I never intended to travel all India. I always figured in just popping in and out of the northern areas. It never appealed to me that this would be a home type country. I might have made a mistake there, as India proved to be quite incredible. And it leaves a lingering desire to return.
Amritsar: The border city with Pakistan, and the center of all things Sikh.
The Golden Temple - I personally thing this tops the Taj Mahal. At night time I find it hard to come up with another building quite as beautiful. I was there during a celebration, and it was quite full, but still worth the trip.
The Streets - Aside from the Golden Temple, I would not say I found Amritsar that interesting. A walk along the old Punjab streets can be interesting though.
New Delhi: The Capital and the largest city in north India.
Congested and packed with chaos, it can be great fun or very frustrating. Either way there is so much to see in this city a solid week will still leave some out.
Qutub Complex - Monuments, old building and towers all wrapped up in a nice garden. 500 Rupees. Too much.
Memorial of Mahatma Gandhi - A big garden area. Nothing massively special here. But if you are into it, worth it. Free.
Lotus Temple - Personally I am not into this type of place. Acceptance of all religions, now take your shoes of be silent and give us a donation. The building is nice from the outside though. Free, though you will be asked to donate at some stage, or at least converted to something.
The Red Fort - Do not miss this place. Learn out it's past, then visit. Great from the outside, from the inside a little dull for me. 500 rupees.
Lakshmi Narayan Temple: A temple full of lush reds and yellow, no photographs allowed, but a visual feast none the less.
Humayun's Tomb: Another fine example of Mughal architecture that's worth the fee to get in. One of the better sights in Delhi. 500 rupees.
Connaught Place - Personally I really enjoyed walked around the various circles and back streets of this place. Ignore the expensive book stores, and buy for a fraction of the price from the street sellers.
Main Bazaar, Paharganj - If you are backpacking, you can't really avoid this place. A bazaar mix of cheap hotels, hostels, tourist shops, people and cows.
A note about New Delhi's attractions. They are expensive and to rub matters in, if you are a local it's very very cheap. Qutub Complex for example is 30 rupees for a local and a whopping 500 for a foreigner.
Agra: Home of the legendary Taj Mahal, and quite a few other things.
Akbars Tomb - Aside from a nice red-ochre sandstone palace like tomb and a garden with deer, and langoor monkeys it offered little in the way of interest other than architecture and history.
Agra Fort - Bring your history book, big and impressive. But you will need a two days to see all in Agra.
Taj Mahal - Well, what to say? It is big, and the outside is impressive as are the grounds. It's well worth it to visit the other areas on site. Take a look across the river at the back to glimpse the alleged foundations of the Black Taj. Entrance fee annoyance: 790 rupees, versus 30 for a local, sorry but this is ridiculous. A lot of the funding for the maintenance and preservation of the Taj comes from overseas. To charge this much, to me, is a disgrace. (closed Fridays)
Varanesi : The big impressive Border city with India, and the first real sign of tourists in Pakistan.
The Ganges - Go more than once on this great river. Take a sunrise boat trip for photographs and great morning scenes. At night there are nightly celebrations worth the visit. Then during the day just chill out along it's non smoky shoreline. Taking a boat across the river is good for that.
The Burning Ghats - I met some one who thought it was a disgrace, an other thought it vile and another who wanted to photograph the gore. What ever you think. It is an amazing sight to behold. Respect the place like any other place of funeral. Would you come crashing into a local funeral in your town taking photos?
Silk Markets - Find one that is not ripping you off, and you will get a great bargain in this town. Wholesalers and manufacturers are key. Head into the main town's suburbs is key ;-)
Saranath: If you think Varanesi is too much, head here. All manner of Buddhist temples are here from Tibetan, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and the list goes on. Very quite place, good for those looking to relax.
Did you know?
There are more vegetarians in India than in any other country in the world.
Overland from India to Nepal there are direct buses going from Delhi to Nepal, and from Varanesi to Nepal. Most are run by tour companies. So watch out for the odd scam. To do it yourself. Grab a train to Gorakapur that arrives in the morning. Then head across from the train station and take a 100 rupee jeep to Sunali at the border, a 40 rupees cycle rickshaw man will take you to the Indian desk where they stamp you out, he can then head across the border to Nepalese immigration where you can get a visa on arrival.
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You can get beef steak in India! Sorry, but I never expected to eat good steak in India seeing how it treats the holy cow. Basically it's up to you how you eat in India. You can eat cheaply in restaurants, or local eateries.
Of course you can go hippie and eat at just the street stalls. Now before condemning me for saying that, keep in mind I am a cheap skate, and eat a lot. That said, look at the condition of the backpackers who eat at a lot of the street stalls. Sickly, pale and skinny. Or about to be.
Avoid the tourist street stalls and eat where the locals eat, or find yourself a restaurant. I never had a stomach issue in India. For a dollar more you can save yourself an extra night in a hotel due to being sick by eating well.
This is tough, India is huge. So are the cultures. Generally I found most Indians tourist savvy. Meaning, they've seen tourists over the years and are not interested in them.
