India, a land of energy, spirituality, colour, detailed architecture and love.
When most people envision India, they dream of elephants and tigers, colorful saris, prayer ceremonies on the banks of the Ganges, buildings and palaces with the most incredible details, steaming hot chai tea, and slow moving cows.
Visiting India in 2019 wasn’t originally part of my plan, but leaving Indonesia at the end of October, I started thinking about where I could spend November, before heading to Europe.
Visiting Sri Lanka was of huge interest to me, and just so happened to be ‘on the way back’ (in a general direction sense sort of way) to Europe.
And there, looming next to Sri Lanka, was India. A country I really wanted to visit but felt overwhelmed at the notion of trying to plan a trip through.
Thanks to fellow solo female travellers who’ve also taken on the challenge of traveling India solo, and shared their experiences on Instagram, I felt empowered.
Their experiences inspired me, and made me feel better about committing to visit for 2.5 weeks.
As it would turn out, I had nothing to worry about. Never once during my travels in India did I feel unsafe or threatened.
Sure, I felt uncomfortable a lot, but that’s part of the reason why I travel- to see and experience new things, which no matter where you are, will push you outside your comfort zone.
At the end of my time in India, I found myself already dreaming of a return to the country to see parts in the north (Rishikesh, Dharamshala), ‘centre’ (Varanasi, Udaipur) and south (Goa, Pondicherry, Mumbai, Kochi) I didn’t get a chance to experience on this visit.
That’s how captivated I was with India by the end of my trip.
An Itinerary to See the Best of Northern India in Two Weeks
My itinerary starts in Delhi, as that’s where most international travellers arrive.
In actuality, my first trip to India started in Jaipur, as I flew in on a connecting flight from Bangkok.
If I’d been able to though, I would’ve flown into Delhi. Logistically, it would have made more sense as a route, and made some things, like acquiring a SIM directly from the airport, easier.
Many first time India travellers opt for the Golden Triangle. And while, that’s a great route, I wanted to see a bit more.
With travel being so easy via train or flying around the country, hitting up the top places I wanted to see on my first visit was pretty easy.
The below itinerary is a condensed version of my travel plan, which was three weeks in length.
Day 1: Arrive in Delhi
Day 2: Travel to Agra
Day 3: Sunrise at Taj Mahal, travel to Jaipur
Day 4: Jaipur
Day 5: Jaipur
Day 6: Jaipur
Day 7: Travel to Jodphur early AM, Jodphur
Day 8: Jodphur, travel to Jaisalmer evening
Day 9: Jaisalmer
Day 10: Jaisalmer
Day 11: Fly to Amritsar morning, Amritsar
Day 12: Amritsar
Day 13: Travel (fly or train) to Delhi in the morning
Day 14: Delhi
Day 15: Delhi, depart India in the evening
If you’ve got more time, I’d add another day or two in Delhi, as well as another day in Amritsar or Jodphur.
It’s a whirlwind tour, but there is time to rest- especially on the longer train rides.
And, while I like to plan some holidays for the sole purpose of relaxing, a first time trip to India usually isn’t the time or place for such. You may be exhausted by the end of it, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll also likely be energised from everything you saw, did and experienced.
How to Get Around India
One of the biggest challenges budget travellers in India face is getting from place to place. India is a vast country, and sometimes, travel distances are absolutely massive.
Chatting with friends who had visited, many hired a private driver to get city to city. To hire a driver this way, rates are based on distance and can average $30-40 for 3-4 hours, or $60 and up for longer distances.
Other friends said they’d hired a driver to escort them throughout their entire time in India, showing them around sights as well. Rates for this kind of experience vary as well, based on where you’re going, what you’re asking of the driver, etc. but I’ve heard anything between $60-100+ USD per day.
The upside to traveling either of those ways?
It’s comfortable and eliminates a lot of logistics you’ll have to otherwise manage.
You miss so much. When you travel by tuk tuk, train, bus or even walking place to place when feasible, you see and experience a lot more. Sometimes those experiences may not always be pleasant (hectic train stations), but you leave feeling like you’ve really explored India.
My recommendation for getting around India?
Take planes for vast distances: I flew twice, in India. The first time was from Jaisalmer to Amritsar, a journey which could take several days otherwise. The second time, I thought trains were sold out from Amritsar to Delhi, but it turned out to be a website glitch. Unfortunately, by the time I’d learned this, I’d already paid for a flight.
India has a few budget airlines- Spicejet, Air India, Vistara, Tiger Airways and Indiego, which makes it pretty easy to find deals in relation to domestic travel in other countries around the world.
