India was one of our most challenging and most rewarding stops. We saw the heights of art and architecture and the depths of poverty and despair. We were sweet-talked and hustled, greeted graciously and treated with kindness. We were thrilled, frustrated, over-stimulated, exhausted, energized, thankful and sad, often in the same day. India will touch you, one way or another. We spent our five weeks exclusively in the north, taking our time, but still covering a lot of ground. We did the full Rajasthan circuit, substituting a couple of less-traveled spots for those we heard were over-saturated. Outside Rajasthan, we visited Varanasi and Khajuraho, New Delhi, and Agra (Taj Mahal).
For US citizens you must arrange your visa before leaving the United States. We secured a 10 year multiple entry visa, though we’ve heard these can be tough to get. It was a logical choice because it was the same price as the 5 year multi-entry. We did ours by mail through the Travisa office in Houston, TX. They cover US citizens residing in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Food in India is cheap and delicious, and there is a wide variety to choose from. It’s easy to be a vegetarian here, and in many cases it’s preferable. With the majority of people being Hindu, beef is pretty much never on the menu. Muslim folks add pork to the no-no list. That leaves chicken, fish, and the occasional lamb and goat for the carnivores. Personally, we didn’t miss meat at all. Eggplant, chick peas, lentils, an endless parade of flatbreads and yoghurt were plenty to fill us up and keep us satisfied. The challenge sometimes is a lack of restaurants. In tourist areas, there are tourist-specific establishments. In the big cities these can be pricey, and not so authentic. Street food can be sketchy (though you really can’t help but dig in sometimes). We found ourselves eating more often than not in the guesthouse or backpacker hostel where we were staying. This can work out well if they’re good cooks, not so well if the food isn’t up to snuff, and you’re stuck there without options. Some of the best cooking we had was in the small town of Bundi at the Hadee Rani Guesthouse, a 450-year old haveli in Sadar Bazaar. Meals were prepared by the owner’s mother and wife, and we never got tired of the menu.
Entry fees for foreigners can be quite a few more rupees than for locals, which, while it makes sense, can be so far apart it’s surprising. The Taj Mahal, for example, is 20 rupees for Indian nationals, 750 for foreign visitors. At most museums, monuments and attractions there is a separate fee for cameras. They usually issue a ticket with an elastic band you can attach to the camera itself. Don’t even try to ask about the camera on your phone. You’ll be charged for sure.
There are many transportation options in India, and many of them are quite cheap. We rode public buses (sometimes difficult to navigate, and completely unreliable as far as schedule, but an experience to remember!), trains, auto-rickshaws and bicycles. Long distance trains are generally quite affordable, especially if you stay away from the higher classes. Don’t go too cheap on the trains though. We stuck mainly to AC-3 (Air-conditioned, three-tier bunks) for overnight and Sleeper class during the day on shorter trips. While the higher classes may not be too much more expensive, they fill quickly. Since we never planned far ahead, we took what was available. Seat 61 has a great discussion/description of the many classes of India trains.