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Sarah’s Two week Backpacking North India Tour
Sarah’s Two week Backpacking North India Tour

Sarah wanted to explore North India on her first trip.  She set off across Agra and Rajasthan, all places that are rich in culture, heritage and history. The trip started in the political capital Delhi and then Sarah visited the Taj Mahal (because it’s India and you can’t not see the Taj!).

She then traveled to Rajasthan, a state known for its forts, palaces, colorful turbans, sarees and great food. This route was ideal for Sarah as it was her first time (to India).

In Sarah’s own words, “I found India Someday just after googling backpacking in North India and I’m so glad I did!”

India someday helped plan the trip without creating a strict, binding itinerary. Sarah explained that she was a solo female backpacker on a budget, but we worked it out! We figured out a great itinerary well within her budget. You can read the rest of her testimonial here.

So if you’re looking for a great trip but you’re worried about costs, procedures or safety, get in touch, and we’ll handle it!

This trip to North India can be modified to fit any budget. Below you’ll find approximate costs for different types of travelers and an example of an itinerary. If you have a fixed time period, then we’ll add or remove destinations accordingly.


Getting from Rajasthan to Goa
Getting from Rajasthan to Goa

How to get from Rajasthan to Goa

Often while travelling in India, travellers look at stopping at a beach destination like Goa after exploring the cultural diversity of Rajasthan.

Rajasthan and Goa both lie on the western coast of India. However, traveling between these two states is not very easy and can take a considerable amount of time

Traveling by train

Probably not the best way to get from Rajasthan to Goa or vice versa as the distances are considerably long and the trains extremely slow and tend to run late. The trains start from Jodhpur and Jaipur in Rajasthan and go to Madgaon. But if you don’t mind long train rides and a few delays, you can pick some of the following trains.

  • Most of the trains that connect Goa to Rajasthan originate from further north, some originate from Delhi, and others from more northern cities in Rajasthan like Ajmer and Bikaner.  What you could do is travel to Mumbai by flight/bus/train and try catching a train that starts from Mumbai as chances of it running delayed is less than with the other trains.
  • Some trains reach Goa in the middle of the night between 2-3 am. While Goa is generally safe, it is better to avoid these trains as the railway stations can be deserted at that hour and check in at hotels is of course not the easiest
  • Goa has a number of railway stations. If you are staying in North Goa then either Pernem or Thivim should be your boarding station. For South Goa, Madgaon or Cancona should be your boarding station.
  • Similarly Rajasthan has a number of railway stations. It really depends on which city is your last destination, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Ajmer/Pushkar or Bikaner.
  • Udaipur and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan do not have direct train connections to Goa. You will have to change trains in Mumbai.
  • The train journey is between 25-30 hours hours and it’s advisable to book your train tickets well in advance. Ideally as soon as bookings for your travel date open up i.e. 60 days prior to date of travel.
  • The train journey from Rajasthan to Goa has extremely diverse views from deserts to lush green hills and waterfalls in the monsoons. It is also the cheapest way to travel

Traveling by bus

There are no buses that run between Goa and Rajasthan. It just takes too long and is too far and well, just not possible. Hiring a car and driver to drive you between Goa and Rajasthan will be extremely difficult to arrange, it would be a very long and expensive journey even if you found a driver that agreed to drive you.

Traveling by flight

In Rajasthan, Udaipur, Jaipur and Jodhpur are three cities from where you’d have a flight option to Goa, but all of them have connecting flights via Delhi/Mumbai. The flights are slightly expensive and have layovers but are still the most efficient mode of travel.

This one stop flight tends to be more expensive than other direct flights between you might take in India. It’s advisable to book in advance as the fares for one stop flights can really soar closer to travel dates.

If you are in Udaipur  you could drive up to Ahmedabad and then fly directly to Goa.

Note: Do take the same airline flight for both sectors, as then you are not liable to have any errors in case of delays in the first flight.

Our suggestion

We at India Someday would really recommend that you plan to break your stay in Rajasthan and Goa with a few days in Mumbai. This is a little biased as we are based on Mumbai, but it is a fun city to visit. So if you do have time then stop over in Mumbai, else take a flight and save yourself the travel time by train.

Planning on visiting Kerala after Goa? Here’s how you can get between the two states.