From Jaisalmer to Amritsar, I paid $35, and from Amritsar to Delhi, I paid $55. Not the cheapest way to get around, but also not a bad option for covering long distances in a relatively short amount of time.
Take trains for shorter journeys: Travelling by train has never been easier for foreigners in India.
Prior, you had to reserve tickets using an Indian debit card, which meant foreigners had to go to full-service agencies ($$$) or small shop owners and hope a last minute seat was available.
Now, you can use booking agent, 12GoAsia, which charges a minimal fee to reserve tickets for you.
The only thing to note? You must reserve in advance- like, weeks in advance for the best chance of getting the train you want and seating type.
I waited too long to book (1.5 weeks before my trip), and was bummed to discover I had to rearrange some plans because trains I’d initially looked at schedules for and planned to take were sold out.
I took trains from Jaipur to Jodphur, Jodphur to Jaisalmer, and Delhi to Agra return.
On shorter journeys, I sat in CC ac class, which is essentially padded seats in air-conditioned cars. Think: Scruffier, British trains.
And, on longer journeys, I booked 2AC class, which is best for a balance between cost and comfort. In 2AC, there are only two beds stacked, so you have room to sit up fully, stretch, etc. Cars are also typically cleaner than 3AC class.
There’s also 1AC class and non-air conditioned sleeper cars. 1AC is the nicest class, but I didn’t consider it because the compartments lock, which is a safety concern for me as a solo female traveler. I’ve heard the non a/c classes are mostly locals, and while they may be alright for travel in pairs, they’re generally not advised for solo female travelers.
When you book trains, you’ll have the option of shorter or longer journeys, usually. Should go without saying the most direct route is always the most expensive, but not by much.
Short distance tickets were usually $8-10 USD each way, with 12GoAsia’s booking fee.
And, longer distance tickets were usually $12-16 one way, with 12GoAsia’s booking fee.
I didn’t take buses or hire a private driver while in India because the former usually took too long to get place to place on my tight schedule, and the latter was cost prohibitive.
Getting Around Cities
In smaller cities, like Jaisalmer, Jodphur, Amritsar and Agra, I walked most places.
Because I had an Indian SIM, I was able to to user Ola (Indian rideshare app) and Uber to get around Jaipur, Amritsar, Delhi and Agra.
Each city has buses, and Delhi has a modern metro system, but being short on time, ride sharing meant I could quickly and easily get to the places I wanted to see.
Using ride share services in India will vary city to city- all have private cars, some also have tuk tuks, rickshaws or motorbikes as options as well.
As with using ride share services anywhere, make sure the driver’s photo / plate number matches before you get in.
Overall though, I found ride shares an effective way to avoid haggling and fare scams at major train stations and airports. It also added a layer of safety for me as a solo female traveller, knowing my journey was being tracked, and I could share it (as in Uber) with a friend or family member.
There were a few instances where I did take a tuk tuk or rickshaw though.
When possible, I asked my hostel staff to help me understand how much the ride should cost, based on where I was going.
Generally, I ended up taking 40-50% off the first estimate the drivers gave me- they were that inflated.
If you’re wondering about tip for taxi, tuk uk or rickshaw drivers, no need. They won’t expect it, it’s factored into the rate.
What to See & Do in Each Itinerary Stop
For each stop, I’ve written a number of posts about my time in that particular place, with loads of additional tips on visiting. This overview of what to see and do in each stop isn’t meant to be a deep dive, but rather a summary to inspire.
BEST KNOWN FOR
Jaipur is famed for being the ‘pink city’ of India.
In 1876, the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria visited India. Since pink is the colour of hospitality, Jaipur’s Maharaja painted the whole city pink to welcome them.
With how much Jaipur pops up in the feeds of travel influencers on the gram, I’d developed a somewhat romantic vision of the city. The reality is a dusty, noisy and crowded (even by Indian standards) place that’s used to tourists with plenty of money.
Don’t get me wrong- the sights are jaw dropping. So many times, I was actually speechless with architectural and colour details.
But, only one day in, I found myself resetting expectations.
Sights are spread out in Jaipur, which means things aren’t walkable, and traffic in the city can be intense.
That’s not to say Jaipur isn’t worth visiting, or that you won’t have a great time- but, the vision of Jaipur you often see on the likes of Instagram just isn’t the reality.
There’s no shortage of stunning attractions in Jaipur. In fact, my biggest challenge was fitting them into only 2-3 days, especially since some of them have odd operating hours, or can close for private events without warning.
