Falling in love with India

People said we’d either love it or hate it, and they were right. After nine months of backpacking all over the country, we’ve fallen in love with India.

 

“You’re going to love it. It’s absolutely mental and there’s nothing like it in the world.”

“Everyone either loves or hates India. There’s nothing in between.”

“India is disgusting. Everyone just wants your money, the streets are filthy, and the men are so creepy.”

Before setting foot within India’s borders, we’d heard it all… and had no idea what to expect, aside from cows, crap, and creepers.

Why we fell in love with India - A cow eating trash in Leh Ladakh, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

We were afraid India would be a land of cheats. Or that our only company would be hippies on spiritual quests to find themselves. Or that the country, built up in our minds by thousands of romanticized books, movies, and stories, could only fail to meet expectations.

Oh, how wrong we were.

 

Don't listen to the naysayers! After 9 months of backpacking, we've fallen head over heels for India. Traveling in India is a wild ride, and we can't recommend it enough to other travelers and backpackers. Read on to learn the 7 reasons we loved backpacking in India.

 

Incredible India indeed

Though we did encounter cows, crap, and creepers, we also found a country more incredible, curious, and complex than we ever could have imagined.

That’s not to say all of our time in India was incredible in a positive way. There were plenty of days when we hated the country (generally coinciding with excessive honking and lazy hotel receptionists), when it broke our hearts (hello, stray dogs and child beggars), and when it challenged our bodies to no end (if I never ride in a packed Sumo again, it will be too soon).

But for every irksome honk and apathetic receptionist, there were a hundred more instances where India, its people, and its cultures opened our eyes and tugged at our hearts.

Here’s why we fell in love with India

 

Why we fell in love with India - A banana leaf South Indian rice plate in Varkala, Kerala, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

A drool worthy endless rice plate (leaf?) in South India.

The food.

Fact: I’m a glutton. I fucking love eating. (Probably a side effect of growing up in the United States.)

I’m happiest when I have new foods to try, ideally sweet, ideally in large quantities. And in India, I’m one of a billion of such people.

Crispy fried snacks in Ahmedabad, Gujarat state, India.
A tiny blue hole-in-the-wall fried snack stand in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
Fresh puri on a newspaper on the streets of Udaipur, Rajasthan state, India.

There are thousands of different foods and sweets in India. From crispy dosas to endless thalis, Goan pork sausages to Manipuri grilled fish, buttery kulchas to hot kathi rolls, sticky ladoos to chilly kulfi falooda, India’s food game is on a completely different level. Ask a local what’s good in their city, and it’s almost guaranteed they can—and will—run down a list of at least 10 things you’ve never heard of but absolutely must try.

Fresh fried pakoras near Nasik, Maharashtra state, India.
Why we fell in love with India - Fresh kachori deep frying in Jodhpur, Rajasthan state, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog
Creamy pista special lassi in Hyderabad, India.

You might not realize it at first. Many people believe India to be a land of vegetarians, despite meat being widely available in most states. Tourist restaurants serve the same generic fare regardless of location: butter chicken, masala something, malai kofta, crappy biriyani, aloo gobi, mango lassi. Many tourists are averse to trying street food or hole-in-the-walls for a fear of getting sick. My stomach heart wilts at the thought.

Why we fell in love with India - Pav bhaji cooking on the streets of Mumbai, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Mumbai (Bombay) is famous for its street food, and pav bhaji reigns supreme on the streets. If you’re worried about getting sick, just follow the crowds for the best—and most reliable—street eats.

Don’t fall into the trap! Be bold, eat out, ask around, carry Immodium or Pepto Bismol for dire moments, and be ready to dig in whenever you see a crowd gathered in or around an eatery. Oh, and don’t expect to lose any weight while in India. Quite the opposite.

For all the ladies heading to India and not sure what to wear, check out this useful article by Year of the Monkey on what to wear in India!

