A Backpackers’ Paradise

A BACKPACKERS’ PARADISE: INDIA

– Anjali Moorthy

Ever notice how a dog is happiest when it’s unbridled by its leash, running around in a meadow, chasing a butterfly or two, wagging its tail like its joy knows no bounds? You take in the moment and think something along the lines of, “It’s in the little things” and maybe recollect a time in your life when you were that happy. Eating food out of your friend’s lunchbox at school, late night sleepover conversations with cousins, or while picking mangoes from your grandparents’ backyard, maybe. We’ve all come to realize that maybe it IS the little things that matter.

Backpacking has done for travel what meditation does for the soul. It strips it down to the bare necessities, removing unwanted distractions and worries till all there is left is the true essence of travel; the moments of serendipity, the glorious food and drink, the people and stories you chance upon along the way, and the unsullied connect to nature, culture and above all, yourself.

For ages now, the actual concept and purpose behind backpacking (and even just traveling) has split people based on all kinds of belief systems. The Hippie Backpackers, The Spiritual Travelers, The Partiers, and so many other clans hold their ground as to the ‘real purpose’ of travel.

What brings them all together, however, is one diverse (sometimes excessively so) country; India. Depending on where in the country you choose to go, every kind of backpacker will probably find something to write home about. Spiritual gurus, tea-planters with interesting pasts, wild parties, cosy music festivals, mountains that cater to trekkers ranging from Hardcore Trekker to Grandmother of Two, you name it.

One thing we can all agree on is the comfort of traveling light that is inherent to backpacking. As the name suggests, maxing out your 15kg limit on the next flight to a 5-star hotel in a concrete jungle doesn’t cut it.

I once was part of a two-night Flow With Love activity, where we roamed the streets of Ahmedabad with no phone, money or wallet. We depended only on the generosity of the people we met, and we were not let down. I ate more quantity and kinds of food in those two days than I have in any other week long trip in the country. I was offered free rides from some of the kindest auto drivers, and even stayed over at a house in a community near the Sabarmati River. And that’s exactly what backpacking is about; carrying less in your bag, and more in your heart. If there’s something you’re short on, you rely on the people you meet to help you along the way. And no one knows hospitality like India does.

Depending on the type of backpacker you are, there are hundreds of different places to go.

For those of you looking for adventure and a connect with nature, you can indulge in treks along the Himalayan foothills of McLeod Ganj, or set off on a road trip from Manali to Leh.

This quaint suburb in Dharamshala (Himachal Pradesh) is quickly becoming a go-to destination for everyone who wants a break from the rat race. Triund offers a beautiful snow-capped trek, while Dharamkot allows you a stroll through a picturesque scene on a small hill.


The journey between Manali and Leh will teach you a whole other way of life. Remote villages, quiet places of worship, stunning scenery, this route to heaven is one that mother nature opens up only for a few months a year.

If you’re a lover of design and man-made beauty, the cities of Jaipur, Udaipur and Varanasi will stun you with their forts, temples and palaces. Their architectural appeal will make sure you go back with a couple of new, albeit dramatic, ideas for your home.


The Mysore Palace is stunning by day and by night, and is a must visit for all back-packers in South India. India is not short of Heritage sites, with Hampi, Bodh Gaya and the Ajanta/Ellora caves standing as testament to our architectural advancement.

If you’re looking for a place rich in culture you can dive right into, once again, India will not disappoint.


 

Laya are gaining momentum as musical hot-spots. Hornbill at Nagaland and Ziro at Arunachal Pradesh will get you started on the right note (get it?) and there’s a long list in the area if you plan your time right. Chennai and Kolkata boast of their involvement in theatre, dedication to music and rich and vibrant culture.


All of these places of course have no shortage of a wide spread of food. So if you’re vegetarian or on a strict meat diet, you know you’ll find something to love. Kerala, home of Ayurveda, Kalaripayattu and different dance forms, will welcome you to its green backwaters, homemade toddy, great food and quirky ways.

A visit to Mumbai during Ganesh Festival or Kolkata during Durga Pujo is sure to give you a strong dose of authentic culture.

Of course, we haven’t forgotten those of you looking to pop open a beer at a beach and have a laidback time! Goa and Gokarna and two places you’ve definitely heard of in this context.


While Goa has a reputation for wild parties and long nights, the Southern part is a great place to go find secluded beaches, white sand, and even a wildlife reserve! Cola beach is particularly secluded and frankly, quite an adventure to get to. Besides being French food and pretty building headquarters, Pondicherry is also home to Paradise Beach, a silent and short ferry ride away. Land of Misal Pav, Maharashtra also offers solitude on a beach in places like Tarkarli!

We know we’ve got you itching to pick up a bag and head off. Hostels, home-stays, street food, bicycles on rent and local trains and trams all promise to keep your head full of memories without draining your pockets. So what are you waiting for? Keep your bags light, your heart open, and be prepared to face experiences and people who will shape you for years to come!

We hope that while you travel, you’ll remember the law of the land that the American Indians lived by; Take only memories and leave only footprints.

“You are invited to the festival of this world and your life is blessed” : Tagore

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