Dates Visited: March 27, 2015 – May 2, 2015
# of Days: 37
Average Daily Budget: USD 38.09 per person
Exchange Rate: USD 1.00 to 62.00 Indian Rupees (INR)
Accommodation in India was a struggle. Even though there were thousands of budget rooms available (think USD 10 / night), most of them were not in living conditions (at least for our standards). We tried our best to find rooms that were well located, had working wifi, hot shower and AC and above all, were clean:
New Delhi (5 nights) – We had booked online one night at the Cottage Ganga Inn (USD 20.30) in New Delhi; however, we never set foot in the guesthouse since our flight from Kathmandu was cancelled that day. Since flights were uncertain, we decided to just show up in New Delhi and find a place. For five nights, we stayed at the Aman Hotel International (USD 16.10 / night) in the Paharganj area of New Delhi. Everything in the hotel was unreliable, from the wifi to AC to hot shower. The room was not the cleanest and it was sometimes questionable if the beddings and towels had been washed at all. Apparently the standard in India was low.
Varanasi (3 nights) – We stayed at the Ganga Fuji Inn (USD 19.32 / night) after reading some reviews online. We struggled with the wifi and the bed was uncomfortable, but the hot shower and AC worked fine. During our last night, we saw a rat in the room, which had been living under our bed the whole time. To be fair, there were probably rats in other places we’ve stayed, but we just never saw them.
Khajuraho (1 night) – Our one night stay in Khajuraho was at the Siddarth Hotel (USD 19.32 / night). The room was clean and really well located, right across the street from the western group of temples. It was an upgrade from Varanasi.
Jaipur (4 nights) – Our family friend arranged accommodation for us at the Jaipur Club (USD 30.28 / night), centrally located right next to the train station. The room was clean and well equipped with hot shower and AC. It was the nicest room we had in India up to this point.
Jaisalmer (2 nights) – We spent two nights at the Manglam Hotel (USD 19.32 / night) which had nice, spacious and clean rooms. In Jaisalmer, we also spent one night in the desert as part of our camel safari.
Jodhpur (3 nights) – Even though the past hotels we stayed in were alright, we wanted to take a break from the usual Indian standards and booked a room at Mango Hotels (USD 31.00 / night). It was by far the best and most modern place we had in India and we found it hard to leave. Highly recommended.
Udaipur (3 nights) – Udaipur lacked decent budget accommodation. After looking for some time, we settled for a room at the Narayans Leela Hotel (USD 19.32 / night). The room was decent, but the wifi didn’t work. We also had problems with other guests that were staying in the hotel – yelling in the corridor, letting their kids ring our doorbell before running away.
Mumbai (2 nights) – Mumbai was just not meant to be a budget destination. The cheapest hotels we found were in the USD 50s range per night and looked extremely bad. We realized we had to spend more for a good location and stayed at the Chateau Windsor Hotel (USD 69.78 / night). It was fine, but not for how much we paid – however, such is a price for Mumbai.
Aurangabad (1 night) – After an hour spent trying to find a clean room or one that didn’t have the 24hr check-out policy (we were checking in at 4am, so leaving the next day at 4am would be bad, considering our train back to Mumbai was at 11pm). At some point we gave up and walked in at the Keys Hotel (USD 58.37 / night). We actually ended up booking the room online as the walk in rate was twice as much as the rate on Expedia (totally absurd!). The room was nice though we had some extremely frustrating moments with reception (it’s not a day in India without some sort of yelling).
Kochi (3 nights) – We stayed at the XL Homestay (USD 26.95 / night) in Fort Kochi. Our room was nice and clean, with all the amenities we needed. Our host was very friendly and made sure we had a great time. We ended up booking our Kerala backwaters tour with them as well. Maybe we should have been in southern India this whole time…
In addition to the nights mentioned above, we spent the other 10 (!!) nights on trains, going from city to city. Those weren’t the best nights. People were really noisy and the beds were too short for me (my feet hung out in the corridor with people hitting it every 10min or so). Sleep deprivation definitely set in at some point in India, from either stays in lacklustre hotels or bad nights on the trains.
Money Saving Tips
- India offers extremely cheap accommodation, if one can cope with the conditions those rooms are in. If you are looking for something a bit better, “bargain, bargain and bargain” is your motto. This is India and negotiations take time and several rounds. You know you were scammed if they agree to your price right away. If you don’t like the room / rate turn your back and try the next door – there are plenty of options and you will find one that fits your needs.
