hours later, you’ll reach the top of the mountain where there will be a few outdoor restaurants.
You can continue on the trail and find a series of temples leading into the nearby towns. Like everywhere else in India, I was disgusted by the amount of trash along the entirety of the trail.
During my Rishikesh day hike, my hiking partners and I had our water bottles stolen by wild langur monkeys. Specifically, it was gray langurs with the black faces. In my experience, wild monkeys tend to be more aggressive than the monkeys found in the cities. For this reason, carry a stick with you to smack against the ground to ward off any overly courageous monkeys.
On your way back to Rishikesh and not too far from Tat Baba Cave, you can optionally stop at the Beatles Ashram, an ashram where the Beatles hung out in the late 1960’s.
Some fellow backpackers and I lost (found?) our way. We wandered into the back entrance of the Beatles Ashram. As a result of our mistake, we had the opportunity to walk through the decrepit property and realized it wasn’t worth the expensive €600 entry fee. But if you are a true Beatles fan, you may be able to justify the expensive Beatles Ashram price.
Is Rishikesh the Birthplace of Yoga?
RIshikesh prides itself on being the birthplace of yoga. I’m skeptical. There are a ton of opportunities to practice yoga or train to be a yoga teacher in RIshikesh, but I have yet to find solid proof that yoga originated in Rishikesh.
Regardless of the origin of yoga, the annual International Yoga Festival was going on while I was in Rishikesh. The International Yoga Festival is a full week of yoga, meditation, and educational talks at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram.
I found out that the Dalai Lama was leading a meditation. Perfect, I thought. I bought myself a day pass to the festival for the day that the Dalai Lama was speaking.
News spread the day before the yoga festival that the Dalai Lama was sick. The next day, the rumor turns out to be true. I attended the festival up until lunch, at which point, I could no longer justify spending $70 on the festival without the Dalai Lama’s presence. I made my way to the festival organizers and got a refund.
The last thing I did while backpacking India was visit the Taj Mahal in Agra. I’m glad that I saved the Taj Mahal for last. I found the Taj Mahal to be the most beautiful man-made site in all of India.
I stayed at the goStops Agra hostel. The goStops Agra hostel was one of my favorite hostels in India. It had delicious breakfast, an awesome common area in the basement, and decent bunks.
Travel From Rishikesh to Agra
Take a bus directly from Rishikesh to Agra. A bus runs overnight from Rishikesh to Agra, although it’s not a sleeper bus. A seat on the bus will cost you €450 or about $6.75 USD without commission. Travel from Rishikesh to Agra by bus will take 10 hours.
The bus from Rishikesh to Agra was a miserable experience. The bus was old, bumpy, and the windows didn’t stay shut, so by the middle of the night I was freezing.
Although I anticipated an uncomfortable overnight bus ride by booking two bus seats next to each other, less than half of the seats were occupied, so I was able to lay down across three seats and get some sleep.
The Taj Mahal Is the Only Thing to Do in Agra
Aside from visiting the Taj Mahal, there isn’t anything worth seeing in Agra. I spent two nights in Agra, but one night or a day trip would be sufficient.
That said, do not backpack India without visiting the Taj Mahal. It is an absolute must. I felt obligated to see the Taj Mahal and thought it was going to be just like the dozens of other temples I saw. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
First of all, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum and not a temple. And second, the Taj Mahal was utterly breathtaking—a true icon of India.
Entry into the Taj Mahal was the most expensive attraction that I visited in India, but worth every penny. The Taj Mahal costs foreigners €1,500 or about $22.50 USD.
Travel from Agra to New Delhi
Travel from Agra to Delhi by train. Take the Andhra Pradesh AC SF Express train number 22415 from Agra Cantonment railway station (Agra Cantt) and get off at the New Delhi railway station. The trip takes 3 hours 20 minutes. It costs ₹584 or about $8.75 USD to travel the 195 kilometer distance on 3AC class.
For this short of a journey, you can definitely get away with a cheaper sleeper class ticket. Sleeper class is a class below 3AC and is counterintuitively sufficient for any short train journeys where you won’t be sleeping.
Across the street from the New Delhi railway station is the entrance to the Delhi metro. For just ₹60 or about $0.90 USD, you can ride the metro from the New Delhi railway station to the Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Backpacking India Alone
Don’t let backpacking India alone intimidate you. I’ll admit, I was hesitant to step out of the Mumbai airport after landing in India for the first time. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions of my life.
Have no fear. You may travel to India alone, but when you get there, a network of fellow backpackers awaits you.
I hope you found this India travel guide for beginners helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask me any questions while planning or during your trip to India, and check out some of my other blog posts about India travel.