Which Is The Best Country To Travel & Backpack?
To answer this, we need to beging with asking a question;
“Why is it that people go travelling in the first place?”
Well, I’ve been doing it for over 3 years now and to be perfectly honest I still don’t really know why. If however, I had to offer a more substantial answer then I guess I would go with the classic;
“You go travelling in order to find yourself”.
Now, whilst this is very easy to dismiss as cliched hippy trite, my personal experience has taught me that there is actually rather a lot as I shall explain in other articles on this site.
Of course, you don’t need to treat travelling as some existential quest and other people do it for all kinds of other reasons. Some travel to indulge a particular hobby or passion, some to learn about a particular country and many do it purely for fun.
But whatever you do want to get out of travelling, you can find it in India because India it has absolutely everything and really is the very best countruy to travel. Don’t believe me? Well read on…
India is the classic place to “find oneself” and travellers have been coming here to do just that ever since the original hippies “discovered’ it at the tail end of the 1960’s. In truth though, the idea of finding yourself in India is actually much, much older than this. It was in India 2500 years ago that a disillusioned prince by the name of Gotama first achieved enlightenment under a Banyan tree. He then became “The Buddha” and coined the universal, eternal adage of “Know Thyself” which pretty much remains the goal of most travellers who come here to this day.
So how exactly does one find oneself? By deep contemplation or by trial and error? Well, whichever way you like because in India you can try both approaches out. If you have ever wanted to experiment with alternative ways of living, then India is the place to do it. In India, you can readily try any form of yoga or meditation that takes your fancy or you can experiment with mind-altering substances. The hippies on Arambol beach will happily discuss non-monogamous relationships (I don’t think they work…) and you can try a raw vegan diet to see how it suits your digestion.
The best bit is that you can also try these things as much or as little as you like to find a lifestyle that best fits (its almost like shopping for an identity…) You can take a one-hour meditation class or you can commit to a 10-day silent retreat in an Ashram (book through here…) because In India you will find the time and resources to try pretty much anything you want. Nowhere else on earth will you ever be able to experiment with lifestyles quite as much as you can here and nowhere else will you ever be quite so free again. Please make the most of it.
Learn new skills
If you return home from a backpacking trip having not acquired at least one new practical skill then you really should re-pack your bag, go back out and try again immediately. In India you can easily learn adventure stuff like riding motorbikes & scooters (or drive Tuk-Tuk’s), to scuba diving, paragliding or surfing. Keeping things traditional, there are endless classes for yoga, meditation, massage, cooking, face reading (yep face reading) and henna tattooing. You can get outdoors and learn camping & mountaineering (very cheaply) or simply spend some time practicing Hindi, one of the worlds oldest languages.
Its also a popular place to learn macrame, jewellery design and how to make clothes. Some people also come back from India and turn these newly acquired skills into careers and change the bijoux ethnique world forever!
Personally, whilst in India I learned to drive vehicles, yoga, meditation, French (don’t ask…), curry cooking, travel blogging & the secrets of the universe (one for another post). Not bad right?
Try new food
Without a doubt, one of the great pleasures of backpacking is tasting new & exciting foods. India has one of the worlds great cuisines and it was the legendary Indian black pepper that first brought the British here 500 years ago and keeps us coming back in our droves to this day. The sheer size of the country and its bountiful bio-diversity also means that the delicacies are as rich and diverse as the nation’s peoples but generally, you can expect things throughout India to be on the spicy side.
In India you will find the traditional classic dishes such as daal, curry and tikka masala on every corner. The steady flow of visitors to the nation have also brought their own influences broadening the menus of many establishments. For example, India was the first place I tried, and fell in love with, Shakshuka; Israel’s favourite brunch dish.
Cookery classes are also abundant and affordable so you can wow the folks back home by serving up your favourite Indian dish once you go back. For me, India also fundamentally changed the way I eat forever as it was in India when I first became a full-time vegetarian.
Of course, Dubai, New York and Hong Kong are the worlds mega shopping mecca’s and if your primary motivation for going travelling is to go shopping then (1) go and read a different blog (2) seek help. Seriously.
However, India makes pretty much everything and so therefore in India you can buy anything! The vast majority of Europe’s over-priced homogenous clothes are produced here before been imported to Europe and sold for 100 times the price and the quality of textiles is very high. In India you can while away entire days shopping for clothes (whether traditional Indian style, Bollywood style or hippy-chic), Hindu effigies, pashmina’s, singing bowls, beautiful artwork, spices and all manner of weird and wonderful things that will make great gifts for the folks back home. The best part is that goods are very cheap so if you haggle hard you can probably get a whole new wardrobe for $20!
A recent poll (which I conducted by asking 4 people) found that nearly 80% of travellers set off on their first backpacking trip primarily to get as wasted, as often, as cheaply, in as many countries as possible. What do you think the South East Asia gap-year phenomenon is all about?
On the whole, India isn’t exactly a party capital as the country has only a very humble bar scene and the national psyche has a complex relationship with alcohol even banning it completely in many places. However, there are some notable exceptions. Goa has long been famous as the trance capital of the world and during high season you can find drunk men passing out all day long and wild, drugged-up trance parties raging all night every night. In the backpacker towns of Himachal Pradesh, the air is perpetually thick with the scent of burning bush and in Varanasi you can legally buy bhang-lassi on the street (a milk drink made from a cannabinoid which gets you very, very stoned).