- CITY PALACE: The City Palace was established in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. The popular attraction is actually a complex made up of several buildings, including Chandra Mahal and Mubarak Mahal. Jaipur’s City Palace is beautiful. But, that beauty comes at a cost- a ticket to enter the palace runs upwards of $50. Fear not budget backpacking friends, you can roam the palace’s courtyards for ~$9, which still feels extortionate for India, but is well worth it if you’re in the mood to see some stunning design
- HAWA MAHAL: Ah, the palace of the winds. Would you guess this facade is composed of 950+ windows? Built so the royal ladies, who had to observe Purdah, could see street festivities without revealing themselves. Women at Hawa lived lives of luxury, but weren’t allowed to mix with the rest of the world. Windows were specially designed so those inside could look out, but people couldn’t see in. For the best views from the front, head to the Tattoo Cafe. There are two cafes across the street, but Tattoo has the best views (in my opinion), with a vantage point straight on
- PATRIKA GATE: Patrika Gate is the 9th city gate, and the most important, as 9 is an auspicious number. There isn’t really anything ‘to do’ here, but the gate in and of itself is jaw dropping. Worth the trek to see the details and colours for yourself
- ROYAL GAITOR: The Royal Gaitor, a former crematorium for the royals during the Kachhwara Era in the 18th Century, was one of my favourite places in Jaipur. Nestled below the rolling hills of the Nahargarh Fort, the Royal Gaitor is a three-part complex with gorgeous, ornate buildings
- NAHARGARH FORT: The fort was once a formidable defense ring for the city along with Jiagarh Fort and Amer Fort. The views of the city below are spectacular, and there’s a restaurant at one end of the fort, where you could enjoy a sunset drink before heading back into the city
- AMBER FORT: One of the most detailed and beautiful palaces you’ll see in India. The complex is massive, it’s the kind of place where having a guide comes in handy. To give you a sense of size, the entire palace is protected by the third largest wall in the world. There was a structure on the site from the year 967, but the palace wasn’t built until the 16th century. It was then continually improved upon during the upcoming decades. And, if you’re visiting Amber Fort, don’t miss the stepwell behind the palace- Panna Meena ka Kund
- RAJ MANDIR CINEMA: Head here to see a Hindi Film
- SAMODE PALACE: It’d be a dream to stay at this gorgeous, intricately detailed palace turned hotel. But, seeing it was so far outside the city, it just didn’t make sense for my short trip to Jaipur. I had intended to hire a driver and visit, but when I called the palace to check they’d be open the day I’d planned on visiting, they informed me they would be closed for a private event (which happens routinely, and is never announced)
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Because I wasn’t feeling great in Jaipur (sup Dengue Fever), I relied on Zomato to help deliver food to my hostel while I rested after sightseeing.
A few recommendations-
- Tattoo Cafe: Good vegetarian options, great rose lassi
- Palladio Cafe: Mostly Lebanese / healthy western food. Instagram famous for its beautiful building
- Taruveda: Great paninis and crepes
- OTH (On The House): European style cafe
- Niros: Great for north Indian eats
- Crazy Coffee: Good for a grilled toastie and fun milkshake
- Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters: Best flat white in Jaipur
- The Forresta Kitchen & Bar: Good for traditional Indian, loved their cheese naan
Moustache: Private rooms and dorms available
// The Ultimate Guide to India’s Pink City, Jaipur //
BEST KNOWN FOR
Jodphur, the blue city, has a real local charm that leaves many travelers smitten.
Think: tiny alleyways, bright colors, cows in the road, the constant honking of rickshaws, dramatic forts, marble palaces, ladies doing laundry on ancient stepwells, and rooftop chai.
There’s no specific historical evidence to the origins of its nickname, the blue city, but locals often tout historic homes are painted blue for two reasons- to keep them cool & to keep the mozzies away.
