Most of us are required a Visa in order to enter India. It is a pretty simple process to obtain one but you have to make sure you apply about a month before your trip, due to sometimes your application can be delayed. If you live in the UK, all you have to do is fill in an online form, print it, add the other documents required and together with your passport, send all the papers to VSF Global for processing. There are fees for both the Visa and VSF but you can do the payment online and send them the receipt. The cost of the visa is different for each nationality. As a British you will pay £102 + the VSF service charge of £7.44. I am Romanian so I paid only £32.
When booking a flight to India look for indirect flights, they tend to be much cheaper. I went twice to India: first time I flew with Emirates, stopping in Dubai, and the price from London to New Delhi was around £350. Second time I flew with Austrian Airlines, with a stopover in Vienna. The price was £520 (It was over the Christmas holidays when all the flights were over £800). Use Google Flights for the best prices and for suggestions on when to fly to get the beast deal.
India’s currency is the Rupee. The exchange is simple, 100 Rupees are the equivalent of £1. You have to know that as a foreigner you will pay more than the locals when you will visit different monuments. When you are in the bazaar it’s always a good idea to bargain the price, most of the vendors will be very happy to engage with you. Never pay the first price told and don’t accept anything less than 30% off that sum.
India is a very cheap country. A decent hotel with hot water, breakfast and WiFi will cost between 1000 and 2000 Rupees a night. A meal in a restaurant will be between 200-300 Rupees for a vegetarian option or between 400-600 Rupees for a meaty option. As I said before, I would recommend the vegetarian options due to the fact that I got sick eating chicken. North India is mostly vegetarian and the amount of veggie curies is impressive. A cheaper option, for about 100 Rupees, is too eat street food but be very careful and make sure you always eat the food while it’s still very hot.
The Smart metro card in New Delhi can be purchased for 50 Rupees (which are refundable when you give the card back). The cost of a journey can vary from 8 to 30 Rupees, depending on the distance traveled.
Traveling by train or by bus is again, very cheap. A ticket from New Delhi to Jaipur in the AC class (comfortable chair, air conditioned with breakfast included) costs 640 Rupees. However, if you choose a lower class you will be paying 120 Rupees only. There is also a tourist metro card which can be purchased for 100 Rupees (for one day) or 250 Rupees (for 3 days) which offer unlimited journeys by metro.
When booking a tuk tuk for the day always agree on the price before starting the trip. I paid 400 Rupees per day in Jaipur. In New Delhi some of the tuk tuks will have meters.
The most expensive touristic place to visit is the Taj Mahal, the fee being 750 Rupees. All the other monuments can be visited for 250 Rupees or less.
5. The cultural shock
Getting to India for the first time is a shocking experience. I remember my first time… tired after a day spent in Dubai sightseeing, looking forward to arrive at the hotel and sleep. As soon as I got out of the airport the heat struck me straight away. I jumped in the car that was waiting for me and I gazed at the window, seeing horses and cows on the road from the airport to the city. Then it hit me, Paharganj and all it’s fluorescent neon signs blinking on and off. Was I in New Delhi or in Las Vegas? I checked in and went into my room, it was almost midnight, but the noise made me go and look on the window. A wedding was taking place right there, in the middle of the street, on the opposite side of my hotel. And this was just the beginning. You will see things that will shock you, things that will make you question your humanity. You have to be prepared for this!
6. Travel inside India
If you think buying a train ticket by yourself in India is easy, think again! It took me two hours to manage to buy a train ticket in Jaipur, for Ajmer. In India there is no concept of queue, if someone wants to ask a question or buy something they will get in front of you and just do it. You have to do the same, otherwise you will wait until forever to buy your ticket.
Traveling by train in India is very safe and actually very comfortable, especially if you are choosing the AC class. On some express trains you will even have a meal included (Delhi to Jaipur for example).
You also need to know that traveling in India can take a lot of time and trains are often late. From Delhi to Jaipur, even if there are only about 300 kilometers, the journey will time will be of 5 hours if there is no delay.
When hiring a tuk tuk for the day, negotiate hard for the best price. As an example, I paid 400 Rupees a day in Jaipur, negotiated from 1000 Rupees.
7. Food and water
If you are going to India for the food, then you should know you are heading for heaven! The authentic flavours and the amount of different type of dishes, make India a favorite destination for the foodies. Don’t think of curry only, there are many others amazing recipes that you should try out, thali for example – a selection of six flavours of sweet, salt, bitter, sour, astringent and spicy on one single plate. Each region of India has it’s own cuisine, the South tending to be the spiciest.
If you are in India for the first time, take it easy! Your stomach will not be able to digest the spicy food and you will end up feeling very sick. Start by choosing mild dishes (which in India are still very spicy). If you are a coriander hater (like me), you have to know that all the curries will have it. I asked every time I ordered for my dish not to have coriander and in about 50% of the cases my meal came without. In the other 50% I had to fish it out and only after enjoy my dinner.
Never drink unbottled water! Always buy the bottles of water from a shop and check them to be sealed. Sometimes street vendors will recycle bottles, fill them with tap water, seal them and then sell them to you. So be careful and check if your bottle’s seal looks dodgy or if it has a glued hole on the bottom. You will get sick if you drink tap water!
I’ve only met wonderful people during my two trips to India. Do not turn around when people try to talk to you, you never know what wonderful experiences are waiting!. For example, one of the tuk tuk drivers that I met turned out to be a wonderful person with whom, after the day finished, I had a beer on the rooftop of a haveli in Jaipur. And on the way back to the hotel he let me drive his tuk tuk.
9. Stay safe!
This is an international rule, take care of your belongings and pay attention in crowded areas. If your intuition says “no”, always listen to it.
10. Get involved and enjoy India!
Don’t just visit India but try to discover the people and the culture. Try to make contact with a local family and learn about their life. Bring a few toys with you and give them to the children you see playing on the streets. It is very important to understand the country you are in and not just tick the touristic monuments from a list. Do something, as little as you can! For you it might be nothing, but for someone else it might be the world! The feeling of putting a smile on someone’s face is priceless!