How much does it cost to travel in India? Budgeting Delhi, Rajasthan & Agra.

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We spent three weeks travelling around Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra, an extension of the golden triangle. We flew into Delhi, travelled by train to Jaisalmer, and Jodhpur and then flew to Udaipur as there is no direct train link. We continued our journey onto Ranthambore national park, Jaipur and got a bus to Agra, as all trains were fully booked for our dates of travel. Lastly, we took the train back to Delhi.

Travel

Most people travel one of two ways, by bus or by train. We had quite a long wish list for India, and essentially a short period of time, so we booked (almost) all of our travel from the UK via Cleartrip, an English language version of the IRCTC for a small booking fee. Generally, I prefer not to book everything in advance, but being our first time in India, and after reading all about trying to book at the stations we decided it was the best way. It worked out perfectly for us, even after doing our best to miss our first train by going to the wrong station.

Generally, we looked to book trains in the ‘AC’ classes.  AC2 & AC3 offer good value for money.  AC2 specifies Air conditioned, two tiers and AC3 specifies, unsurprisingly, Air conditioned with three tiers. There is also the cheaper ‘sleeper’ class for the more adventurous. For all things train related check the train god Mark Smith’s website seat61.com.

Delhi to Jaisalmer was our longest journey, seventeen hours; and around 480 miles. We travelled in AC2. The tickets cost 1’384 rupees (£15/$25) per person. By comparison, one of our cheapest journeys from Sawai Madhopur (Ranthambore National park station) to Jaipur, was little over two hours, around one hundred miles and 300 Rupees (£3.50/$5.50) per person. Basically, the trains are very good value for money.

Travelling by train is a cheap, comfortable and enjoyable experience, as you get to meet Indian families also travelling the railways. The trains we took all left on time, and only one arrived late They are also clean and well organised. My tip would be if you’re travelling as a pair, book AC2 side upper and side lower. You get a window seat, usually with a power point and can be a little bit removed for the main area of the berth if you don’t feel like being sociable, or just want to sleep.

I wrote about our one bus journey from Jaipur to Agra in this post.

Our flight was the only transport we took that left late, and cost 3000Rupees (£35/$55) for the hour journey, which is still cheap for a flight.

Accommodation

Generally, we stayed in double rooms with en-suite. The standard of cleanliness in India, can quite often be a long way from European expectations, but It’s one of those things with India, you accept it and get on with it or you hate it. Kind of like the country I suppose.  We booked everything online the day or so before we arrived in a new city with Hostelbookers. Personally, I prefer to just book something and turn up, I don’t want to waste my time wandering around for deals. It might work out more expensive some times, but what price to you put on your leisure time in a location? Especially when we’re trying to cram as much in as we did.

With the exception of Ranthambore National Park, we found accommodation to be affordable, and fairly abundant. We generally paid around 500-700Rupees (£6-8/$9-13) per night for a double, with fan and an en-suite.

Food and drink

Food in India, is incredibly good value. I’m still wondering to myself how they make the bread, so light, crispy and not oily!?

Street food stalls, will sell tasty snacks, although almost always fried for between 10-50Rupees, (£0.10-0.60/$0.20-0.90) depending on how substantial it is. A simple sit down meal for two with a couple of vegetable mains, and some bread would cost between 100- 300Rupees (£1.20-£3.40/$1.70-5.50) A thali, for example would cost, on average around 200Rupees (£2.20/$3.60)

We ate out for ‘Fancy dinner’ three times in India, in Delhi we wanted to go to a restaurant we had seen on TV, famous for its chicken dishes. In Udaipur we wanted to spoil ourselves in the surroundings and in Agra, we were just quite weary and needed the peace and quiet. In all three we took advantage of the professional kitchens and refrigeration to indulge in meat! They were all around 1500-2000Rupees (£17-22/$27-36) for an amazing meal, and especially in Udaipur, a dinner experience unlikely to be matched any time soon.

Drinks in India are generally quite cheap, although alcoholic drinks in restaurants can be relatively expensive, especially spirits or cocktails. A large bottle of water usually cost around 15Rupees(£0.20/$0.30), a can of Coke, around 20Rupees (£0.25/0.40), and a large bottle of Kingfisher beer was around 150Rupees (£1.70/$2.75).