- MEHRANGARH FORT: The fort is as dramatic as forts come, even in Rajasthan. Towering over the city, it’s visible from wherever you are. The fort is massive, and composed of several parts. One of them is a museum, filled with treasures from the royals who used to occupy its walls, like howdahs- seats built for royals to perch on top of elephants
- JASWANT THADA: A white memorial, it’s made entirely of marble and absolutely stunning. This memorial was built by Sadar Singh for his father. Jaswant Thada is a serene place, a welcome escape from the bustle of the city below. Don’t miss wandering the adjacent gardens, or relaxing next to the lake with a masala lemonade
- SUNSET WALKING TOUR OF OLD TOWN: Tours are usually 3-4 hours, and a great way to see a lot of the old town, as well as hidden gems. Our guide revelled us in tales of the town and its history, starting at one of the old city gates. With how twisty, windy Jodphur is, I would have never found these spots on my own, so taking a tour like this one is something I’d definitely recommend
- TOORJI KA JHARLA STEPWELL: This ancient stepwell was constructed in the sixth century AD, and is located right in town. This stepwell or the ‘jhalra’ was built in the 1740s by a queen of Maharaja Abhay Singh. In Jodphur, it was tradition for queens or royal ladies to help fund stepwells. It was originally a drinking source for the city. Now, it’s used as an unofficial swimming pool (when security isn’t present), and a place for people to wash and dry clothes
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
If you’ve read my Jaipur or Jaisalmer guides, you’ve seen me reference recovering from Dengue Fever, which I didn’t even realise I had until after the fact.
In Jodphur too, I felt so exhausted. Only a few hours of exploring would do me in, so I opted to eat at the hostel’s rooftop restaurant, which was fantastic, twice, and used Zomato (food delivery app) another time to have naan and paneer butter masala delivered.
Even though I didn’t visit many places, I’d recommend the ones I did-
- Baari Resto: Hostel restaurants can be hit or miss, but the decor of this rooftop is cute and colorful, and the paneer butter masala and naan were both excellent
- Stepwell Cafe: Located in the heart of town, this cafe has great cakes and refreshing drinks
Moustache Jodphur, private rooms and doors available
// 48 Hours to See India’s Beautiful Blue City, Jodphur //
BEST KNOWN FOR
Oft described as appearing out of the Great Indian Desert like a mirage, Jaisalmer is different to other cities I visited in India.
Known as India’s ‘Golden City’, thanks to the sunshine-hued stones used to construct every building, it’s slower paced (for India, at least).
It’s the kind of place that feels a world away from it all.
Once a former stop on the famous Silk Route, the old fort has become a bit touristy, but there’s charm to be found in the twisting alleyways, artisan shops, and rooftop cafes with views stretching far into the desert.
My days in Jaisalmer were incredibly chill, which I needed after pushing myself a bit too hard trying to travel while recovering from Dengue Fever.
I just loved the small city vibe, it felt more spiritual than other places I visited in India I visited, and I felt totally at ease wandering the alleyways.
- JAISALMER FORT: Dating from 1156, the fort’s shape is oft compared to an upside down sandcastle. It’s different to other forts in Rajasthan in that it’s still a living fort. Parts of the fort’s thick walls feature detailed marble carvings, while others only consist of crumbling sandstone, which still effectively sealing off the city from the outside world. The old city is still home to a few, but most of the buildings now house visitors or serve as shopfronts
- BEAUTIFUL VIEWPOINTS OF TOWN: Beautiful viewpoints of the town below can be found from around the fort, but my favorite one is easy to find when you first walk up the ramp into the fort. Once you’re at the top and inside, head to the left.There’s only one main alleyway to wander down, follow it all the way to the fort wall
- ROOFTOP SUNSET: My favourite sunset in Jaisalmer was from a rooftop inside the fort. It was magical to see the golden glow of the sandstone walls up-close as the sun set. If you’re spending the night in Jaisalmer, don’t miss watching the sunset from KuKu Coffee. The owner is super friendly, there are tons of choices on the menu, and the view is unbelievable
- QUILT SHOPPING: You’ll see gorgeous blankets hanging for sale all over the fort walls, which appear to be stitched from Indian clothing scraps. However, many of these inside the fort, and throughout town, are actually made in China and imported to India. Instead of perusing these quilts, I visited Jaisalmer Art Palace in town proper. I spent ages ogling handmade, authentic quilts. In the end, I left with an antique pillow case, made from fabrics over 100 years old. My pillow case is extra special because no one does the kind of stitching or embroidery work anymore
- THAR DESERT OVERNIGHT: Most people come to Jaisalmer for a Thar Desert overnight, which I skipped, in part, because budget, but also because I wanted to stay in one place for more than 1-2 nights. I didn’t regret my decision at all- I really enjoyed just being in town and having time to wander without feeling rushed. But, I have heard the overnights can be a beautiful experience, and usually involve camel riding. Often, you’ll drive to the dunes, then ride a camel into the desert, before setting up camp for the night
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Aside from the spots mentioned for rooftop sunsets (KuKu Cafe, as well as Chaisalmer, Cafe+), I didn’t visit too many restaurants.
Plenty were recommended, but I just wanted to rest, so every night I was there, I got takeaway from Fredy Foods to take back to my hostel so I could eat and call it an early night.
