Tag Archives: Backpacking India

Seeing India by train—Five great routes
Seeing India by train—Five great routes

 

India has the largest rail network for a single country in the entire world. Every single major metro is connected and a couple of million unknown villages as well. It costs a fraction of what you’d pay an airline. A space that big is bound to breed a culture of its own and so it does. With its intriguing meal-order system, the instant bonds that spring up with your co-passengers, lining up to spit out your toothpaste in the tiny metal sink in the corridor—it’s all part of the Great Indian Rail Adventure. There’s no better way to watch the Indian public in their element, and you’re sure to meet a lovely family that’ll take you under their wing and stuff you full of their tiffin snacks. You can find out more about the classes and food and planning the route from our other posts.

We’ve put together five Indian travel routes that rely heavily on trains to get you between places. It’s advisable to have all your train tickets booked in advance, and you can feel free to contact us for help with that!

1. Classic North India

Delhi – Varanasi – Agra – Jaipur – Jaisalmer – Jodhpur – Udaipur – Delhi 

(Route on GoogleMaps)

Start from Delhi, the teeming capital and branch out first toward the ancient spiritual town of Varanasi. From here, you have all f Rajasthan’s vast deserts ahead of you, so a little meditation now will do you good. Meander through Rajasthan’s most beautiful cities, Agra, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Udaipur. Each city is a backpackers dream, and will require a minimum of a few days to explore all their colourful alleyways. The best part though, is sailing through the sand in your (preferably A/C) sleeper car, buying pyaaz ki kachori (onion stuffed fried snack) and tomato chaat from the vendors that pop up outside your window. You can also be sure to meet a lot of fellow travellers long the route, all the better to swap stories with over a game of cards on a long night on the train.

Trains – You have four overnight trains and two short day trains. Jodhpur to Udaipur can also be travelled by bus

When to go – August to April

2. All along the coastline

Mumbai – Goa – Gokarna – Wayanad – Calicut –  Cochin – Varkala 

(Route on GoogleMaps)

This is a slow approach across India’s beautiful western coastline. Your trains will pass over great wide rivers and palm-fringed fishing villages, with all the land to one side of you suddenly giving way to the endless ocean. Make pit stops at some of India’s most famous beaches on your way.

Catch your first train in Mumbai city, a façade of business and bustle that hides a sleepily beautiful history. Next stop, party central! Take your time in Goa making sure to hit all the great raves but to also understand the mysteries of its natural bounties. Take a breather a Gokarna, every bit as beautiful as Goa, but a lot less busy. Finally crawl your way across Kerala from top to bottom, stopping wherever you feel, because you really can’t go wrong in God’s own country. North Kerala is often ignored, but is a beautiful non-touristy region of Kerala. Pristine beaches, hills, and forests.

This route takes you mainly on the Konkan railway belt, one of the most beautiful railways routes in India, relaxed, tropical, hassle-free and safe.

Trains – Can be done with a mix of day and overnight trains. However, it is recommended to take as many day trains as possible as the routes are very scenic.

When to go – October to April to enjoy sunshine on the beach. The monsoon months have their own charm, and the landscape reaches peak greenness in September.

3. North to South

Delhi – Amritsar – Dharmshala – Agra – Udaipur – Mumbai – Goa – Kerala

(Route on GoogleMaps)

Take it all in in one shot! Right from Delhi, the home of the Punjabis, stronghold of the North, all the way down to beautiful Kerala ripe with bananas, beef and South Indian pride. This will be one of your best opportunities to really compare the often starkly different cultures of the country, and long distance trains have a tendency to get people talking! Watch the scenery unfold from the Golden Temples of Amritsar to the rubber forests of the ghats as you pass through some of the nation’s most vibrant cities. Delhi is only a teaser of the Punjabi culture that will grab you up in a hearty bear hug in Amritsar. Head up to Dharmshala for spiritual guidance as much as for the view. Agra and Udaipur will shower you in gorgeous architecture and Mumbai will hustle you up the greatest food you ever dreamt of. Then it’s a downward spiral through the ever blossoming beauty of Goa into the sunshine soaked-backwaters of Kerala. Give this route time, at least 3 to 4 weeks. You’re going to want to add more stops in between.

Trains – rely mainly on overnight trains, some journeys may last up to 20 hours without a break.

When to go – August to Aprli

4. Heading East

Delhi – Agra – Khajuraho – Varanasi – Darjeeling – Kolkata 

(Route on GoogleMaps)

Follow the mighty Ganges! Hit up the unmissable Delhi and Agra before steeping back in time at the temple town of Khajuraho.Take the toy train up to Darjeeling for some quiet time in the tea capital of the world before moving on to Kolkata. Point of interest—Kolkata is rumoured to have some of the best railway-side fast food in the country. That means steaming hot earthenware cups of chai, sticky, sugary sweets, overstuffed kathi rolls and spicy aloo chat. Take full advantage.