Experiences

India ticket prices can vary for historic attractions. They have a system whereby they have tourist prices, and local prices. The archaeological survey of India sites, including The Red Fort and Humayuns tomb in Delhi, and Fatehpur Sikri near Agra are all 250Rupees (£2.80/$4.50) entry for  a tourist. The Taj Mahal, is however 750Rupees. (£8.50/$13.50) Other historic sites such as Mehrangarth Fort in Jodhpur, or Jag Mandir in Udaipur are around the 300Rupee mark.

Other experiences included going on the tiger safari in Ranthambore national park, desert safari in Jaisalmer and visiting the famous Raj Mandir cinema in Jaipur.

Ranthambore, does not work out to be cheap, especially not compared with the rest of Rajasthan. Currently, (and I think the rules and prices in Ranthambore change regularly) a safari lasts around three hours and costs  555-600Rupees depending on whether you’re in a gypsy (15 seats)  or canter (4 seats) . For accommodation we paid around 1300rupees (£14.80/$24), for nothing extraordinary. It’s a small town next to Ranthambore national park and as such prices are inflated for food as well as accommodation. We spent in the region of 10’000Rupees, (£115/$185) for two safaris each, three nights accommodation and all meals and drinks. We did see tigers, so it was totally worth it.

The town of Jaisalmer was averagely priced for Rajasthan, and we wanted to take an excursion to the Thar Desert to see the sand dunes and generally adventure. It was great, we went with a small company, ate good food and didn’t see another safari group, litter or the other things we had read bad reviews of. The rate for our tour was 1300Rupees (£14.80/$24) per person, but we paid extra to go out on our own.

Numbers.                                                                                                                                                       

We travelled for twenty one days, visiting three states.

Our transport, from city to city amounted to 6’800Rupees (£78/$125) per person, for three weeks and around 1500 miles total. we travelled in the region of 1’150 miles, spending approximately thirty five hours on the train tracks. We also spent around three hundred miles travelling via bus or train. Travel in India is exceptionally good value.

Aside from the above mentioned excursions, we reckon we travelled around India, eating well (although cheaply), but drinking sparingly; sleeping in private double rooms, travelling in AC2 or AC3 carriages and doing activities, or sightseeing most days for around about 1200Rupees (£13.70/$22) per person, per day.

All prices listed are in rupees, pound sterling and US dollars. I have not included our flights in, and out of the country as they are part of a multi-flight ticket. We travelled between October and November 2012.

Since leaving India, I have written this summarising post, which also may be of interest. Any views, or opinions welcomed.

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The things we learn’t about India, a retrospective.

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We left Delhi over a month ago now and it’s been more than enough time to reflect on our time in India.

Firstly, we had an amazing time in India. It was a completely new experience for us. Everyday held something new to us. We were like children the first time they go abroad. What is this? What do I do with this? How does this work? It was a great learning curve, for us as individuals and as a couple. One thing that surprised me personally is the accessibility. I really expected India to be a lot more challenging to western travellers. I had thought people wouldn’t speak English so much, or; we would have to work things out for ourselves more. Turns out, India is much easier than I had envisaged. Perhaps if we go to China one day we will discover truly challenging travel.

One thing I can say is that India is intense. It’s a sensory overload, smells of rubbish are constantly being replaced by the scent of sweet chai, incense, street food, sewage, burning plastic, spices and it back to the beginning again. Aurally, Car horns, traffic and the wallahs shouting “chai, masala chai”. Then there’s the million sites fighting for your visual attention. Dogs, pigs, cows and children all rummaging in rubbish (we actually saw all of this whilst the rubbish was on fire and none of the above cared) men casually urinating wherever they felt like, including, but not limted to train stations (both off the platforms and from carriages onto the tracks) in the street, in the middle of the day and I’ve probably lost count of the amount of tuk-tuks we saw abandoned whilst men pissed on nearby walls.

When we first arrived in Delhi, we couldn’t believe how many people stared. I mean a lot. It wasn’t in an aggressive sense, but neither was it inquisitive, it’s a little unusual coming from a country where people actively avoid eye contact. Also, especially in Delhi people would walk along side you and chat to us. We thought this was more underhand behaviour to begin with, like in Bangkok when people say things like ‘hey man! cool t-shirt, where are you from?’  Before you know it they are trying to sell you a suit or take you to a ping pong show. Actually, we worked out mostly people in India just wanted to practise their English on us. It’s quite nice really, and it’s an openness of people you don’t see often enough in England. We felt a little guilty, to think the worst of people.

