Oh India. I cannot possibly put into words how I feel about you but I will give it a go: Beautiful, dazzling, dirty, noisy, congested, polluted, vivid, intense, rank, fascinating, inspiring, monumental, maddening and sublime. My eyes and ears are continuously and curiously dragged into your surreal offerings, even when I try and sleep. Noises everywhere. Horns bibbing, children playing, dogs barking, cows wailing, fireworks, music, mosques, temples and market men. Every taste of food is rich and the history is even richer.
India is everything and nothing I imagined all at once. Being here is overwhelming and NOTHING is easy here, but something it is not, is boring. Here's my budget guide to this crazy, magical land.
Stuff to know
£1 = 86 Indian Rupees
1AUD = 50 Indian Rupees
You must get a visa before you go. The easiest way is to follow this handy guide and buy your visa online here.
I visited Delhi, Agra, Rathambore National Park
Rajasthan & beyond...
New Delhi (2 days)
If the smog doesn't hit you first a cow just might. Kidding. But seriously, Delhi is the most insane place I have ever been. I only spent two days here and that was enough, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go.
Stay at: I stayed at Hogs Hostel which was around 300 rupees and was awesome with a rooftop, good vibes and free breakfast.
Work your way around Old Delhi markets and indulge in the best street food you'll find in India. Don't be scared, look for the stalls with loads of other people and go for it. It's so cheap too, so try a bit of everything!
Other things to do in Delhi:
Wander the ruins in Hauz Khas Village & check out the fancy boutiques (free)
Visit UNESCO World Heritage site Humayun's Tomb
Visit the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi - one of India's largest mosques
Spend the day wandering the Lotus Temple
(Street food in Old Delhi)
Agra (1 day)
The main(and only in my opinion) reason to visit Agra is for the Taj Mahal. Get a sleeper bus from Delhi and dump your bags in a cheap hostel/guesthouse, freshen up and head to the Taj for sunrise. It costs a wopping (or not) 1000 rupees (£10) to get in but is worth every penny.
Afterwards, grab lunch at Joneys Place, just outside the South Gate of the Taj where you can indulge in cheap, delicious food cooked fresh in the tiniest kitchen I've ever seen.
After, go pick up your bags and get a bus or train to the city of pink - Jaipur.
Jaipur (2-3 days)
Jumping into a tuk tuk on the first day, I was lost in what I saw. Hues of orange and pink, colourful saris and Elephants marching down the streets, their huge trunks moving everything out of their way including goats and cars. The city of pink had elements of magic around every corner but sadly it didn't grip me. I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of it and found that every person was trying to force me to buy something, or go into their shop and it was draining. HOWEVER, it's still worth a visit if only for two days.
Stay at: Roadhouse Hostel or Stops hostel.
Must do's in Jaipur:
Amber Palace - sitting amongst the hills, this stunning palace is worth the walk up the hill for the view itself. You can get elephant rides up in the morning but if you care about animal welfare, don't.
Nahargarh Fort - There are a few forts around Jaipur but if you're on a budget I recommend just going to see this one, especially at sunset if you can.
Galta Ji Monkey Temple - Worth a trip for sunset, you're tuk tuk driver will drop you off on the other side so you need to walk over the hill and back down again to see the temple itself. Watch out for those pesky monkeys.
Watch a Bollywood film at Rajmandir - This amazing cinema opened in the seventies and showcases many premiers of Bollywood films; it's worth going one evening just for the experience! We didn't have a clue what was going on but it was fun anyway.
Pushkar (4 days)
It's easy to spend a while in Pushkar, it's tiny so everywhere is walkable and you can spend your days haggling and purchasing handmade clothes and trinkets and sipping on coffee at one of the many cute cafe's and restaurants.
Stay at: I stayed at Milk Man guesthouse which was amazing value for money at only 350 rupees for night for a basic double room (£3.50!). It also had a lovely little rooftop cafe serving great food and breakfast. There are practically hundreds of guesthouses and hostels so you're spoilt for choice.
I did an amazing silver class whilst in Pushkar with an awesome woman in a tiny little studio. The cost for the course was 300 rupees for 4 hours and I walked away with a handful of rings and bracelets.
Laughing Buddha for wonderful organic fresh meals; the owner even donates 50% of profits to disadvantaged local kids.
Grab a mouth watering falafel on the main market street or a veggie burger from the stand near the entrance to the lake...it was sooooo good.
Also, there are a few lovely little book shops nestled somwhere in the market, perfect for picking up the new Lonely Planet or a new read for yourself.
Be CAREFUL of the lake scam, where a man will offer you "free" flowers. Do not take the flowers, this then acts as a code for "holy men" to harass you into having a blessing, where they will then charge a fortune or curse your family.
