Why You Should Visit India
In this India Travel Guide, we’ll be taking a look at how to plan and prepare for your trip. The best advice I can offer is to expect the unexpected. People come to India to find themselves, to expand their consciousness, and so on. Once you get here you will quickly see why: everything and anything can happen at any time. You will see everything from the deepest poverty to the greatest luxury you may have ever experienced. You will learn who you are in these situations. You will either find that you are flexible and can adapt, or you will find that you are easily overwhelmed and need to get out of here. No one is lukewarm about India, people either love it or hate it. You will experience grating pollution, the most beautiful pristine landscapes; you will hear every noise imaginable; people will defecate in front of you on the street; you will be awed by the beauty and grace of holy temples. In any given moment India will make you feel the depths of beauty and inspiration straight to the most frustration and anger you may have ever felt. Sometimes at the same time. This is how people find themselves here. This is how people learn to still their minds and expand their consciousness. India is everything all the time. Expect the unexpected. My India Travel Guide should give you some perspective on how to plan and prepare for travel.
India Travel Guide –
Costs & Considerations
21 Days for $1700. Here is our India Travel Guide budget break down: Airfare should be around $1000, hotels $240, in country travel via trains or buses $100, food $325, in-city transportation $35, plus whatever money you want to buy incenses/gifts/etc.
Flights: The flight from the US is going to be the most expensive part of this trip. If you book a few months ahead of time with flexible dates you can track down flights that are around $800. The cheapest I’ve ever found was $768. However, on average, airfare to India roundtrip is going to hover around $1000. There’s a direct flight out of Newark, NJ to New Delhi and this tends to be the cheapest if you can get there. However, there are often deals on flights from Atlanta to Mumbai. When you’re searching for your ticket give yourself months in advance and play around with dates and cities.
Accommodations: Once you’re in India, you can easily make up for the high cost of getting here. Currently $1 is worth about 65 INR (Indian Rupees). You can get decent hotels in most areas of India for 500-1000 rupees ($8-$15), though in some areas, like Rishikesh, you can find excellent places for 250/night ($4).
Transportation: Nice tourist busses across India (for example between Delhi to Rishikesh) cost around 600 rupees for long trips ($9), trains for 3rd class A/C or A/C chair car cost between 800-1200 usually ($12-$19). This means you can get from Delhi to Kolkata for about $20. In-city transportation varies up to your choices. Auto-rickshaws can range from 60-500 depending on where you’re going and how well you bargain. In-city busses are going to cost around 10-15 rupees per trip. Vikrams (larger auto rickshaws, usually blue, that have set routes and hold up to 9 people at a time) cost 5-8 rupees. Personal taxis are always the most expensive and are going to cost minimally 700, but can run you into the thousands of rupees (for example, Delhi to Rishikesh by taxi is going to cost an insane 7,000-10,000 rupees! You can fly for cheaper). Flying across India ranges from $30-$75. If you’re in a small city, always make it to the regional hub before you fly out and you’ll save a lot of money.
Food: You can eat at roadside dhabas for 25-50 rupees and get pretty good food, or a roadside masala chai (which are usually the best) is going to cost 5-10 rupees. “Fast food”—not McDonald’s—but rather restaurants with long benches, counters you order at, and food that arrives quickly, will cost about 50-120 rupees. Restaurants range from reasonably nice (200-300/rupees) to luxury resort (2000/rupees).
Time: India is BIG. It’s physically about 1/3 the size of the United States. Ideally, you need 3 weeks to really see a decent sized portion in India. It takes 3 days to adequately get here and settled from the US, and you’re going to lose a day going forward in time. Plan for this. Also, pick one region or a few major destinations. You cannot see the whole country in one trip, no matter how much you want to.
