Rajasthan-Agra-Varanasi by bus and train
Bus and Train are a great and inexpensive way to travel in India. We asked one of our friends and client to write about her experience travelling through Rajasthan, Agra and Varanasi. This blog entry is written by Nicky Millar (for more about who she is, and about her awesome travel/volunteering adventure check out her blog).
3 girls, 12 days and 6 stops –
I was on a whirlwind trip! Deciding that we were on a tight budget with money, as well as time, we took on the railways and roads for the duration of this trip, and the train and bus travel was an experience all on its own!Plan your trip
Mumbai to Udaipur by Bus
Starting from Mumbai, we booked a 14 hour semi-sleeper bus through India Someday to get to our first stop, Udaipur. In hindsight, probably not the best way to start. That bus raised our expectations far too high! From soft leather seats to receiving blankets when it got too chilly, the journey, although long, was a dream (notwithstanding the snoring man behind me of course). The bus exceeded our expectations about travel in India.
As with all bus trips, there were food and toilet breaks which were invariably in the middle of nowhere (think road + random building + toilet + an ever-present snack shop). We tended to have our own nibbles with us (as the stops were a bit inconvenient and we got hungry), but generally the food on offer was good. Be prepared for basics as English menus are a true enigma! If hungry, stick to the simple dal fry and rice and you will never go wrong. As for the restrooms and toilets, although stinky, they were definitely usable.Plan your trip
Udaipur to Jodhpur by bus
Next was a bus to Jodhpur. This trip from Udaipur was by far the worst (even though it appeared to be a “private company”). We were plonked right in the back and bounced around for nearly 10 hours due to delay. The delay was because of its own insistence to stop at every junction. It did so to get more passengers, despite already being double booked for most seats! It is with this journey in mind that I will divulge the greatest lesson learned when it comes to bus travel:
1). try book in advance so as to have the luxury of more options, and in the same vein, and
2). always ask for a seat in the front. The ever-blasting horn may be louder, but your butt will thank you immensely.
Let’s just say that the bus’ suspension is not its strongest selling point. The best option though is to travel here by Car. Even though it may be a little expensive but after the long and tiring journey, it’s absolutely worth it!! (check out this blog on car travel)Plan your trip
Jodhpur to Jaisalmer by bus
It is hard to make a comprehensive conclusion about bus travel, because cliche as it is, every single trip is unique! No kidding, a public bus (the RSTRC, Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation) can be better than the private or at least equally amusing. Plus a night bus may not always save you that precious day of sightseeing. Also, not very preferable as you’d have to catch up on sleep when you arrive exhausted to the destination! For example, in a completely unprecedented event, our bus from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer was EARLY—until that point I was convinced it was a completely foreign concept in India!
Overall though, I consider bus travel a relatively fun experience. And in most places, there are many multiple companies with different departure times.
You can take a public bus to the Golden City in the Desert – Credit: Ray WPlan your trip
Jaipur to Agra by train
Try to book your train in advance so that seats don’t sell out (particularly as these are popular journeys for locals and tourists alike!) – Credit: Shankar Mehani
Agra to Varanasi by train
This was our second train and heading from Agra to Varanasi. Since this was a longer journey we upgraded to an AC 3-tier (read up on different train classes.) In classic backpacker style, we booked an 11pm train to be able to enjoy the whole day in Agra and then still get a half day in Varanasi (ETA 12 pm the next day). However, our departure was delayed by 5 hours and our arrival by nearly 9 hours. So do bear in mind that at times, specially in winter, long distance journeys can be heavily delayed.
India showed us that planning a trip here by ourselves is not always easy and using local knowledge would have saved us a lot of time! Trying to maintain “inner zen”, we waited first in the ticket office’s private rooms and when that closed at midnight we shifted to the First Class waiting rooms next to the platform (despite a sleeper class ticket, we just paid Rs100 and it was all good). Luckily, given that it is the ultimate tourist route, there were heaps of foreigners which made for good company! To compare the sleeper and Ac three tier, it is exactly the same layout (open plan, triple bunks) with AC, but at a greater cost the atmosphere is a lot calmer and the greatest bonus—sheets and blankets are included!
Things to keep in mind and in check
Train travel in India can be frustrating. Just be paitent and amuse yourselves with the humourous element of your situation
Views on safety for women while travelling by bus and train
Finally, as three females, it is worthy to mention our feeling of safety throughout the trip. In terms of baggage, I was more than comfortable to have my big bag put in the holdall in the belly of the bus (obviously having my important goods with me). Whereas on the train, I just had it on the bed. When it comes to personal safety, I can honestly say that I never felt threatened at any time, however be prepared for constant gawking! The best advice I can give is always to try and get an “upper” berth in trains. It will guarantee you some personal space and provide some distance between the thoroughfare of the aisles!
For the most part, booking is relatively easy, if you have a credit card and know what you want! The best way to go is to have a travel agency do it for you from the onset. Naturally you will have to weigh up the importance of flexibility vs. affordability. If time is a constraining factor then sometimes thinking ahead of the most efficient route could be beneficial! Finally, when it comes to which class to book, although seemingly overwhelming, it is actually quite easy and depends on your budget/(dis)comfort tolerance.
Seater/semi-sleeper/sleeper are the most common categories and essentially refer to how far back the seats recline (with the last being a full on bed). The decision of AC/Non-AC tends to depend on when and where you are going. The north in winter is freezing. Thus, the idea of an AC is horrific. The heat is OK during overnight travel as you can just pop a window open.
General/sleeper/AC 3-tier/AC 2-tier/AC 1-tier generally have comfort levels directly proportionate to pricing. I would urge you not to go below sleeper, as general class has no seat allocation (so you can only imagine the chaos). While I am 100% content with sleeper, sometimes circumstances require a bit more comfort than it is able to offer! For more about different train classes read here!
While we travelled independently the help provided by India Someday was invaluable. Booking our Varanasi to Agra train ticket, putting us on a comfortable bus from Mumbai to Udaipur, recommending an awesome new hostel in Jaipur. If you are pressed for time and wish to have a security net while travelling in India we highly recommend them! They are unlike the traditional travel agencies you’d find.