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Green hills of tea plantations in Munnar

Budget India Travel Guide – 8 Ways to Save More Money

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India Travel Guide

Budget India Travel Guide includes 18 Important Travel Planning Tips that will allow you to see and do more on your budget. Learn how you can benefit.

Welcome to the India Travel Guide! India is one of those countries that simply must be on any globetrotter’s ‘top places to visit’ list. Sure – it’s challenging – and one of the few remaining destinations where no matter what scale of budget you enjoy, you simply cannot insulate yourself from the staggering differentials in wealth you’ll see throughout this country. ‘Delhi belly’ does exist and most visitors will endure it as they acclimatize, there are occasional flashes of political instability, and you ought to thoroughly read up on the many spoken and unspoken local customs well before you plan to visit.

But if you get it right – and everyone can do so – India is perhaps the most rewarding country in the world to visit. The world’s oldest democracy has a plethora of rightly world-famous sights to explore, as well as no end of astonishing cultural and artistic depths that are enough to make other countries just look on with awe. From staggering mountains through to rich jungle, endless tea plantations, tranquil islands, and pretty much everything in-between, the landscape enough is to keep even the most demanding visitor enthralled for months.

The Ultimate India Travel Guide will discuss some of the many sights worth seeing, explore some ideas of how to spend your time, and explain many of the practicalities you ought to understand before visiting this frankly unbelievably exciting destination.

Taj Mahal in sunset light, Agra, India
Taj Mahal in sunset light, Agra, India

What Are the Best Places to Visit in India?

Most visitors ought to already be aware that India is large – and unless you are fortunate enough to have a few months spare you are going to need to focus your trip onto specific regions according to what sights you wish to explore. There is a lot to be said for spending as many weeks in India as possible – it is incredibly cheap – but the good news for visitors limited in timescales is that the country is surprisingly easy to get around once you have managed to get used to the crowds!

Plenty has been written about the majesty of the Taj Mahal and yet it remains one fo a handful of globally famous sights that worlds alone cannot properly describe. You simply have to visit this enormous testimony of love and make sure to arrive and/or depart around dawn and dusk to enjoy the beauty at its most atmospherically best. Quite a few visitors to the Taj Mahal used to be put off by the endless procession of touts and pop-up markets – these have, for better or worse, mostly been moved along nowadays.

Thanks to the sheer enormity of the grounds if you time your arrival right you can actually enjoy it in some level of solitude – which is exactly how Emperor Shah Jahan intended it to be.

Varanasi is another destination that must be included on any visit to India. You need to allow for at least a couple of days to explore and absorb this sometimes rather eyeopening religious site – and be prepared for an endless procession of stunningly beautiful temples, shrines, and ghats. We’d advise trying to avoid exploring the Ganges too much before visiting the Bharat Kala Bhavan museum which does a superb job of explaining the sensibilities and cultural significance of the area.

Most global travelers will agree that at night this is one of the most incredible places to visit in the world – and as with much of India, it is something best worked up towards rather than just leaping in at the deep end.

You’ll notice that India rather likes its gold – and the Golden Temple and Golden City (Jaisalmer) are again essential for any tour of India. The Golden Fort makes for a rather nice change from the sometimes quite overwhelming religious culture found throughout these sites. It is absolutely massive and you should make sure to walk the fortification walls and enjoy the refreshing coolness within the depths of the castle during the peak of the summer heat. The Maharaja’s Palace is another of those destinations that cannot be adequately described in just a sentence or so.

Make sure to visit and allow for as much time as possible – you will not want to feel remotely rushed during your time exploring!

Mumbai is perhaps the most ‘overwhelming’ Indian city of all – yet still worth a visit especially to experience a little of the more contemporary colonial history that you’ll find dotted routinely throughout the country. The Gateway of India is peculiar because no photographs really do it justice. Check it out for yourself – and try and prove us wrong. Needless to say, you should expect to take a lot of photographs during your visit to India – it is probably otherwise the most photogenic country in the world for those who like their colors.

Be sure to check out the Amer and Jaigahr Forts in Jaipur (a brilliant city!) if that is your kind of history – they both double up as excellent museums with especially colorful walls and ceilings.

Feeling those troubling senses of ‘cultural overload’? Honestly, most people who explore India in its fullness will experience this at some stage, and the best solution of them all is to hop on a plane or ferry to Goa. Famed for its gorgeous beaches, you’ll quickly learn that it takes just a little effort and exploration to find one or two that you’ll enjoy pretty much entirely to yourself. Not many beach focused paradises are so affordable, so rest your feet for a few days and soak up the peace and quiet.

