India is a country that you will either love or hate. It all depends on how you approach it. If you put aside your prejudices and just go with the flow, you just might find that India is infinitely more enjoyable than you’d expected it to be. Things are certainly different in India, but isn’t that why we travel, to experience new things?
Personally, we weren’t sure that we’d like India and we were a little bit apprehensive about our trip there. But it turned out we enjoyed it all; the culture, the food, the colours, the architecture, there is so much to love about India.
One thing we didn’t quite realise was how big India actually is. To explore it properly you’d need months or you’d need to head back there multiple times. If you only have 3 weeks to spare though, you can get a good feel of the country by following this itinerary. It takes you through the best of Rajasthan, the holy city of Varanasi and even has some time for relaxing on the beautiful southern beaches of Goa!
New Delhi (2 days)
Most international travellers arrive in Delhi or Mumbai. We arrived in New Delhi and spent two days exploring this hectic metropolis. As you land, you will quickly notice the amount of pollution covering the city and as you make your way to your hotel, the amount of traffic.
With 25 million inhabitants, New Delhi is crazy, to say the least. It’s an experience on its own but aside from the madness, it is a nice city to explore. We especially loved visiting the Old City and if you only do one thing while you’re there, this should be it! Taking a rickshaw ride through the busy, narrow streets of the Old City was the highlight of our time in New Delhi.
Hotels in New Delhi
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Tours in New Delhi
Jaipur (2 days)
Getting there: By car (4-1/2 hours)
Jaipur is part of the Golden Triangle and it’s one of the most popular places to visit in Rajasthan This is due to the stunning architecture of both its Pink City and its famous hilltop Amber Fort.
You’ll get some amazing views from the top of the Amber Fort but try and visit first thing in the morning as it gets extremely busy. The Pink City is, of course, another highlight of Jaipur, with its impressive and heavily Instagrammed Hawa Mahal. For the fans of shopping, Jaipur has many bazaars where you can shop until you drop for colourful clothing, souvenirs, jewellery and much more.
Hotels in Jaipur
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Tours in Jaipur
Udaipur (3 days)
Getting there: By car with a detour to Chittorgarh Fort (7 hours)
It was a long day in the car to reach Udaipur from Jaipur but a stop in Chittorgarh Fort it made it bearable. Udaipur was a surprise for us. The city of Lakes is so beautiful and it felt so much quieter than any of the other cities so far (well as quiet as it gets in India!). The views out over the lake are spectacular, especially as the sun sets over it. Make sure to head up to one of the many restaurants with a rooftop terrace to enjoy the sunset.
The highlight of Udaipur for us was a morning boat trip on the lake and a visit to the stunning City Palace.
Hotels in Udaipur
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Tours in Udaipur
Pushkar (1 day)
Getting there: By car (4-1/2 hours)
Pushkar is a beautiful town with a holy lake where you will see many devotees bathing in its holy waters. However, Pushkar was our least favourite place in India because of the number of people hanging around trying to scam us. Yes, this is the case in India in general but Pushkar just took it to a whole new level. However, it’s still a nice place to visit as long as you’re aware of the scammers and ready to tell them to kindly get lost. Take a walk around the lake and the ghats, it’s the best part about Pushkar.
Hotels in Pushkar
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Ranthambore National Park (2 days)
Getting there: By car (4-1/2 hours)
If you’re a fan of wild animals and especially the mighty Bengal Tiger then make sure you visit the Ranthambore National Park for a few half-day safaris. The more safaris you do, the better your chances are, as Bengal Tigers are actually very difficult to spot. Realistically, your chances of seeing one on a safari are 50% or less. We did three safaris, two sunsets and one sunrise safari and we only saw one tiger, late into our very last safari.
Still, our sighting was one to remember to say the least. When T-34 (aka Khumba) walked past our jeep only a few meters away, my heart almost stopped. This was the highlight of India for us.
