Food: Anything with paneer in it.
Drink: Chai. Nobody does it better.
Site: Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah a.k.a. the Baby Taj. Breathtaking architecture with hardly any tourists.
Accommodation: Hotel Umaid Bhawan. A cozy 3-star heritage guesthouse, with a beautiful rooftop restaurant.
Read about our experiences in our Lessons from Delhi post, or view our travels and check out Part 1 of our India Vlog for some awesome shots in Delhi.
Visas: Australians can obtain visas via the e-tourist website for a fee of $60 USD (which equates to five billion $AUD at the current exchange rate).
Time of travel: We travelled in October; the end of the monsoon season and the start of the Indian Autumn. The peak temperatures in the day averaged 32ºC and were, for the most part, bearable. This was attributed to the fact that most of our site-seeing was in the morning when the temperatures weren’t at their peak. Nevertheless, you will likely find yourself sweating by the 15 minute mark. I have a low tolerance for heat, and sometimes just wanted to cut the sight seeing short to hide under the air conditioner.
Travel costs: Our driver costed $445 in total for one car for six days (not including tips). The number of passengers was irrelevant to this cost. We stayed at 3-star hotels that ranged from $60 to $95 AUD/night for the two of us. Meals averaged 1000-1500 INR ($30 AUD as of February 2016) for two people (two main dishes, 4x naans, two drinks, and tips and taxes) at average priced hotels and ‘tourist’ restaurants. Souvenirs were relatively inexpensive. If you see something you like, haggle for it and then buy it. Don’t wait until you are departing from the airport like we did, or face paying the regretful (no RAGrets) premium. Entrance fees to monuments ranged from $5-$15 AUD as you are required to pay the tourist fee.
Accommodation/night/pp $35 + 2 x (meals $15/pp) + driver/day $40/pp + 2 x (monument fees $10) + souvenir money $20 = $145 per day, per person.
*These are the calculations for what we spent per day, per person, travelling as a couple. Sharing taxi fees, accommodation, subjective spending and exchange rates will influence this calculation.
Currency exchange: We found that Delhi airport had decent exchange rates. The only time we found it cheaper was with some random Western Union street stall with no passports asked, and no receipts given. There is an abundance of exchange places, even at tourist attractions. Make sure to carry some small notes for tipping.
Planning your itinerary: Research the places that you want to go rather than just ticking off every single must-see-attraction. Without any prior knowledge of each tourist attraction, fort fatigue will soon settle in; every fort visited blending into one. Unless you specify this to your driver, you will be taken on the vanilla itinerary. The question of hiring a driver remains subjective. We did not have many days in India, so having a driver was both convenient and time saving. Self-guided travel with public transport would allow you to become more immersed in the culture and would save on costs. We used Ashok’s Taxi Tours, and were pleased with their service.
Enter the arrival hall and walk past the millions of locals lining up at customs. The e-tourist visa line is hidden behind the sea of people at the very end of the hall. Expect to wait over an hour and a half during peak times.
Do not exit the airport building until you are absolutely certain that you have arranged pick up, you’ve gone to the toilet, you’ve exchanged some money and you don’t need to make any calls. You are not allowed to re-enter and the entrances are guarded by armed security. We made this mistake and found ourselves stranded without a phone, and without a toilet for over an hour.
Dress code: Expect warmer climate. Our own opinion is that the areas that we travelled through—Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur— were not conservative areas. However, to avoid unwanted attention, it is best that you—in particular women—cover shoulders and knees. This will also save you trouble at religious sites where strict dress code is enforced. Put careful thought into what shoes you wear on which days. Some sites require you to leave your shoes at the entrance, and you don’t want to be worrying about your Louboutins being stolen. Some sites, such as the Taj, will provide you with shoe covers included in the entry fee. You do not have to pay for this! Do not buy it off the guy standing outside the ticket box.
Tourist fees and special entry: Most sites have a local entry fee and a tourist entry fee which is ten times the price of the local ticket. It is still a reasonable price nonetheless and often comes with privileges. For example, at the Taj Mahal, there is a tourist line that allowed you to bypass the general entry line, which was a kilometre long when we visited. You can’t see the tourist entry line because it is hidden behind this crowd. The ‘fake’ tour guides will claim they know this ‘secret’ way in, but all you have to do is walk past the crowds to the middle, empty line.
Wait for the photo op: Don’t spend too much time stressing over getting the best angle. At the Taj Mahal, you’ll notice everyone stopping at the entrance to take photos. We suggest you just enjoy the views and wait till you get closer. There are plenty of vantage points despite the crowds, and you will definitely get a chance to take that cliche picture where you pretend to touch the top of the monument.
Health and safety
Safety: No matter where you go in the world, there will be some element of unsafety. In hindsight, we felt more unsafe than we actually were. People will stare. The crowds will be overwhelming. But after a while you get used to it. Just don’t go hiding drugs in your surfboard and you’ll be fine.
Food: We are usually all for experiencing the culture; dive right in and eat the dirtiest street food you can find. India is the first place where we agreed on tourist restaurants and hotels, partly because we had no idea of where was good, and partly because every other forum online says so. Bottom line is: we didn’t get sick. When in doubt, stick to vegetarian meals. This isn’t hard, because most menus are vegetarian. Paneer (cheese) is the most common substitute for meat, and it was just as, if not more, delicious. You won’t find beef anywhere. The Macca’s menu is full of chicken and paneer varieties. Try the Maharajah Mac. Tipping wise, we added ten percent to the bill.
Drink: Play it safe and you won’t ruin your trip—unlike that time I drank the tap water in Uzbekistan and vomited all the way back to Melbourne. Drink and brush your teeth with—I’m sorry Mother Earth—bottled water, avoid ice in your drinks and avoid fresh fruit and vegetables washed with unclean water. The chai was delicious; we are yet to have found a place in Melbourne that compares.
These notes were taken on the road, and are mostly opinion-based. Conditions will vary depending on the time that you go, and the type of traveller that you are. If at least one stomach is saved from a gastro bug, then we are happy to have helped. Make sure you check out our Instagram @boringbeautiful for our photography from the trip.