Trains is the choice of transport due to price, how far they travel, how easy it is to book them and comfort. Apps such as Cleartrip and Make My Trip are easy and safe to use for booking travel in India. The recommended class would be sleeper class as this will get you space for your backpack and a bed to lay on. You will receive a paper ticket and this is checked by a conductor. Buses can also be booked on these apps and are good to use for smaller trips but beware this is India so everything gets full quickly. Trains do frequently stop along the way hence the longer train journeys for the same distances compared to the Western world. Internal flights can be as cheap as £50 if the 12 hour trip on the train is too laborious.
Accommodation – I would highly recommend a few hostels and guesthouses I stayed in throughout my trip in India.
New Delhi – When arriving in to Delhi I would recommend The Madpackers Hostel which is in the Hauz Kaus area which is affluent and can be reached by the metro of the said name. Prices will range from £6 a night for a dorm. It is in a great location close to many amenities and The Village which is great for live music and a few drinks. The hostel has a good breakfast, great wifi, great staff and a rooftop view.
Jaipur – CrashPad Hostel in the heart of Jaipur has everything you need in a hostel. The staff are great and will help you with local sights, booking transport and food. There are 5 bed dorms (one of which is female only) and a 7 bed dorm and they are £4 a night. There is a spacious common room to meet fellow travellers with colourful cushions and comfy seats to fall asleep on. The hostel comes with good wifi, breakfast and a balcony to hang out.
Varanasi – Stops Hostel in Varanasi is a very comfortable and a worthy hostel to stay in, as a hostel chain you would expect that. The hostel is about a 20min walk from the Ghats leading to the Ganges. A local café named Kerala Café does south Indian food which is very cheap and you can even weigh yourself on their scales after you have stuffed your face! Stops also offer daily tours, I would recommend the sunrise tour which was about £6 with an early start but you get amazing views on the Ganges on board a boat and you even get a chance to bath in the water. Open Hand café is about 20mins walk away and is well worth the journey for the best coffee that I had in my time in India.
I would highly recommend the Singalila Ridge trek in Darjeeling where you can book through Adventures Unlimited who are run by a really nice couple who will help you with your booking and are honest with their trips and prices. They have a website http://www.adventuresunlimited.in and are easily found near the centre of the Darjeeling.
Stops Hostel’s sunrise tour of the Ganges in Varanasi is well worth the early morning start and you can easily book through the hostel. Normally there is a strong crowd who go and you will capture some amazing photos on the river. You get to see the ceremony at 6am which happens every day and the chance to bath in the water.
For the music fans amongst you I would recommend the walk in Rishikesh to The Beatles Ashram which is a 30 min walk from the centre of town. The entrance fee is £6 for foreigners and is well worth the visit, a truly inspirational visit to a place in time which is so important for music. The abandoned Ashram still has remnants of the buildings when the Beatles stayed there and also a lot of art/graffiti to get stuck into.
Udaipur is my favourite city in India because of its setting which looks like Venice and the white buildings dotted around. You can visit the hotel where the James Bond film Octopussy was filmed which is situated right in the middle of the water and only accessible by boat. City palace is well worth a visit with lots of history to see and hear. The views from the top are spectacular and entry is £2. Monsoon Palace on the top of the mountain is well worth your time with amazing views, you will have to get organised transport to the top and then you walk the final climb.
Phone – A phone sim card with a plan for 4G and call time can be bought for £1.50 and with the Airtel app (who I bought mine with) you can replenish your data by visiting a shop and paying for more. A very easy process to do and these Airtel shops are dotted in every location. Signal in India is pretty amazing and much better than Norfolk! Absolutely essential for those long journeys on the train.
The exchange rate will be roughly 100rp to £1 so very easy to work out. I used a pre paid card from Sta Travel to load my money and had no problems withdrawing from the various atms around. The usual charge is normally £2.50 to withdraw money so withdraw as much as you can to save on that.
India is safe to travel around whether you are solo or in a group but you need to be switched on. Views towards female Western backpackers can be worrying with staring, getting asked for a photo or being touched a possible option so please bare this in mind. If travelling along on local transport stay awake and vigilant. People such as tuk tuk drivers will try to take you to a shop or restaurant so be firm when you want to go somewhere. Generally Indians are very polite and keen to speak and help you anyway possible.
Food and drink
A local Thali like the pic below is an all you can eat dish of goodness for as little as £2. Real local places will be all you can eat but established restaurants will provide you with food just the once time over. Bottled water is always a must as with most of Asia and this would cost you about 10p or 20p a bottle. Eating fresh food from the market is highly recommended but if it is not a peeling fruit wash it with bottled water to make sure. A favourite for breakfast whilst volunteering in Jaisalmer was a dal pokwan which cost 10p and is a poppadum the size of a plate with dal on top of with spices and herbs, an absolute gem. Indians mostly are vegetarian and a lot of the restaurants will only have this option. If you require to eat any meat I would advise a well established restaurant to ensure it is safe, in the three months I was there I had meat only a handful of occasions. Well worth doing is a cooking course to develop your Indian cooking skills and they can be arranged for around £5. We done ours in Udaipur with a local man on the street who was selling paintings and he told us his wife done cooking courses and before you know it we were in their kitchen!