Another good spot for coffee and fresh juice: The Traveler’s Cup inside the fort- it’s a bookstore, cafe hybrid and the perfect spot for taking a break from fort explorations.
Moustache Jaisalmer, private rooms and dorms available
// Two Days Under the Desert Sun in Jaisalmer, India //
BEST KNOWN FOR
Located in the state of Punjab, 2.5M people live in Amritsar, which makes it a small city by Indian standards.
I absolutely loved it. It feels open and modern, but it’s also muddy with noisy alleyways.
I flew into Amritsar from Jaislamer, and continued onwards to Delhi.
If you can, Amritsar would be the perfect city to start a tour of India in- it’s smaller than other tourism hot spots and holds a unique place in the country’s history, plus it’s home to the Golden Temple.
- LEARN ABOUT PARTITION: Amritsar was once a wealthy city, the heart of trade and full of Sikh gurus, poetry, art and music. It was a sophisticated, wealthy and cosmopolitan society. Back then, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh were one country. Enter the British. When the British came to rule Amritsar, it was drained of its rich assets. The city crumbled like many others in India. For over 100 years, the Brits ruled. In that time, they drained 167M from the country, using it to extend their empire further and forcing Indians to live on only 2.5 cents a day. Eventually, the British left because they spent so much money on WWII, they could no longer afford India. So, they quite literally dropped them. All of this resulted in Partition, a solution to split up India and Pakistan. The Brits drew up boundaries in less than five weeks, based on old maps and left before they were released to avoid blame. 15M people woke up to find out they were refugees. Many never found their loved ones again. It was the biggest migration in human history, fraught with violence. Relations between India and Pakistan have been hostile ever since. Would strongly encourage visiting the Partition Museum in Amritsar. It’s only $3 USD, and the displays are heartbreaking, but excellent in educating
- VISIT THE GOLDEN TEMPLE: Over 500 years ago, the land Amritsar is built upon was bought for 700 rupees. Guru Amar Das, the fourth Sikh guru, constructed Amritsar around a man-made pool, which was to become the Golden Temple. The majestic Golden Temple is the world’s most important pilgrimage sight for Skihs. They believe it to be the home of the spiritual world
- GO ON A STREET EATS TOUR: Amritsar may be famous for the Golden Temple, but food and Amritsar are practically synonyms to each other. Locals affectionately refer to their city as the secret food capital of India. A friend had done a food tour in Amritsar, and raved about it. And so, I ended up booking a morning tour with Sajan from Incredible Amritsar Tour and Travels. Sajan was born and bred in Amritsar and has deep relationships with many of the vendors you visit. Over the course of three hours, we strolled narrow lanes, exploring the backstreets of Old Amritsar. We made several stops during our time together to try kulcha, chai, samosas stuffed in pomegranate rolls, traditional lassis, nutri kulcha, paneer bhurji, and jalebi
- ATTEND THE NIGHTLY INDIA – PAKISTAN BORDER SHOW: When tensions aren’t too high between India and Pakistan, there’s a nightly border closing show at the Wagah Border. Thousands attend nightly, mostly domestic traveler and locals, decked out in their country pride (hats, flags, face paint- the works). It’s free to attend, and usually happens at 4:15 pm in winter, and 5:15 pm in summer. The show is a crazy, theatrical display between Indian Border Security and Pakistani Rangers. The whole point of the ceremony is the moment when both flags are lowered, in sync. When the flags are lowered, the gates officially close until the next day
- GO SHOPPING: Amritsar is an excellent place to shop for punjabi shoes, or intricate scarfs. Visit the cloth market, or simply wander the streets, perusing stalls. The closer you are to the Golden Temple, the higher prices will likely be, and the less you’ll be able to score a deal. It’s best to tuck into side streets and shop around before you commit
- EAT AT ONE OF THE WORLD’S ONLY VEGETARIAN MCDONALD’S: Amritsar is home to one of the world’s only fully vegetarian McDonald’s. The McAloo Tikki and spicy paneer burgers are ace
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Between working my way through the menu at vegetarian McDonald’s, and a food tour of old town, I didn’t have time to eat at other spots in the city. Both of the aforementioned things are culinary must-do’s.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the hostel I stayed at- it was super basic backpacker, and truthfully, questionably clean. Don’t wait until the last minute to book as I did, and you’ll have better options.
// 6 Reasons Amritsar Must Be On Your India Itinerary //
BEST KNOWN FOR
Delhi is what you’d call polarising.
