Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Backpacking, Indian style

I've heard of firang backpackers selling their Lonely Planets on their way out of India. Some, even as they're down to their last penny. But here's a first on a new species - the 'Indian backpacker'.

According to a report in the Hindustan Times, the 'great Indian backpacker brigade' is slowly making its presence felt in the UK. "The modus operandi is short term working holidays and student visas. Travellers stay at youth hostels and student hostels." But here's the interesting bit, from a source in the travel industry.

"They eat at Bangladeshi restaurants and Gurudwara kitchens and carry small amounts of medicine and expensive sarees from India which are sold in the UK to finance their stay."

Apparently sarees are all the rage in the US and UK. As curtains.

My mom has a cupboard full of 'expensive sarees' which have not seen the light of day for, maybe, 20 years. Anyone who's used the 'selling sarees' strategy to fund a UK trip - please do share the modus operandi!

On an unrelated note I'm not sure how many Indian backpackers carry only a backpack on their trips. It's a little against the Indian tradition of carrying every-possible-item-I-might-ever-need on a foreign trip. Because wahan mehenga hai. Ya phir milega nahin.

Please - share your thoughts and experiences!


  1. we indians are just like that:) love the idea of being an indian whatsoever be it;)

  2. really is not that big a deal. You need not go out of the country ...have done 1 month trips to South India and the Lahaul-Spiti Region with just a backpack on me . Budget averaging at around 50 bucks a day all incl. If you enjoy travelling and dont care too much about material comforts , it's by far the best way to travel considering the amount of flexibility you get.

  3. Hi Rashmi,
    I've been reading your blog off and on for a bit and I really like your writing. However, I think your post about indian backpackers is a bit silly. As a journalist, you know how these trend stories are. find three schmucks to quote, use the bits that work for you and tada! we have a trend story. Indians have been travelling for decades, studying, working, loafing and so on. Sure, we (indians as a whole) have more disposable income now and can start travelling the way americans, brits and aussies have been doing for ages, but the fact is that 'backpacking', in my opinion, is more of a mindset than anything else. and not necessarily a good one. It doesnt have to involve a backpack or, for that matter, cheap hostels. There's all sorts of creative ways to travel. Ok, im rambling and i've completely lost the plot. ignore me.

  4. Most of the Indian restaurants in UK are run by Bangladeshis. The use of the Indian tag is more fashionable in attracting Brits and others.
    In all likelihood, they might have dined at an Indian restaurant run by a Bangladeshi.

    This is the first time I'm hearing about this trend, hence don't have much to add.

  5. Hi Rashmi,
    I agree we Indians tend to a carry a lot of stuff not just for foreign trips even on local trips I would say.

    On of my friends recently went to the US on job.He took even rice and dal from here.Thats typical Indian attitude :)

    Few of my orthodox relatives have a habit of carrying even a stove as they don't eat out.

    Coming to sarees they are definitely a rage... as every foreign woman wants to try it.

  6. Hey Rashmi!
    A small post from you?? I thought you would have written a lot about travel since it is my favourite topic :))
    Anyhow, I don't travel much but have read a lot of travelogues and seen some too. Heard Indians behave very peculiar when they are on trips abroad. Men wear winter jackets, jerkins even when it is terribly hot there (Anything phoren place is "cool" for us :) ) and women seem to be dressed "heavily" wearing silk sarees, jewels, probably the whole family flaunts when they tour :))
    I have seen a few families on tour abroad and to tell the truth, I was shocked to death! Their behaviour is also too lousy. But I think, the growing "global" Indian community doesnot behave so! Etiquettes, of course could be learnt someday.. with growing number of Indian travellers it is high time the travel companies gave these travellers soem gyan!!
    BTB, How do these backpackers whom you refer to, bypass the baggage restrictions and carry "for sale" items on board? Any thoughts?

  7. I am not aware of backpacking of Indians to such a large extent. But i can vouch for the fact tht it always helps. I still remmber running for a needle and a thread, when abroad. So, if does pack such small nitty-gritties, its nothing wrong. After all he's going 2 pay for tht extra luggage.
    Also, I am ok with the trend(as per ur article) of making a living by selling things. Tht is a person-to-person thing, n v shud not question tht.

    Also, the point of being frugal, n staying in Youth Hostels is ok, if one can see more places n buy more things at the cost of spending less on boarding n lodging.