- Be prepared to pay more for the same standards that you would get elsewhere in Asia. But also remember that value for money is not really a thing in India. Sometimes paying more doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting more.
Food & Drinks
Indian cuisine is a monstrosity – as ancient and diverse as the country itself. We tried our best to try a bit of everything, but still found ourselves just scratching the surface. Food in India can be extremely cheap – there were many street vendors that sold meals for around USD 1. However, we took it easy on the street food and usually ate in restaurants that seemed clean and dependable, spending around USD 4.00 a meal per person (usually some main/course, Indian breads, and a drink like lassi or soda). Thalis were my favourite and made me full every time, ranging from USD 2.50 to 5.
Money Saving Tips
- Vegetarian food was both cheaper and more prevalent than non-veg. options.
- Give cheap street food a go, but with the rule of thumb for not getting sick – only eat hot food (that has been cooked) and not sitting out for a while (preferably cooked in front of you).
- The discount for water bottles at grocery stores were not worth the extreme hassle at checkout. Just buy for INR 20 from local stands (check that the bottle is sealed).
We flew into New Delhi from Kathmandu in Nepal and spend USD 123 per person on the tickets with Air India, which averaged USD 3.33 per day per person. To get around in India, we used a combination of bicycle and auto rickshaws, taxis, buses, metro, trains and planes.
Bicycle Rickshaws – We took bicycle rickshaws a few times, more for the experience than anything else. The rides usually cost less than USD 0.50 and it was perfect to cover short distances. Agree on a price beforehand and make sure the driver understands where you want to go.
Auto Rickshaws – Inexpensive, ideal for short distances, and faster than bicycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws were our go to option for transportation within the cities. A typical ride cost below USD 1 for 3-5km. Driving was usually crazy and involved law bending moments to squeeze between the incoming traffic. We also found ourselves taking auto rickshaws for distances above 500m in India that we would normally walk. Sometimes it was just too hot to walk for more than 5 minutes under the sun.
Taxis – Taxis are metered and you should refuse to get in if the driver doesn’t use it. Fares usually start at USD 0.30 covering the first 1.5km and USD 0.17 per km thereafter. These prices vary depending on the city and destination, but are useful as a general guideline. We took a private taxi from Jodhpur to Udaipur, as no trains travel that particular route.
Buses – We used local buses to reach the Ajanta Caves from Aurangabad. The ride wasn’t one of the best, but it was pretty cheap (USD 3.64 each way). In addition to this ride, we took a bus from the airport in Kochi to Fort Kochi. It was one of the nicest buses we’ve been on (even with AC!) and only cost USD 2.60.
Metro – The New Delhi Metro really impressed me with standards close to those of the Hong Kong MTR. Safe, clean and reliable, it was our preferred method of transportation in New Delhi.
Trains – India has an extensive railway network and we used it to go from city to city. Trains get fully booked really fast and if it wasn’t for the foreign tourist (FT) quota, we would have never set foot on a single train. To make use of the FT quota, we booked tickets all the way from Delhi to Mumbai in advance while we were still in Delhi (you must go to an International Tourist Bureau office to book FT quota tickets and Delhi has the most dependable service). We usually got tickets for AC3 or AC2 classes, but when those weren’t available, we picked AC1. The lower classes could be interesting to experience, but we preferred comfort and safety. Tickets were usually around USD 20 – 40 per person, depending on class and route.
Flights – As an alternative to a 26hr train ride, we flew from Mumbai to Kochi for USD 79 per person with IndiGo. It was only USD 30 more per person if compared to the train tickets and it saved us a whole day on the train – money well spent!
Money Saving Tips
- For rickshaws and taxis, negotiate the prices beforehand and triple check it before getting on. If you don’t get the price you’re looking for, don’t hesitate to walk away, because there will be many others willing to go for a lower price. Buses and metro are hassle free and you should get an official ticket with the price on it.
- To travel around India, trains are the best value. They are safer, more comfortable and reliable than buses and definitely cheaper than private cars. AC3 class is the best value; AC2 has more space (4 beds instead of 6); AC1 was not worth paying more for. For the ultimate budget traveler, you can’t beat the “adventures” of sleeper class. BOOK EARLY!
- Figuring out how to book trains in India is a pain in the butt. Here is a beginner’s guide (the length of this is an indication of how complicated the whole system is). Cleartrip offers a better interface for looking at options, while IRCTC is where you can book tickets online. Indian Railways website is still the best for finding out seat availability (find train info using other sites).
