I am sorry this is so late, but I just got back to the US (hello culture shock....again). Its funny how home can feel so lonely and another world can feel so homey.
But I had some stuff I wanted to add to the get off the beaten track topic. I just spent six weeks in Ahmedabad (a big, dirty, ugly city in Gujarat) and I came to realize that to get off the beaten track, its not so much where you go but how you interact. I had an amazing experience and was welcomed into people's homes, lives and hearts and I wanted to share my lessons learned about how to make deep connections quick (at least in India, I found its different everywhere but never have I had such a deep interaction with people as a traveler).
1. smile and laugh a lot. the indians are all about shedding the ego, they are temperamental and argue and get passionate about little things but they also dont hold grudges. So when things get tense, arent going your way or you just arent feeling the vibe, just smile and laugh and keep doing it, it brings things around very quickly.....especially with bargaining.
2. smile and interact with as many women as possible (as a woman and as a mom), because even the women who live in tents will smile back at you and some might even invite you into their tents (happened to me, and it was the best chai i had in india). I always asked women for help first and they NEVER steered me wrong. Also, when you don't see women and children around, take as a social cue for someplace you don't want to be.
3. interacts with the street kids. Ask them their names, smile at them, and bring them treats. I would often carry oranges or fruit (a rare treat for them, although they prefer candy of course) and pass out little bits while I walked through the slums. Also, with the street kids, I would occasionally sit down with them and try to speak a few words, smile a lot and have a snack and share my water with them. Its surprising how quickly they will stop asking you for money and just kind of be interested in interacting. These kids leave unbelievably hard lives and if you give them just a few minutes of your time, its amazing to see them drop their helpless facade. They are tough and funny and bad and cute and dying for attention.
4. dont be afraid to take pictures, after you have asked for permission, and always show them the picture. little kids, especially street kids, love having their picture taken. if you can print the picture and bring it back to them, say to some market stall woman or to some woman sitting with her kids by the side of the road, you have created the most amazing personal experience and they are so thankful and pleased.
5. and take public transport, but it looks like that is something you already do.
6. dress in the local dress and learn a few words or sentences if you can, in the language. It is amazing how those two things make you feel safer (at least they did me) but also how they warm people up. If you can ask them their name, and tell them yours in their language, they are so much more interested in helping you.
7. spend time in temples, not just as a tourist, but as a devotee, even if its not your religion or your god. most temples have a special ceremony or pooja time (in the morning and afternoon/evening) and its amazing to be in them when this happens. The energy and human connection is beautiful.
I have traveled a lot and especially through third world countries in Latin America but somehow these lessons were new for me in India. Or maybe, not speaking the language, I had to rely on other ways to communicate and learn the safety cues. I hope your stay in India and anywhere you travel is amazing, always.