A lot of visitors don’t like it- they cite it as too loud, too crazy, too dusty, just too much.
I spent four days in Delhi, three of which were ‘head glued to laptop, get work done’ in nature. On one of the days, I decided to do nothing but sightsee.
Arguably, you can only see and do so much in a day.
There are some things, like the Red Fort, that I really wanted to experience, but didn’t have time for (see also: poor planning meant I didn’t look up what days the Red Fort was open, and on the day I wanted to visit, it was closed).
But, for the time I had, I felt like I saw a lot of Delhi, and left intrigued to venture back and see more someday.
- CHANDNI CHOWK: The market is a must for every first-timer to India. A smorgasbord of the anything and everything, there doesn’t seem to be a limit to what you can find at the market. From silverware to colourful wedding items, to books and bicycle parts- the market is crammed with things and people browsing or hawking their wares. Along the streets, you’ll also find some seriously great eats, including, of course, jalebi at Old Famous Jalebi Wala
JAMEH MASJID MOSQUE: Post spice peruse, I walked over to the Jameh Masjid mosque, the biggest in India. To my knowledge, foreigners are allowed to enter, but I didn’t try to. Being short on time, and wanting to see more of the market, I was content to observe from the outside
- INDIA GATE: India Gate was built for and dedicated to all the Indian soldiers of the British Army who died in World War I. The area surrounding the gate, which resembles an arch, is flanked by green lawns. When I visited, the gate was absolutely packed with school children, as well as people (appeared to be a mix of domestic travellers and locals) milling about
- AGRASEN KI BAOLI: Down a peaceful residential street, you’ll find a centuries-old, subterranean stepwell, hidden behind a stone wall. Stepwells, otherwise known as “baoli” or “bawli”, depending on the region, were built centuries ago in the arid zones of Rajasthan to provide water all year around. These days, the wells are no longer used for storing water. Instead, depending on where you are in Rajasthan, you’ll find people swimming, bathing, or simply admiring the geometric features
KHAN MARKET: Not having looked up anything about the market prior to visiting, but going on the recommendation from two good friends, I was surprised by how modern and orderly the market was. It’s definitely still India, but with a polish I hadn’t encountered elsewhere. It’d be a good place to visit if you’re looking for more of an upmarket place to have lunch or dinner with friends. Even the alleyways between stores were more orderly than anything I’d experienced in India up until then
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
- Cravity Cafe: Great paneer sandwich, beautiful coffee drinks, and outstanding croissants
Evergreen Sweet House: This famed food establishment started out selling Indian sweets and desserts, but has grown to also offer savoury items
Chai Point: For piping hot boxes of perfectly spiced chai
Salad Days: For healthy eats- who knew I’d find cold pressed juice and salads packed with fresh veg in Delhi
I stayed in South Delhi, in a private room at the Moustache Hostel. Other female friends who’ve visited India on their own advised I book somewhere to stay in South Delhi over Central Delhi because it’s known for being more relaxed, and safer.
Everyone told me to stay clear of Paharganj, which is widely acknowledged among backpackers as a cheap district to stay, but also rampant with tourist scams and hustle, plus some pretty grotty accommodation.
// One Chaotic Beautiful Day in Delhi //
BEST KNOWN FOR
Some places, you wait a lifetime to see. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Sometimes, those places don’t quite live up to expectations.
The Taj Mahal exceeded every expectation I could have dreamed of.
Magnificent would be an understatement. Heartbreakingly beautiful doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
Planning my visit, every single person I knew who had been to the Taj Mahal recommended visiting at sunrise.
A few recounted tale of trying to go mid-morning or afternoon and being horrified by the sheer size of crowds.
My friends were right.
Sunrise was absolutely worth it.
Heading to the Taj?
Be sure to read my post with key info you should know about construction of the Taj, as well as must know tips for visiting.
Note, the Taj is closed on Fridays, as the mosque is still a functioning one and holds religious ceremonies.
And, you should avoid visiting the Taj on weekends at all costs. Even at sunrise, I’ve heard there are absolutely crazy crowds of foreign and Indian tourists.
A few other points of interest in Agra-
- Agra Fort: I skipped this because I needed to work and I was a bit ‘fort-ed out’ at this point, but I’ve heard it’s nothing short of beautiful. Built around 1565, Agra fort was constructed by the great Mughal ruler Akbar. It’s been occupied by many Indian rulers as well as the British before becoming a tourist attraction open to the public
Itimad-Ud-Daulah: Known as the Baby Taj, Being built entirely by marble makes the finely carved lattice even more impressive, another gorgeous tomb
Mehtab Bagh: This park across the river from the Taj Mahal was built to stop the sands blowing across and slowly eroding the marble. The views are incredible and it gives you a great panorama of the Taj in all its glory. They say it changes colors multiple times during the day, and if you time it right you can watch it glowing red in the setting sun. Do note, there’s an entrance fee of 200 rupees
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
After visiting the Taj, take an Ola (cab hailing service) or Uber to Sheroes Cafe.
