How to organise a trip to India – all the information you need!

Letter 165

India is cheap, cheerful and very easy to travel around when you get there. The people are friendly and helpful, the transport and cities are simple to navigate and the attractions and activities are foreigner-friendly. Two weeks in Rajasthan was enough to see that it is all in the preparation before you board the plane.

From avoiding Delhi-belly to guaranteeing a tiger sighting, and booking trains to dealing with tuk tuk drivers – this is your one-stop-shop.

This post will cover the following (so please skip to what is relevant if need be):

  • Overview of our trip
  • Planning a route
  • Visas
  • Travel – trains in particular
  • Accommodation
  • Attractions/excursions
  • Health
  • Packing
  • Money
  • Important things to know
taj mahal sunrise 15.1

That classic image of this formidable site that will forever stick in my mind.

Overview of our trip

We were lucky enough to spend two whole weeks in this fascinating country, and although we wish it were much more, it was enough to fall in love with it and get a tiny insight into India.

We spent our time in Rajasthan, beginning in Udaipur and travelling to Jodhpur, Jaipur, Ranthambhore, Agra and ending in Delhi (if only to fly home). All of the posts can be found here, where I’ve detailed our time in each place, and included information on everything we did.

Our Rajasthani Roadtrip | The calm and chaos of India’s White City: Udaipur | Exploring Udaipur, celebrating the Mewar Festival and visiting Ranakpur | Finding perfection in India’s beautiful Blue City: Jodhpur | What to expect in Jaipur: it’s loud, it’s crazy and it’s utterly beautiful | Safaris in India’s Tiger Reserve: Ranthambhore National Park | The Taj Mahal at sunrise is the stuff of dreams

We flew with Aeroflot via Moscow to Delhi and then took an internal flight to Udaipur to begin the trip. This worked well for us and maximised our time in each place. We spent 3 nights in each place, and 2 nights in Agra. This was good for us and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it any quicker. We mainly stayed in mid-range hotels, averaging about £10 per night each for a twin room. We stayed in one hostel in Agra which was great, purely for location!

What did we spend?

  • Flights – £800 (it coincided with Easter – would have been about £550 if we could have gone a week earlier/later)
  • Visa – £76
  • Trains – £24
  • Taxi (between Udaipur & Jodhpur) – £44 between 2 people
  • Accommodation – £175
  • Safaris (2 canter and 1 jeep) – £83
  • Spending whilst there (approx) – £300

Total = £1480

jodhpur fort 7

The beautiful blue city.

Planning a route

There are lots of ways to plan your itinerary for a trip to India, and it will depend very much on how much time you have to travel. For us, we knew the main places we wanted to visit (the white, blue and pink cities, Agra and Ranthambhore for the Taj) so it’s just a connect the dots.

Things to consider:

  • The easiest place to fly in/out
    • It will most likely be either New Delhi or Mumbai. For any other starting point, you will probably have to do an internal flight. The domestic Indian airlines are great!
  • Train lines
    • Getting around is probably easiest by train, so check the train routes. The only route we didn’t do by train was Udaipur to Jodhpur and that’s because there is no line. We took a taxi.
  • Things you really want to do
    • Most people will plan their trip centred around their ‘Indian Bucket List’. Whether that be the Taj, going on a house boat, doing a safari, camel riding in the desert, visiting Varanessi, seeing bollywood dancing in Mumbai etc. There’s always a number one thing on your list, so your trip will end up being centred around this.
  • The areas you will visit
    • If you are desperate to see the Taj, your trip will be in Rajasthan. Unless you have a lot of time, you will need to stay in one region, as India is MASSIVE. In 2 weeks we spent over 20 hours on transport getting between places. You don’t want to be rushing across the country every other day to see everything. Limit yourself.

Planning takes time but is quite necessary in India, especially if you are travelling by train. These might need to be booked in advance if you want the ‘higher classes’. To do everything, you need months, or even years, so don’t try to pack in too much. Take note of the climate when you will be there, because if it’s hot (like when we were there) you can’t do much in the middle of the day. In this case, it’s worth spending a day longer in each place so that you can relax a bit.

ranthambhore tiger 5

Seeing tigers in the wild was our ‘must-see’.

Visas

I found it pretty complicated to start with trying to get a visa. There are too many websites and getting through to the right one takes some clicking. Also the website didn’t look the most official (even though it is) which put me off a bit. Alas, I got there in the end, and it was relatively straight forward.

