Wow 2 months in india has flown by and now it is time for our next adventure. India was everything we hoped for and more. We chose to come to India for culture, colour, diversity and food. In addition we have met joyful, loving, kind people.
In this blog we thought we would write about our tips for travelling in India and our highlights. Most important is to talk to the locals. Connecting with everyone from the rich to the poor is how you get to know the real India, and the Indians are always up for a chat.
Be flexible and open to all experiences otherwise you will not enjoy India. India has its own unique flow and seems illogical and very confusing to westerners. But you can’t fight it so just go along with it and laugh. India really shows you how much you control things in your life, and also how unnecessary and limiting that mindset really is. Hopefully with the Indian spirit you will go home or travel on with a more relaxed and carefree look on life.
Traveling via train is a cheap and most comfortable way to travel the country. And the train network covers the entire country like a spiderweb. But before buying a ticket theres a few thing to know to make it easier. Figuring out the classes was overwhelming at the start, but now we know what we are getting its easy. The trains classes are 1AC (2 births per cabin with aircon), first class (2 births per cabin no aircon), 2AC (2 beds per side, total 4 beds per compartment with air con) ,3AC (3 beds per side, total 6 beds per compartment with air con), sleeper (same as 3AC but no aircon, plus many Indians jam in during the day). All classes above are sleeping berths which are like beds but the lower berths are used for sitting during the day.. Sometimes people are sitting in your seats, just ask them to move. They will squeeze in somewhere else. Unreserved tickets are second class, you buy those tickets on the day of and you squish up with hundreds of others – its a fun experience but leave it for short day trips only. CC are reserved chair cars with or without a/c. Trains mostly always depart on time, but allow 30min before departure to find your platform and compartment especially for big train stations.
Toilets are generally pretty gross but dealable, and at least they are available, unlike most busses.
We mostly travelled 3AC as its quite hot during the day, they’re cheap and not crowded like sleepers. We took sleepers on shorter trips, book ‘side’ upper and lower seats on sleepers as there are only 2 bunks on the side and the lower berth folds to 2 single seats which saves you being squished in on the bench seats. Also note it gets quite hot during the day on the top bunk.
Buying tickets can be challenging, especially if your credit card refuses to make the payments online. Visit http://www.indianrail.gov.in to check what trains go to your destination and seat availability. If you want to buy tickets online you need to set up a IRCTC account which you need an Indian mobile number. This site is frustratingly slow, but you can buy tickets. Alternatively you create a Clear Trip account (www.cleartrip.com) and buy your tickets here. You need an IRCTC account to create a Cleartrip account. Or go to Reservation counters at train stations and pay cash. And take your passport with you. We recommend booking tickets as early as possible especially on Indian school holidays, festivals and any major event. At the big train stations (ie New Delhi station, Mumbai etc) there are tourist counters you can access limited tourist quota seats. If you find buying tickets overwhelming or frustrating go to the tourist desks and book all your tickets.
Food and drinks are available for purchase on trains. On the southern railway trains you can even preorder meals. The food tends to be more meal style on southern railways compared to more snacks up north.
Learn some local language especially common phrases. We bought a Teach Yourself Hindi book and our experiences were greatly enriched. People laugh but they also appreciate you learning their language. There are different languages in different parts of the country. At least learn hello and thank you in the local tongue.
Go to places out of season for excellent discounts. You can get discounts up to 60% at some accommodations. We stayed in Varkla during June, monsoon season, and paid 200 rupees ($4) per night, saving us between 300-800 rupees a night!!! It rained heavily before dawn then only about a half hour each day. Staying out of season might not be perfect weather conditions but you won’t feel like you’re staying in a western resort and you will save heaps.
Dine with locals. Whether it’s in a home stay, on a tour, or just some random person you met on the street. You find out about their family life, who is married, their customs surrounding marriage, their work conditions, how much they earn, if they want to travel and who their favorite cricket player is. And if you can’t speak the language just smile and laugh with them.
Eat some of the best food in the world! Your taste buds will explode with rich flavours and intense spices. The cuisine is very different from north to south. The north has more creamier dishes served with nan bread and chappiti. The south is hotter, more waterier curries eaten with rice or porrotta (another type of bread). Thali’s are inexpensive where you get 3-5 types of dishes with a staple of rice or bread. There’s plenty of local ‘hotels’ (hole in the wall eateries) where a meal is 20-100 rupees (40c – $2) per huge sized meal.
Watch cricket… At the local eatery, family’s house, at a cricket ground, anywhere – just do it! Even if you are not a fan of the sport it is great entertainment. It’s their second religion, they live and breathe the sport. At cricket matches it is a big dance party where everyone is up cheering and shaking their booties. It’s hilarious and awesome fun.
Stay with a family in a homestay. It’s a beautiful and enriching experience where you see and be part of your host families life. We were lucky enough to stay with the Nevis family whom welcomed us with open arms. They let us try their meals, invited us to their sisters house for dinner, and cook with their maid.
Do a course. We did a yoga and meditation retreat at Phool Chatti Ashram, Rishekesh. It was one of the highlights of our trip to learn something new and experience ashram life. We also did 2 days of Tabla (drumming) lessons which was lots of fun. Learning to cook some delicious local seafood dishes in Kerala helped us understand more about how all the spices are used and was a great way to bring a bit of India with us. All sorts of courses are available all over India.
Turn a blind eye and accept things as they are. You will notice rubbish piled on streets and in waterways, human waste, rats and cockroaches. But don’t let these small things distract you from the color of India.