One month backpacking in India – Part 1

May 13

If you have one month to spare and looking for some cheap thrills in your mundane life, I would strongly recommend backpacking in India. This is what I did from 21st March 2009 to 22nd April 2009. During my travel, I came across many travelers from all around the world such as America, Europe, Africa, Australia, Japan, South Korea, China and even Thailand. However, none from my own country, Malaysia. When I asked some of the travelers whether they have met any Malaysian, most of them answered no. I don’t why but I really hope to meet more Malaysian backpackers in my travel. So what I going to do now is to encourage more Malaysian to start backpacking. You see, backpacking is cheap, thrilling and nothing like going for holiday on a packaged tour. To make it easier for you, I’m gonna provide all the details here so that you can carbon copy my backpacking adventure for your own trip.

The preparation

  1. Visa – If you are a Malaysian, you need to apply a visa before you can enter India and you have to apply for it at the Indian embassy in KL or their authorized agents in Penang and Johor Bahru because there is no visa on entry. All tourists have to pay RM160 for the visa and it can last for 6 months from the date of entry. More information here.
  2. Vaccination – Hygiene is a concern in India. At least protect yourself from these diseases; hepatitis A & B and typhoid. I got mine from BP Lab. I had to take 3 doses for Hepatitis A+B vaccine. Second dose is one month after first dose and the last dose is six months after the first dose and it costs RM120 for each doses. Typhoid vaccine is only one dose and it cost RM50. It is not cheap but it is better to be safe than sorry.
  3. Travel insurance – Don’t travel without one. Even though I never ‘benefited’ from the insurance before (touch wood!), I cannot guarantee nothing bad will happen to me. With the protection, I can at least travel with peace of mind. Get one that protects you from personal accident, medical expenses, lost of luggage, robbery, theft, trip cancellation, miss flight and other inconveniences. The one I got is TravelStar from Uni.Asia. It costs RM102 for protection up to 5 weeks. With population of more than 1.027 billion, you are bound to bump into few bad apples. However, with one or two bad apples, there are even more good one around. In Kolkata, I was almost a victim of a pickpocket. It happened when I was traveling in a cramp local bus. The culprit’s hand was already in my pocket when I caught him. After a small commotion, I let him go with a warning. Few locals in the bus were very concerned and let me have a seat. Even the bus conductor showed his concern by giving me some advices.
  4. ATM/Debit/Credit cards – Don’t repeat the mistake I made when I was backpacking in Indochina. Call your bank and tell them to activate your cards in other country. Sometimes, not every cards can be used when you are traveling overseas even though they have Visa or Master logo on it.
  5. Flight tickets – Don’t forget your flight tickets. I flew in from KL to Thiruchirappalli (Trichy) by AirAsia and began my journey from there until I reached Dhaka, Bangladesh. I flew out from Dhaka to KL also by AirAsia. Purchase your ticket during promotion and you may save a lot of money like me. I paid RM265 for the flight to Trichy and $75 USD for the flight back to KL.

Basically, that’s all the preparations you need to enter, travel and survive in India. To make things more interesting, don’t plan too much. Just jump straight into the unknown and most probably you are in for one of the greatest adventure of your life.

My packing list

These are few things I cannot travel without:

  1. My Mistress – I needed her because I work and travel at the same time. Even though it is extremely hard to find a Wifi access point in India, most Internet center allows me to hook her up at normal price. When I am not working, I used her for entertainment.
  2. Ipod Touch – I used it mostly to find wifi access point, check my mailbox while on the move, convert currency, write down notes when I couldn’t find my pen and kill some time while traveling by playing games and listening to musics.
  3. Mobile phone – Other than for work, I used it for clock and alarm. I don’t wear watch.
  4. Sleeping bag – Just in case I cannot find a place to sleep. I also used it as bed cover in dodgy guesthouse and in the train.
  5. Travel comfort kit (ear plug, eye cover and inflatable neck support) – Extremely useful when I was trying to catch some sleep in the bus or train.
  6. Travel guide – Depend on individual. Some travelers prefer not to use it. For me, this is the fastest way to get myself orientated in foreign places. The only book I carried was Lonely Planet on India and I found it very useful to find the area where most guesthouses concentrate.
  7. Mini flash light – Blackout is very common in India and Bangladesh. When I was in Kolkata, the electricity went off for almost 6 hours during night time. I also used it to roam in dark corners of ancient forts and palaces in Rajasthan.
  8. Camera – Even if you are not a blogger, you should carry one. Picture is the cheapest souvenir you can get.
  9. Power socket adapter – No matter where, always find out the type of sockets and voltage the country is using and get the adapter before you go. Even though you can buy one in the country, don’t take any chances.
  10. The essentials – Passport, credit cards, atm cards and cash. Knock your own head if you forget these.
  11. Padlock and bicycle lock – Bring a medium size padlock with at least 3 extra keys. I used it to lock my room and when I have any roommates, I passed the spare keys to them. Bicycle lock is useful to lock my luggage under the seat when I was traveling in the train.