You will need this website: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html

You then need to click through to the e-visa (tourist) application. The application takes some time and is quite in-depth. You will need a photo (which they are very picky about and has to be a specific size) so try to have this on hand. You will have to then pay about £75. You can start and return to the form if you don’t do it all in one, which helps.

When it’s all finished and your e-visa is granted, you’ll get an email with your visa attached. PRINT THIS. I didn’t and you need it when you fly so make sure you print the proof of the visa. I got mine printed at the airport, but you should get it done beforehand. Once your passport is stamped you won’t need it anymore.

jodhpur fort 4

A tiny corner of Jodhpur’s fort.

Travel

As I’ve said, when you are in the country, travelling around is easy. However, if you want to go by train, you need to pre-book. Here I’ll go through some different transport options, and how to go about them.

Trains

There are a couple of websites you need to know about in order to book trains. The first is IRCTC. This is the offical Indian train site which you must have an account with in order to book any trains. It’s all fun and games setting this up so I would just say good luck. It works in the end but I remember it taking some time. You need to keep a note of your login because you’ll need this any time you book a train.

https://www.irctc.co.in/nget/train-search

I would then recommend using cleartrip to book any trains. Again, you’ll need to make an account, but it’s then simple to use to book trains. The key benefit is that they have an app which will then display all of your tickets, which keeps it simple whilst you’re there.

https://www.cleartrip.com/

A key thing to note is that you may end up on a ‘wait list’. This means that you don’t get a seat when you book, but you will be allocated one about 24 hours before the train, when they do the plans. You can update the status on the app, which is useful, or you can use the below site (there are lots of similar ones).

https://www.trainspnrstatus.com/

Buses

There are a number of bus companies, and buses can be booked more last minute. We didn’t use buses, so I can’t really comment, but I would say the small travel shops are best to use until you are more confident booking for yourself. The buses will always say whether they are aircon or not, so look out for this.

Taxis

We used one taxi (Udaipur to Jodhpur) and were very happy. It was cheap, we stopped off at a temple and it was very easy. We booked through our hotel, so I’m sure they took a cut, but it was still cheap. You could book this way, or through a travel shop. I would encourage you to book locally, not when you are in the UK, because then more of the money goes to the driver.

Often tuk tuk drivers will try to sell you their services as a taxi driver. This would also work well, if you trust the. We also booked a taxi one day to go to Fatepur Sikhri and booked this through a guy at a restaurant. Lots of ways to do it.

The other taxis you might get would be from airports/train stations. There is typically a pre-paid taxi point with a set rate. You should use this. Keeps it simple. However, they might try to get more out of you or put you in a tuk tuk saying they can’t reach your hotel by car. Check the rough location before hand or ask the hotel how you will get there.

Tuk tuks

This is the easiest way to get around cities. It’s cheap, simple and most popular so you will get a fair few tuk tuks. Most journeys were maximum 100 rupees, unless it was further/longer than about 10 minutes. You can pick them up easily, but you should agree a price first.

I mentioned this in a post, but often drivers talk and then look out for you as they’ve been told where you’re staying/what your doing. It’s not a coincidence, it’s planned amongst them. Not a bad thing, just something to be aware of.

jaipur city 3

A sea of tuk tuks in Jaipur.

Accommodation

This will vary greatly depending on the kind of trip you are taking, and what level of luxury you are looking for. We were going to mid-range hotels for around £10-£15 each per night. You could go much cheaper, or much more expensive. Our rooms were always very well equipped, well cleaned and all had en-suites. Most of our hotels had roof terraces, a restaurant, very helpful staff and were all in very good locations. It’s beneficial to choose hotels/hostels that are near the centre of cities as it will allow you to walk more.

We booked everything through booking.com, mostly because it keeps it all in one place and is easy to access. We had no issues whatsoever and loved everywhere we stayed. The below image shows all our hotels – top to bottom, Agra, Ranthambhore, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. Price is between 2 people for the whole stay.

india hotels

A particular shoutout to Rajputana Heritage, which is not only a fantastic hotel, it also has an amazing owner who organised three incredible safaris for us, where we saw 4 tigers. We wouldn’t have had as much luck booking ourselves so I would 100% recommend staying here to do safaris in the area.

Read more here: Safaris in India’s Tiger Reserve: Ranthambhore National Park

Reviews are very helpful when choosing and we always tried to pick hotels where we knew we’d get help planning/booking things if we needed it.

jodhpur hotel R

One of our favourite hotels – Jewel Palace Haweli, Jodhpur (where the manager reminded me very much of the one in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).

