Backpacking in India on a Gap Year

Countries  »  India

India is the seventh largest country in the world and, with over a billion people, has a population ready to outnumber that of China in the coming years. It's big! It's busy! So a gap year in India will reward you with extreme diversity in geography, climate, culture, language, and ethnicity. Backpacking in India can be stressful, but also exhilarating, the country offering up a rich heritage and a wealth of fascinating religions and ethnography. A gap year in India will open your innocent eyes to the world.

The Taj Mahal, India

The cities

Your starting point on your India gap year may well be Mumbai, formerly Bombay, a sprawling city on India's west coast. You're not going to find the greatest nightlife in the world, but the city more than makes up for it with beaches, music festivals, a bustling film scene, and theme parks. Travel during Indian holidays like Eid, Diwali, or Holi to experience Mumbai in full party mode.

Elsewhere there's Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, the world famous white marble mausoleum. It's a hugely busy attraction, but a stalwart on any bucket list that deserves to be ticked off. To the north is the city of New Delhi, which ironically has areas centuries old and ideal for catching a glimpse of the past, as well as busy bazaars, and also Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan, home to the magnificent City Palace complex.

A gathering at the Ganges, India

To really grasp the culture of India, the religious city of Varanasi in North India is worth visiting. This Indian city lies on the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, and is the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism, believed to be the favourite city of the Hindu Deity, Lord Shiva. The ancient buildings and holy people really make this place a unique experience.  

If you plan your trip well enough, you could be lucky enough to participate in one of India’s biggest and brightest festivals, The Kumbh Mela. The celebration involves a huge pilgrimage of Hindus who gather at the sacred river, and is held every three years on rotation at either, Haridwar, Allahabad, Nashik, and Ujjain. Brave backpackers can join the locals and sadhus by dipping themselves into the Ganges, Shipra, or Kushavart River, which is believed to cleanse the body and soul.  

The Himalayas as seen from India

The scenery

The busy cities of India can begin to feel a little stressful and tiring as your stay in this incredible country continues. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to escape.

In the north of India backpackers can test their limits by climbing the mighty Himalayas. It's no easy feat, so be sure to pack proper equipment: warm clothes, a tent, stove, and take along some friends. Oh, and a guide is pretty important too! There are several trekking routes through the Himalayas, catering to various levels of fitness, so you can choose one that best suits you.

India boasts over 7,500 kilometres of coastline and, particularly if you head south, it's easy to find beautiful beaches on which to kick back and work on your tan. India is also a megadiverse country, offering up a frankly ludicrous amount of wildlife to seek out.

You don't have to try too hard to fall in love with India on your gap year.