Rajasthan-Agra-Varanasi by bus and train

Bus and Train is 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!

Hanging out in Jaisalmer Hanging out in Jaisalmer

 

Mumbai to Udaipur by Bus

Starting in the bustling metropolis that is Mumbai, we booked a 14 hour semi-sleeper bus through India Someday to get up to our first stop, Udaipur. In hindsight, probably not the best way to start. That bus raised our expectations far too high! Honestly, 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 was much better than our expectations about travel in india.

As with all bus trips, there was a food and toilet break which was invariably in the middle of nowhere rather than a town (think road + random building + toilet + an ever-present snack shop). We tended to have our own nibbles with us (just because the stop times 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 cannot go wrong. As for the restrooms and toilets, although stinky, were definitely usable.

Our best bus ride - Mumbai to Udaipur by Bus Our best bus ride – Mumbai to Udaipur by Bus

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”) as we were plonked right in the back and bounced around for nearly 10 hours as it was delayed (through its own insistence of stopping at every junction to try and get more passengers, despite already being double booked for most seats)! It is with this journey in mind that I will divulge the greatest lessons 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 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, of course a little more expensive but after the long and tiring journey the few more dollars would have felt worth it!! (check out this blog on car travel)

The colourful and crowded Udaipur to Jodhpur bus The colourful and crowded Udaipur to Jodhpur bus

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, in this case) can be better than the private or at least equally amusing and a night bus may not always save you that precious day of sightseeing, due to having to catch up on sleep when you arrive exhausted in a destination anyway! 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 (provided your expectations are not too high) and in most places, provided you book 2 days in advance, there are many multiple companies with different departure times.

Jaipur to Agra by train

Now when it comes to trains, I would greatly urge you to do at least one when in India , I mean you have to, it is quite simply the quintessential Indian experience! Our first one, Jaipur to Agra, was a simple afternoon trip, which we took in Sleeper class. It was a short and fun journey, spiced up by a few interesting people that you will inevitably come across at the stations or in the cabins.

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  a AC 3-tier (one class up) (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, after 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 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 then when that closed at midnight, the First Class waiting rooms next to the platform (despite a sleeper class ticket, we just paid Rs100 and it was all good) until after 4:30 am and then again as we watched our arrival time get later and later. 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!

Again, it is impossible to definitively say what your journey will be like on a train, but the law of averages say that you will be delayed at some point in your trip! Also, if one compares to bus trips, your choice of food is far greater as you have chai and thali wallahs constantly coming through the carriages and the ability to jump off at any of the stops and grab a bite (the train tends to wait at least 10 minutes at each station, and it starts again so slowly that it is easy to jump back on) means that you have an array of goods to choose from! Toilet in the train was exactly the same in sleeper and 3 AC (but the latter did have a western style one on offer too).

Indien Rundreise Zug Train travel in India

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), and 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 try and get an “upper” berth in trains, as it will guarantee you some personal space (as the bottom bunks require you to share seating with the upper bunks) and provide some distance between the thoroughfare of the aisles!
For the most part, booking is relatively easy (more so with buses than trains) if you have a credit card and know what you want! The best way to go though, is to have a travel agency do it for you from the onset (as it will ensure choice). Naturally you will have to weigh up the importance of flexibility vs. affordability, but 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.
  • BUS: 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 so the idea of an AC is horrific, and even the heat is OK during overnight travel as you can just pop a window open.
  • TRAIN: 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) and while I am 100% content with sleeper, sometimes circumstances require a bit more comfort than it is able to offer! More about different train classes

While we traveled independently the help provided by my travel companion’s friend’s travel agency India Someday was invaluable. Booking our Varanasi to Agra train ticket, putting us on a comfortable bus from Mumbai to Udaipur, recommending the 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.

Our A/C three tier ride from Varanasi to Agra - the train was delayed by more than 5 hours

 

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