Attractions & Excursions

For the most part you won’t need to think about this until you get to each place. Not much needs to be booked in advance and the best source of information will be your accommodation hosts or recommendations from other travellers. You might want to do some research beforehand, but it’s honestly not that necessary and you will always find tonnes of stuff to do everywhere you go.

Helpfully, on each of my posts, I have included information about everything we did, and how much it cost, so there’s a lot of information there.

Category: India

A couple of things to note in general:

  • Most attractions are super cheap (as is everything) but you may find Jaipur expensive. There are probably other expensive places, but out of the places we visited, it was Jaipur that was the most.
  • Bring ID or a student card because you may get discounts (either young person, student, over 60 etc)
  • Some days things are free/reduced so look out for that.
  • If you are there in April, find out when world heritage day is – because things are free (including the Taj Mahal. In 2020 it is Saturday 18th April.
  • Some things are cheaper to book online (like the Taj).
  • Watch out for guides. I’ve mentioned this a few times – in most big tourist attractions, you will be bombarded with guides wanting to take you around for between 200 and 500 rupees. It’s still cheap, but we found it uneccesary. If you want one fair enough, but we didn’t like it.
  • Audio guides, I love. We got them in most places and were not disappointed. It gives you a bit more context and history, and of course you don’t have to listen if you get bored. Nice to have the option.
  • Things like safaris need to be booked well in advance.
jaipur amber fort 8

STUNNING Amber Fort.

Health

Perhaps something that won’t cross your mind is how to ensure you are ready to go somewhere like India (health-wise) and how to stay healthy once you’re there. We’ve all heard of, and probably fear, the dreaded Delhi-belly, but I can assure you, it can be avoided. In 2 weeks in India, neither me nor my mum got ill at all, and enjoyed everything we ate. We also met a lot of other people that didn’t get ill, you just have to be informed and careful.

Jabs

I was surprised at how many people don’t actually get jabs – but I wasn’t taking any chances. For me I also knew I’d need them in the future, so I may as well get them now. I had to get Hep A, typhoid and I also opted for the 3 rounds of rabies. I spent a lot of money on them but at least I’m covered for a good few years. I also bought some antibiotics from the travel clinic which are supposed to stop symptoms of illnesses like Delhi-belly. I didn’t have to use it, but I will keep it for the next trip! It’s very useful to have just in case.

Probiotics

We took probiotics a couple of weeks before flying out, for the whole duration of the trip and continued for about a week when back. I honestly think these are a game changer. For western stomachs that aren’t used to the food, flavours or new bacteria, I think this is a good way to keep your stomach settled. I would 100% use them again. I’m not sure which ones we got, but you can get them from a health foods store or just on amazon.

Water bottle

You can’t drink the water in India, obviously. So your main option is to buy bottled. Instead, we decided to by a filter water bottle so that we could drink the tap water and avoid buying and disposing of so many bottles. These are amazing and I would strongly recommend, especially in an age where we are trying to save the oceans. You can probably guess that recycling isn’t a thing in India, so it’s nice not to contribute so much to the rubbish problem. The bottles are about £40 but are well worth it. We only drank tap water through this for 2 weeks, and I have since used one in Greece, where on the islands you shouldn’t drink the tap water.

Link to the website to find out more or buy one.

It’s also worth noting that you should clean your teeth with filtered/bottled water and try not to accidently drink any when showering/swimming. Only a little bit could make you ill!

Mango Lassi

I got this tip from a friend who went to India and I am so glad I did. Mango lassis are the most delicious thing I had in India, and I had one (if not two) every day. They are a blend of yogurt and mango and are super cheap to get and will fill you up in the morning. The most important thing is that they are full of the local bacteria and this will help your stomach adjust. Make this a daily habit!

Cold Food

When eating any cold food, you have to be careful. Any salad or fruit without a peel may have been washed in tap water, and could therefore make you ill. This also goes for street food as it may have been handled by someone who has not washed their hands and this introduces unfamiliar bacteria into your body. We didn’t have any salad and stuck to fruit with a peel – or washed it ourselves.

Drinks

The number one rule with drinks is to have them without ice. Ice is typically made from tap water which is likely to make you ill when it mixes with your drink. This probably means no iced coffees too, unless they specify that its not tap water. Having drinks from a sealed bottle is the best way to go. Hot drinks are obviously safe, as the water has been boiled.

Hot Food

Stick to hot food for your meals. All the bacteria is dead and there is no risk – if it’s done well. All of the food we had was delicious. We ate at highly recommended restaurants and also tried a bit of street food and was fine with all of it. Go to busy places and look out for where the locals are eating.