Hotels in Ranthambore
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Agra (1 day)
Getting there: By car (5 hours)
You can’t go to India and not see the Taj Mahal. In fact, many people go to India just to see it! This incredible masterpiece and declaration of love is truly remarkable and you’ve got to be there to really appreciate it. Make sure you get up early and do a sunrise visit to try and beat the crowds (it will still be somewhat crowded but bearable at least) and to experience the sun rising behind the mausoleum. It’s a real spectacle and well worth the early wake-up call. Once you are satisfied with the Taj Mahal, be sure to head to the Agra Fort, another beautiful building in Agra. From there, you’ll get some more nice views out over the Taj Mahal.
Hotels in Agra
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Tours in Agra
Varanasi (3 days)
Getting there: Overnight train or drive to New Delhi and fly to Varanasi
The holy city of Varanasi is the most confronting place we’ve come across in our travels but it’s one that we are so glad we visited.
Varanasi was a real experience. It’s a place that you will remember for the rest of your life. Varanasi is the holiest city for Hindus and it’s the place where they come for a pilgrimage and where they also come to die.
In Varanasi, the dead are cremated on the banks of the Ganges River in plain sight of passers-by. Their ashes are then disposed of in the river, where downstream you’ll see pilgrims bathing, playing and washing their clothes. It’s certainly not very hygienic but there is an amazing vibe to the place that stays with you after you leave.
The best way to experience Varanasi is to go on a sunrise and sunset boat trip along the river where you can really observe the daily activities along the holiest river on earth.
Hotels in Varanasi
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Tours in Varanasi
Goa ( 5 days)
Getting there: Fly via Mumbai
After exploring the north of India and dealing with all its madness you will more than likely need a bit of time to relax. There’s no better place than Goa in the South of India to do just that. When you land in Goa you won’t feel like you’re in India anymore. Goa feels more like the Caribbean with a Portuguese flare. Now it’s time to relax on the beach, grab some food at one of the beach cafes, explore Old Goa and Panaji, or just chill out by the pool with a cocktail and a good book.
Hotels in Goa
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Mumbai (2 days)
Getting there: Fly or train
Before heading home, spend a couple of days in Mumbai, India’s most populous city. Mumbai was very different from Delhi. While it’s equally as busy as New Delhi, everything in Mumbai just seems so much more organised and less chaotic, right down to how people drive. However, poverty in Mumbai was much more noticeable.
In Mumbai, you can take a city tour to check out the British architecture or take a stroll on the beachfront promenade to do some people watching.
Hotels in Mumbai
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Tours in Mumbai
What do you need to know about India?
As a woman visiting India, you should dress appropriately. India is quite more conservative than back home. You need to cover your legs and shoulders. If you don’t, expect stares and unwanted attention, maybe even theft. It’s just a matter of being respectful of India’s religion and cultures while you’re there, even though you may not agree with everything.
Expect a lot of people!
In one of the most populated countries of the world, it’s pretty hard to avoid the crowds. I am not sure you can totally prepare yourself for India if you’re coming from a sparsely populated country such as Australia.
Our entire population is only the same as the city of New Delhi! Arriving into a city as populated as New Delhi sure was a shock. As we drove from the airport to our hotel in Delhi, I could barely believe the traffic, all those cars and people everywhere.
This is a little overwhelming at first and it does take time to get used to it. For someone like me who hates crowds, it was certainly a challenge. But in the end, there is nothing you can do about it but accept it and try and adapt to it. Trying to get a photo with no-one on it is pretty much impossible!
You are going to get some serious culture shock!
Culture shock will set in as soon as the heat hits you on leaving the airport! The smog, the crowds, the noise, the smells, the rubbish, the beggars, the spicy food, the cows on the road, the crazy things you’ll see. India is not what you are used to if you come from a western country. Everything is very different but we found it fascinating.
Be prepared for the annoying touts
India was by far the worst country for touts that we’ve been to. They are everywhere, they won’t leave you alone and some of them can be annoyingly aggressive. You can’t actually trust anyone because most of the time if someone tries to help you, they’ll want something in return. Most of the time they’ll want you to visit their shop or buy some souvenirs.
Some touts will pretend to be ticket inspectors and then quickly change into uninvited tour guides, following you around and then expecting a tip. Just be firm, ignore them and don’t get upset about it; it’s not worth it.