 

Why we love India - Camels during a parade for Shiva's birthday in Bundi, Rajasthan state, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Colorful camels leading a parade in honor of Shiva’s birthday in Bundi, Rajasthan

There is always something going on.

Thanks to a population of 1.3 billion people, and the fact that almost every major and minor religion exists within India, there is always, always something going on.

Why we fell in love with India - Parthasarathy procession during Diwali in Chennai, Tamil Nadu state, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

A godly procession on the streets during Diwali in Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Every other day is some kind of religious holiday. There were periods of time where we saw at least one parade a day. Someone is always banging drums or walking camels or dusting a landfill (???) or smoking chillums or blasting music.

Why we fell in love with India - Crazy colorful man in Hyderabad, Telangana - Lost With Purpose travel blog

I have no idea what is going on here.

As long as you’re willing to wander a bit—and it’s not too late at night—there is always something curious happening on the streets of India.

Heading to India? Check out these travel tips for India by a local!

Why we fell in love with India - Walking in the hills of Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh state - Lost With Purpose travel blog

It’s hard to get more off the beaten track than the mountains and hills of Arunachal Pradesh

It’s super easy to get off the beaten track.

Contradictory though it may seem to the crowds flooding the Taj Mahal or the palaces of Rajasthan, it’s super easy to leave mass tourism behind in India. Despite the country’s massive size, people generally flock to a limited number of places.

Package tourists zip to Agra and race around the Golden Triangle. Dreaded hippies and stoned Israelis migrate between the beaches of Goa and the mountains of Himachal Pradesh. Aspiring yogis and Buddhists head to Dharamshala and Rishikesh. Self proclaimed spiritual gurus get lost in Varanasi. Indian families head to the mountains in summer, only emerging from their cars for photo ops.

Tourists at Humayun's Tomb in Delhi, India shot with a Lensbaby Edge 50 Optic.
Tourists with cameras at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.
Tourists taking photos in front of the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, Rajasthan state, India.

That’s not to say the places I mentioned aren’t worth your while (protip: they are), or that these generalizations are always 100% true, but after you’ve explored a bit of India, I think you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement.

Why we fell in love with India - Laxmi Vilas palace in Vadodara (Baroda) Gujarat state, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Compared to the claustrophobically packed palaces in Udaipur and Jaipur, the Laxmi Vilas palace in Vadodara, Gujarat had approximately 4 other people visiting it at the same time as us. Plus, the ticket—cheaper than any of Rajasthan’s palaces—included an audio guide, real cappuccino, and a pastry. Snap.

India has enough to offer to last a lifetime, far beyond the main sights frequented by the masses and immortalized by glossy postcards. If you’re open to exploring off the beaten tourist tracks, it’s possible to go months without seeing foreign tourists. Or any tourists, for that matter.

 

Reasons to love India - Mahabat Maqbara in Junagadh, Gujarat state, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The Mahabat Maqbara in Junagadh, Gujarat state

There is something for literally everyone (except germophobes).

India has temples and palaces gilded and golded and carefully crafted enough to make even the most jaded history buff feel something in their pants.

Reasons we fell in love with India - Kapaleeswarar Temple in Chennai, Tamil Nadu state, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Kapaleeswarar Temple in Chennai, Tamil Nadu

From islands in azure waters to sprawling rainforested hills to soaring Himalayan mountains, the country’s landscapes are sure to titillate the boldest of outdoor adventurers.

Why we fell in love with India - A green village in the Sham Valley of Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir state, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

One of many stunning villages in the Sham Valley of Ladakh

India’s rich culinary scene can tickle the pickiest foodies’ taste buds, and the country has more arts, dances, and colorful traditions to overwhelm the most cultured traveler.

Tea aficionados can sip locally grown golden brews in West Bengal, hash connoisseurs can smoke hand rubbed cream in Himachal Pradesh, and textile buffs can get lost in the intricate weaving traditions of Gujarat.