I LOVED the food and drink in India and had no problems whatsoever. I enjoyed every meal, whether that be breakfast at the hotel, lunch from a street food vendor or dinner at a rooftop restaurant. It was incredible and I enjoyed the flavours so much. I thought it would be too rich or spicy for me, but it was perfect.

udaipur city 4

A wonderful curry looking over the lake in Udaipur.

Packing

A few tips for packing for a trip to India:

  • Pack light. It’s hot and dusty and the last thing you need is to be lugging round a massive case/backpack.
  • Leave room so you can buy stuff to take home. There are so many amazing bazaars and you will want to buy stuff.
  • Pack clothes that cover you up. Things like baggy trousers, long skirts, loose t-shirts and scarves are perfect.
  • Pack a jumper for trains/buses where you’ll get cold.
  • Make sure your ‘day bag’ is quite small – you won’t want to be carrying much around. Just money, your water bottle and a camera.
  • You will need suncream, but not much as you will probably be covered up most of the time.
  • Ensure you have a few credit/debit cards on hand because card machines can be temperamental and may reject one or two cards.
  • Always wear mosquito spray. We didn’t take malaria meds because we were told we didn’t need to. However, mozzys are everywhere are they are annoying so take spray.
taj mahal daytime 2

The detailing on the Taj.

Money

The currency is rupees, which is currently about 90 to the pound. You technically can’t take rupees into or out of the country, so you should get money out at an ATM when you are there. A few things you should know:

  • Sometimes ATM’s are few and far between, so when you find a good one, use it wisely.
  • Some ATM’s don’t like foreign cards so it may take time to find a good one.
  • Some ATM’s charge a fee, so always take out a decent amount of cash to make it worth it.
  • Try not to get massive notes as you will struggle to use them (anything more than 1000 is tough to use.
  • Take a currency card that won’t charge you a fee. I have always used caxton fx.
  • Try to pay in exact money, when possible, as a lot of places struggle to give change. Especially for things like tuk tuks
udaipur city 1

One of the days we spent hours looking for a working ATM in Udaipur.

Important things to know

  • India is a super friendly country, full of people who are so interested in foreigners that they have no qualms with coming up to you for a chat or a photo. Don’t see it as a threat as they are honestly just being nice. I saw a lot of other westerners just ignoring people who were trying to be nice to them, just because we wouldn’t do it where we’re from. Just be nice.
  • On the other hand, some people will try to chat to you just to get you into their shop or to sell you something. You will get used to spotting these people. You can still engage in conversation, after all, they are still very polite, but just walk away if you’re not interested.
  • Tuk tuk drivers in particular may try to sell you tours or taxi rides. If you are not interested, make this clear and don’t get hooked in. It is tricky. Another thing they will do is tell their friends where you are staying and what you are planning to do, so that they can pounce on you the next day. Sometimes this is useful, sometimes annoying.
  • The roads are mad. The best way to cross them is to find a local, and copy them.
  • Watch out for kids trying to get money. Honestly most of the time they are really nice and will ask you questions about yourself before asking for money. Just watch out.
  • Shop owners in bazaars are VERY good at their jobs. If you ask for one thing, they will try to show you the entire shop. Good luck is all I would say and just have some fun with it.
  • People will stare, because you look different. They are just interested in you and it’s not something you should worry about. Just smile at them or say hello.
  • If you get ripped off, don’t dwell on it too much or let it ruin your day. It happens and it’s annoying but luckily in India, it’s not going to set you back much.
jaipur city 1

Colourful bazaars of Jaipur.

I can’t think of any more for the moment and thank god for that because this post is a monster. Congratulations if you made it to the end and I really hope it will prove helpful if you ever decide to go to India.

India is a magnificent country and I urge anyone considering visiting to make a plan to go. You will not be disappointed and it will leave you spellbound for months after.

If you have any questions, just ask and I wish you the best trip if you are heading off to India sometime soon.

From Lou

About Me

Here are the links again to the posts if you need them:

Our Rajasthani Roadtrip | The calm and chaos of India’s White City: Udaipur | Exploring Udaipur, celebrating the Mewar Festival and visiting Ranakpur | Finding perfection in India’s beautiful Blue City: Jodhpur | What to expect in Jaipur: it’s loud, it’s crazy and it’s utterly beautiful | Safaris in India’s Tiger Reserve: Ranthambhore National Park | The Taj Mahal at sunrise is the stuff of dreams

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