Here are the necessities that can be bought there:

  1. Toiletries – Toilet paper, tooth brush, shampoo, soap, facial cleanser, shaver, shaver cream, etc… You don’t have to carry one whole month supply with you. Just bring small amount enough for few days. You can always replenish them in India.
  2. Instant hand sanitizer – When I was young, my parents always said, “wash your hand before eating”. I guess it became my habit. The problem in India is not easy to find a place to wash my hand and Indian foods are designed to be eaten with fingers. This is when instant hand sanitizer becomes useful. It is sold in most pharmacies.
  3. Insect repellent – Like Malaysia, India has a lot of mosquito. You can get insect repellent at any groceries stalls.
  4. Umbrella or poncho – I always keep a poncho in my bag just in case it rains.
  5. Note book and pen – If you forget to bring any, you can buy it there. Useful to write down notes and travel stuffs. Always better than Ipod Touch.
  6. Medical stuffs – This is important. Almost every travelers I met suffered diarrhea at least once. It is a question of how serious. I met one traveler from Japan who has to spend 2 nights in hospital because of food poisoning. As for me, I got a mild one. I was fine after one day rest. So equip yourself with proper medications. I also pack plasters, antiseptic, paracetamol, Novomin (for motion sickness), bandages, cotton and a small scissor.
  7. Facial towel – Useful to clean myself up before I go to bed in the train. I cannot go to bed all smelly and sticky.

As for clothes, I packed mostly one week stock of t-shirts and knee-length shorts. Keep in mind India can get steamy hot. When I was in Kolkata, the temperature went up until 43 degrees celcius. Warm clothes is necessary if you are going to the mountains of Himachal Pradesh especially during winter. I wear only sandal because I don’t find it comfortable traveling in shoe. But prepare yourself with lotion for crack heel. Shoe is advisable for trekking up mountain and walking in snow. To save money, bring along detergent to wash your own clothes. Keep the detergent powder in a dry and empty drinking plastic bottle for safe storage in the bag. Some guesthouses do not allow washing clothes, but I still see some people wash them secretly. If that is the case, just hang the clothes in the room. You will need a string for that.

As for packing, put all the stuffs that you cannot survive without such as passport, credit cards and cash into a waist pocket (the one that wear inside the pant, not outside). Then, all expensive stuffs into a hand luggage (smaller backpack) and the rest into the big backpack (30 liter will do). Waist pocket always stick to you and never leave the hand luggage unattended. Always ask yourself, “can I afford to lose this?”. If the answer is yes, then put them in the big backpack.

Now, you are fully prepared and packed. Now the next question is…

When to go?

To be honest, I don’t really know. This was my first time in India and India is so huge. If it is raining at one part, just go to the other part which is not raining. When I was there, I never experienced any rain except for a couple of day in Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj. If you want to see snow in Northern India, then go during winter time. But I still experienced snow even though it was during the end of the winter. I guess, it doesn’t really matter when you go. I am sure you will have a great time no matter hot, cold, dry or wet.

To be continue…

30 comments

  1. Anne /

    Will be going to India, my first, also by AirAsia. I found the information really useful. U really took a lot of trouble to compile the material. I’m not really into backpacking. I just get my free tickets and just go and I find it difficult to find good travelling companions though. Nowadays I travel solo becos it saves a lot of hassle and compromises. Cherrio, and keep up the good work.

    • Hi Anne. Good luck on your trip. I’m sure you will enjoy India because India is a very spiritual country. I will post Part 3 as soon as I have the free time.