Why we fell in love with India - Patola weaving in Patan, Gujarat state, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Patola weaving in Patan, Gujarat

There’s something for almost every kind of tourist in India. The only thing you won’t find en masse is cleanliness. So, germophobes, you should probably stay home. Or bring a lot of hand sanitizer.

 

It’s the most diverse country in the world.

Okay, okay, that’s not an official metric. I admit it. I have absolutely no idea how one would objectively measure a country’s diversity anyway.

Even then, I’m still comfortable proclaiming India the most diverse country in the world.

A Sikh man in full regalia sitting in one of the guesthouses around the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab state, India.
Portrait of a Theyyam dancer in full face paint during Theyyam season in Kannur, Kerala state, India.
A woman in traditional tribal dress in Longwa Village, Nagaland state, Northeast India.

The area used to be a collection of kingdoms and tribes before uniting under the Indian flag. There are at least 1.3 billion people officially living in the country who collectively speak hundreds of different languages—drive for two hours in any direction, and a new language will fill your ears upon arrival. Hindus are the majority, but in India, you’ll still find every religion under the sun: Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Jains, Zoroastrians, Bahais, Christians, and a scattering of pagan religions. You’ll find Portuguese, Persian, Bangladeshi, Tajik, French, Nepali, Afghan, and Tibetan people living within India’s borders. Travel across the country and you can watch everything gradually change, from the patterns on women’s saris to the alphabets on road signs.

Why we fell in love with India - Golden Buddhas in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, South India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Massive buddhas overlooking the “Golden Temple: in the Tibetan enclave of Bylakuppe in Karnataka, the second largest Tibetan settlement in India.

If you have reason to believe another country is more diverse than India, I’d love to hear it.

 

Why we fell in love with India - Getting a shave in Junagadh, Gujarat state, india - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Sebastiaan’s favorite budget travel trick: getting straight razored for next to nothing.

You can live on as much or as little as you’d like.

India has a reputation for being an extremely cheap country to travel in. We heard stories of $1 rooms, riding roofs of trains for free, and eating for pennies… but upon arrival, we found that was no longer the case. Tourist restaurants, accommodations, and services can cost a pretty penny compared to normal options, luxury tourism is very much established in India, and drinking is taxed quite heavily in most states.

Why we fell in love with India - Tour of Sula Winery in Maharashtra state, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Contrary to international perceptions, India isn’t all poverty and strife! This is a tour of the chic Sula winery in Maharashtra state.

Though $1 won’t buy you a room anymore, many aspects of India are still budget-friendly. You can ride a train across the country for more than 24 hours for less than $10. There are passable rooms to be found in some cities for less than $3—even cheaper if you’re chill with cockroaches and mysterious stains. You can most definitely eat for literally pennies, as long as you’re down with overdosing on puri sabji, rice and dal, and deep fried everything.

Why we fell in love with India - Street food at night in Old Delhi, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Take to the streets when it’s time to eat, and I promise you, your wallet will rarely hurt.

Or, alternatively, you can live it up in the lap of luxury. Whether you want to dine like a maharaja over Udaipur’s lake at the insanely decadent Oberoi, or schmooze over imported liquors with pasty pale socialites on the rooftops of Mumbai, if you have the money, anything is possible in India.

 

Reasons to fall in love with India - Sebastiaan getting sucked into a wedding party in Bhuj, Gujarat state, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Getting sucked into a wedding procession in colorful Bhuj, Gujarat state

It’s incredibly easy to connect with people in India.

Forget the stereotypes of cheats and scam artists and rapists; they represent about 0.000000001% of the population. The vast majority of Indians we met during our nine months of travel were incredibly helpful and welcoming. What makes them most remarkable, though, is how easy it was to meet them, if only for a moment.

Falling in love with India - A duck salesman in Kohima, Nagaland state, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

“Hello madam! Look!” he said, grabbing a duck scuttling at his feet.