Jaisalmer: The Golden city in the Desert
Jaisalmer: The Golden city in the Desert

Jaisalmer is a beautiful city near the Thar desert. The border to Pakistan is 100 kilometres away. After our arrival at the train station a car from the hotel picked us up and brought us to our accommodation. On the way I saw Fort Jaisalmer for the first time. I felt like Aladdin in Disneyland. The fort is amazing and I felt like I was a part of former times when kings ruled the country. The havelis in the city are also beautiful.

Things we did in Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer Fort

In 1156 the fort was built by the Rajputana ruler Jaisal. I would recommend visiting the Fort Palace. The audio-guide is included in the ticket and we learned a lot about the history of the city. The various rooms inside the palace were beautiful. We walked into the fort and the gates and the havelis were amazing. It all reminded me very much of a fairy tale.

Jain Temple

We also saw two nice Jain temples inside the fort when we walked around. The entry for this monument was quite expensive. We walked around in two temples and especially the reliefs made of sandstone are very detailed and therefore interesting.

Camel Safari

The Camel Safari was the most exciting, romantic and spectacular part in Jaisalmer. We started the trip at 3 pm with a Spanish couple and one guy from Canada. We went to an empty village by car which took us about ½ hour. After that we made a short stop at a village in a rural area with nice inhabitants and children. At 5 pm our camel safari in the Thar desert at the Khuri Sand Dunes Resort started. It was a bit scary when the camel stood up because I was shaking in both directions. To sit on a camel is not really comfortable and it’s very high. We were going in a row, one camel after the other. The view was amazing. After 10 minutes some sheep crossed our way. Two of the small sheep “attacked” two camels. One of the sheep was under my camel and the animal got really nervous and aggressive. It was really hard to stay in the saddle. I don’t really know how I managed the situation but in the end I jumped off the camel. This was a really dangerous situation for me and the Spanish guy. I had to be calmed down for a long time. Marlene was shocked too. After a while everyone was better and we continued our journey through the desert. After about 1 hour of camel riding we arrived at our camp in the sand dunes. It was amazing. There were no people around us and we enjoyed the sunset together. We took some great pictures. After a delicious dinner, the cameleers sang ussome folk-songs. We had a lot of fun together—it was great. We were sleeping outside in very comfortable “beds” with nice big blankets. It was amazing to sleep outside under soooooo many stars and the moon.

In the morning we enjoyed the beautiful sunrise and a delicious breakfast. After that we rode the camels back through the sand dunes to the main street where a car picked us up.

Our accommodation:

Mystic Jaisalmer

This is a beautiful hotel with an amazing roof top terrace and a good view of the Golden Fort. Our room was clean, the beds were comfortable and the room itself had a nice furniture. The staff, especially the boss, was really friendly and informed us about the camel safari.

Restaurants

Mystic Jaisalmer

On the roof-top terrace I enjoyed very good Rajasthani special food with naan and vegetables from the desert. The staff is very friendly and fast. The ambience was very nice with the view of the fort.

Sunset

This restaurant is located inside the fort. Here you can enjoy very good Indian food on a roof-top terrace. And again everything is about the view of Jaisalmer fort.

Jaisal Italy

This restaurant offers very good Italian pasta. It was quite close to international standards. I also ordered one orange-juice. This one was already unfit for consumption but it was no problem to give it back and order another drink. Marlene’s ice tea was very good.

The Bhang Shop

Well this was very interesting, crushed marijuana leaves mixed with milk and served legally. This is a traditional drink in India and lets just say it left us craving a lot of food and parts of the day we cannot remember.


A day of travel, food and spirituality in Amritsar (India)
A day of travel, food and spirituality in Amritsar (India)

This weekend I went to Amritsar to do some research for our India Someday clients. The religious city in Punjab is famous for three things—the Golden Temple, delicious food and the Wagah Border.After a lot of exploring (and a lot of eating!) we’ve come to the conclusion that this is definitely one city you do not want to miss!