We have barely even managed to discuss the scenic and wildlife splendors you’ll find in India – and frankly, they probably deserve an entire guide of their own. Do not be fooled into thinking India is all about massive cities and rather psychedelic cultural magnificence – the countryside and nature are essential aspects to appreciate when touring this amazing country.

From the Ellora Caves (much of which doubles up as temples and shrines), through to the Periyar National Park, and a good number fo world-class nature reserves – our pick would be the ones you’ll find here – you simply cannot run out of amazing things to see in India. Plan in terms of what interests you the most, and try to enjoy some variety in your exploration wherever possible.

Oh, and we haven’t even mentioned the Himalayas yet…!

Temple on the water in India. - Ultimate India Travel Guide

What Are the Best Things to Do in India?

One of the best aspects of touring India is the simple experiences of everyday life will keep you pretty busy – at least during the first few days of your stay. When you look at India from a ‘bigger picture’ perspective – and this is something we strongly recommend – it is quite miraculously efficient. Sure, it is not unheard of for people to need to sit on the roof of trains, but if you actually buy a ticket you can have a designated seat and enjoy endless cups of chai over the course of your journey.

Even haggling – something you should prepare yourself for – has guidelines and ‘rules’ whereby what constitutes a fair and respectable deal. It is actually pretty difficult to be ripped off in India providing you play the game a little!

We’d highly recommend visitors try and spend their downtime between all the incredible sights getting to understand Indan culture a little better. To complicate things a little further(!) India is very different depending on where you are visiting so do not expect the locals to behave in any kind of uniform pattern throughout your travels.

What you may start to notice is that the entire country is obsessed with cricket. First introduced back in the colonial times, the national sport is by far the most popular throughout the country and you’ll see impromptu games taking place in the most bizarre locations. Try and get tickets for a match at some stage – they are cheap, last for hours, and often have an atmosphere more like a rock festival.

Earlier in the India Travel Guide, we briefly alluded to how photogenic this country is, and you really should consider taking a good camera (and perhaps some basic lessons before you visit). Do not expect to just be taking the typical photos that you’d find on any tourism website or travel book. The most interesting photos can be taken in the most unexpected circumstances.

The wildlife and scenery up in the Himalayas are some of the most amazing on the globe, and the cityscapes offer unflinching portraiture of the country embracing modernity at breathtaking speed. Just be careful to ask for permission before objectively photographing anyone especially around religious sites. Indians are very big on their manners!

India ensures some of the worst congestion you’ll ever experience – which rather handily makes it an ideal destination for cycling. We at the Ultimate India travel Guide highly recommend you try and cycle wherever possible.

Daunting as it may seem at first, you’ll soon get used to the perpetual horn-honking and abstract driving techniques shared by your fellow road users. It is a wonderful way of getting about small patches of the countryside – the only drawback is that bikes can be tricky to squeeze on the trains.

Tours are genuinely your friend when it comes to exploring large parts of India. Pick them carefully and trust a little to your gut instinct. The best are those who are going to offer you a personal tour of the local wonders and well versed in explaining the significance, history, and the local’s take on what they mean to them.

You will have very few problems understanding the locals (English is widely spoken) but this is an excellent way for the inquisitive visitor to get to learn about things from the Indian perspective. We’d especially recommend that when touring colonial-era sites as some of the opinions may be rather different from what you’d expect (the British are still surprisingly close to most people’s hearts for a myriad of historical and cultural reasons).

You really should try and explore the countryside – just do not take the easy option of visiting a zoo to see India’s ‘Big Five’ animals. The snow leopard, Bengal, clouded and Indian tiger, and Asiatic lion are still roaming throughout sanctuaries across the country. Sadly they can be rather difficult to spot as they are rightfully a little worried about the presence of people, although a good quality safari (see the section below regarding responsible tourism) can make this one of the most memorable experiences you’ll ever enjoy.

The Himalayas are – needless to say – staggeringly beautiful and considerably more accessible compared to other countries that fall within this region. Do not expect to just find snowy mountainscapes – the lowlands and jungles are arguably more interesting for their flora, fauna, and wildlife.

Try and time your visit to coincide with one of the countless regional and national festivals if you are prepared to be blown away by how full-on people tend to celebrate these. We’ll leave you to choose which suits you best depending on where you are visiting – just make sure you have booked your accommodation well in advance!

