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2020 travel goals: 5 budget-friendly backpacking trails

It is holiday time of the year again and many would be gearing up for getaways. Among the very new-age types of travelling, backpacking has become a hit. For your 2020 travel goals, follow these backpacking trails across India even as you save money.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Dec 09, 2019, 10.28 AM IST
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Backpackers no longer seek the dirtiest dorms and adjust into cubbyholes to cut costs.
For rushed millennials ravaged by the tugs and travails of work and life, balance is often restored through short holidays taken 2-3 times a year. The truncated vacation, stitched together from extended weekends and stolen weekdays, is not only simple to plan but also easy on the pocket. However, for travellers struck by wanderlust, the lure of a longer vacation remains, though it is often compromised by high cost and complexity of planning involved.

Ergo, the revival of the backpacker holiday. What was once considered a low-cost fringe fad among the cash-strapped youth has trickled down as a big trend in mainstream tourism. While such holidays, also known as ‘flashpacking’, retain the freedom of travel with the use of backpacks, easy commute and impromptu stay options, the budget constraint has loosened.

So backpackers no longer seek the dirtiest dorms and adjust into cubbyholes to cut costs. They seek out homestays and budget hotels that are inexpensive but replete with comforts and amenities. They refuse to suffer the rigours of the cheapest means of transport, be it buses or hitchhiking, and prefer to combine public transport with hired cabs or rental cars, often opting for their own bikes or cheap flights. They no longer go where the whimsy takes them, but rely on smartphones, apps and social media to plan. They don’t travel alone, but prefer to do so in groups of 3-4 for safety and cost-cutting. They scale their holiday at will, ranging from four days to 10, not letting it stretch to an unmanageable month or two. They are the modern-day backpackers.

To give you a headstart on your 2020 travel goals, our cover story this week addresses this community of compulsive wanderers and first-time backpackers. We have considered five backpacker trails in the country, with the holidays spanning four to eight days. We list the approximate costs involved in stay, travel and food to give you an idea of the total holiday expense. We hope it will help you pick the trail that suits your current location and budget the best. Go take the road less travelled; we’ll tell you where it will take you. Happy travels!

Please note: All the prices for travel, stay and food given below are indicative and can vary from actual figures.

1. Himachal Pradesh: Spiti Valley
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Total cost: Rs 14,900 per person

The smaller, starker and cheaper version of Ladakh, Spiti in Himachal is a backpacker’s delight owing to its barren, mountainous terrain that bears a striking similarity to Ladakh. Spiti, translated to ‘middle land’ between India and Tibet, is relatively unexplored and less exploited than Ladakh. The stunning scapes, lakes and monasteries may be just what you need to get your mind off work, but make sure you keep aside more than a weekend to travel here because of the longer time it takes to reach the place.

Keep aside 7-8 days and cover Kaza, Komik, Kibber, Pin Valley and Chandratal, among other places. Ensure you get the Rohtang Pass Permit in advance via the website, mobile app or in person at Manali. To cut down your costs, it’s a good idea to travel in a group of 4-5 people, stay in homestays, take buses where possible and eat at local dhabas.

Best time to go: May-June & September-October
The May-June window is favoured by tourists, which makes the route more crowded rendering it diffi cult to get the Rohtang Pass Permit if you are travelling in your own vehicle or cab. The September-October period is a better option if you want a smoother passage. It’s cold during both the periods, with temperatures ranging from 8-15 degree Celsius.

How to reach
There are two ways to travel to Spiti from Delhi. One is via Shimla and the other through Manali. The former is a gradual ascent and gives more time to acclimatise, but takes longer, while the latter sees a sudden steep climb and takes lesser time. We shall consider the shorter route via Manali.

Backpacking trail
Itinerary (7 nights, 8 days)
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To do
Visit Chandratal lake, Dhankar lake and monastery, Tabo monastery, Pin Valley National Park, Kibber. Rohtang Pass and Kunzum Pass are a must-see.

Food
The area is sprinkled with dhabas and cafes, which will serve good food for about Rs 100 per person per meal.
Total cost: Rs 2,400

Stay options
There are several low-cost homestays and guesthouses across Spiti which will cost you Rs 250-500 a day, with better ones costing Rs 700-1,500 a day.
Total cost: Rs 5,500

Travel cost
Though buses are the cheapest, they are scarce within Spiti and you might have to take cabs. Taking your own car may be convenient but the wear and tear will be high so it is not recommended. You can also take your own bike for the entire trip and can share cost with a friend. If not, take a bus from Delhi to Manali and then hire a cab which will cost Rs 4,000-5,000 per day, but you can bring down the price by sharing it among 4-5 people.
Total cost: Rs 7,000

2. Rajasthan: Jaipur, Ajmer, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner
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Total cost: Rs 11,700 per person

A favourite backpacker trail for international tourists, it is also a hit among domestic travellers despite the fact that it has been over-exploited commercially. With its forts, palaces, lakes, sand dunes, shopping and food, not to mention good connectivity, budget staying options and photo-ops, it’s a backpacker’s dream destination. Though you can easily spend a fortnight here, we have curtailed the trip to six days, so it’s likely you’ll miss out on several good places. Keep them for the next visit.