Because of the British occupation, English is widespread throughout the country. Not every Indian speaks English, but hang around long enough, and the chance that someone who speaks English will emerge to ask you what you’re doing is almost 100%. Many Indians are forward, and have no qualms with approaching you out of the blue for a little chat.

Reasons to love India - An Indian aunty in Dibrugarh, Assam state, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

This aunty was one of several who approached us to ask us why we were walking around… despite speaking no English! With the help of a random English-speaking passerby, we learned that she just wanted to know why we were walking away from the tourist area, since no one ever walked through her neighborhood.

Guys constantly came up to Sebastiaan, curious as to where he was from, what he was up to, and whether they could snap some selfies. There wasn’t a single train ride where we didn’t chat over chai with the people around us. Even when traveling in places where English was uncommon, people were always happy to help us find our way with smiles, pointing, and a dash of head wiggling.

Why we fell in love with India - Climbing mountains above Nasik, Maharashtra state, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Scaling mountains with our friend Chaitanya in Nasik, Maharashtra state.

There are a million things you might find difficult or trying in India, but I assure you, concerns about meeting locals should be the last of your worries.

 

Why we fell in love with India - Mullick ghat flower market in Kolkata, West Bengal, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Quintessential India at the Mullick Ghat flower market in Kolkata.

Challo to India!                                                                      

Though we’re no longer in India, our Indian experience is far from over.

(Quite literally—we both just received new e-visas.)

To all our Indian friends and acquaintances who made our stay so memorable, we thank you, and hope our paths will cross again one day. To all of you from abroad considering a trip (or three) to India, I hope this has dissuaded some of your fears, or inspired you to explore India that much more.

Until next time, India.

 

Want more India adventures? Don’t miss our India archives for all of our stories and tips from on the road.

 

Don't listen to the naysayers! After 9 months of backpacking, we've fallen head over heels for India. Traveling in India is a wild ride, and we can't recommend it enough to other travelers and backpackers. Read on to learn the 7 reasons we loved backpacking in India.

 

Yay transparency! There are affiliate links in this post. If you buy or book something using our links, we make a bit of money at no extra cost to you. The money may or may not be spent on kulfi.

Alex

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

More about Alex

32 thoughts on “Falling in love with India

    James says:

    Great, blog. Look forward to your further adventures.

    Little Panjabi Vishwas Ojha says:

    WHOTTE

    Donovan says:

    hmm India was kinda a miss for me, somehow I still preferred Pakistan on the whole.

    Sebastiaan says:

    Where in India did you go? We don’t think it’s fair to compare the countries, especially not after only limited time in both.

    Nice photos! I have to confess that I’ve never been to India (only to Ladakh, which is not the actual India) and I don’t know when I will go. Like you, I would like to spend there a long time but the problem is that my bucket list is like a black hole (too big, endless, changing and chaotic), like everyone else’s I guess. Salut!

    Sebastiaan says:

    Haha we know what you mean. But India is amazing, and definitely best explored leisurely. I think that if we’d stayed there for only a month or so, and only visited the main sights, we would have liked it a lot less. Luckily it’s super easy to leave the beaten path, and there’s a lifetimes worth of wonders to explore.

    Love love love India! And I’m not going to fall into the trap of comparing India to Pakistan – both are beautiful in their own ways, and rather distinct… I lived in India for 18 months, and would go back in a heartbeat <3

    Thank you for bringing back some wonderful, wonderful memories <3

    Sebastiaan says:

    We totally understand why. We’re already planning our next trip there. And yeah we agree, comparing them isn’t fair. The countries are too diverse. Where in India did you live?

    Odette says:

    Loving this, my favorite country so far must be India and I can’t wait to go back. Thanks for sharing! Can’t wait to read more about your Pakistan adventures as well.

    Miguel says:

    Nice to have a familiar perspective on India! Soon to be there and we found your post very helpful! Your pictures are so yummy!!

