Top 15 Must-Do Local Activities while Backpacking in India
Many people spend a few thousand dollars during their trip to India. While you can have a luxurious and comfortable trip that way, I believe that you can backpack to India with a few hundred dollars, and you will be fine for a week or two. You can similarly travel around the country and not only save money but also explore some of the hidden and non-touristy places that others would probably take a pass on otherwise. There are a lot of things about backpacking in India that nobody tells you about. But don’t worry, I have got you covered!
India is a country with a wide variety of religions, beliefs, festivals, food, rich history, and culture. And when a country is so diverse, you will never fall short of things to do or see here. While you will not be able to explore everything during one visit, I have shortlisted some of the most interesting and must-do local activities while backpacking in India that you will remember forever. Here’s a list of the same. But before that, I have some tips for you that will help you during your solo travel to India.
1. Hop on the Mumbai local
The Mumbai suburban railway network carries roughly 7.6 million riders every single day! (but not in the times of the pandemic) It connects to all parts of Mumbai and is one of the busiest commuter railway networks in the world. Now you might think, why should I travel on such a busy train where there’s a sort of discomfort and one needs to be an expert? Well, that is what makes this experience one of a kind!
People hanging out of the train, people standing inside the train, and some of them sitting as well – all of this cannot be experienced anywhere else in the world! And not to mention, the cost of travelling is ridiculously cheap. Tickets start from ₹5($0.07) and go up to a maximum of ₹15($0.2) to travel around the city.
2. Eat on a banana leaf
We are accustomed to eating on fancy ceramic and glass plates since childhood. But once you come to the southern part of India, eating on a banana leaf is quite common. While people do not have all their meals on a banana leaf, you will find them eating on one during Onam or any Southern Hindu festival for sure.
You can also opt for eating on a banana leaf in some south Indian restaurants. I must say, eating dosas and vadas on a banana leaf give it a completely different taste. It is an experience that cannot be matched with anything else in this world. If you want to try it, you must visit the southern part of India.
3. Be a part of a local Indian wedding
Sometimes called the ‘big-fat Indian wedding,’ this is an event that cannot be missed. Your solo trip without attending an Indian wedding is incomplete. Unlike other countries, Indian weddings can last up to five days or even a week, which includes games, traditional ceremonies, expensive decorations, and lots and lots of gifts, sweets, and food!
Some weddings are just like festivals, every member of the house is very busy, and there is a lot of music and dancing. I would suggest that you get in touch with a local wedding agency and try to attend a traditional Indian wedding. And if you think it will get awkward and boring, you will thank me once you attend the wedding. Make sure you take a little gift for the newlywed too!
4. Explore the street food
The street food of India will take you a lifetime to explore completely! Yes, that’s the wide variety of street food that India has to offer. Some of them are masala puri, bhel puri, dahi puri, pav bhaji, vada pav, and many MANY others! I can make a list of street food, but that wouldn’t be enough either!
You can find street food in every state, and each state has its version of a particular item. For example, the pav bhaji you eat in Mumbai is not going to be the same as the one in Bangalore. Some people might argue that street food is unhealthy, one should never eat it and whatnot. Yes, I agree that street food isn’t one of the healthiest choices that you can make, but having it a couple of times during your solo trip is worth it.
5. Pani puri is a MUST
I know I just mentioned street food, and pani puri does classify as street food. But you simply cannot take a pass on pani puri when you’re in India. Alternatively known as gupchup, golgappa, pani ke patashe, and by many other names, pani puri is everyone’s favourite here. It consists of a round hollow ‘puri’ and has a stuffing made up of mashed potatoes, chickpeas, onions, and a variety of spices. It is served with flavoured water, locally known as just ‘pani.’
You can choose to have pani puri on the street or in restaurants. Both of them differ quite a lot in taste, but I prefer the one on the streets. Do note that the stuffing differs from state to state. Also, restaurants and street vendors in the same state might serve pani puri with different stuffing.
6. Attend the Kumbh Mela
It is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage and a major pilgrimage and festival for the Hindus in the country. It is also the largest human gathering in the world, where approximately 50 million people gathered at the 2019 Allahabad Kumbh Mela on one day! That’s two times the population of Australia! It is celebrated every twelve years at four sites, namely, Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain.
I suggest you check the dates before planning your trip to India if you wish to attend the Kumbh Mela. People take a dip in the river, and it is believed to cleanse their sins. It usually lasts for one month to three months but has only three dates on which the pilgrims participate.
7. Watch a cricket match in a stadium
Indians are known for their love for cricket. It is not just a sport but an emotion here. India has 52 international cricket stadiums and 24 active ones, the most in any country. Even though the gentlemen’s game originated in England, the Indians truly love this game, and this is evident once you travel to the country as you will find kids playing cricket almost everywhere.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) is one of the most-watched sports leagues around the world. It is usually played between April and May every year. Due to the current state of the pandemic, spectators are not allowed to watch the IPL matches. But, if you get a chance, you can watch an international match at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, Kolkata’s Eden Gardens, or Chennai’s M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, which is an experience of a lifetime.