      • Anne /

        Sorry, Ben. I shouldn’t have given my full name in my message. Could u edit it so as to leave out my surname. Thanks.

  2. SUSAN SIM /

    Nice write up

  3. hamid /

    how bout visa to bangladesh?

    • Yes. You will need that and I applied for it at Bangladesh embassy in KL.

  4. I’ll be backpacking thru India at the end of Dec for 2 weeks so I was wondering, did you carry any rupees on you when you went or did you withdraw money over there? Not sure if I need change all my money in KL prior to the trip. Any advise?

    • Hi Yanti. Mine is a little bit different. I brought some rupees with me and transfer all my budget into an Indian bank account before I went there. (I have friend in India to help me). I used an ATM card to withdraw rupees from any ATM during my travel. Maybe you can change all ur RM into rupees before u go there. Just be careful with it. Buy a travel insurance for just in case.

  5. A nifty idea opening an Indian bank account. But I’ll most probably end up changing my RMs before the trip. How was food over there? Did you get sick from eating the food? People are like becareful with what you eat over there and stuf. I’m thinking it can’t be that bad.

    • If you are not used to the food, you might face some prob. I’ve met a Japanese who was hospitalize for 2 nights in Kolkata for food poisoning the moment he came to India. As for me, I was lucky. I only got a mild diarrhea and I was fine after a day. Just prepare yourself with some medications.

  6. hey Ben,

    thanks for sharing ur backpack experiences. india always is my backpack’s destination as well. now, at least i know where can get extra references besides those guidebook..

  7. ethan foo /

    hie ben, just wonder a 30liters backpack is enough for 30days?

    • depending on what you pack and your own comfort. for me I like to travel light. I also carry a smaller bag to keep my laptop. It helps that I don’t shop much and I wash my clothes every 5 days.

  8. ethan foo /

    ic, ben i was wondering we need visa to enter loas rite? can we apply upon arrival or b4? how u do it last time?

  9. Hi ben,

    Just check with u..im going to India first time in june..can i take Visa in Spore to go to india…Im malaysian working in Singapore…bcos need to use passport for daily travel to spore…

    • Hi Shai. Last time I check, they can issue visa on the same day. However, you need to be present at the embassy yourself. Anyway, please double confirm with the embassy.

  10. sarah /

    hi ben,

    just wanted to check which malaysian atm card did you use in india?

    • i have a friend who helped me in getting an indian bank account. i keep all the rupees in the indian bank and used the atm card throughout my journey.

      • sarah /

        ahh thanks! would also like to find out if you have gotten any scribbled indian rupees when you exchanged in malaysia and were they okay to be used in india?

  11. Annabelle /

    hi ben,
    great website. my fiance and i are currently planning 2 months in india for october & novemberthis year. we’re thinking of starting in new delhi and working our way down to chennai usingt he train.

    can you provide any useful hints and tips about the rail service – like costs, websites, your experiences and anything else you think would be useful. thanks. annabelle & chris

  12. I’m soooo exited and thrilled when I’m stumble upon your writing. I’m planning to visit India with my friend next year for a month. All this while I’m reading about westerner experience about India, not from Malaysian.This is perfect for me. Thank you so much!

  13. Carmein /

    This is incredible! I have been planning to backpack to India. Probably only for 2-3 weeks. Thank you so much for the information!

  14. Kelvin /

    Bro thanks for the info great help. Not sure if you’re still active with this site but if you are one question. How much money would you suggest for a 3 week trip. All hotels prepaid. Which ATM card did you take? And the biggest question I have. How did you carry your money? Thanks again bro.

  15. Hi Ben,
    Me and hubby plan to do 2 weeks trip to north india soon. My concern is safety since theres a lot of reports saying that its dangerous there even for couples. Whats ur opinion,is it safe to go for couple?

  16. Matt /

    Hi, Im a 23 year old American and am interested in taking on my first backpacking trip in India for a month. Most likely I will be doing this adventure solo this coming December 2014. Although, i do have some concerns. I am allergic to all dairy, seafood and any kind of nuts. Will I have a hard time surviving in India? Also, would is there a suggested route I should plan for or just wing it? I am interested in hiking and buddhism. Thanks for your time. Matt

  17. Tks a lot bro, your write up was a great inspiration for me as I’m also planning for a back pack tour of Nepal and India for a month.

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