The Food

Amritsar is a food lovers paradise. From the moment you wake up, the amount of food you will manage to eat would be quite a revelation even to your own self. The alu puris (potato curry served with deep fried Indian bread stuffed with cottage cheese) and the chole puri (the same bread served with spicy lentils), are great for breakfast. Kanha sweets or Munim di Hatti at Lawrence Road are probably the best places to try these. For lunch either pay a visit to the Golden Temple Langar (we’ll get to this later) or visit Kulcha Land where for just INR 50 -100 they serve great stuffed kulchas and lassi. If you do have some place left for dinner head to Bharwan ka dhaba or Kesar ka dhaba, for some rajma (red beans) and rice or tandoori roti and veggies. If you have not noticed yes there is a slight bias, I am vegetarian.

North Indian food in general is a little heavy on the stomach, but eating in Amritsar is so much fun you will not stop. On every corner of every street there is something being cooked. From alu tikkis to fresh fruit juice, it’s all so tasty and delicious that I cannot stop raving about it. There is lots of butter, lots of fatty foods and loads of proteins and lentils, and the few days you’re there I would suggest throwing any diet out of the window.

Barring the taste the best part of eating in Punjab is the people. Punjabis are a jolly and lively bunch of people who love only one other thing more than eating—feeding someone else. So enjoy your meals hot and served with loads of love and smiles :).

The Golden Temple

The serenity and the beauty of the Golden Temple is mesmerising. People often compare visiting this temple to visiting the Taj and I can guarantee that it is equally spectacular, probably even more so. Continuous chants, the stillness of the water, the thousands of people providing service for nothing in return, and the ornate beauty of the Temple itself all adds up to make a visit here really and truly special. I would recommend also signing up and helping to cook in the Langar. The temple itself has a long line to enter no matter what time of the day you visit.

Side note: A langar is found in every single Gurudwara or Sikh Temple, and is a part of their religious beliefs. It is a 24 hour open kitchen. The food is free to all guests without any discrimination(you can donate a small sum of course and you should!). The entire kitchen is run by volunteers who work in shifts and anyone can be a part of this team. The food is healthy and nutritious and filled with love :).

You should visit the temple in the morning and at night when the religious book is taken back into safe keeping, around 10 pm. If you interested in reading up more about Sikhism and the history of the golden temple click here

Wagah Border: India’s patriotic pilgrimage

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Palpable in the air of Amritsar is the feeling of patriotism that is invoked when you visit the Jallianwala Bagh or the Wagah border. As sad and haunting as the tragedy of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre is the Wagah border is on the other end of the spectrum, yet both are connected by a heady sense of history and Indian strength. Every evening at the Wagah border (the only road entry point between India and Pakistan), you can witness a fun and competitive Beating Retreat ceremony or the ‘raising/ lowering of flags’ ceremony.The passion with which the soldiers on both the sides fulfill this duty is incredible. Shouting, singing, the thumping of the feet, drums, dancing and trying to out do the other side makes for a surreal experience. 

Staying in Amritsar

The stay in this city is not very expensive, the lower range budget hotels like Akaal Residency are clean simple and good value for money. And you even have a few unique options like Virasat Haveli. But here I would recommend staying at a higher end property as you do want to go back to an empty shell after the hustle and bustle of the narrow streets. My pick would be a stay at the Hyatt in Amritsar, they have nice cozy rooms and the service is impeccable.

Verdict

In conclusion all I would like to say is that if you have the time then you have to visit Amritsar. If you do need help in seeing how you can fit Amritsar into your trip, let us know and we at India Someday can help you plan your trip.


Travelling to North East India
Travelling to North East India

North East India is one of the most remote regions of India and relatively untouched by the overbearing tourism industry. It consists of the seven states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The North East is a part of the second largest biodiversity hotspot in the world, with more than 60% of the area under forest cover. Although the cultures of this area are often banded dismissively together, they are in fact incredibly diverse and very well worth discovering.

How to get around in North East India?

Being a remote and hilly area, infrastructure is not well developed. With the exception of Assam where they have 4 lane cemented highways, the roads can be pretty bad. In Arunachal and Nagaland roads are continuously winding and poorly maintained restricting top speed to 30 kmph, making journeys between two places long and arduous. Having said this, the views are spectacular and will keep you spellbound almost all the way.

Accommodation in North East India

Accommodation is pretty basic in most places. Hotels often do not have geysers or showers so hot water for bathing is provided in buckets. Some places may not even have western style toilets so be prepared to squat. Assam, Sikkim and Gangtok do have some extremely comfortable places for travellers, and a growing interest in the area promises newer options.

Who is it for?