Sheroes is run by acid attack survivors. The cafe is a non-profit, run off donates for food and drink. Order a chai, make a generous donation, and listen to the women’s heartbreaking stories. It’s a powerful place.
Nearby Sheroes, I really enjoyed the paneer tikka masala and naan at Chapter 1 Cafe.
Joey’s Hostel, private rooms and dorms available. Very basic, but only a three minute walk to the East Gate, and with a rooftop that boasts a beautiful view of the Taj from afar.
// Everything You Must Know Before Visiting the Taj Mahal //
Solo Female Travel Tips
I wouldn’t say India is a place where you can let your guard down if you’re traveling as a solo female. Travel there is harder for women on their own.
But, that’s no reason to fear visiting.
India is a beautiful country, where I saw incredible things and met wonderful people. I’d go back in a heartbeat, yes- even as a solo traveler.
I’ve shared all of my top tips for traveling on your own in India if you’re a woman here, but to summarise:
- Act Confident: When asked by people on the street, I said it was my second or third time in India. Them thinking I’d visited before gave me a degree of street cred- even though I hadn’t. When I asked questions or for directions, I was direct and succinct
- Be Aware of Top Scams: The ones in India are similar to other countries in Asia. Be on the lookout for people selling train/transport tickets if they’re not at the official booth, receiving incorrect change, people offering tours on the street (always go through a legit provider), and tuk tuk drivers who try to take you to ‘special stops’ or tell you a road is closed
- Use Women & Families As a Crutch: On public transit, at red lights, and in lines, I always sat or stood next to women or families. It’s less likely men will harass you incessantly when you’re in the company of other women or families
- Dress Conservatively: India is a country of mixed religions- Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. It’s not mandatory you dress modestly, but you’ll notice locals don’t reveal much. I found the less skin I showed, the less attraction I drew
- Chat to Other Foreigners, Befriend Travel or Walking Pals: Even if your itinerary isn’t very flexible, like mine, and means you can’t just float around the country with newly befriended travel pals, it’s still worth chatting up other travelers
- Choose Seats on Trains Strategically: Indian Railways has a good safety record, and there are usually police or guards on each train, patrolling throughout the duration of the ride. I avoided 1AC class since the compartments lock from the inside, and there aren’t any curtains. On all my train trips, I chose 2AC since it was only a few dollars more than 3AC. In 2AC, my favorite bunk is side, upper berth. You have a curtain, that gives you privacy and you’re out of eyesight from anyone walking the aisles
- Use Rideshare Apps to Call Tuk Tuks Where Available: No need to negotiate with a tuk tuk driver or demand the metre be turned on, which can be more daunting as a woman on her own- especially if you’re talking to a group of male drivers standing together. Instead, in major cities (Delhi, Agra, Amritsar, Jaipur), use Ola and Uber to call cars or tuk tuks
- Understand Indians Stare: It doesn’t matter what you look like- if you’re not Indian, you’ll be started at. I noticed this most in big cities, but it happened everywhere. Most of the time, it’s just curiosity. If people came over to talk to me, they wanted to know where I was from
- Know It’s Okay to Say No To Selfies and Photos: Whether you get asked for photos a lot or only a handful of times, know that it’s okay to say no. Whenever men on their own or in groups asked, I said no. If women or families asked though, I considered it
- Limit Times You Walk Alone at Night: Parts of India, even Rajasthan as a state, are relatively conservative. It’s uncommon to see many women on the streets after dark, especially outside of cities. I chose to mostly go out during the daytime, and eat dinner at my hostel
- Get a SIM if your phone is unlocked- it’s a game changer for helping you understand where you are, where you need to go, or look up details on the fly
- Wear sunglasses when out and about so people can’t see where you’re looking
- Tell your hostel/hotel owner where you’re going/when you’ll be back each day, or make sure someone else knows your plans
- Don’t show off flashy belongings– Apple watch, jewellery, name brands, etc. I felt fine, walking with my iPhone in my hand most times to help capture photos, but wore minimal possessions otherwise
- Have a firm plan for any night travel– either have a transport arranged to meet you at the train or airport via your hotel/hostel, or know how you’re going to get from Point A to Point B, and inform your hotel/hostel of your plans and estimated arrival time
- Download Google Translate on your phone to help with transactions where the other person doesn’t speak conversational English
Extra India Travel Tips
Visa: Required to enter India. Be sure to use a government only site to apply.