Trains – Again a mix of overnight and day trains

When to go– August to April

5. North India via short day trains

Delhi – Amritsar – Rishikesh – Agra – Jaipur – Jodhpur – Udaipur

(Route on GoogleMaps)

If you’re not up for the overnight long hauls, here’s a way to take in the scenic route in small doses. Each journey varies from 4-7 hours, so it’s a great chance to sneak in some nap-time, too. Most of the cities are in the Punjab-Rajasthan belt, except for Rishikesh. Nestled in the foothills of the Himalyas in Uttarakhand, it’s a deeply spiritual city perched on the banks of the Ganges and a good place to visit if you’re travelling to find yourself.

When to go– August to April


Hostel-hopping through Rajasthan
Hostel-hopping through Rajasthan

A true Backpacking Experience in India

Another blog entry written by Nicky Millar, for more about who she is, and about her awesome travel/volunteering adventure check her blog.

Bizarrely, despite the large backpacker contingency in India the idea of hostels is still relatively new. In fact, I am hard pressed to think of any dormitory-type options when I was traveling in the south! In saying that though, the places we did stay at were truly exceptional and I think that it is a concept that will grow exponentially in the coming years.

When it comes to travelling on a Budget, hostels  in North India can be a great option

Travelling on a budget, myself and two other girls opted to stay in the cheapest options available (mixed/female only large dormitories) and throughout the adventure we felt completely safe and never once did I worry about my possessions as there were always secure lockers available! The biggest “problem” (if you can even call it that) was the limited hot water, as geysers tended to be small and you had to constantly turn the water on and off to wait for it to heat up again. Other than that I would, without hesitation, stay at these places again were I given the choice! This is even despite the fact that it was sometimes actually more expensive (when traveling in a group, one can tend to get a room for Rs 600 that you can then split whereas the bunks were about Rs 450 to Rs 550 on average) because for me, the atmosphere of communal areas and being able to meet like-minded travelers is priceless!

The Hostels we stayed at

While traveling in the north we were lucky enough to stay at (in my opinion) the three leading hostel chains in the country, therefore I will try give a brief summary of each and their specific standout features.

ZOSTEL (Jodhpur)

Perhaps the smallest of the three, it was a great introduction to the hostel scene! All the facilities were completely up to scratch and the common room, right slap bang as you walked in, was particularly inviting. It did not take much to feel like you were at home and between socialising with other travelers and needing to use their main computer for personal reasons (for a really long time), the staff were always super helpful and accommodating!

    • Side note: if you are unable/unwilling to go to this hostel I would recommend Yogi’s Guest House. Although we did not stay there, the lady was exceptionally helpful and provided some amazing advice for planning our camel safari. Having only spent a couple of hours there, in addition to the wonderful owner, I can vouch for an amazing rooftop restaurant and a prime location!

THE HOSTELLER (Jaipur)

Opening a mere 3 weeks before our arrival, the staff were truly outstanding! Not only were the ensuite rooms comfortable and the breakfasts sublime, but everyone went out of their way to make our stay the most enjoyable it could be! From planning 3 separate itineraries for us (we were all parting ways at some point and needed to make individual travel arrangements), organising an auto to pick us from the bus stand/show us around the city, to socialising with us in the evenings—they were a top notch team!

STOPS (Varanasi)

By far the most organised hostel we stayed at, with a daily itinerary of tours (small additional costs) and nightly events from boat cruises to Bollywood nights, this is easily the best place to meet people! The common areas are vast, funky and always busy while also maintaining a sense of calm and a lovely homey feel! Breakfasts and evening chai are included and make for great debrief/planning sessions with fellow travelers. Whats more, there is an “intern program” where foreigners work here for a couple of hours a day and receive free board—which, in addition to being something that one can consider doing yourself, means that there are travelers like you who have been in Varanasi for at least 1 month and have some fabulous tips and tricks to share!

Conclusion: Our take on staying in Hostels in India

Overall, I genuinely enjoyed all of these places and as implied before, would not hesitate to recommend them (and even though I didn’t stay in their other counterparts, I can only imagine that that the Zostel in Udaipur, for example, is just as great)! The only drawback that I can think of, and it is common for all the hostels, is that they tend to be further out of the city than other guest houses. So on average you will have to spend about Rs 100 to get an auto into the centre, which is easy enough of course but just something to bear in mind.

While we traveled independently the help provided by my travel companion’s friends travel agency India Someday was invaluable. Booking our Varanasi to Agra train ticket, putting on a comfortable bus from Mumbai to Udaipur, recommending this awesome new hostel in Jaipur. If you are pressed for time and wish to have a security net while travelling in India we can highly recommend them. They are unlike the traditional travel agencies you’d find.