    Sebastiaan says:

    That’s great to hear. We’re sure you’ll have a blast. Enjoy!

    Gen says:

    this could not have summarized our 1month (we’ll be back) better!!! a love and hate at first for me, that turned into a full on love quickly, hubby loved it at first sight. thanks for so eloquantly putting our thoughts into words. happy travels,

    Sebastiaan says:

    That’s great to hear. I had plenty of hate moments myself, but overal it’s love all the way. Enjoy your next visit!

    you have rightly said, India is a country wherein something is going on everytime and people will love that.. so do I. thanks for making me live my memories again..

    Sebastiaan says:

    You’re most welcome. We have very fond memories of India, and can’t wait to go back!

    Rose Clara says:

    I’m a kind of girl who actually wants to travel alone, so I decide to visit India. I explored just few places during my visit. Taj Mahal is the best among all I had seen.. and from that moment I fell in love with India..

    Sebastiaan says:

    That’s great to hear. The Taj is indeed majestic.

    Ammie says:

    Really enjoyed reading this! We’re off to India this Sunday and have heard all the same old (“don’t eat the meat, don’t touch street food”, “its so dirty”, “people are really touchy”) over and over again, I love reading posts that show all of the amazing things about India that seem to get overlooked!

    I’m exactly like you, show me the food!

    Thanks for getting me super excited!!

    Sebastiaan says:

    Glad to hear that. We understand why India has a bad rep sometimes, but once you leave the well beaten tourist path it becomes a very different country. Have fun, and please try all the delicious food!

    Saira says:

    Thank you for the great article! I already feel like I have been there, even though I’m leaving only in Spring :).
    If only I had the luxury of back-packing around India for bigger time period. I have negotiated 2months there to explore. I don’t know – it just feels like the country is calling to me. To squeeze the best out of the country – what would you suggest to see? I’m thinking of using “local” guide service to get the best and precise information out of my trip (you know the services). Would it be reasonable investment? Or these guys who “show up from nowhere speaking English” would be enough to know about their surroundings? I’d love to hear your opinion!

    Sebastiaan says:

    Hi Saira, glad to hear you like the article. We don’t think it’s necessary to hire any sort of guide service. The country is well touristed, and there will always be people to travel with or to help you out.

    P.S. I have deleted the link in your comment, as it felt like spam.

    Nadira says:

    Hey Sebastiaan en Alex,

    Ben zo blij dat ik totally random via google jullie tips voor Goa tijdens de kerstdagen ben tegengekomen! Superhandig! Ik kom oorspronkelijk uit India en ga samen met mijn familie op vakantie naar India. Deze keer ligt de nadruk minder op het bezoeken van familie. Ik hoop eindelijjk een beetje meer van het land te zien. Wanneer gaan jullie weer naar India?

    Groetjes,
    Nadira

    Sebastiaan says:

    Hoi Nadira,

    Goed om van je te horen. Fijn ook dat onze tips van pas komen. Waar gaan jullie heen in India?
    Wij zijn nu in Kolkata, en gaan straks naar Assam. Weten nog niet wat we daarna doen, maar hopen hier nog vaak terug te komen.

    Groetjes,

    Alex en Sebastiaan

    Nadira says:

    Hoi Alex en Sebastiaan,

    Wauw Kolkota……pffff India is groot. Het is kwestie van gewoon ergens beginnen hahah. Ik ga naar Chennai want daar komt mij vader oorspronkelijk vandaan en daar heeft hij nog wat familieleden wonen. Ik wil ook heeeel graag een dagje naar Pondicherry. Zijn jullie daar ook geweest? Daarna naar mumbai, vervolgens naar Goa en daarna weer terug naar Mumbai. We verblijven maar 24 dagen in India. Ik ga sowieso de tarieven lijst voor taxi’s uitprinten….ben benieuwd. Omdat mijn ouders mee zijn wil ik alles zo veilig mogelijk verloopt. Ik ben dus ook met kerst in Goa net zoals jullie vorig jaar. Moet je rond de kerstdagen en christmas eve van tevoren taxi bestellen voor de heen en terugweg bijv het hotel? Wij verblijven in Calangute en gaan met kerst overdag en ook vast s’avonds naar het strand. Het zal vast ontzettend druk zijn.

