Backpacking India: 9 Of The Best & Worst Sights You’ll See

There really is no way to prepare for the culture shock of arriving in India. I can’t tell you how many backpackers I met early in my travels, that shared with me their experiences, recommendations, horror stories, and general wisdom for backpacking such a unique country.

Despite these well-intentioned attempts at mentally-readying me for a trip from Delhi up to Nepal, I was still completely astounded by the sights I saw along the way. Are you ready to hear about the incredible, the ugly, and the downright weird sights that you’re bound to experience while backpacking India? Here we go then…

Backpacking India Sights You'll See

Backpacking India: What To Expect

Animals everywhere

Never have I visited a country with such a menagerie of animals roaming the streets. One stroll through the pink city of Jaipur and you’ll witness monkeys, goats, cows, camels, birds, elephants, snakes, dogs, cats, rats, and pigs. Some of these are under the ownership of locals and others are completely wild. None of these animals though, are in the slightest bit phased by the bustling crowds of people, or speeding cars and tuk-tuks, particularly not the cows, who can often be found in the middle of the road where there are less flies. Won’t the cars run them over? I hear you ask. Actually, in India cows are considered holy creatures, so if they choose to sit in the road the rest of us must simply go around them.

A cow in the street in Jaipur

Cows in the road are as commonplace as cars

Burning dead bodies

OK, so you won’t see this everywhere, but if you’re headed to Varanasi to visit the Ganges River at sunset, you will at least see the smoke of cremating bodies burning by the riverside, if not the dead bodies themselves being washed in the water. There are even boat tours that take you to view the cremations from afar. Personally, I found this sight pretty hard to handle and couldn’t bring myself to watch the ceremonies, yet others around me seemed fascinated. Each to their own I guess!

River Ganges cremation ceremony and boats

Boats in the river to view public cremations

Majestic palaces and forts

When I say majestic, I am actually struggling to find a word that accurately describes the magnificent, regal, grand beauty of buildings like the Taj Mahal, the Amber Fort, Orccha Palace, and Delhi’s Tomb of Akbar the Great. The detail of the architecture and the stories behind their creation literally take your breath away, especially upon first sight of the palace of love; the Taj Mahal. As of yet, no other country’s historic buildings can compare, in my opinion.

The Taj Mahal symbol of love

The ultimate symbol of love, at sunset

Rubbish/trash littering streets

This is perhaps the most confusing sight to see throughout much of Northern India. Streets lined with household rubbish, piled up and left to disintegrate, or else be lit in a mini bonfire and burned – cue smoke and the need for a face-mask of some type! You will witness ladies sweeping dust and litter out of their homes or shops, into the streets, where it’s simply abandoned. There are no road sweepers or litter-pickers to be seen, and when I questioned our Indian tour guide on whether the government are trying to stop this behaviour, with the environment and all that in mind, I was told that actually no, there’s not really much initiative to prevent littering at all. Still, try and keep your eyes off of the ground and prepare for the odd whiff of garbage and you’ll get used to this sight pretty quickly. Oh, and avoid flip-flops.

A cow standing on rubbish in Jaipur

A cow snacks on the remains of a common rubbish pile

A mish-mash of coloured clothing

From ladies in saris to Buddhist monks wrapped in orange cloth, the vibrant coloured clothing of everyday people is brilliant to see. It’s almost impossible to backpack India without treating yourself to a pashmina and some costume bindis, at an overcharged tourist rate of course, but given the location that’s still pocket change.

Indian ladies in colourful saris

Amazingly friendly ladies in beautiful saris

Squatting and bums

This is not because there are regular aerobics classes taking place in the streets, unfortunately. It’s hard to phrase this nicely, but whilst backpacking India you will no doubt be exposed to people… relieving themselves from their bum holes, in broad daylight. And it’s totally acceptable. Crazy, right? Be prepared people. Needless to say, you won’t find a picture of this sight below…

Bollywood-style weddings

Technically, you are more likely to see an Indian wedding procession when you visit in wedding season (October – December) but I highly recommend trying to time it that you do, as it’s such a joyful event to experience. Taking place over multiple days, friends and family of the married to-be tour the streets, behind trucks and cars blasting a mix of Bollywood and electric dance music out of sound systems so loud the floor vibrates. There’s dancing and singing and smiles all around, and without a doubt when you’re spotted by the guests you’ll be invited to join the festivities.

Begging

Arguably the most difficult sight to see, but also very much in your face 24/7. Small children, mothers with babies, and disabled men and women are just a few of the vulnerable people that will vigorously request money, food, or drink from you. What makes it even more difficult to handle though, is the knowledge that very much like the film ‘Slumdog Millionnaire’ portrays, many of the street beggars in India are controlled by a mafia, and to generously donate money, food, or even seemingly innocent children’s toys or stickers, helps fund their despicable operation. It’s truly sickening and the feeling of helplessness will no doubt overwhelm you, as it did me. All I can suggest is that you visit and donate to reputable charities or local businesses that try to benefit the entire community. The stark reality of homelessness in India will never leave you though.

Lots and lots of people

In Delhi alone there are more than 18 million people. That fact may surprise you, until you’ve walked down a market street packed so deeply with people you can’t see two steps in front of you, and you’ve been beeped at with the world’s loudest horn every two minutes by a motorcycle trying to get through said crowd. Complete the picture with stall owners furiously attempting to sell you object after object, and music blaring in the background, coming from who knows where, and you have a truly urban experience of Indian culture.

Streets of Varanasi full of people

Walk or ride, we’re all squished in together

Overall, backpacking India is an intimidating, intriguing, shocking, beautiful, and unforgettable experience, completely and wonderfully like no other.Though not all of the sights listed above sound pleasant, I cannot recommend the country enough to those looking to break out of their comfort zones and get amongst a race that is so unique, in a country full of sights that will leave a mark on your adventurous soul.

Aims 💋

Thinking of backpacking India and want to know more? Throw your questions my way using the comments box below, or drop me a message here.

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