Best time to go: October-February
Winter months between October and February, when temperature varies from 10 to 27 degree Celsius, are ideal to backpack through this desert destination. Summers are scorching and best avoided.

How to reach
Road, trains or flights, you can explore any option or a combination of these. Take an overnight bus or train so that you can have the entire day to yourself. A savvy option for moving around within cities is to take Ola or Uber two-wheeler taxis, instead of four-wheeler cabs. These are not only cheap, but also get past the traffic more easily. You could also hire bikes from bike rental companies like Onnbikes (Jaipur).

Backpacking trail
Itinerary (5 nights, 6 days)
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To do
It’s a good idea to take composite tickets for multiple monuments and tourist sites. For instance, a Rs 300 ticket in Jaipur can get you entry to eight monuments, as opposed to separate tickets that range from Rs100-400. In Jaipur, take your pick from the City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, Johri Bazar, Jal Mahal, Amber Palace and Nahargarh Fort. At Jaisalmer, don’t miss dune bashing, Jaisalmer fort, Gadisar lake, Bara Bagh, Jain temple Lodurva, Patwon ki Haveli, Mandir Palace and Nathmal ki Haveli.

In Jodhpur, a must-visit is the Mehrangarh fort, Tripoliya Bazar road, Pachetia Hill and Umaid Bhawan Palace. Make sure you visit the Ajmer Sharif dargah and, in Pushkar, the Brahmaji temple and Pushkar lake. Finally, in Bikaner, don’t miss the Junagarh fort, Lalgarh Palace, Shri Laxminath temple and the Jain temple.
Total cost: Rs 2,000

Food
There are enough street food and good roadside eateries in every city, which are not only cheap but also filling and delicious. Be it the dal baati churma or simple kachori or bajra roti with dal, a meal will cost you only Rs 100-150.
Total cost: Rs 1,700

Stay options
You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to hostels in all the destinations, including Hoztel, Zostel, Moustache, Bunkstop and Wanderers Nest. Costing only Rs 200-500 a night, these are clean, hygienic options at a reasonable price.
Total cost: Rs 2,500

Travel cost
The overnight AC Volvo buses can cost Rs 600-900, while train can be cheaper at Rs 250-300. For bus bookings, check the Redbus and MakeMyTrip sites. The twowheeler cabs are also cheap, as are rented bike at Rs 200-500 (Activa) a day, though a Bullet (Rs 800-1,000) will be more expensive.
Total cost: Rs 5,500

3. Karnataka: Hampi, Badami, Bijapur
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Total cost: Rs 9,500 per person

Located on the banks of river Tungabhadra, Hampi is regarded as one of the best backpacking trails in the country, with fascinating landscape and various monuments listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Split into two parts by the river, both sides of Hampi are equally fascinating and worth a visit. Besides Hampi, you can travel to Badami, Bijapur, Aihole and Pattadakal, all of which are profusely dotted with historical monuments, forts and temples, including the ruins of the Chalukyas dynasty and kingdom of Vijayanagar.

Some of the must-see hotspots include the Virupaksha temple in Hampi, the cave temple in Badami and Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, as well as the ruins at Aihole. Since all these places are well-connected by road and rail, and have good but cheap accommodation, they make for a good backpacking destination.

Best time to go: October-November
Travel during the winter months of October-November, when the temperature can range from 19 to 32 degree Celsius across the region. A visit in monsoon months of July to September is also doable, but summer months from April to June should be avoided due to soaring temperatures.

How to reach
Hampi is well-connected by road, rail and air, with the nearest airport being Hubli, about 166 km away, while the closest railhead is Hospet 13 km away. From Hospet, Badami is about three hours away but there is no direct connectivity via train or road. So you can take a train or bus from Hospet to Gadag and take a cab to Badami. Bijapur is about 120 km away and can be reached by train and road.

Backpacking trail
Itinerary (4 nights, 5 days)
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To do
In Hampi, check out the Virupaksha temple, Badavi Linga, underground Shiva temple, Vijaya Vitthal temple and Lotus temple. At Badami, go for the cave temple, Bhuthanath temples and Badami fort. In Bijapur, visit the Jumma Masjid. While most monuments are free, some have nominal entry fees.

Food
Good south Indian fare can be had at most places at a nominal cost of Rs 200-250 a meal.
Total cost: Rs 2,500

Stay options
You can easily find guesthouses, homestays and budget hotels for around Rs 1,000 a day in all these destinations.
Total cost: Rs 4,000

Travel cost
From Bengaluru, you can take a train to Hospet, which will take eight hours and cost around Rs 230. The road trip will cost around Rs 600. The trip from Hospet to Badami will take around Rs 1,000, while the Badami-Bijapur trip by train is cheap at around Rs 100. For around Rs 500-600, you can cover sightseeing across Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami.
Total cost: Rs 3,000

4. Uttarakhand: Rishikesh, Devprayag, Auli, Joshimath
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Total cost: Rs 9,500 per person

Backpacking in Uttarakhand is a shutterbug’s dream as the mountainous journey is full of breathtaking photo-ops. Travelling through the green hills, clear rivers and valleys makes for a calming journey. However, this holiday is also for the adventure lover as you can get a lot of options for trekking, camping, white water rafting, skiing and other winter sports.

