India has always been a popular backpacker destination. However, up until recently accommodations for backpackers were limited to cheap guesthouses. This is dramatically changing with authentic, quality backpacker hostels popping up all over India. These hostels also cater to young Indian travelers, creating a true international backpacker scene that brings together people from all over the world. They are a boon for solo travelers as well -- particularly women, as many of the hostels have female-only dorms. Here's where to go, and stay.
Want to take a group tour? G Adventures has special tours for backpackers in India that won't break your budget.
Hampi was the last capital of Vijayanagar, one of the greatest Hindu kingdoms in India’s history. Its evocative ruins, intriguingly intermingled with huge boulders that rear up all over the landscape, make it a must-visit destination in India. However, backpackers flock to the chilled-out environment of Virupapur Gadde, bordering paddy fields on the other side of the river. This area is popular with long-term travelers looking to unwind for a while. Hampi doesn't have any backpacker hostels yet, but there are some budget-friendly guesthouses. Plan your trip with this Hampi travel guide.
Regarded as the birthplace of yoga, Rishikesh attracts plenty of spiritual seekers. Even if you're not interested in yoga and meditation, it's a pleasing place to hangout as the feel is cool, calm and international. There's a plethora of cheap accommodations to choose from, including trendy backpacker hostels. Some of the most popular ones are Bunkstay, Moustache, Zostel, Shiv Shakti, and Live Free Hostel. Many offer a wide range of activities. Have a read of this handy Rishikesh travel guide before you go.
Anjuna Beach, Goa
Heading to Goa but not sure which beach to choose (there are a lot of them, and they're all different)? Anjuna, in north Goa, stands out because of its bountiful backpacker hostels. This beach was once home to Goa's hippies. These days it's more famous for its Wednesday flea market and Curlies beach shack. Prison Hostel, where guests are "inmates", is ideal for party people. Anjuna by Roadhouse Hostels, Red Door Hostel, the Funky Monkey, the Lost Tribe Hostel, and Bricks & Bamboo are also popular. There are manyf others to choose from as well.
When the legendary Pushkar Camel Festival isn't happening, Pushkar is a laid-back holy hippie town. It's a spiritual place, so if you haven't had enough of the relaxed Rishikesh vibe, you'll be able to enjoy more of it here. Backpacking through India wouldn't be complete without visiting Pushkar! It has achieved almost cult status. Think rooftop yoga, cooking classes, henna tattoos, and wellness therapies. Make sure you're cashed up because there are so many irresistible things to buy, ranging from textiles to bangles. Backpackers won't have a problem finding somewhere cheap to stay. Moustache hostel is conveniently close to the lake. The Zostel hostel in Pushkar is about 15 minutes walk from the lake but it's the only hostel in India to have a swimming pool -- wow! Backpacker Panda and Madpackers hostels are in the same area as Zostel. Otherwise Hotel Everest is a favorite with travelers.
Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
You'll either love it or hate it, but Varanasi definitely needs to be experienced. The fascinating thing about this mystical city is that its rituals are revealed openly to along the riverside ghats, which are used for everything from bathing to burning the bodies of the dead. There are abundant backpacker hostels in Varanasi and many are conveniently close to the ghats. These are hip Bunked Up Hostel in a 500 year-old renovated mini palace at Pandey Ghat, HosteLaVie near Chet Singh Ghat, and Varanasi by Roadhouse Hostels and Moustache Hostel not far from Assi Ghat. Other popular hostels are GoStops,Zostel, and the International Travelers' Hostel (in a family ancestral home). This Varanasi travel guide will help plan your trip.
Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh
Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government, used to be the place for backpackers to volunteer and do courses such as Buddhism or alternative therapies. However, increasing commercialization has driven travelers further uphill to the much quieter village of Dharamkot. You'll find copious courses and workshops being offered there now, including Vipassana meditation and yoga. The air is fresh, the energy is uplifting, and life is peaceful. A few new backpacker hostels have opened up in the vicinity. The Bunker is ideal for adventure lovers, while Flügler provides affordable luxury. Otherwise, try Kamal Guesthouse in the forest or Zostel. There are also simple homestay accommodations.
The iconic "Pink City of Jaipur" is part of India's Golden Triangle Circuit, and hence usually features on the itineraries of most travelers. Yet, what makes it particularly great for backpackers is that there's a fabulous Zostel hostel just up the road from the Hawa Mahal! Zostel is regarded as one of the best backpacker hostel chains in India and this particular hostel has won awards. It has both dorm rooms and private rooms. The hip Moustache hostel is also popular. Don't want to stay in a hostel? There are many inexpensive guesthouses in Jaipur as well.
