Travelling through India
17 January 2016 by Samantha Jones
I recently spent a month travelling through India as research for our start-up Little Yellow Bird. Our Indian experience was very diverse from spending time in some of India’s largest cities to remote villages where we were the first foreigners to visit. A lot of people have asked us questions about the details of travelling through India and I hope this is helpful to other people wanting to experience this amazing country.
Organic Cotton Farmers from Odisha, India
We opted for the E-tourist visa, valid for 30 days. The cost of the visa is territory specific but with a maximum cost of $60 was by far the cheapest option. Note that this is a single entry visa valid only through 16 designated airports. For full details including which nationals are eligible for this visa click here. We found the visa process fairly simple, although we were initially skeptical of this website we had no issues and our visa’s were processed within 24hours.
We travelled through India using a combination of airline transport and train. Domestic airline travel was relatively straightforward and very affordable. Navigating the train booking system was somewhat more complicated although manageable and in my opinion a worthwhile travel experience. We were unable to figure out a way to book train tickets outside of India however we found Cleartripextremely helpful for identifying train timetables and fares.
To book our tickets we had to actually visit a Railway Ticketing Agent. This process was made infinitely smoother by printing out the details which included train code, times and carriage class. I’m not sure if we would have coped with the language barrier and successfully booked the correct train without this piece of paper.
There are 8 different classes of accommodation, although not all are available on each train. We found this website extremely helpful to explain the differences between all of the different classes. As females travelling long distances on trains we were advised to book at least AC2 (air conditioned 2nd class) tickets. There were no AC2 tickets available on the train we needed so we opted for AC3 (air conditioned 3rd class) instead.
Although by no means luxurious I found the train and this class quite comfortable. We were provided with clean pillows and blankets. The toilet facilities however were very basic and to be avoided if possible. The AC made it very cold so remember to pack some warm clothes if you’re planning on using the train. Tea and Coffee were available but very limited food options so I would recommend packing your own food. I think the upper berths are safer, especially for female travellers, regardless they do offer a bit more privacy.
We stayed in a variety of accommodation which ended up being a bit hit or miss in terms of facilities. The best option we came across was ZO Rooms. We used these guys in Bangalore so I can’t vouch for them in any other location but as a chain I would imagine they are of fairly similar quality and all include free breakfast and most importantly good Wifi, which was not the case in many places we stayed.
For us obtaining a SIM card seemed virtually impossible and by the time we figured out how we could get one there didn’t seem to be much point so we did without. It isn’t a necessity to have one, but it would have definitely made life a lot easier. SIM cards are only available for residents so to get someone to sell you one and then to get it activated you really need someone local to help you out, or at least this was our experience. We managed to buy one eventually using our hotel address, supplying 2 passport photos, copies of our passports and completing some supporting documentation but were never able to get it activated. We survived off Wifi and payphones. The majority of the time we needed a phone (outside of wifi) was when trying to find an address and we found that taxi drivers were more than happy to let us use their phones to make calls.
For getting around the city we used a combination of taxi’s, rickshaw and Ola (an app similar to Uber). Initially we were hesitant to use the rickshaws but they were the main form of transport in Bangalore and turned out to be the easiest and most reliable method. I can’t recommend more the need to write down the address and phone number you are looking for. It was much easier to show the address than say it as almost knowbody could understand my pronunciation. A phone number is also crucial as the taxi driver can ring it and have the location explained to him. From our experience it was pretty common for a group of 5-10 men to gather round all discussing the address for at least 5 minutes before all of a sudden the driver would know exactly where to go and you’d be off. Always agree on the price (or even better get them to use the meter) before you get in.
Overall India was not the easiest country to navigate but certainly doable. I spent half the time travelling with my female business partner and the other half travelling by myself. I never felt at all unsafe during my trip and generally found the locals to be extremely helpful. You will have to be prepared to be stared at though, I think that just comes with the territory of being a foreigner in India.
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