8. Watch the wildlife
India has an abundance of wild animals and is home to over two-thirds of the tiger population. You can not only watch the big cats here but also other animals like rhinoceros, blackbucks, red pandas, and the Kashmir Red Stag. If you are a wildlife lover, India will not disappoint you!
Every state in India has at least one national park, leaving some union territories like Delhi, Pondicherry, Lakshadweep. I suggest you visit the Corbett National Park, Kaziranga National Park, Gir National Park, Sundarbans National Park, and the Pench Tiger Reserve. You can book a safari and explore the wildlife in India, which is an experience like none other.
9. Ride the local rails
In today’s days and age, we use cabs or aeroplanes to travel around. But many Indians still travel by rail. The railway network in India is the fourth-largest in the world by size, with a route length of almost 68,000 km. I know I mentioned the Mumbai local train, but this is a completely different experience. You can book a ticket to travel between states for the cost of an Uber!
The Rajdhani provides the best services, right from food to sanitation. It usually costs half the price of that of an aeroplane but takes around two days to travel from one end of the country to the other. Even though you might not be willing to spend extra time sitting on a train, I suggest that you do so because there is nothing like the Rajdhani in this world!
10. Meditation is a MUST
The practice of meditation and finding inner peace is deeply inculcated in the Indians. It is an ancient concept and dates back to some 2,400 years. Due to this, there are a lot of communities that indulge in meditation and also practice yoga. Varanasi, the spiritual capital of the country, is one such place where you can find a lot of communities that indulge in these practices.
Rishikesh, pretty much the yoga capital of the world, is a city in Uttarakhand, and you can attend classes on meditation and yoga here. I would highly recommend that you attend these classes as they will teach you not only meditation and yoga but also a lot about the rich culture and history of the Indian subcontinent.
11. Indulge in a local festival or two
With the diversity in cultures and beliefs come a lot of festivals – more than 35 in India. That’s roughly three festivals each month! No matter during which season you plan to travel to India, I am pretty sure that you can experience at least one festival during your stay. Even though each festival has something special about itself, the experience is a joyous one no matter which festival it is.
Some of the most popular festivals celebrated around the country include Holi, Diwali, Dussehra, Navaratri, Eid-ul-Fitr, Raksha Bandhan, Mahashivaratri, and many others. One of my most favourite festivals is Holi – the festival of colours. If you want to celebrate the festival, I have sometips for you that can greatly enhance your experience.
12. Having a cup of chai is vital
The Indians love their chai! Many people do not start their day without having a cup of it, and some have it even twice a day, or even more! It is similar to how people in the west love their cup of coffee and don’t start their day without one. While tea is consumed all around the world, India is known for its tea leaves. So, what better place to have a cup of tea other than India?
A cup of tea in Starbucks will cost you around $4, whereas you will only have to spend roughly $0.07(₹5) in most tea stalls for a cup of chai. That’s more than 57 cups of chai for one cup of tea in Starbucks! You can have it as an evening snack along with street food of your choice.
13. Travel in an auto-rickshaw
An auto-rickshaw is a three-wheeled motorized rickshaw that can carry 2-3 passengers. It is known by various other names like tuk-tuk, auto, bajaj, and many others. It is a widely used mode of transportation in India and is cheaper than cabs. Even though you can see it in many other countries, the experience in India is truly one-of-a-kind!
Cool breeze, cheap rates, and out-of-this-world experience, what else do you need? You are usually charged based on the distance travelled, which is measured using a meter. But beware of the tourist scams as not all auto-rickshaw drivers start this meter as you take your ride and make silly excuses like the meter isn’t working. I strongly recommend that you travel only on a meter and refuse to take a ride if your driver doesn’t agree.
14. Explore the world-famous historical sites
With 38 UNESCO World Heritage sites in India that depict India’s historical and cultural significance, you can learn more about the country’s history while enjoying your time here. There are a few historical sites in every region of the country. So, no matter which region you plan to travel to, you will always have something to explore.
The secret to exploring these sites is to visit early in the morning, a few minutes after they are open to the public. This way, you would not only avoid the heavy crowd but also save yourself from the scorching afternoon heat. Some of the best sites that I would recommend are the world-famous Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh, Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra, Kaziranga National Park in Assam, Fatehpur Sikri in Uttar Pradesh, Elephanta Caves in Maharashtra, Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi, and Jantar Mantar in Rajasthan.
15. No trip is complete without shopping
No matter where you travel to, your trip is incomplete if you haven’t shopped a little bit, at least. And when it comes to India, you will want to buy everything you see – that’s how tempting shopping is in India. And I am talking about street shopping, not shopping at malls as you would do at other places.
Every city in India has a street shopping market that sells almost everything that you can ever think of! Yes, you read that right. All you need to do is a little bit of research, and you can find THE market in any city that you wish to travel to. So, the task of finding souvenirs to carry home for friends and family is sorted. Keep in mind that your bargaining skills will be put to the test here in these markets.
Those are some of the few local activities that you can do in India. I know that there are a lot more things that you can do apart from these. If you want to learn about other things that you can do alone in India, here’s a list of the same. If you think that I have missed out on important things or if you have something that you want to suggest, do let me know via the comments section.
An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.