What about the Visa?
To enter India, you must apply for a visa which can be done online. Unfortunately, the visa is very expensive, costing US$80 for 60 days with 2 allowed entries. It’s the most expensive we’ve ever applied for.
We knew that India would be one of a kind when we decided to apply for the visa. We’ve applied for many visas online before but this one was the lengthiest of all. We had to fill in so many questions, such as the cities where our parents were born, all the cities we were visiting and even if we had a tattoo! The list of all the country we visited in the last 10 years was a tough one to answer. It didn’t help when half an hour into filling in the visa form the website crashed and Simon had to start all over again!
You can apply for your visa here and pay online by credit card.
Once your visa has been granted, you need to print the approval letter and take it with you at the airport. You will be asked for it and a passport sized photo when you enter.
How to get around in India?
With India being such a huge country, there are many ways to get around it. You can hire a driver, take a bus, train or fly between cities. We hired a driver for Rajasthan which was fairly cheaply priced and it made everything very easy. We didn’t have to worry about anything other than being ready to leave when our driver arrived. For longer distances, there are many trains and flights that you can take. We chose flying because I’d heard horror stories about overnight trains and I wasn’t keen to take one.
Now for the unexpected things about India that surprised us
As I mentioned earlier, our visit to Ranthambore National Park was pretty much the highlight of our Indian trip. Apart from the main attraction, the Bengal Tigers, Ranthambore has a host of other wildlife such as leopards, eagles and various types of antelope.
But there is plenty of wildlife elsewhere in India. We commonly saw eagles flying overhead and of course, there are plenty of cheeky monkeys to be found around temples.
The Street Art
We certainly never expected street art to be one of the things we’d remember India for but it was. We saw great examples of street art everywhere from the ghats of Varanasi to the underpasses of New Delhi.
While we expected to try some great food while in India, didn’t expect to be able to eat it the entire holiday and for every meal. While we love eating Indian food back home, we always feel bloated at the end of a takeaway meal. So we figured that by halfway through our trip we’d be tired of feeling bloated and ready for different cuisine.
But it turned out that we never tired of eating Indian food. We’re not quite sure why but we never had that same bloated feeling with the food we ate there. We suspect that it’s partly because we ate a lot of vegetarian dishes and perhaps because the portion sizes are a bit smaller. Whatever it was, it meant we got to enjoy a lot of amazing food while we were there.
The transactional nature of interactions
I guess we should have expected that in a country of a billion people that some things would feel a bit impersonal. Somehow though we hadn’t expected it to be that much more so than in other Asian countries such as Thailand or Vietnam.
In India, it was hard to escape the feeling that whenever someone did something for you there it was because they expected something in return. If someone came up to you on the street and asked how you were, it was guaranteed that they were starting a conversation just to get you into their shop.
It’s not that we’d never experienced this elsewhere but in India, it was a lot more pronounced. That being said, it’s something you get used to very quickly and it’s important to not take it personally. India has a lot of people who are trying to climb out of poverty and better themselves and you can hardly blame them for trying to make money out of tourists.
We didn’t get sick
One of the reasons that we’d held off from visiting India for so long was that we were sure that one of us (well actually Simon!) was going to get really sick there.
But as luck would have it, neither of us fell ill during the entire trip. It was a small miracle, especially since it’s almost guaranteed that Simon will get some form of food poisoning on holiday in Asia. Of course, within a week of arriving in Thailand, he was sick for several days so our luck didn’t last for that long!
The Cows are Everywhere
We knew that cows are sacred in India and they are free to roam around the streets but we didn’t fully appreciate what that meant. For example, you’ll see cows happily lying in the middle of busy roads or walking through the narrow laneways of Udaipur, oblivious to the goings on around them.
Cows in India seem very chilled out and they provide a very nice counterbalance to all of the daily noise and commotion. However, we’re not sure that walking the streets of a polluted city is the greatest thing for them health wise and it was rather sad to see them grazing on top of piles of rubbish. Hopefully, that will change in the future as India makes strides in cleaning up its pollution and garbage problem.