Backpacking Through India
A few years back, I had the opportunity to travel to India to go to my good friend’s wedding. It was a chance to get a glimpse of the culture that I just couldn’t pass up. At the time, I was a university student who had scraped together some savings from working as a babysitter. Perhaps it wasn’t enough to enjoy a luxurious trip in resort hotels, but I could definitely support a backpacking trip and that’s exactly what I did.
Getting hitched in Bhubaneswar, Orissa
After an overnight pitstop in the energetic and bustling capital city, New Delhi, I hopped on a plane to go to Bhubaneswar. This city was a little off the tourist trail and my friend’s childhood home was in a small town outside of the metropolis. My friend’s family met me at the airport and welcomed me into their house. I then enjoyed a week filled with incredible food, warm hospitality, and fascinating rituals, creating memories that stay with me to this day.
The wedding was a joyous and celebratory affair that lasted into the early hours of the morning. One of the most interesting parts of the wedding was that the reception was open to the public. The idea behind this is that the more people who attend the wedding, the luckier you will be in your marriage. So there were thousands of locals eating the delicious food; it was almost like a festival. Some of the guests even followed behind the bride and groom’s car and danced to the music coming out of the speakers on the way to the more private ceremony.
Following this once in a lifetime experience, I headed out on my own for the next three weeks in India.
Swimming in Goa
My next stop was in the stunning state of Goa. The beaches here are famous and the coastline runs right along the glistening Arabian Sea. This was a fascinating place to explore, as the small coastal towns were dotted with Portuguese churches and sacred cows relaxing on the beach.
There are many beautiful spots to visit in Goa and a wide variety of accommodation options to suit different budgets. I ended up staying in a nice hostel and rented a Vespa to get around and explore. I also met some wonderful people here who I continued to travel with throughout the remainder of my trip.
Relaxing in Kerala
After Goa, I headed to Kerala on a train with some of the friends I met in the hostel. The best part about catching a train in India is the sweet and steamy chai you can purchase in the morning from the chai vendor. There’s nothing more heartwarming and invigorating that you can have first thing in the morning.
This new state couldn’t be more different than the last two. The forests were lush and thriving and the winding canals seemed like they were taken straight from a postcard. In Kerala, I met two Swedish travelers and we stayed overnight on a houseboat, traveling down the canals and rivers. It was the perfect way to soak in the picturesque rice fields and get a break from the hustle and bustle of the cities.
I also got the chance to head to Fort Kochi and check out the Kochi-Musiris Biennale festival, which I would highly recommend to anyone who loves art! The ticket is inexpensive and there is an overwhelming number of galleries and exhibitions from artists from all over the world. If you’re lucky, you might even stumble across a religious street festival that will feature decorated elephants walking through the street.
Fort Kochi was one of my favorite stops on my trip as there was stunning Portuguese and British architecture, historical fishing nets that were still in use in the port, and some boutique stores to get your shopping fix.
After this, I visited Chennai, which is an enormous city and a haven for foodies.
The wonders of Rajasthan
I was now coming to the end of my backpacking journey throughout India. My last stop was in Rajasthan, a state that is filled with stunning historical cities and breathtaking desert landscapes. I was lucky enough to visit three different cities, each more distinctive, unusual, and interesting than the last. They were Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer. For me, this was one of the highlights of the trip as these ancient cities were fascinating just to simply wander through.
Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, had so many places to visit where you can just soak in the history. The Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal, Jaigarh Fort, and Jaipur Palace each had something unique and special about them. The Hawa Mahal in particular was a striking palace, with a very interesting background. This building is in the heart of the city, and it has a tall wall with tiny windows so that the female members of the royal family could watch the people on the street without being seen. This is just one example of the mysterious and interesting customs of this ancient civilization that you can experience in every building and historical site.
After seeing the Pink City I traveled over to the Blue City, officially known as Jodhpur. One of the most memorable parts of Jodhpur was the food. If you’re a food lover, check out the Shri Mishrilal Hotel in the ancient Sandar market for a mouth-watering lassi (a delicious yogurt drink). Don’t leave the market before trying the famous Omelette Shop for lunch just outside of the market walls. You can also pick up some nice scarves, souvenirs, or fresh produce inside the busy market.
The final stop was Jaisalmer, a desert city that almost blends in with the vibrant orange sand that surrounds it. The Fort of Jaisalmer is a vast and grand building that overlooks the city and it’s definitely worth a visit. In Jaisalmer, you can enjoy a camel ride through the desert and even sleep overnight under the stars! It’s the perfect way to end a vibrant and exciting trip.
COVID travel changes
Now, because of the COVID pandemic, it’s essential to keep updated on local laws and regulations before traveling through India. At the moment, it’s compulsory to wear a mask and to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. On top of this, you may need to take a COVID test before travel to prove that you’re not positive. Just keep in mind that the regulations are always changing, so before planning any trips make sure to do your research so that you’re updated on everything you need to know.
Overall, India is a fascinating country to visit and no matter how long you’re there it always seems like there is so much more to see and do. One thing is for sure, you’ll definitely leave the country with more places you want to visit than when you started out.
Brita Penfold is an English teacher, voiceover artist, and writer based in Naples, Italy. She loves exploring new places and trying food from all around the world. Follow her on Instagram @BritaPenfold