EIGHT IMPORTANT TIPS TO REMEMBER WHEN BACKPACKING IN INDIA TO ENSURE THAT YOU HAVE AS SMOOTH A TRIP AS POSSIBLE
■ text by Katrina Rice | photos by Simon Koy
Backpacking is always an adventure that most minimalists prefer because it is cheap, exciting and relatively convenient. If you have plans for backpacking around India, listed below are some important tips to remember when backpacking in India. Follow these and enjoy this wonderful country at its best.
~ EAT WHERE LOCALS LOVE TO EAT ~
Curry is perhaps the most famous dish from India. It is a recipe that has been handed down from generations to generations and slightly altered to suit the preferred local flavour profile. Despite its popularity, little do people know that its blend of cardamom, cayenne, ginger, star anise, peppers, turmeric, and other spices makes it an incredibly healthy dish. As these are spices also used in traditional and modern medicine. Turmeric curcumin, for instance, has been produced as pills as curcumin benefits cancer and other major diseases.
If you really want to taste authentic Indian curry, follow where the locals eat. Find a busy local restaurant as quiet ones are quiet for a reason. Restaurants around tourist destinations are usually tailored to catering foreigners and therefore can be a bit more expensive and less authentic.
~ STUDY INDIA’S RAILWAYS ~
A great tip to save on transportation expenses is to swot up on trainspotting. The Indian train network is very extensive and is an excellent way to get around the country. Regular train seats fill up really quickly so you need to mentally prepare for it as things can get quite hectic.
Sleeper trains are easier to book, but for security and privacy reasons, try to book upper and upper-side berths. You can find a comprehensive breakdown of the complex train booking process in many different sites online.
~ ALWAYS AGREE ON A PRICE ~
Backpacking to India means you do not get special treatment unless there is an established agreement. Taxis and rickshaws in India do not have any meter so you need to haggle first before you consider riding one of them. Know how much everything costs before staying in a hotel or hiring a tour guide. Never forget to check how much you are expected to pay.
If the menus in restaurants do not have any price lists, ask a waiter or waitress about it. And when buying souvenir products or any products in a shop, check its listed price first if there is one.
~ BRING YOUR OWN CLEAN DRINKING WATER ~
Going green is very important as it helps our environment anywhere you are in the world. Purifying your own water and storing it in a clean reusable bottle is the best option. However, backpackers do not have the time or luxury to go out their way and refill their bottles from water-refilling stations.
If we are talking about convenience, purchasing your bottled water daily is a way to go. But if you are adamant on refilling your water bottles with purified water, you can surely make time for it if you want to [editor’s note: you can also use this really handy and small pocket UV water purifier].
~ CARRY YOUR OWN TOILET ROLL AND SANITIZER FOR BATHROOM DEEDS ~
Just as any other Asian countries, India is not too keen on using toilet papers in the bathroom. They use a water spritzer and soap instead. But for places that are not upmarket or touristic, toilet paper will not be as available as you could expect. In fact, the toilet itself might just be a simple hole in the ground.
Using a water spritzer is completely fine but it is still a good idea to carry your own toilet paper and sanitizer around.
~ BE MINDFULL OF THEIR CULTURE ~
Clearly, one of the reasons why you want to backpack to India is to experience their culture. But for a country that has multifaceted religious traditions, different social etiquettes can get a bit overwhelming to follow. Before travelling, research about your destination and how to be respectful to the locals.
Among the general etiquette to follow are: women travellers should be mindful about their clothing. Avoid tops that show your shoulders and tight-fitting clothes that go under the knee are considered provocative.
Eat with your right hand (as the left hand is associated with toilet duties) and never use your feet to point at anyone. Always remove your shoes when entering a house or a temple and never show public display of intimacy.
~ JOIN FESTIVALS; THEY ARE WORTH IT ~
India has national holidays and local village festivals. Somehow, there is always a religious or cultural celebration going on somewhere in this country. Often embellished with striking costumes, loud music and dances, their festivals are colourful, vibrant and Instagram-worthy! 80.5% of India’s population consists of Hindus, and most festivals are based on the stories of their gods.
~ BE PREPARED AND STAY SAFE ~
Carrying cash around is definitely a sign of being prepared, but in a crowded place such as India, pickpockets are everywhere, so never bring large sums of money [editor’s note: personally, I use this awesome secret belt to hide some cash in when I’m travelling]. As soon as you land from the plane, purchase an Indian SIM card to give you more access to emergency calls.
India is also a country of conservative women. Though a tank top and a pair of shorts are the dress code for a warm destination, it is not an appropriate get-up for this country. Women should dress conservatively and never wander alone especially at night.