I could go on and on about the experiences with people we met, and people we chatted to but none will explain India, and Indian people as well as I now know it as much as the border security police we shared a berth with on the train from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur.

We happened to be sharing a cabin with some border patrol officers, who had been on exercise in the Thar Desert. They were a mixed bunch of twenty and thirty somethings who all wanted to practise their limited English on us, except for one. He was from Manipur, a small state in the very east of India close to the Myanmar border and looked far more Chinese or Mongolian than Indian. Turns out, the area he was from doesn’t speak Hindi, but tribal dialects and English. Basically, he had joined the Border security team without being able to speak to his colleagues, he explained to us that he was learning Hindi, but wasn’t so good yet. It’s unbelievable to me to think you could join the police without being able to speak the national language! Only in India could this happen.

They were such friendly people, and enjoyable company, we spent the entire five or six hour journey talking with them. They played us Hindi music, and I in turn got my MP3 player out for them. Immeadiatley one asked ‘Do you have Justin Beiber?!’ He couldn’t believe that only twelve year old girls listen to Justin Beiber in England. Western culture is starting to percolate through to India and only the most commercialised pop music is heard here (In the less developed corners of Rajasthan at least, this may not be the case for Goa, for example) Interestingly, our hostel in Delhi played Rhianna’s ‘Rude Boy’ a lot. Risqué I thought.

When we arrived in Jodhpur we said our goodbyes and got off the train. We waited around outside the train to read up about transport and how much we should pay, and then they all came marching out and harangued a tuk tuk driver into taking us to our hotel, for a locals price!

This mostly sums India up for us. Friendly people who have gone out of their way to help us and unfamiliarity in almost everything.

There is also  the contradiction between beauty and ugliness.

One thing that illustrates this point is the Jaisalmer fort. A resplendent golden castle seemingly growing out of the desert, when we look closer you see it’s covered with rubbish on the steep slopes where people have thrown their waste from the converted havelis. I can’t work out why this is accepted, Jaisalmer is a town almost ran entirely on tourism and the fort is the focal point, so it seems counter-productive to allow it’s decline. India it seems can sometimes be a little short-sighted, in this regard. education is blamed for most things in India; and the lack of sanitation, or recycling is again generally attributed to this. Surely it can’t be hard to articulate to people that if you continue to treat historical sites, areas of natural beauty and tourist attractions like shit, people will cease to visit and you will not earn any money!?

The country is growing at such an amazing pace and in such a rush to catch up with the western world that I hope it can retain the qualities that make it so different, and fascinating.

I’ve read online from countless people saying they couldn’t decide if they loved or hated India until they left, and realised they absolutely loved it, and it’s entirely true. From mint flavoured crisps, to tuk tuk’s carrying goats and trying to buy metro tickets at one of the busiest stations, in rush hour and being barged out of the way by every octogenarian in Delhi. It’s complete madness, but a massively rewarding country.

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Freaky Friday: the strangeness of travel.

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This morning we’re just hanging out in Hanoi post breakfast, drinking coffee. And we bump into this couple of ladies we’ve met on our travels. That’s not so unusual you would think? Well, no; except when we bumped into these guys when we were 3’ooo miles away in New Delhi, at one of three MASSIVE train stations. It was their first day of their holiday, and today was their last, which in itself is strange.

Oh, we also bumped into them in a restaurant in Jodhpur, AND at the Taj Mahal; as you do.

We’ve seen a few people several times, but usually in the same city, or neighbouring cities, not separate countries! Also,  turns out one of them lives in Cambridge, where I used to live, and is from near to Norwich, where I currently live (although, technically I’m homeless as I have no address, anywhere!)

We swapped blogs, so if you’re reading hello! Also, sorry I forgot to ask your names, numerous times!

Freaky. Anybody out there able to beat that for travel coincidences?

Travelling in India, it’s not just the destination but the journey.

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We have a pretty short time in India, and have a pretty big wish list for our itinerary. Therefore, we booked as much of our transport as we could online, in advance. It’s a lot easier than expected and the trains have been really efficient, yet another country I’ve visited with a better rail network than the UK. However, one route Jaipur to Agra was pretty much sold out in advance. We took our chances and decided to book a bus locally in Jaipur.

