Kristina has been really keen to return to India after her last visit in 2013 as she had very positive memories about the country. During her previous visit she covered quite a bit including Chandigar, Manali, Amritsar, Shimla, Delhi, Agra, Mumbai, Bangalore, Mysore, Kochi, Munar and McLeod Ganj. Despite that, both of us are discovering new things which is exciting. I’ll try to cover our initial impressions around a couple of key topics very briefly in this short post. For those traveling on a budget an indicative list of costs for transportation, accommodation and food will be included too.
As with other things (like visa application, hotels) we found the train booking system in India to be quite bureaucratic, slow, complicated and not really tourist friendly. It’s an even tougher nut to crack for someone new to the world of travelling in less developed countries. I will be covering train travel in more detail in another post which will be linked here as soon as it’s ready.
Once you get past all the hurdles of booking tickets though it’s actually not too bad. Trains are not as fast as in the UK, let alone countries where high speed trains are actually high speed but still a lot faster than buses. Costs are very reasonable. New Delhi to Jaipur cost us £9 per person, Jaipur to Agra £11 per person and Agra to Varanasi £14 each.
Doable for more seasoned travellers. City buses are very cheap compared even to tuk-tuk or taxis. Extensive waving including getting into the middle of the road is required to get one to stop and you have to jump into the bus whilst it’s still moving. Buses don’t really stop in bus stops, they slow down to give you a better chance of getting in/out without breaking your legs. Waiting until the bus stops will usually result in driver closing the door and carrying on.
Both AC and non-AC buses are available. We prefer slightly more expensive AC buses because non-AC seems just a bit too hardcore (you know, like travelling on the roof and stuff like that).
Roads in cities we’ve been to were much better than anything we’ve seen in Nepal so road travelling in general is a bit easier and more comfortable.
Tuk-Tuk / Rickshaw
Both motorized (or electric) and bike-type are available. They are quite cheap (rates vary but my method is to aim negotiating the price down to somewhere around 20 Rupees (20p) per kilometre for the motorized ones. We are yet to try the non-motorized ones.
NOTE: Drivers are paid commission to take you to certain shops or places, sometimes you don’t even need to buy anything for them to get some money from the shop owners. As a result, you are likely to be offered tours around the city. It is entirely up to you to decide whether you want to plan the day yourself or let someone to be your driver/guide for the day.
Probably not very expensive but a fairly lame option in India in my opinion. Taking a taxi instead of Tuk-tuk is like ordering a hamburger at an Indian restaurant – you know what to expect, you know it won’t be very good anyway and you voluntarily miss all the fun! Taxis are alright for longer distances for those who want more privacy and exclusiveness although unlikely to be as cost-efficient as trains.
Also, in major cities you will find UBER and Ola if you want to be extra safe and/or don’t like negotiating!
Last but not least you can always fly in India. There are a lot of airports dotted around the country which is convenient but we found tickets are quite expensive. The cheapest flights I’ve seen in India were somewhere around £50. Flying makes perfect sense if you want to go form north to south for example as land transport is just too slow for longer distances.
It feels we have been lucky so far as both a hotel and a homestay we’ve stayed in were reasonably clean (critter and pest free), comfortable and affordable.
Accommodation is fairly easy to find on both booking.com (for hotels mainly) and Airbnb (for homestays). Budget room in either will cost you around £10-£20 per night even in more popular locations although prices will be dependent on what level of standard you are expecting.
Food has been amazing no matter where we went in India. I don’t think there is much more to say here. Just try everything. Oh, and avoid meat pastries from street stalls and be careful with street food in general. Food poisoning is very unpleasant so better not to risk it.
We found cost of food to be reasonably cheap but maybe not as cheap as we expected. A meal at a decent place will cost you somewhere between 200 Rupees and 500 Rupees (£2-5). A beer will be somewhere between 100Rs and 200Rs (£1-2).
Culture in India probably deserves a separate post as well, but to summarize our experience so far – politeness or any form of subtlety are not really part of Indian culture. (Generalization warning!) People will push you, ignore you if it’s convenient for them, risk breaking their necks staring at you when you pass by, ask to take selfies with you and won’t even bother saying thanks after, let themselves into the ATM booths to hurry you up and do all sorts of other things the western world would consider inappropriate or at the very least impolite. I think the key here is to not take anything personally, this is just how people are used to going about doing things and there is little we can do to change it.
On a more positive note, we found it surprising that people wanted to take pictures or selfies with us despite the fact there have always been quite a few tourists around. I don’t think we look too different or more unusual than the general foreigner visitor but we received a lot of attention nonetheless . We decided to take this opportunity and take some selfies with the people we met and also tell them about our blog.
Our personal experiences aside we found out that arranged marriages are still somewhat popular in India although not as much as it used to be. Parents would look for brides and for grooms for their children (we’ve even seen adverts on papers) hoping to find a good match. Education and wealth seem to be two key factors upon which futures of families depend on. A child from an educated and/or wealthy family is likely to marry another educated/wealthy child so that business of parents are in good and capable hands whereas poorer families are stuck in an endless loop of poor education, difficult life and poverty.
Although it might not be immediately obvious, I have to say we are enjoying this slightly chaotic experience of India. There is a lot to learn for us as things work a bit differently compared to what we are used to at times. The country certainly has its charm but you need to be prepared to take in what it has to offer. The experience is intense and so we are kept on our your toes everywhere we go.
There is a lot we want to see and so we have to be moving fast too because we want a little break (possibly in Sri Lanka) before Diwali which will start from around the 5th of November. Diwali should be an amazing experience in itself because this festival is as big in India as Christmas is in the west if not bigger.
After Agra and Varanasi which are the cities we want to visit in the north, we hope to return to the south of the country after our break so I might either tweak and build this post further or simply write a separate one if I feel it is appropriate.