    Ik ben erg benieuwd naar jullie verhalen en ervaringen. Heelveel plezier in India!
    Groetjes,
    nadira

    Sebastiaan says:

    Ja India is zeker groot, niet normaal.
    Klinkt erg leuk. We zijn wel in Chennai geweest, maar niet in Pondicherry. Het was regenseizoen toen we in Tamil Nadu waren, dus helaas.
    Is het lang geleden dat voor jouw ouders? Wel spanned. Wij raden je aan om Uber of Ola (lokale variant van Uber) te gebruiken. Erg makkelijk, veilig, en goedkoper dan taxis. Je hoeft ook niet te onderhandelen, dus het scheelt een hoop gedoe.

    Met kerst kan je het best je hotel vragen een taxi te regelen denk ik. Prijzen zijn best hoog rond die tijd. Ja het strand is super druk, met vooral mannen. Als je een rustig plekje wilt vinden, kan je het besten bij Pousada by the Beach gaan lunchen. Erg lekker en een beetje verwijderd van de drukte, maar wel op het strand.

    Veel plezier en geniet er van!

    Nadira says:

    In 2013 ben ik ook met mijn ouders en broertje naar India geweest. Mijn vader was toen bijna 20 jaar niet in India geweest. Mijn moeder is Surinaams, haar voorouders komen uit Uttar Pradesh. In 2013 was ik totaal niet voorbereid en lag de nadruk meer op het leren van mijn familie. Ook leuk maar nu wil ik gewoon met mijn ouders india verkennen. Ik heb mijn goed voorbereid maar ik vind ook spannend. De Ola app heb ik al gedownload. Ga aankomende woensdagochtend meteen een indiase nummer regelen. Want je hebt een Indiase nummer nodig toch om de Ola app te gebruiken. Ik heb nog een indiase mobieltje van de vorige reis dus die kan ik mooi gebruiken. Uber gaan we ook gebruiken. Ja inderdaad dat scheelt een hoop onderhandelgedoe. Ik ben echt geen ster in onderhandelen maar ga enorm mijn best doen haha. Bedankt voor de tips!
    We gaan zeker bij Pousada eten en ben ook benieuwd naar Relish….heb al gereserveerd 🙂
    Echt supertof en inspirerend om jullie blogs te lezen. Ik ga alles lezen als ik terug ben in januari.
    I
    Jullie ook heelveel plezier gewenst!!!

    Groetjes,
    Nadira

    shama Perveen says:

    I seriously enjoyed reading this blog of yours.
    You did a great job in depicting India.
    But i hope you enjoyed here.

    Alex says:

    Thank you! I’m most definitely enjoying it here… and will surely be spending a lot of time in India in the coming years!

    Marija Katic says:

    Very good rewiew. I’ve been to India, to Kalkota. Its a very interesting country, with interesting culture. I must recommend Ana Airlines to travel with. Its cheep, fast, comfortable with a very kind personal. Visit: ana-airlines.com
    Cheers!

    Madre says:

    Love this post…and beautiful pics! I see why you’ve fallen in love with India. So much to see. And such wonderful people.

    Oleg Gordeev says:

    Thank you for the great article! I’ve been to India on business trips for 9 months in total. I did not fall in love with this country. Maybe because it was mainly hotel-factory-hotel daily routine in a small city. However, I do miss a few things, like warm winter (+20 C) and Indian rum (it’s very good).

    Sagar Shah says:

    Glad you like India.
    Do visit again
    Much love from India.

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