The contents of my backpack

Ain’t takin’ nothin’ that’ll slow down my travellin’…

Thousands of languages. The birthplace of four religions. Over a billion people living on a sub-continent of arid desert, barren tundra and teeming rainforest. Poverty like you have never seen it before. How on earth do you prepare for a backpacking trip of a lifetime to India?

“As best you can” seems to be the answer, as despite poring excitedly over travel guides and articles, I knew that no amount of reading would prep me for the thrilling explosion of unorganised chaos and curry I would soon be experiencing after a mere nine hour flight from London.

I was hoping the explosions of curry would be few and far between.

Being fairly keen not to catch the lurgee, I kicked off my preparations by looking up the vaccinations recommended for India at the National Health Service’s useful travel health reference site, Fit For Travel. It was important to do this well in advance (6 weeks before the trip is sensible) because some inoculations such as Hepatitis B sadistically require a course of three injections spread out over a period of three weeks. Thankfully, having spent two out of the last four years on the road traipsing through thirty countries, I was completely up to date with any jabs required for India, and so I managed to escape the needle this time around.

Next up was the task of acquiring a visa. Surprisingly, there is no visa on entry or visa exemptions for British citizens; you have to apply to the Indian High Commission for a proper tourist visa, and what a palaver it is. The error-ridden website is a spaghetti-like mess of repeated (and sometimes contradictory) information, and the whole visa application process is confusing. To save myself a trip to London, I went for the visa-by-post option, trusting my beloved passport with the Royal Mail, and within a week I received it back complete with a six month double entry visa inside.

With the green light from the visa people, I could finally book my journey. Flights to Mumbai were dirt cheap; I picked up a direct flight from London for just over £300 return. And after fortifying myself with travel insurance (as ever with the trusty World Nomads) and stuffing my minimal travel possessions into my forty litre bag, I was ready to take whatever India would throw at me.