Before you go: You need a visa before you get there! Use Travisa Outsourcing to quickly and efficiently get a visa for India, their website will guide you through the process. Budget 6 weeks to get your visa before you leave, just to be safe (it usually takes 1-3 weeks, but delays do occur). It’s always good to carry photocopies of your passport and visa with you—sometimes hotels or local police stations will ask for these things. Also, keep passport photos on you, because hotels or other services will sometimes ask for these too. Some people choose to take malaria medication when they travel to India, but I’ve never done this. Talk to your doctor and go with their advice. The biggest health risks you’ll most likely experience are: pollution and contaminated water.
Expect the Unexpected – How to Pack & Plan
Packing for India: Pack like you’re headed out on a camping trip. Have a way to sanitize your water, a plan for treating minor illness, and personal hygiene products that you may take for grated. I have a UV Water Sanitizer and a water-filter straw. If you’re staying in big cities, you will need things like this. Do not buy plastic bottles. There’s enough waste in the world as it is and India does not have any system for disposing of plastic other than throwing it on the side of the road or burning it. So bring your water bottle. Fill it up. Sanitize it. In rural areas you will most likely have clean water coming from running underground springs. Also, TP. Unless you want to learn to wash yourself after the bathroom, just bring your own TP (it’s sometimes difficult to track it down in certain areas). Ladies: I encourage sustainable tools like the diva cup, but if you use tampons, bring those because you will not find tampons in India (but maxi pads are available). Again, keep in mind the waste you’ll be adding and try to be as sustainable as possible.
Illness: I promise you that you can easily get Giardia from: tap water, ice, scooped ice cream, etc. Giardia is a thing you don’t want (trust me, I know from awful experience). Bring electrolyte tablets. You can get electrolyte powders from chemists (pharmacies) here, but when you get sick you’re not going to want to track down a shop. Just go ahead and have some on hand to deal with the couple days of “Delhi Belly” you’ll probably experience at some point. It’s important in this climate—especially in the summer—to stay well hydrated. So don’t risk it, just bring a tube of tablets and if (when) you get sick, you’re covered.
Clothing and Dress: Wear appropriate clothes. Women, this means long leggings and tunics that at are mid-thigh to knee length, or loose pants and t-shirts. It’s not only disrespectful and rude to the local people to show up in shorts and a tank top, but it adds further incentive for unwanted attention. Don’t think your western ideals of feminism and women’s freedom will manifest here through your fashion. While I’m not about being a clothing police, I am about cultural respect and safety. It will be 1) much easier for you to get around because people will not be stopping you and questioning you constantly about why you’re basically in your underwear and 2) it will cut down on harassment which brings me to:
Safety: Again, women, street harassment is real in India—especially inlarge cities. I’m not saying that men here are bad. Most people you meet are genuinely friendly and it’s Indian culture to want to know more about people (where they’re from, how old they are, who their family is, etc.); however, there is a darker side to masculinity sometimes and some men will not hesitate to shout at you, try to buy sexual favors, or even try to touch you. Be aware of this. Do not be afraid of people in India, but do keep your guard up. Keep distance between men. Try to find women’s sections of trains/metros/buses, etc. If there isn’t a women’s section try to sit with a group of older women (affectionately known as “aunties”). Don’t be overly polite—smiling can sometimes be construed as an offer. If you feel unsafe make it known. Tell whomever to back up, go away, etc. If they don’t listen, make a scene. Find an auntie or a police officer. Tell a shop keeper that so-and-so is making you feel nervous. As I said, most people are genuinely caring and friendly. Someone will help you, but you have to be very blatant.
