A while ago I decided to go on an epic round the world adventure for 6-7 months with my boyfriend, to take a break from studying and to see more of the world. Obviously I want you to get something out of it too so I will be documenting my successes and failures as a backpacking vegan, including tips and tricks, and recommendations of where to go!
My first stop on this adventure was India. More precisely: Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur, and Jaisalmer. You might recognise 3 of those names as being part of the famous “Golden Triangle”, so I have a feeling those might be particularly useful to people! If you want to skip to my top 10 tips for surviving as a vegan in India just scroll to the end, I won’t judge 😉
Delhi is an expensive city compared to other places in India, and also the most tourist-unfriendly place I’ve ever been in a number of ways. But it’s a great hub to the rest of North India, and it really made me appreciate the other places we went, so for that I am grateful. Street food is the way to go here! 3-4 baby bananas for 10 Rupees (Rs) (~10p) were often my breakfast or snack of choice, and spicy noodles also for 10 Rs if you feel you can handle it (side note: I thought I was going to burst into flame!). I had an amazing thali at Himalayas Cafe as well. In Delhi the best places for cheap street food are on/near Chandni Chowk or the Main Bazaar.
Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, possibly even the oldest, and it is a highly religious place. As such you would be very hard-pressed to find any meat anywhere in the city. I stayed at Hotel Alka right on the Ganges which had an amazing restaurant where I could have a delicious papaya smoothie for breakfast, and endless vegetable curries and thali for lunch and dinner. Even if you don’t stay here I highly recommend their restaurant. I didn’t once have anything I didn’t like, and the view is amazing! Other than that, you can find 3-4 mini bananas for 10 Rs and huge coconuts for 40 Rs in the food markets.
This city is clearly famous for one reason: the Taj Mahal! Yes there’s also the Baby Taj and Agra Fort, but other than that there’s not much to see. Still, thali costs around £1, veg curry for around 50-90p, and super cheap bananas everywhere. Avoid restaurants with views of the Taj or Red Fort as they charge extra.
The pink city! And possibly one of my new favourite places in the world! There’s so much to see, and the local food is just amazing. I stayed at Vinayak Guest House, which I would highly recommend, partly because their rooftop restaurant was perfect. People from other nearly hotels were coming over to eat here it was that good! The veg thali and the special thali are both equally delicious, and at only 100 Rs and 140 Rs respectively, you can’t complain at all. The samosas and kachori (a ball of flour filled with dal and fried) here are especially delicious and only cost 10 Rs per item. After 2 or 3 I was happy and full.
A desert city famous for it’s desert camel safaris. It’s small compared to the other places on this list but an amazing place that shouldn’t be missed! I stayed at Gajanand Guest House which I couldn’t recommend more highly! It’s very small and we were the only guests staying while we were there, and the owner was so good to us. Even though dosa is a south indian dish you can still find it here in abundance, and believe me they are huge! Masala dosa is the best way to go, served with coconut chutney and a lentil soup. Desert safaris that include dinner are (from what I understand) always vegetarian, which basically means vegan too as they use oil not ghee. On our safari we ate vegetable curry, rice, and chapati under the stars, which was truly magical. The best part about Jaisalmer though was the home-cooked thali we had at the guest house: the owner Kamal set up a table for two downstairs, and his wife cooked for us 2 types of vegetable curry, dal, rice, and chapati. All this for only 100 Rs and as many free refills as we could manage (she cooks a little extra just in case). It was the best thali we had the entire trip, and it was so good we went back again the next day for more! If you go to Jaisalmer please go here, eat the thali, and tell Kamal Pixie says hi 🙂
Train Food in India:
We travelled on overnight sleeper trains from one city to the next as it’s the most cost-efficient way to go (you save a night in a hotel!) and the views are incomparable. They do serve dinner on the overnight trains, you have the choice between veg and non-veg, and it’s definitely a good portion. You get rice, chapati, dal, and vegetable curry for 140 Rs. While it’s not the best food you’ll find in India, the curry is still better than what you’ll find in the UK! We tried it the first night, and then the other times took our own food. I recommend buying bananas or other fruit the day before for breakfast on the train.
India Top Tips:
- Eat street food, it’s so delicious and so cheap! My favourites: samosas and kachori (filled with dal) for only 10-15 Rs!
- Everything is divided into “veg” or “non veg”, making it very easy for you!
- Go for a thali for less than £2 to familiarise yourself with the cuisine, and don’t forget every city and state has heir specialities so it will never be the same!
- Avoid anything with paneer – it’s cottage cheese – and raita – it’s made with yoghurt
- Chapati are a flat round pancake-like Indian bread, which are not made with milk like western bread, and are totally delicious with curry. Despite having a gluten sensitivity (I can’t eat more than one slice of bread at home) my stomach could handle these perfectly, and others I met said the same, so try it!
- I found people generally used oil rather than ghee, and it was never a problem for me, yay!
- The fresh fruit is amazing and should be eaten every day! 3-4 mini bananas for 10Rs, a giant papaya for 50 Rs, and oranges for 80 Rs per kilo
- Always haggle. Preferably name your starting price, e.g. “3 bananas for 10 Rs yes?” is better than “how much for 3 bananas?”
- If you buy anything where you eat the skin or it doesn’t need peeling then make sure to wash it with treated bottled water first. Trust me, you don’t want Delhi belly!
- If you stay at a guest house then ask if they serve food as well. I had the best thali of my life home-cooked at a tiny guest house in Jaisalmer where we were the only guests staying, completely made-to-order and with endless refills!