North East has a very raw and rugged beauty, bearing a closer affinity to South East Asia than to the general perception of India. If you like to travel rough and honestly experience the lives of other cultures then this is the place for you. Expect the unexpected when travelling in this region. Despite the idea most people have of the North East being incredibly primitive and and backward, they have the most widespread rock music scene in all of India. Look up college festivals and local concerts and competitions to get a chance to experience something terrific. They also play host to quite a few music festivals that draw in crowds and bands from across the country.

 

There are very few luxury hotels in the North East and those which exist are found only in selected places like Kaziranga, Shillong, Jorhat and Dibrugarh. So if you are a luxury seeker and like to be pampered on your vacation then you might want to look elsewhere.

Cost of travel in North East India

Being a remote area the cost of trips to North East works out nearly 20% higher than a similar trip in any other place in India. The main reason is the transportation cost which is quite high due to roads being steep and in poor condition. Hence it is most economical to travel in groups of 4 or above. Hotel charges are also higher than other places in India. A big bonus is that the cost of living is low, and you’re unlikely to come across touts whose only aim is to fleece foreigners.

Seasons in North East India

Generally speaking November to May is a good time to visit the North East, but depending the the kind of trip and places you would like to visit certain months might be more favourable than others.

Food in North East India

While sticky rice is the staple diet of almost all the tribes in the North East, they compliment it with a dazzling array of meats, pickles, vegetables and beans cooked in endless variety. They love meat; pork being the favourite but vying among several other contenders ranging from chicken and fish to snail and smaller game. The residents of the North-East are famous for cooking anything that moves, a topic you should probably not bring up directly if you don’t want to offend your host but definitely something to look forward to if you really want to dive into a new culture.

 

Alcohol goes well with all the meat they eat. Rice and millet make the base for delicious local brews.

Permits for North East India

Foreigners do not require permits to enter any of the North Eastern states besides Arunachal Pradesh. For visiting Arunachal foreigners need a PAP (Protected Area Permit) which costs US$100 for 2 people and is granted for a duration of 30 days. The permit has to be applied for through a tour operator recognised by the Government of Arunachal.

In conclusion we at India Someday would recommend that you keep at least 10 days for a trip to the North East since the region is pretty remote and has so much to discover, but with slow internal travel. Road journeys are long and tiresome so it is best to have more days at hand to see the region in a more relaxed manner. Most circuits in Nagaland and Arunachal would need around 15 to 20 days if you wish to properly experience the varied culture.

 


Exchanging Money in India
Exchanging Money in India

The following is a guest article from Joe, a hotelier and director of Tripzuki and first appeared on the Tripzuki Blog. Hailing from England, and having lived in different corners of the world, he has a pretty good grip on the situation here, so we got him to write a short post on getting cash in India.

Money in India

 

Future guests would often ask what to do about money while they’re here. Where can I get cash in India? Should I carry cash with me to India? What about travellers’ cheques? Those are probably the top 3 questions people ask.

Firstly, as somebody who travels back and forth to India regularly here’s what I do: just use an ATM and withdraw from my foreign account. However, like all the methods described here, there is no perfect way and all methods come with some charges or complications.

About making card payments in India

Most modern hotels and restaurants in the big cities will take Visa and Mastercard debit and credit card payments, with charges likely to be between nil or 2 to 5%.

Credit cards are good because you may get some protection in case of fraud. Cards in general are bad because of the automated security they put in place, which means when a payment suddenly goes through in Delhi instead of your home country, the computer says ‘Woah, that’s weird! Block that card now!’. You then spend the next hour trying to call your bank, and if you’re really unlucky you’re also standing there with a waiter brandishing your unpaid bill.

In less modern establishments, markets, small family businesses and so on, you’ll be using cash. In other words, you will need cash in India. Oh, it comes in handy for tipping as well.

Forget ‘paisa’ by the way, the lowest denomination of currency in India, you won’t see them or be expected to pay them, though ‘paisa’ in Hindi does mean ‘money’. So what’s the best way to get hold of Indian rupees (also interchangeably written as ‘INR’ and ‘Rs’)?

Using ATMs In India

In most major cities and tourist destinations you will be able to find an ATM, they have spread across the country. You wouldn’t believe how many different banks there are; I counted almost 200 once!