We had originally hoped for a tourist bus, the incredibly helpful manager at our Jaipur accommodation (a rare light in an otherwise horrific time in Jaipur, but that’s a different story…) arranged for us. He had told us that the government buses, “Volvo, super nice” would be the ones for us. As it transpires, they were fully booked. A combination I fear of the proximity to Diwali and the well-trodden golden triangle route of Jaipur to Agra.

Anyway, we’re booked onto a private company bus, which isn’t Volvo, but will still get us to Agra.

The next morning a tuk-tuk driver deposits us at the destination, which is not a bus station but a hotel underneath an underpass full of various buses, booking stands and makeshift breakfast options. By some miracle (I think it’s down to the Ganesha I had in my backpack) we get on the right bus.

It’s pretty much the most unfamiliar bus layout I’ve ever seen. I can make out what seem to be three classes; Seated class, aisle class and coffin class.  Coffin class, was located in an elevated cabin, above the seated class, with a sliding plastic door like a seventies sideboard, with just enough room to sit upright, if you’re twelve, or under.

The whole process was mayhem, we were the only white folks on the bus, we had no idea about arrival times, or bus etiquette. Luckily the good man at the hotel got us into seated class and once we managed to get to our seats and sandwich ourselves, and our backpacks in, we were set.

Our tickets stated an 8am kick off, but for some still unexplained reason we set off at 7:45 and stopped about half a mile up the road for pretty much everyone to get off and piss on the closest wall. As we trundled out of Jaipur more and more people squeezed onto the bus, not one, but four conductors came around to check our tickets, and generally shout at people on the bus. As more people got on and ‘aisle class’ filled up I noticed many people negotiating their ticket price, I’m very happy  to have paid three hundred rupees for a six-hour journey, but, I’m pretty sure at this point I paid over  the odds, again.

Anyway, we carry on down the road, with the driver beeping at everything from the traffic to the wildlife in the road, and possibly people he knows and happen to pass, with all these people crammed in like livestock. It still doesn’t fail to amaze me the sort of positions and contortions Indian people can fall asleep in. I’ve seen people asleep on motorbikes, lying on curbs, and now also, three deep in ‘coffin class’ or sitting on the floor of a bus driving over potholes with knackered suspension.  Honestly mystifying.

The journey was a great insight into India, one thing I’ve seen over and over again here is people’s generosity, and tendencies to share everything. This continued on the bus ride with people breaking open their breakfast boxes and bottles of water and passing them around to one another.  Sometimes I’m not even sure if they knew each other. As is the case with transport in India, people all over the bus are playing music from their mobiles and this just blends in with all the other noises and I almost forget we’re the foreigners until I notice people staring, again.

A few other bizarre things happen, such as when we pull over for a ten minute break a succession of people get on trying to sell things such as, Plastic table clothes, small books which may have been Indian pulp fiction and gold neck laces.  As we set off again another argument kicks off and the conductor mediates ending with one woman smacking the guy in the seat in the front over the head. I can only presume he stole someone’s seat and I’m glad we didn’t get off the bus for fear of it driving off without us, and now also, for fear of losing our seats. Also worth mentioning that anytime anybody left the slightest edge of their seat available someone from aisle class jumped up and sat on the edge. It’s all very unfamiliar.

It’s a strange situation to be travelling in a bus and see one of the deluxe AC cruiser buses pull up alongside, with all the tourists pointing their cameras at you. (or at least your vehicle..) I think it was probably because people were sitting on the roof, but it felt very surreal and quite intrusive. I don’t know how the average Indian feels about it, but I can’t imagine they look on tourists in a good light in this sense.

So we arrived in Agra, another downside of the private buses we kind of got dumped on the edge of Agra, as loads of others jumped on. I didn’t expect to be delivered to a shiny bus station, and it was nothing a quick tuk-tuk couldn’t fix but it’s yet another example of the lack of communication or organisation (at least perceived from our expectations…) we keep experiencing in India! The only time we’ve felt comfortable we know where we’re going has been the Delhi metro with its English announcements.

It’s not all about the destination, and I’m glad we travelled a bit out of our comfort zone and wouldn’t have had the chance to notice half of the interesting things on the super nice Volvo.

Raj Mandir, Jaipur.

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Another tick off the bucket list!

Tonight we went to see a film at the fantastic art deco cinema Raj Mandir.

It’s quite an experience, I urge anybody travelling in India to see a Bollywood film. was a lovely way to end an otherwise fairly crappy day.