Exchange rate: 1$~44Rs; 1e~70Rs (at the time of writing; check this page for the current status)
Minimum daily allowance: 800Rs: a double room ~ 200-400Rs; food ~ 200-300Rs; water ~ 100Rs (price per five 1L bottles which you’ll drink easily in a hot day); entrance fees to touristic attraction vary wildly from 100Rs up to 750Rs.
A wildlife safari in Rajaji is around 1200Rs (entrance fee + jeep for 3h); rafting is 400Rs for 16km (in Rishikesh).
India is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and let me tell you that it’s a big & spicy cup. So, if you decide to dive in it, be prepared to drink in its weirdness.
Chances are that you’ll first hate this country and only after a while you’ll start to like it and even love it.
The first 2-3 days will be especially tough on you, so keep reminding yourself that in order to reach the hidden gems you need to see past the omnipresent misery, hassle, incredible noise pollution and other annoyances that the streets will throw at you. After all, the country is really amazing and it has a lot to offer to the open-minded traveler.
Costs (food, accommodation, activities)
India is both cheap and expensive. For those traveling on a tight budget, 800Rs (20$) per day should be more than enough.
Naturally you’ll compare prices with those back home, so depending on your country’s origin the scale will tip one way or the other. But, surprisingly for some of you it will wobble both ways.
We were surprised ourselves to discover that while some things are dirt cheap, others are a lot more expensive compared to what we paid for them in Romania. For example, juice and chocolate are priced almost double. Same goes for alcohol drinks which are also hard to come by in some places (like cities considered holy, thus having meat products and alcohol banned).
No worries though, for food and accommodation there are options available for all wallets:
Western food dishes are cooked only by touristic restaurants which naturally practice western like prices (100Rs for a small sized pizza, 40-60Rs for French fries, 20-30Rs for a chocolate corn, 40-50Rs for a pancake).
For the budget traveler, a more affordable alternative is eating from taverns along with the locals. Good luck with that if you don’t like spicy food 🙂 Almost all the food is spicy and it’s incredibly hard to convince the chef not to put generous amounts of chilly & spices in your food. Not all of them understand English very well, so they will either smile back and say whatever you want to hear, or simply ignore the request because “that’s the recipe”. Also, keep in mind that Indians have a different threshold for spicy food, so what they will consider “jut 10% hot, sir!” for you it may mean having tears rolling down your cheeks and running nose for half an hour after finishing the portion (if you do manage to finish it :D).
Accommodation is never a problem when you travel off season (like we did). However, during peak touristic season we’ve heard that it’s a bit harder to find rooms in budget hotels which attract backpackers like flies.
Prices and quality of the rooms vary from city to city, so don’t expect similar standards judging by the price alone. It’s best to set up a range of prices you’re willing to pay and ask the hotel manager to show you a few rooms, starting from the cheapest one until the top end of your range.
Sometimes, 100-200Rs difference in price doesn’t reflect in the room’s quality. So, it’s worth taking this initial tour to see what you’ll actually pay for.
Sightseeing and activities
There’s definitely no shortage of fun and interesting things to do here (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/india/activities)
Being a touristic destination, India has a good infrastructure in place when it comes to tourism. There are information offices in all major cities and organized tours for those who wish to see as much as possible while wasting little time. Be aware though that it will not always be easy to find the real tourist information offices, since there are a lot of travel agencies which disguise their office to mimic the official one by using the same logo and inscription. Also they have touts hired to misdirect people.
Back to the organised tours, a one day tour in Delhi that we particularly enjoyed was called Hop On – Hop Off.
Delhi is a big city and the metro, while being modern and reliable, it is also overcrowded. Same goes for public buses (without the “modern and reliable” part :D). This special bus line called Hop On – Hop Off – has guides, air conditioning (a life saver considering the 35-40 degrees at the time of visit) and a free map with basic information about each attraction. It passes by each major attraction every 30 min. The buss ticket is 300Rs and – to top it off – it gives you the option of buying the entry tickets directly from the bus, thus avoiding staying in queues.
In Jaipur and Agra we had to arrange things ourselves by renting rickshaws from a couple of hours to a full day. It’s very affordable and within the daily allowance in case you’re traveling with a partner (if not, find someone to split the costs with). The hardest part is the negotiation. It starts at least a couple of hundred rupees higher than the price the driver is fine settling with.
Thanks to Andra’s determination to end all deals with a reaction like “take them lady and go away” (she learned that in Egypt :)) we got some really good deals (city tours ~ 4 to 6 hours with 400Rs).
Rishikesh was a lot easier being smaller and way more laid-back than the other cities. Here we had the chance to do rafting and visit the nearby national park.
Although in Delhi I kept telling Andra that there’s no chance in hell I’ll drive in India (after seeing the madness on the streets), Rishikesh made me change my mind. Renting a motorcycle was definitely worth it, not just in terms of money (300Rs – 9$ / day), but also because it helped us in cutting the costs by 70% for taking a wildlife safari in Rajaji National Park.
Well, this sums-up the time spent in India. It would have been better to write about it sooner, as some funny or interesting details faded from memory in the meantime. Also, I’ve just skimmed through the whole experience, which was a lot richer than what transpires from these few lines (of course, I also have to step up the game and improve my writing).
By the way, I called India “spicy” in the title, not just because of the food, but also because it’s colorful in every way possible and because it’s a country of extremes.
The highlights of our trip:
– Couchsurfing with an Indian family, learning about their ways and religion in general.
– Experiencing the metro (modern and well organised, but way overcrowded with people forming queues all the time and pushing each-other as soon as the doors open). I’m surprised it’s not called “the tube” like in London, since almost everything else is the same: there’s a lady with a strong English accent announcing the stations – and there’s even the “mind the gap” warning (although, honestly I’ve seen no gaps in 5 days).
– Monkey Temple;
– Sunder Palace hotel – with inexpensive rooms compared to the quality of the place: great managers, well decorated and hand painted walls, clean rooms, friendly staff and an amazing roof garden with Indian music and two small waterfalls.
– Meeting Bablou and his younger brother “Robin Hood” – our cheerful rickshaw drivers for every tour we took in this city.
– Taj Mahal;
– Fatehpur Sikri (ghost town) – where we were followed for 30 min by a tout posing as a guide (fake ID and all);
– Agra Fort;
– Rafting in the Ganges for 16km;
– Motorcycling for a whole day on extremely narrow streets and mountain roads (with an abyss on one side – let’s not forget that :)).
– Jeep safari in Rajaji National Park;
– Participating in the Aarti ceremony;
– Getting henna tattoos;
– Meeting this crazy fun Indian guy who called himself “Mr Bombastic”. He was always in a good mood and kept saying things that included “Mr Lobaloba”, “everything is possible”, “life is fantastic” – every single time we went by his shop. We avoided him the first day thinking he’s nuts, but then we became regular customers 🙂 From his wisdom: “Women – fantastic problems my friend!” 😀 (when I asked about his marriage plans).
Overall, India cost us around 600$/person including everything we spent money on from the moment we landed, until the departure three weeks later.
The photos are available here: India album, Motorcycling, Rafting. Daily selections were posted in the Photo of the Day page.
Please forgive my rushed writing style, it was a lot to cover in just one post and some things had to be left out here and there for the sake of the article length. The next countries, starting with Nepal, will get at least one post per week or even one per city if we stay longer than 4-5 days there.
As a mater of fact, the next post is almost completed and will get published tomorrow.