If you want to head onto Bundi, rock up to the new bus stand in Pushkar for the 11am bus there.
Bundi (2 days)
Off the beaten path, Bundi is well worth the few hour journey from Pushkar and I'll tell you why.
The fort and palace (600 rupee entrance) was the best I had visited in India. It was slightly un-cared for, but this added to it's charm. We had the place pretty much to ourselves and felt like Indiana Jones exploring the huge palace and fort area, where the only other company we saw all afternoon were monkeys!
Ringo Starr - It doesn't look like much from the outside, but the owner cooks everything fresh to perfection and makes a killer Shakshuka. There's no point eating anywhere else if I'm honest but if you must, try the Paneer Butter Masala at Lake View Guest House, it's sublime.
Krishna Chai - Patiently wait to be served the best chai you'll find in India.
Ranthambore National Park
Tigers. If you aren't keen to see one in the wild, don't bother with this national park, but if like me, you were dying to see these beauties in their natural environment, this is the best place to go.
Book your safari directly through this website and choose a morning or evening safari. We were lucky enough to spot this huge male and I was weirdly calm by how close we got, even when he was staring straight at us.
Jodhpur (3 days)
The city of blue was probably my favourite out of the bigger cities in Rajasthan for a few reasons. It has a beautiful fort, blue is one of my favourite colours and it's very chilled and easy to walk around in.
Stay at: Loads of choice on booking.com, we stayed at Shayam Palace which was a steal and had a cute little rooftop, only downside being the beds were super uncomfortable.
- Wander around the old blue city, everyone can point you in the right direction and you'll pass a cool stepwell on the way
- Sadar Bazaar is a busy market worth visiting and it is home to the famous makhania lassis which you can purchase at Mishrilal hotel for 45 rupees.
- Visit the fort just before sunset
- Be an extra in a Bollywood film like Jack did. Apparently Jodhpur has lots of films shot here so they're always looking for extras, and they'll even pay you too!
Jaisalmer (2-3 days)
Close to Pakistan, the sand town is situated closely to the Thar desert and that makes it special. There's a few things to do in Jaislamer, including a legendary bhang shop, but most people come for the camel safari's.
We stayed one night at the wonderful Wanderlust guesthouse which is the best value room of the entire trip.
The next day we booked onto a camel safari with Mahal Jeet for around 950 rupees each (£10), which was so much cheaper than all the others on offer and just as great (so I've heard).
I was dubious about riding a camel at first because I wanted to know they were well looked after and happy. The desert boys who rode with us into the desert and cooked us chapati's and sang to us at night clearly loved the camels, and let them roam free in the night. We slept under the stars and woke up to watch the pinky orange sky loom over the sand dunes and it was magical. There was even a dog who followed us from the village to where we slept and guarded us all night.
A night bus turned into a hellish ride to Udaipur due to the dreaded food sickness India is so famous for. We slept all day and missed off most of the activities I had planned, only managing a small walk and porridge at an amazing cafe called Yummy Yoga.
If I had felt better, I would have explored the lakes more and visited the palace and volunteered at the wonderful Animal Aid where they take care of injured street animals including dogs, cows and birds.
Mumbai (1 day)
Roughly 19 million people live in Mumbai, which didn't surprise me when I went. It was not quite as mad as Delhi but equally as dirty and hectic. We ventured out to see the Gateway of India and the beach and that was pretty much it. Sometimes you just need to stay at your hostel, order a pizza and chill out.
Stay at: Zostel. Mumbai is SO expensive but Zostel hostel was a good choice.
Hampi (3 days)
Definitely don't miss the magical Hampi on your travel itinery. The nearest bus station is Hospet, around 20 minutes from Hampi and once there you can choose whether to stay on the mainland in Hampi or across the river on Hippie Island.
The 'ferry' leaves from one side to the other once it's full and costs 30 rupees with baggage and 20 without. There's plenty of guesthouses on either side of the island so do your research before you go, ahem *Goan Corner - bed bugs*.
Things to do in Hampi:
Hire a tut tuk or bicycle to take you to the many temples. This should only take around three hours.
Take a walk to try and find the waterfall, you can pay a guide if you get lost.
Hire a scooter on Hippie Island and go exploring for the day, driving past banana trees, rice paddies and tiny villages. In the evening push yourself to walk up to the top of the Monkey Temple for sunset.
Every morning at around 8am, Shiva the temple elephant has his morning bath in the river that passes through. It was a magical moment to witness this huge being trudge down the steps and happily roll around in the water. If you can't face getting up so early you can go into the main temple where he awaits to be fed bananas and get a blessing.
Laughing Buddha on Hippie Island / Mange Tree on the mainland
Mysore (2 days)
hostel - free yoga