India; one of the largest countries in the world. A subcontinent stretching from the mountains of the Himalayas to the golden beaches of Varkala. Emerald green paddy fields jostling for space with burning mounds of rubbish, ancient cities under siege from bustling metropolises, orange-robed holy men playing ‘Angry Birds’ on gleaming new iPhones; India is a land of contrasts. Many of the tourist spots are packed to bursting but if you step even slightly away from the beaten path you will be knocked off your feet and swept downstream.
Where will you land? It is impossible to know. On my off the beaten path adventures in India I have been adopted by a small Indian village, camped in an abandoned fortress, haggled for camels, become lost in the mountains without a map and made numerous friends, many of whom did not speak English. I have smoked with nomadic priests, wrestled a buffalo and seen countless stunning sunrises. Many people say you don’t ‘travel’ in India, you survive it. There is some truth to this…
When I was twenty-two I booked one flight to India; it was a decision which would change my life forever. Over a year later and I was still to be found bumbling along, exploring steaming jungles and ancient ruins, perilous peaks and tiny villages. India is a tough country to travel in. Very little works. Buses break down, the toilets are even worse than one would imagine, the people can be rude and your senses will be under constant assault from the banging of drums, the emptying of latrines and the howling of dogs. Being in India is a little bit like being in a Medieval camp the day before battle; anything could happen.
India can be tough; there’s no doubt about it. But, if you know what you’re doing, this is a country which will pay dividends to those who choose to travel here. Traveling in India can be one of the most amazing experiences of your life if you do it right…
Will’s Top Ten Tips for surviving a year in India
Employ the head waggle!
Indians love a good head-waggle. This is a motion where one sort of bobs their head backwards and forwards; it can mean absolutely anything; hello, goodbye, yes and no. After a while, you too will begin to head waggle; this is your in! This is how you will make friends in India, this is how you will show people you are not fresh of the plane, this is how you will haggle for the best possible price on everything from water to abseiling!
Learn a few words of Hindi…
Luckily, many people in India speak English however, if you want to make friends and to get the best possible prices then it really helps to know a few words of the local lingo; it’s not exactly necessary but people will really appreciate you making an effort.
Perfect your haggling game
In India, people haggle for everything; it’s simply part of the culture. Haggling should be fun and relaxed; there’s no reason to get angry or raise your voice. You will always be able to find someone willing to meet you at your price; simply wander around, practise your poker face and be sure to haggle every day until you are a bona-fide haggling master. In India, haggling is important as, if you don’t haggle, you will get ripped off.
India is unbelievably cheap; I mean, ludicrously cheap. It’s one of the cheapest countries I’ve ever been to – topped only by Venezuela and Nepal. The fact that it’s so cheap means that you can afford to spend money on a nice place to crash every now and again. You can afford to eat out whenever you want. You can afford taxis. I’m not saying you should do this all the time, I specialize in budget adventures and for me traveling on the cheap is a part of the lure of traveling. In India though; do not be afraid to treat yourself. Just got off a 30-hour journey? Head to an air-con cinema and then spend a night in a decent hotel; the whole thing will cost you under a tenner!
Get an Indian SIM.
I cannot even begin to tell you how useful having an Indian sim is! You will spend a lot of time in India traveling by train and in order to book train tickets in advance, which is pretty much the only way to get them, you must have an Indian phone number.
Avoid the cities!
There are a few cities in India which are truly beautiful; Mysore, Udaipur, and Leh. Crucially, all of these cities are relatively small. If you want to save your budget and your sanity, then avoid the massive cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, and Bangalore. Whilst all of these cities do have some cool things to see they are also extremely stressful to be in. The noise, pollution, and crowds are enough to drive anybody insane!
Avoid the backpacker meccas (sometimes!)
India is a big place. There is a lot to see. The well-established backpacker meccas of Hampi, Goa, and Manali all have incredible things going for them. Hampi is probably one of my favorite places in the whole world and I have been three times (hey, I was in India for over a year!). Saying that these places are quickly becoming commercialized and crowded with somewhat irritating individuals. You should visit, definitely, just don’t get stuck there. Many backpackers get stuck in Goa, Hampi or Manali for months at a time as, compared to the rest of India, these areas are very easygoing. The problem is; this isn’t the best of India, the best of India is rural India…
Get off the beaten track
The real appeal of India, for me, is that it’s easy to get off the beaten track and go on a whirlwind adventure to a place which might not have ever been visited by a backpacker before. Simply head to the bus station, pick a town you’ve never heard of and – WHOOSH – before you know it you are bumping past rural scenes that haven’t changed for millennia. This is exploring at it’s best…
Take some ‘me time’
Travelling can be exhausting. If you’re in India for any length of time, every now and again you should find somewhere quiet and just chill for a few days. It’s good for the soul.
Get a sense of humor
Traveling in India is tough. If you’re there for any length of time you will at some point get sick. You will at some point step in a pile of human shit on your way to the bathroom. You will probably get groped (yep, even if you’re a bloke!). You will be photographed hundreds of times by individuals who don’t know your name but are convinced they are your new best friend. You will get ripped off. You will get sunburnt. You will never want to eat curry again. You will be on a bus which breaks down. Ultimately though; if you have a good sense of humor you will be able to laugh about most of this, to chill out, have a giggle and throw your hands up to the universe with a hearty ‘what the hell?’. This is the best way to survive traveling in India….
Will Hatton: Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, a survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is an avid hitch-hiker, couch-surfer, and bargain-seeker. He is a devout follower of the High Temple of Backpackistan and the proud inventor of the man-hug. Will blogs over at The Broke Backpacker about his adventures around the world, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter or, if you’re really friendly, hunt him down on the road for a cheeky pint.
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