  8. gurudwara kitchens have been great providers - whether you're a backpacker or not..there are instances of students surviving entire semesters on them..

    personally, i'm not very sure about backpackers eating out at desi(bangladeshi owned in the UK) restaurants unless they offer a good deal (like a lunch buffet) ..this doesnt even sound like a trend..people perhaps go there cos they arent comfy with other food..normal desi-restaurants dont boast of backpacker-friendly prices..i'd rather seek out the golden arches (or the local equivalent)..even scourge supermarkets to scrap together a lunch..normally breakfast is included when u bunk in youth hostels but dinners are most expensive, so u gotta be frugal there..still, there's no fun if u dont wanna chek out local cuisine on such a trip

    its obviously preposterous to stock up on rice/dal when ur backpacking..essentials do matter however, medicines, energy bars, batteries etc.

    @venkat ramanan:
    iv never heard of any airline restricting new/old clothes! i guess ud b discreet abt it anyway..

  9. I believe it depends on the age group of the travelers and also the frequency at which they travel.

    For the first time, people take a lot of stuff but the bag size starts going down from the next trips. You are right that partly it has to do with the thought process that things will be expensive abroad and it does look true when you do the currency conversion.

    But then people learn and it's the same with the foreigners that when they come to India for the first time, they do more preparation (not necessarily by carrying more luggage) than if they are coming the next time.

  10. H goes on 'office trips' to London so can't say exactly about backpacking but he eats at Bangladeshi restaurants and does not want to apply for a three month stint because of that food :)

    I once went for a conference to Italy and had just a Jansport bag for my luggage and spent a night at Venice Mestre station! That was fun.

    By the way Rashmi, the link that you gave to one of my posts under 'issues' is not working, if you have time ...

  11. Indian students in India mostly go on bike trips rather than backpacking. Once drove all the way from Mumbai to Lonavla on bikes. And there on to Mahabaleshwar. A good trip. The drive on the highway in rainy weather was better than visiting the places actually. Stopping for food and a light drink at a dhaba, the cold wind hitting your face, the hooting, stopping at good "points", etc make for a good bike trip.

  12. very true about indians carrying every possible item. A few of my american friends and I went backpacking once and they actually packed for me because they were appalled by the amount of stuff I was going to carry.

    Also, selling sarees to fund trips?....seems like a good idea

  13. oh my first trip was no different!! but then that time I was a student coming over to a third world country somethings u really dont find.. but then my other big trip to US proved to be more mature according to the usual
    Indian Luggage standards!!

  14. I think this news item is just one of those random senseless things that gets published. There were back packers before and at present too. There is nothing like Indian, European etc. Anyone who has interest in travelling, want to see new places in a cheap manner do back pack. And this is no different. There is no big Indian back packing arena as such.

  15. think it will be accurate..i'm going back-packing in Germany...and will carry only a back-pack...plan is to go to Frnakfurt then to Dortmund via Dusseldorf, then to Berlin, then Munich via Nurnberg and couple of days in Mannheim and the Rhein valley before returning to Frnakfurt!!

  16. hey, i think its a phenomenon you wont be getting rid of. Indians will look to still take sarees (if they really do dat is...i doubt it) if the sarees sell. also, we will continue pack the entire 'boria-bistar' too...however it sounds, its indian ishtyle! gotta keep it up...Nishant

  17. Yep.. tell me about it.. when I first came to the US, my very first set of roommates got like a years supply of everything from dals to razor blades!

  18. Though on my exchange program i was nearly like a back packer, yes the brigade does exist. SOme of them finance themselves by indian goods, some like me on DAAD scholarships. ANd i had ot get over the indian fixation, but managed well with a ruck sack for lots of trips in Europe.
    And yes i too am from IIMA

  19. There is a cool site called whr theres some good info chek it out if anyones interested ciao....loads of good deals on various things

  20. hi, i am new 2 this blog but am interested in backpacking across the medi and spain, south europe. can anyone tell me sites and organisations that arrange open ended tours 4 backpackers and hey if i can sell sarees 2 pay part of the costs, i am going 2 empty my moms and my cupboards.

  21. hi im new 2 this site but would love 2 get info abt associations and orgs that arrange backpacking trips 2 spain, turkey and morocco,am female and will b travelling alone so need authentic sites. and hey, if i can partly finance my trip by selling sarees , i will just empty my moms and my cupboards

  22. Going thru all d backpacking searches i came across dis amazing website
    it truly covers India frm a backpackers point of view....!!

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