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Backpacking India: The Best Things To Do in India
- Sunrise at the mesmerising Taj Mahal, Agra.
- Exploring the beautifully ornate abandoned forts of Rajasthan.
- Wandering around the pilgrimage town of Pushkar, buzzing with prayers.
- Running down sand dunes in the Thar Desert.
- This itinerary: 18 days
I’ve been wanting to do backpacking in India for SO long. But something kept putting me off – too many travellers had returned home from backpacking India and told me they’d spent most of their trip sick, and therefore it wasn’t a place you wanted to do on too tight of a budget. But oh how I was wrong to think that! India is a perfect backpacking country, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Backpacking India on a budget l IS possible in India, whilst still staying in some incredible hotels.
We began our journey in Delhi. Now this was a shock to the system. Delhi is MAD busy, and within seconds of us emerging from the metro station, we were swarmed with local touts trying to scam us. For this reason, we chose to lay low in Delhi, knowing that we’d be returning back there at the end of our trip – we figured it better to brave the sights once we were more familiar with Indian travel! We stayed at Bloomrooms New Delhi Train Station, which was an ideal midrange hotel to get over jet lag and very conveniently located for our early morning train to Agra the next day. They’ve got a great little cafe downstairs too.
Tip: TRAINS. Backpacking India by train is THE BEST. Indian train travel is fantastic, but not always the easiest to navigate. You must book tickets in advance. We booked all of ours through the main IRCTC website. It’s not easy, but it is doable. Once you’re in India, make sure you get a local sim card with data, this makes it much easier to look at the status of your trains – we found the boards often didn’t work at the stations, and several of our trains were hours delayed. I will write a full blog post soon on train travel specifically here!
Our arrival into Agra marked what we felt was the real start of the adventure. We checked into Agra Hotel Saniya Palace, a very basic but clean hotel in the centre of town with incredible rooftop views of the Taj Mahal, and set off to see some sites. First on our agenda was Agra Fort, just one of the incredible fortresses we visited in Rajasthan.
After an incredible dinner in our rooftop restaurant, we hit the hay early for our sunrise wake up to visit the Taj. Our alarms rang at 4.30am, and we were at the gates for 5, only to find out it doesn’t open till 5.30! However, this allowed us to be literally the second people into the complex so was well worth it. We spent about 2 hours wandering round inside, which was truly breath taking.
Later, we got a car to take us to another fortress approximately one hour from Agra: Fatephur Sikri. This was probably my favourite fort, as we were there in the rain and it was pretty much totally empty. It’s beautiful, and well worth the trip. It is possible to get a train there, but it takes a long time, and the driver was only about $10 each for the whole afternoon.
After Agra, we got the train to Jaipur. Lots of people had told me that Jaipur wasn’t worth going to as it’s so touristy – yes, it is touristy, but for a reason! The city is beautiful and there is so much to see!
Stay at: Hotel Pearl Palace: Our favourite hotel in Rajasthan, with the most amazing rooftop restaurant and gorgeous boutique style rooms.
Explore: Hire an auto-rickshaw and driver for the day and go to: Amber Fort, Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur City Palace and Hawa Mahal. That’s easily done in about 6 hours. Backpacking India by auto-rickshaw is SO much fun!
Inside tip: For the best views of Hawa Mahal, climb the staircase opposite up to Windy Café.
The overnight train then took us down to Udaipur, a beautifully relaxed lakeside city in southern Rajasthan. Here, we stayed at family run Hotel Krishna Niwas, perfectly located and comfortable.
Things to do in Udaipur:
- Udaipur City Palace is the most impressive palace we visited but it’s incredibly busy so GO EARLY.
- Watch sunset from one of the rooftop restaurants. Charcoal is wonderful for this, with great food.
- Horse riding around Udaipur. Princess Trails are a wonderful company and so well organised. The horses are very well looked after, and the staff are incredibly friendly.
After Udaipur, we journeyed back North to Pushkar. Note: you must get the train to Ajmer then get a cab from here to Pushkar. Pushkar is an incredibly important Hindu pilgrimage site, whist also being the location where Gandhi’s ashes were spread. The town itself surrounds a gorgeous lake, with 52 holt ghats in the vicinity. People flock to this place to take a sacred bath in its waters.
We stayed for 3 nights in Pushkar, which was probably more than necessary. It’s a stunning town with an incredibly chilled vibe, but there isn’t a whole lot to do. Make sure to:
- Spend a sunset down by the lake
- Spend all your spare rupees in the shops on the main street, they’re excellent
- Frequent the falafel stalls near Ghandi Ghat
- Take the cable car up to Savitri Temple for incredible views below
From here, most people head back to Delhi and that’s the end of their trip, BUT DON’T! Jaisalmer may be a fair distance away (approximately 10 hours from Pushkar, leaving a 19 hour train journey from Jaisalmer back to Delhi) but this was honestly the highlight of our trip.
Jaisalmer is an ancient fort town, holding one of the only remaining ‘living forts’ in the world – over 3000 people live within its incredible yellow stone walls. Situated in the middle of the desert, the fort looks like a giant sandcastle, and has one of the best atmospheres of anywhere we visited in Rajasthan.
Stay: Hotel Tokyo Palace. Possibly the best customer service and friendliest staff I have ever come across, this hotel really goes the extra mile. Situated around 10 minute walk from the fort walls, with gorgeous rooftop views and beautiful air conditioned rooms, this hotel is perfect. NOTE: many tourists stay in hotels within the fort walls. This is NOT recommended: the tourist industry has been causing irreparable damage to the World Heritage site.
However, the real highlight of Jaisalmer is the opportunity to go explore the Thar Desert. Once a key trade route for the Silk Road, the desert has multiple abandoned villages that are phenomenally interesting to visit, whilst it can’t get much better than running up and down the dunes. Due to the sheer heat, we chose to just do an afternoon/evening trip with Sahara, or Mr Desert as he is more commonly known. This is really easy to arrange once you arrive in Jaisalmer, as their office is right by the fort gate. Check out my video of the amazing experience here!
After this, we journeyed back to Delhi where we spent a few days luxuriating at Claridges for my travel buddy’s birthday, before our epic adventure came to a sad end. I can’t wait to go back one day! Varanasi next time….! Backpacking India is THE BEST – go enjoy it!