For skiing in Auli, however, you will have to make sure that you come in the winters, when there is adequate snow. Besides adventure, you can also trek up to some ancient temples and enjoy the aarti. Since there are various other destinations you can explore, you can alter the itinerary to suit your taste, budget and location.

Best time to go: April-May & September-October
April-May and September-October are good months to backpack your way through these places since the weather is pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 18 to 35 degree Celsius.

How to reach
To go from Delhi to Rishikesh, 240 km away, a train trip is the cheapest, while the fastest is an hour’s flight to Jolly Grant airport and a 30-minute cab ride from there. You can also take a from a Volvo bus from Kashmere Gate ISBT in Delhi, which takes 6-7 hours. To go to Devprayag, you can take a bus which will take 1.5 hours, while the bus trip to Joshimath will take 3.5 hours. Auli is a short 16 km ride away from Joshimath.

Backpacking trail
Itinerary (4 nights, 5 days)
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To do
In Rishikesh, visit the Beatles’ Ashram, the Laxman & Ram jhulas, can enjoy river rafting. At Devprayag, visit the confl uence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers, while at Joshimath, visit the Nanda Devi National Park. If you are a ski enthusiast, you can travel to Auli via the cable car. Apart from adventure activities, most other sightseeing options are free of cost.

Food
You can easily get a good meal from roadside eateries and dhabas in all these locations for as little as Rs 150-200.
Total cost: Rs 2,500

Stay options
Hostels, bed & breakfasts, homestays and budget hotels are easily available at all these locations for Rs 500-1,000.
Total cost: Rs 4,000

Travel cost
A train trip is the cheapest option at Rs 170 or so, but the quickest is a flight to Jolly Grant airport and a 30 minute cab ride. You can also take a Volvo bus from Delhi to Rishikesh for Rs 700-800. From Rishikesh, you can take a bus to Devprayag which costs only about Rs 60, while the bus fare to Joshimath is about Rs 150. You can break the long bus ride back to Delhi at Rishikesh. Take a cab for sightseeing trips.
Total cost: Rs 3,000

5. Andhra Pradesh: Lepakshi, Gandikota, Belum Caves
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Total cost: Rs 9,400 per person

This backpacker trail is a treat for those who crave a unique experience without the surging crowds to act as a spoiler or long drives to drain the enthusiasm. It includes travel to one of India’s best kept secrets, the 4-km long ‘Grand Canyon’ in Gandikota with Pennar river flowing through it. Then there’s the Belum cave, which is the second longest cave in the Indian subcontinent.

Besides these, there is a string of temples, forts and palaces from the 14-15th century Vijaynagar era dotting the entire region from Lepakshi and Penukonda to Anantpur and Tadipatri. With a total distance of only around 400 km one way, it is an easy road journey with scenic views along the way.

Best time to go: September-January
Winter months between September and January, when the temperature varies from a high of 33 degree to a low of 18 degree Celsius. It’s best avoided in summers, when the temperature can go up to 45 degree.

How to reach
Though the backpacking trail is in Andhra Pradesh, the destinations are closer to Bengaluru. It will take only about two hours from Bengaluru to Lepakshi, the same time from Lepakshi to Anantapur, and another three hours to Gandikota. Belum caves are about 60 km from Gandikota.

Backpacking trail
Itinerary (3 nights, 4 days)
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To do
Visit the Gandikota canyon and fort, Belum caves, Lepakshi temple, Penukonda fort, Madhavaraya temple, Raghunathaswamy temple, other temples of Vijaynagar era in Penukonda and Tadipatri.

Food
You will have to eat at the resort or hotel as there are very few eating options at these tourist sites apart from snack and drinks. At the APTDC resorts, you can get a good meal for about Rs 100. While travelling it is better to carry your own food or snacks and water.
Total cost: Rs 900

Stay options
You can stay in government-run APTDC resorts, Haritha Hotel, at Lepakshi and Gandikota for Rs 2,000 a night. At Lepakshi, this is your only option but you can get others at Hindupur 15 km away or in nearby areas. At Anantapur, you can easily find accommodation for Rs 1,200-1,500. There are various camping options also along Pennar river with various adventure activities.
Total cost: Rs 5,500

Travel cost
Though you can fly or take a train, there is no direct flight or train to Lepakshi or Gandikota from Bengaluru. Road travel is a good option via either car or bus as the route is scenic and is cheap. Buses are frequent and cheap and you can choose from government and private Volvo buses with sleeper and semisleeper options. You could also drive down or hire a cab.
Total cost: Rs 3,000

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