Once You’re There
Getting Around: The best way to get around is to ask. Sure, your travel guide may say “the bus to Dehradun will arrive at stop number 29 at 10:30 am,” or some such specific information. But as I’ve said, expect the unexpected. Stop number 29 may not actually be labelled or even officially known as stop number 29. The bus times change regularly. Instead of making plans that depend on information you’ve found in books or online, the most reliable way to get around is to ask local folks. For instance, I was in Margao, Goa, trying to get to a very rural area known as Sirsi 5 hours away—despite trying to read the signs (which, keep in mind most signs are going to be in Hindi or the local language!)—just simply walking up to the bus conductors (who are shouting the names of towns, sometimes wearing uniforms, but always to be found near the door of any stopped bus) and asking “Sirsi?” got me to the right bus. Not only this, but often you’ll find someone also going on the trip and they’ll not only help you to the right bus, but they’ll even direct you to the right stop and sometimes will even take you to your exact location. As I said, trust your instincts, but people in India are generally friendly and helpful. One time I was leaving Shillong in the far east (with no cell service, internet, anything!) and simply asked a rickshaw driver how to get to Gargoan (to get to the airport) and he took me to the local shared jeep stand (which I would have never found on my own), and after I told him the name of my hotel he told the driver in the local language (which I did not speak) where exactly to drop me. In the shared jeep I met an older man who was going to pick up his son nearby, and after the driver dropped me this man walked me to the door of my hotel and made sure I was safe and settled before leaving. So, talk to people. You’ll find you’ll get places more efficiently, and often more safely, as someone will keep an eye on you too.
Money Matters: Your US credit card probably won’t work to book things online. Train tickets, airfare, etc. often require Indian credit cards if you try to book online. IndiGo is one of the few airlines you can use your foreign card with, but make sure you actually have the card on you in person, because they won’t give you a boarding pass unless you can present the card you used to book with. As a note on airports: You cannot get in the airport unless you have your receipt or e-ticket printed! So have this ready when you go to the airport. Train stations have “international tourist bookings” sections where you can book tickets in person and pay in rupees. Hustlers who want to drive you places by taxi will sometimes try to stop you from going to this section of the train station, saying it’s closed for the day or some such, but these offices are open 24 hours and are the fastest way of booking a train ticket if you have a tourist visa.
Train Travel: Trains are the best way to travel long distances across India if you have time. You probably don’t want to book “sleeper” class—this means that there are benches/beds but they’re really cheap and these compartments are overfilled, with the expectation that 2-3 people (sometime strangers) will share a bench/bed for the night. Second or Third-class AC are both nice and affordable. If you can’t get a ticket at the tourist office for when you want to leave, there’s a system called “tatkal” where you go to the booking office of the train station between 10 am – 12 pm of the day you plan on leaving and have a chance of buying any leftover tickets for the day. Sometimes you will get “waitlisted”—marked as WL on your ticket. This means you don’t officially have a seat yet—it’s dependent on if other waitlisters cancel or change their tickets, but you can find out if you get a seat by going online and typing in your PNR code (on your ticket) four hours before your train leaves. Even if you don’t get an official seat, don’t worry, this is India. Just get on the train anyway and someone will rearrange and you’ll find a space.
Exchange Rates & Cash: Speaking of using your card, bring a bank card and simply withdraw rupees from ATMs. This is a safe and effective way of getting money, without losing a percent to foreign exchange offices. If you withdraw directly from your bank, you’ll just pay your bank fee and otherwise get the full worth of the rupee conversion—at exchange offices the company will take a % of the conversion rate and you’ll get less per rupee. Be mindful of using ATMs that only allow one person per time, and fully wait for your transaction to clear out before leaving the ATM booth. I generally use State Bank of India (SBI) ATMs. You will need rupees on you because, outside of luxury hotels, NO WHERE accepts credit cards.
India Travel Guide – About the Author
Veronica Limeberry is one of our most active international contributors. She graduated from East Tennessee State University with honors, and received a double masters in Urban Economic Development and Women’s Studies. Veronica is currently working in India as a Fullbright Scholar, and spends most of her time developing seed bank programs in rural communities. Her work is really exciting, because she’s helping farmers that have been victimized by Monsanto and other PharmAgra corporations. If you didn’t know, mass suicide has plagued Indian farming communities in recent years. Her work with Dr. Vandana Shiva is integral in fixing this broken system. Stay tuned for sample itineraries and more advice from Veronica.