Is Goa too developed for you? Head to Gokarna, across the border in Karnataka, instead! (Buses run directly from Gokarna to Hampi). Although Gokarna town is a Hindu pilgrimage destination, the bohemian hippie lifestyle is alive and well at the beach, complete with sunset flea market. HosteLaVie occupies an enticing spot behind Kudle Beach, Trippr hostel is bang on a private beach, while Zostel overlooks the ocean atop a hill. Here's a Gokarna travel guide to assist in planning your trip.
Khajuraho, Uttar Pradesh
Khajuraho is infamous for its erotic temples but its village atmosphere makes it an appealing place to linger and escape the hustle. Apart from visiting the temples, you can hire a bicycle and leisurely explore the surroundings to get a feel for rural life in India. The Zostel hostel in Khajuraho is ideally situated only a couple minutes walk from the temple complex, so look no further for a place to stay!
Varkala beach, one of the best beaches in Kerala, has a dreamy cliff-top setting with a long paved pathway lined by coconut palms, shops, and beach shacks. Not surprisingly, it's the ultimate backpacker paradise in Kerala and provides a tranquil alternative to overly-developed Kovalam. Get an Ayurvedic treatment while you're there to really rejuvenate! The Lost Hostel and Pagans Surf Hostel are recommended accommodation options. You'll find cheap guesthouses galore by the cliff too. Check out this Varkala travel guide.
Regal Udaipur is often called India's most romantic city, and for a good reason. Its prominent royal palaces, against the backdrop of Lake Pichola, are striking. Backpackers also rate Udaipur highly because it offers a balance of heritage and traveler amenities. There are heaps of things to do such as art and cooking classes, volunteering, yoga and meditation, boat tours, and interesting side trips. That's if you can tear yourself away from the captivating lake views! A big bonus is that there are so many inexpensive places to stay right by the lake. So many hostels have opened up there as well now. These include Bunkyard, GoStops, Zostel, and Moustache hotels. In addition, The Hostel Crawl and Banjara Hostel are new and decent, and have lake views.
Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu
Mahabalipuram, less than an hour from Chennai in Tamil Nadu, is one of the top beaches on India's east coast. The town is best known for its stone sculptures and 7th century UNESCO World Heritage monuments carved out of stone. However, it also has a thriving surfing scene. Backpackers typically head to Othavadai Street, which leads down to the beach near the Shore Temple. It's lined with brightly painted, inexpensive guesthouses with rooftop restaurants. The backpacker hostel chains are yet to open in Mahabalipuram but there's no shortage of budget accommodations.
Old Manali and Vashisht, Himachal Pradesh
Uphill from unaesthetic Manali town, the village vibe at Old Manali is much more enchanting. It's full of quaint guesthouses, surrounded by apple orchards and snow-covered peaks. On the opposite side of the Beas River, Vashisht village is another backpacker haunt. There's an excellent Reiki center there. Kasol, around three hours away in the Parvarti Valley, is a popular side trip. It's frequented by psy trance-lovers, hippies and Israeli backpackers. Zostel and Moustache hostels have branches in Old Manali. Backpacker Panda is located in the Log Huts area. Rockaway is an adventure-themed hostel by the river. This Manali travel guide has more information.
Amritsar's exquisite Golden Temple is one of the most recognized landmarks in India. This sacred Sikh shrine is truly a sight to behold. Jugaadus Eco Hostel is the most popular backpacker hostel in the city, and it runs its own tours including to the Wagah Border for the flag ceremony. Wow Backpackers and Backpacker's Nest are other options not too far from the Golden Temple. Learn more about how to get there and what to do in this Amritsar travel guide.
Fort Kochi, Kerala
The slow pace and walkability of historic seaside Fort Kochi are a hit with backpackers. This arty, proverbial cultural melting pot is delightful to explore. The Portuguese, Dutch and British have all contributed distinctive architecture. Cute cafes and art galleries abound and will beckon you to enter as you stroll around. Plus, there are many superb hostels where you can meet other travelers. The Happy Camper hostel, Zostel and Maritime by the Hostel Crowd are the pick of the bunch. Hostel by the Sea is also surprisingly impressive for a government initiative.