I paid $25 for a month long, double entry visa. You need to apply online, and it’s best to complete the application from start to finish in one sitting because the website can be finicky. I’d heard it was a real headache to apply, but it only took me about 20-30 minutes to fill out the form. You can even view the form before you begin to ensure you have all the bits you need (headshot, passport copy, etc.)
Be sure to submit it well in advance – at minimum a week before you arrive in India. The visa must be received for review at least four days before you land, and often takes 2-3 days to process. And know, you’ll likely need to print a copy for arrival
Language: Hindi is the most widespread language spoken across India. In upmarket cafes or restaurants, you won’t have an issue finding someone who can speak at least conversational English
Safety: With so many reports and warnings in the media that India isn’t safe for women to travel alone, I was a bit concerned about how it would be before my trip. Turns out I had nothing to worry about
Currency: Indian Rupee
I withdrew from a bank ATM. Look for Visa and Mastercard images on an ATM- that means it’s global, and only withdraw from a bank one (there’s less of a chance your card will be skimmed). I’d advise carrying cash on you- many purchases are so small, you won’t meet the card minimum if the place you’re at is upmarket and takes cards
Budget: My general daily budget, inclusive of accommodation, food, drink, tuk tuks and tours averaged to $40-50 per day (during the high season).
This is a good mid-range budget for India, it’ll allow you to have nice private rooms, 2-3 meals a day in restaurants, chai tea from street vendors.
Additionally, I spent ~$140 on trains and flights around India.
There are definitely ways to do India cheaper, and if you book further in advance than I did, you’ll find more affordable trains and flights as well.
The other thing to keep in mind about my budget- I visited six cities in 2.5 weeks, which meant I was on the move a lot, and took tuk tuks/taxis often within cities to maximise my time.
Getting There: Both Delhi and Jaipur have major international airports- chances are you’ll fly into Delhi if coming from the US or Europe.
- At Delhi’s airport, you can either pre-arrange a taxi, grab one from the official queue, or use rideshare apps (Ola, Uber), which have a designated pick-up spot
- At Jaipur’s airport, if you have service, you can call a rideshare app. Unlike in Delhi, there isn’t free Internet though, so otherwise, you’ll need to take a pre-paid taxi
Where to Stay: I stayed in great budget, private rooms of hostels. In most places, I opted to stay in Moustache properties, which are a bit more upmarket than your average hostel. Hostels in India are notorious for paying for fake reviews, so be sure to use a verified site like HostelWorld or Booking.com if you’re going to go the hostel route
- Use Agoda or Booking.com to help find places in your budget
- If your trip is flexible, just rock up to each town/place and walk around to find the best deals on accomm- this only works for small towns/cities, not big cities like Delhi or Jaipur
- If you’re on a treat-yo-self trip, there’s no shortage of gorgeous, four-five star resorts around the sub-continent, many of which are fairly affordable
When to Visit: I visited in early November, which is the start of the dry, cooler season in Jaipur, Jodphur, Jaisalmer, Agra and Delhi. In the north, in Amritsar, it was also cool. Most days, I had sunshine, and wore layers to ensure I was never too hot or too cold
Tipping: Tipping is not common practice in India for taxi drivers, or casual eateries. At upscale places, expect to tip up to 10% for good service. Same goes for a stellar hotel experience (20-50 rupees for bag service), or a great tour provider / private driver.
WiFi Access: Expect this to be limited, and often slow or unstable. I found faster WiFi in big cities (Jaipur, Delhi), but it was usually limited to hostels/hotels, and occasionally, upmarket cafes
Packing Necessities: What you bring in total will depend on what you do over the course of your trip, but I’d highly recommend bringing each of the below-
- Lightweight scarf (to cover up at temples)
- Trainers and sandals
- Lightweight clothes, for the hot, desert regions
- Layers and a foldable jacket for the cooler, mountainous regions
- Hand sanitizer
- Baby wipes or toilet paper for restrooms (squat toilets are prevalent throughout the country)
- Any specific beauty or personal hygiene items you must use over the course of your trip- don’t expect to find products or brands you’re familiar with in Indian stores
- Sunscreen, face and body
Have you ever been to India? Where would you recommend people visit on their first jaunt to the sub-continent?
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