India is a huge country full of attractions and listing all of them would be impractical. Instead, we will group them by city and list the most significant ones:
- New Delhi – Entrance fees totalling USD 12 per person
In Delhi, we visited three major attractions – Qutb Minar, Humayun Tomb and the Red Fort. All three attractions were a refreshing sight (the architecture present in each of them is unparalleled) and well worth the money spent. All the entrance tickets cost the same price, USD 4 per person.
- Agra – Entrance fees totalling USD 18 per person
We came to Agra for two attractions – the Taj Mahal (USD 12 per person) and the Agra Fort (USD 4 per person). Needless to say, the Taj Mahal was one of the most beautiful structures we’ve seen on this trip, rivaling Angkor Wat in Cambodia. For USD 2 one can get a comprehensive audio guide to the Taj Mahal.
- Varanasi boat ride in the Ganges – USD 6.45 per boat
After walking through the alleys and ghats of Varanasi, we figured out that the ghats would be better appreciated seen from afar, on a boat. The prices vary and in the end, we negotiated the price down to USD 6.45 per boat for a one hour tour.
- Khajuraho western group of temples – Entrance fee USD 4 per person
The temples in Khajuraho were interesting and different. Tickets, like for most attractions in India, cost USD 4 per person. We also shared an audio guide for an additional USD 2.
- Jaipur – USD 18.50 per person
We booked a full day tour with the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation for USD 5.60 per person. The tour included visits to the main sights in the city. In addition to the tour, we got two composite tickets (total of USD 12.90 per person) that were valid for entry at the City Palace, Jantar Mantar, Amer Fort, Jaigarh Fort and Nahargarh Fort, among others.
- Jaisalmer Camel Safari – USD 26 per person
One of the best experiences of this trip was our camel safari in the Thar Desert. We paid USD 24 per person for a two-day / one-night safari with the Sahara Travels office in Jaisalmer, everything included. In addition, we tipped our camel drivers USD 2 each. The safari is highly recommended!
- Udaipur City Palace – Entrance fee USD 0.50 per person
We would say the visit to the City Palace in Udaipur is not worth it, if the tickets weren’t so cheap. A walk through the gardens of the palace and gazing at Lake Pichola were nice and well worth the USD 0.50. We didn’t bother paying for the museums inside.
- Ajanta Caves – Entrance fee USD 4 per person
A magnificent collection of ancient art and architecture, it costed only USD 4 per person to visit the Ajanta Caves. The most expensive part was getting there, especially if one choose a private taxi, but the local bus was a much cheaper option!
- Kerala backwaters tour – USD 13.50 per person
By far the most relaxing tour in this trip, our 7h cruise in a Kerala houseboat took us through its amazing network of canals, rivers and lakes – the so called backwaters. The tour cost each of us USD 13.50, including lunch.
In addition to the attractions and tours mentioned above, we also spent USD 9 per person going to the movies twice (so cheap!).
There were some considerable miscellaneous expenses in India. The most significant ones:
- 3-Month Tourist Visa – USD 67.00 per person
Bangkok and Kathmandu were the only places in Asia to get an Indian visa as a foreigner. We got ours in Bangkok, before heading down to the beaches and Nepal. The process was extremely bureaucratic and awful. Part of what kept us going for so long in India was the thought that if we ever wanted to come back, we’d have to get another visa, and that alone would be highly discouraging.
- SIM Card with 2GB of data – USD 12.30
We got a SIM card with Vodafone and a 2GB data package. While it had signal in most areas we visited, speed was pretty slow. Ironically, the more urban a place was, the slower the speed. We had faster 3G in the middle of nowhere in the Thar Desert than at Connaught Place in the center of New Delhi.
- Laundry – USD 25.00
Surprisingly, laundry was extremely expensive in India. We didn’t find a single place that charged per kg as we were used to and were forced to pay the ridiculous prices per piece. Apparently washing machines didn’t make it to India and all clothes were washed by hand. It’s a bit ridiculous to imagine some random Indian lady smacking our clothes repeatedly on a rock.
In addition to the items above, we had other miscellaneous expenses such as visa related expenses (printouts of multiple revisions to our forms), souvenirs, exchange rate loss, etc. that summed up to USD 27.70.
India can be extremely cheap to travel in, though the lower standards forced us to spend more money for more comfort and better service. We were slightly above budget in India (our daily goal was USD 35 per person), but we felt like the extra buck was well spent and saved us from even worse hotel rooms, possible health issues and even more stress from low quality service. Plus India took more “traveling” than the much smaller countries that we have been to. It’s crazy how a lot of other travelers do India for even less!