Indian ATMs are a bit quirky in that they’re often a separate, tiny shopfront with a locked door and a half-asleep guard outside. Approach and he’ll open the door for you if it’s not already occupied. Chances are that you’ll have to put your card in and pull it out a second later – swiping it in effect – and in some machines you even have to leave your card in. Anyway, to a foreigner it can be a bit confusing but you’ll get the hang of it, the guard will probably help you if you get stuck (as will most Indians).

There are 2 catches to using ATMs in India. Firstly, there is often a maximum withdrawal limit of 10,000 to 15000 rupees. So if you want more than that, head down the road to another ATM and repeat the process. The second catch is that the bank will give you a crappy exchange rate and your card-issuing bank will undoubtedly charge you a foreign withdrawal fee as well. I paid 5 UK pounds per transaction on my last trip. Banks, huh!

(Few banks which you might see in all cities are HDFC, ICICI, State Bank of India)

Exchange Currency at a Airport

You can usually get rupees at the airport but the exchange rate will be really bad. Not only can it be hard to estimate your spending in advance, but who really wants to carry round a huge wad of notes when they’re on holiday?

Carrying foreign currency while you travel

This can actually be a good option. You can go to an Indian bank that deals with foreign exchange (not all do), stand in line, and get not such a good rate. Alternatively, you can often exchange at your hotel or with a high-street money-changing office (or just a guy that somebody recommends). The rates in this case vary but often don’t get much worse than the banks’ rates. It’s often the case that foreigners worry about being ripped off in India but with money exchange I wouldn’t get paranoid about it. If you go to somebody that is recommended by your hotel then chances are they will have a reputation to maintain, and ripping off tourists makes everybody lose face. Best currencies are US dollars, UK pounds and Euros and AUD.

Travellers’ cheques what are they?

Do people still use these? I guess they do but as mentioned above, not all Indian bank branches deal with foreign exchange, and despite being shockingly behind the times, even the ones that do might not change your cheques. My advice is not to bother with this option.

So in conclusion I’d say there are 2 ways to go about things: take a couple of cards and take some rupees or strong foreign currency. Personally, I’d say just with a couple of cards is the easiest way to travel. Yes, you pay ATM charges, but when you change money you get hit on the exchange rate, that may seem less tangible but it’s still a charge.


Best Places to Street Shop in Mumbai
Best Places to Street Shop in Mumbai

5023649567_b733513dcf_zIn Mumbai and looking to shop? Ditch the snazzy boutiques and comfort of air-conditioned malls and hit the road for some fun street shopping! Mumbai has some of the best places for clothes, shoes, bags, jewellery and all at affordable prices.

One golden rule though: you have to haggle. Haggling is an art and if you’re up for it, then you’re all set for an awesome shopping spree.

Colaba causeway

In the same area as the Gateway of India and a definite stop for all tourists. The best place to shop for jewellery. Chunky jewellery, neckpieces, danglers, bangles, bracelets, they’ve got it all. They also sell some lovely scarves here and antique wares like clocks, lamps, bells etc. Walk around here just to get a feel of the city, as this is in the heart of the backpacker district in Mumbai

Fashion street

This shopping lane is near Churchgate station. Mainly for clothes and a few shoe stalls, it’s one of the few places that also caters to men. Don’t expect their clothes to last you a life time but at the prices they offer, you can change your wardrobe every three months.

Hill road

A hip shopping locale in the ‘Queen of the Mumbai Suburbs’, Bandra.  Frequently visited by college girls looking for trendy stuff. I love this place for the shoes! Boots, Wedges, Kitten heels, Stilettos, the whole shebang! A good place to get western clothes, gowns or evening dresses stitched.

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Linking road

This is on the other side of Bandra. I guess of the four places, this is the longest shopping lane and it has lots to offer too. You’ll find a string of shoe stalls here but mostly daily wear. There are also quite a few boutiques here, some by budding designers and some export rejects.

Chor bazaar

Literally meaning ‘Thieves Market’, it’s one of the largest flea markets in India. You can find almost anything here and it isn’t limited to just clothes and accessories! The place is massive and has everything from brassware and ceramic to vintage collections. You can even get imported stuff at dirt cheap prices. Brands—think Puma, Nike, Hummel. A paradise for brand-conscious guys that is also light on the pocket!

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By Sneha@stage2.indiasomeday.com