Other than the touts of course. India is changing into a developed world economy, and so in the big cities be prepared to battle with corporate talk at the train station. Indians also love to travel, and it's becoming more frequent to have a conversation about them visiting your country than the other way around.
However, befriend an Indian and you will be surprised at the incredible hospitably you will receive. If there's one thing in India that seems to be true - if you pay for a service, you will receive good service. Then again, it depends on how much you pay.
I did not even try. English is widely spoken in most of the places I visited.
Do respect the culture of the people.
Do not get so stoned in hippie hangouts and expect to be taken seriously, unless you have the cash.
Do take photographs.
Do not kick a cow out of the way, let the locals do it.
Do eat the food and don't be afraid of it.
Do watch out for overpricing.
Do book your train tickets ahead.
Do take overnight trains.
Learn to barter, and don't be afraid to do so. Learn to do the Indian head waggle, you'll be surprised how you will go up in the respect front.
|Where I stayed|
Finding a hostel is a thing of the past, cheap hotels are all over the place in India.
Amritsar - The Golden Temple: No it's not a hotel, it's the temple itself. Worth it for a night. Yes it's free, but they will ask for a donation. Try to get a room off the main dorm area. Tell them you have a cold, or arrive with four people. Avoid the room with all the lockers, it will have people coming in and out all night.
New Delhi-Main Bazaar, Paharganj - Just opposite New Delhi railway station. Walk down it and ignore the touts. Walk into the odd hotel, ask the rates, and take a look at the room. If you like it, barter for it. For me, I found the end of the street had the better places. If you pay 200 rupees for a hotel, expect to get bad accommodation. 500-800 rupees buys you something very nice.
Varanesi - Sai Kripa Guest House tel 0542-2276854 / 930531250 / 9305038774. Ask for Waseem. Call them before you arrive, and they will pick you up at the station. They offer a free tour of the Ghats, and can arrange dirt cheap boat trips. Not to mention they are nice people.
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Having read Shantaram, I would say yes there is potential for anyone to find home in India. I never expected to enjoy India as much as I did. After some other places I have been it was not nearly as hectic as I thought it would be. Though if you have not been to many places, it might be overwhelming. I haven't seen enough of India to say yes or no. But I do know its not so easy to find a good job there for me.
How much is a daily budget?
I was expecting India to be more expensive than it was. Entrance fees can be hefty and will boost your budget up. There's still the terrible system of local entrance fee and a foreigner entrance fee.
But accommodation is very affordable and can be as little as 200 rupees upwards. Though 200 rupees may not get you the greatest bed in fact it won't be so nice. I found 700 - 1000 rupees got you something quite nice in the main areas.
Food was cheap too. With $.50 small meals easily found. But, I would avoid roadside food. A nice mid restaurant meal will cost $5 upwards.
Overall for what I did I would say $25-35 USD per day, that does not include an entrance fee nor long train travel. Couchsurfing may also help in India, just be careful about choosing your hosts!
How to travel India overland?
Train travel is the best. Most hotels will book a ticket for you and you should do so ahead of time. For short journeys 3rd class is fine, for overnight its crowded and can be very hot. 2nd Class AC is probably the best option otherwise. Buy a chain and lock for your bags at any station, there is a reason there are metal loops on the seats.
The train booking office in Amritsar is a pain. Avoid and go to the station. I experienced that myself, and heard similar stories. The New Delhi railway station can pre book many tickets for you. Be sure to check your dates!
What are the ATM's like in India?
They accept all major credit cards and bank cards. Most have a security man outside or at least nearby. There's one at the International airport coming in.
Where to arrange to meet someone in Delhi?
If you are meeting a friend or a group somewhere and don't know New Delhi that well. Aside from the hotel you are staying the next best place is on the first floor of New Delhi Railway, right beside the tourist office. It's away from all the touts downstairs and relatively quite.
What is the best guide book for India?
It's a big chunky thing. But I bought a fake Lonely Planet India in Peshawar, Pakistan. The new ones were insanely expensive. It was one of the better guide books I have read from this company.
Can I travel India in a month?
No. Well you can try, but you will miss out a lot. It's truly a country with a lot to offer and plenty to see. Take your time and plan to come back again. Select a region and spend a month there instead. Travel slow and take everything in, I've never met a person to disagree.
What to wear in India?
In the south and in places like Goa you are fine in wearing shorts and T-shirts. Less has been worn in Goa it must be said. In the north, religious temples aside. Women should keep more covered up. Shoulders especially, and short shorts are a no. Knee or below are fine. But when entering temples, both sexes should dress respectably.
How to deal with queue jumpers and gropers?
Queue jumping in India is the norm. Block both sides where possible and don't be afraid to butt shoulders and make your claim to your position. If someone blatantly jumps the queue in front of you. Stop them fast and push on past again.
You are a woman and feel a hand where it should not be. Remove it fast by the wrist and do not make a fuss. If it happens again, grab by the wrist and still holding on thrust it into the gut of the owner. If it happens a third time you were not forceful enough, this time repeat harder and state loudly "Do not touch me again!" The owner of said hand will be embarrassed and fall back.
Going to India? Be prepared, have a look at my travel packing list here
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