Love and affection is a basic and universal human need and a little holiday romance can turn a good trip into a great one. Whilst I certainly don’t condone sex tourism or knocking trips, there is nothing wrong with hoping to meet somebody a bit special and get your off rocks together.
Despite giving the world the Kama Sutra, Indian society is socially very conservative so don’t expect to hook up with locals too readily (though it does sometimes happen). However, there are an endless supply of beautiful fellow backpackers to choose from and walking around Bhagsu, Arambol or Manali can feel like living inside a giant game of traveller Tinder. The best bit is that because most travellers come to India with open minds and open hearts, it is incredibly easy to talk to and meet people including that gorgeous somebody who would usually be considered “unapproachable” back home. Be warned though, some of these casual hookups do turn into happy-ever-afters…in my case, I took a girl out for one date and the next thing I knew I was moving to France.
Spending a bit of time volunteering can be a great way to use some travel time. Obviously, it provides help to worthy causes and in turn gives backpackers some routine, some cost savings and the chance to actually connect with a local population for a while. As ever though, do ensure you choose your project carefully an check that its a reputable organisation. Then make sure you can actually provide some real value and once you do start, please take it very seriously and do your best.
There are literally endless projects you can work on in India as the nation has so many social problems. You can get involved in animal care, eco-projects, nature preservation, teaching, women empowerment, health care and building. Basically, education in India is still confined to middle-class city dwellers so if you do have a skill then please come here and share it to help India build a happier, healthier and more inclusive tomorrow.
To live easily and cheaply
Some people go backpacking purely because they fancy taking it easy for a while whilst they take a breather or figure something out. They just want to “get their head down” and try not to spend too much money whilst doing so. And there is nothing wrong with it as long as you appreciate the privilege of being able to do this. If this is all you want then India is therefore perfect for you, you can usually rent a room for 400 rps per night, less if you commit long term and you can eat well for a few dollars a day.
I think we all travel hoping to make friends and even if you try hardest to be as surly and unapproachable as possible, the magic of backpacking will unfortunately, sooner or later force a new bestie or two upon you.
I made friends from all over the world on all of my backpacking trips (although I didn’t make too many in the US…) but for some reason, I made more, deeper friendships in India. Why is this? Well, as I already said, people tend to come out here with open hearts and minds which is pretty conducive to making friends. Another reason is that its easy to spend special experiences together. For example in India I spent 10 days meditation in silence with a bunch of guys so am unlikely to forget them in a hurry. Likewise, I will be eternally grateful to the kind people who took me along to my very first Psytrance party; once you’ve blown your minds with a bunch of people you’re bonded for life.
Get a culture fix
Most travellers try to see a bit of a countries history and culture when they travel and rightfully so. In fact, some even visit a particular place purely to visit its ruins, art galleries or stand in the place of infamous events. Well you be glad to hear that India also has just a little bit of history to look over and by a little of course I mean an absolute fuck-ton because India is one the oldest countries in the world. There are breathtaking monuments such as the little known Taj Mahal, the atmospheric ruins of Hampi and the mind-blowing cave inscriptions at Ellora. Its also a lot of fun to play “spot the British building” when driving up and down Mumbai, Bangalore or Delhi.
Then there are the endless temples, some fine museums in the bigger cities and the everyday quirky aspects of culture you can find everywhere such as the washerwomen in Mumbai’s slum and the “Chinese fishing nets” which are still used to bag the catch of the day in Kerala.
Festival tourism is a booming market and the last decade has seen an explosion of travellers rocking up in a particular place purely to take part in some kind of festival. This could be the thousands of Brits descending on Croatia’s dance music festivals each summer or the monied hedonists jetting out for a special rum and coke fix in Rio’s carnival.
Rajasthan has its quirky camel and mustache festivals but what India does really well is religious festivals. The paint throwing celebration of Holi is amongst the most unique and inclusive festivals on the planet and the Diwali “festival of lights” is a better version of Christmas.
Experience another way of life
Despite a massive British colonial influence and a steady influx of western travellers, India somehow remains a total culture shock. When I first landed in Mumbai I was positively shellshocked, it was life, but not as I knew it. The traffic, the chaos, the dirt, the cows, the holy men shouting curses, the poverty, the countless gods, the clothes and the gender dynamics are all completely alien to Westerners and we have zero frames of reference to compare them to. Exposure to India to exhilarate and terrify first timers in equal measure.
Even if you try to stay in the relative comfort of the backpacker bubble, you will still be confronted by real India at some point. It could be pleasant such as when you are furnished with endless cups of chai or it may be trying such as when you find yourself waiting 4 hours for your train or when a monkey steals your phone. Either way, sooner or later have a different way of doing day to day life thrust upon you. For me, the most Indian experience you can find is wondering around the Ghats of Varanasi and watching the funeral pyres; it is, however, not for the faint-hearted (much like India!)
To become stronger
Backpacking anywhere can be a great way to help those balls grow a lil bit bigger and India in particular, whilst a beautiful and magical place can also be harsh and intense. You will be hassled, hounded and scammed. You will get sick, you will get dirty and you will encounter mind-blowingly pointless bureaucracy that seems purpose-designed to inanely frustrate you to death.
You will however come out the other side stronger. You will learn to say “No” and to mean it. You will mine new depths of patience. You will learn to barter for the best possible deal and will develop an intuition for when somebody is trying to cheat you. You will come home better prepared to deal with whatever life has to challenge you with.
So, whatever in the world you are looking for, you can find it in India. Except for maybe Dinosaurs, I haven’t seen them anywhere in a while come to think of it.