Golden Temple in Amritsar at sunset, Punjab, India. - Ultimate India Travel Guide
Golden Temple in Amritsar at sunset, Punjab, India.

When is The Best Time to Visit India?

Needless to say, India is always busy although you are generally well-advised to visit during the peak tourist season that runs between December and March. These months are as close as it gets to winter throughout most of India, and temperatures are far more bearable on the whole. You should expect pretty extreme cold around the mountains – so perhaps aim towards visiting these more towards March time. Prices are higher over this period but that is relative to the overall affordability of the destination. You shouldn’t worry too much about inflated prices, but be sure to book decent accommodation well in advance.

The low season directly follows the end of high season – mostly because the heat and humidity peaks between April – July and can make urban exploration almost unbearable. Expect heavy downpours and monsoons that only make the humidity even worse. If you are brave enough to try India during this time of year, we’d recommend heading to the foothills for a hefty dose of tranquility. The only drawback is that several hundred million Indians will have the same idea!

Shoulder season is a little ambiguous in India and depends really on where you plan on visiting. In the mountains, July-September is probably the best time to visit if you are aiming for altitude and visibility. On the flip side, you can expect plenty of heavy rain around some coastal areas between October and December.

Overall we’d suggest that most visitors should stick to the peak season, especially if they are experiencing India for the first time. Travel during the rest of the year has its advantages and drawbacks, although there are always ways to enjoy the country regardless of the weather.

GOVERNMENT LINKS
General Information
VISAS
Travel Advice

Do I Need A Tourist Visa in India?

India is famous for its bureaucracy, and the visa process is perhaps the shining beacon when it comes to demonstrating how efficient this process can actually be. Besides a handful of local exemptions, everyone is going to require a visa to enter India. The good news is that 60-day e-visas are available to over 150 nationalities via https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html. Apply a couple of weeks beforehand to be on the safe side but we doubt anyone will have many problems being accepted. Follow the rules carefully – and make sure you arrive in one of the 26 approved airports – and you should be fine.

Visas allowing longer stays in India are much easier to obtain than they used to be – although that does not necessarily mean you should expect to stay indefinitely. You can now ‘leave’ the country and reenter the same day providing you follow the rules to the letter, although be aware that is rarely available more than once meaning most visitors will be capped at a maximum of 120 consecutive days in the country. If you need to stay longer you are likely going to be called for an interview and will be required to provide a pretty watertight reason alongside proof of funds. Most people fail this unless they are conducting business.

In some parts of India, access is restricted – usually along the Pakistani border in disputed territories. You can still visit these and gaining a permit is usually just a cursory passport stamp – just make sure you have this in order beforehand. Expect your documents to be inspected quite often as you travel throughout the country.

Hands holding Diwali lamps. Diversity, bokeh. - India Travel Guide
Hands holding Diwali lamps.

What Currency Is Used in India?

India uses the Indian Rupee (₹) that at the time of writing trades for about ₹70 =$1

We’d recommend that most visitors notify their bank and credit card providers before they travel to prevent their accounts from being blocked. Although India does not have a particularly massive issue with card fraud/cloning it remains on the ‘blacklist’ for many issuers, so that cursory phone call is worth the hassle.

Once in the country, you’ll have no problem finding ATMs pretty much anywhere. The overwhelming majority will work with international cards featuring Visa/Mastercard/etc but you should anticipate a transaction fee applied to every withdrawal. Cash is still pretty ubiquitous in India – and will be your only option in some remote regions – so take out cash in chunks and keep it secure in a money belt.

You’ll have no problem changing currency throughout India but often these offer worse rates than what you’ll find at ATMs operated by the major banks. Avoid illegal money changers and remember that bad condition notes are simply not accepted in many places. Keep an eye out for that when handed your change.

Credit cards are widely accepted in urban areas although it is sensible to have cash at hand anyway. You can rely on your cards for more sizable purchases such as accommodation and travel tickets. Most major attractions will accept cards although much smaller – and often better – options are strictly cash only.

Generally speaking, you’ll have no problems managing your money in India. Remember that the country enjoys good quality internet throughout most regions so online banking and even digital wallets are good backup options for some purchases.

We ought to mention that India is quite famous for two things – haggling and the black market. The former is almost unavoidable and you ought to negotiate prices to your heart’s content. Sooner or later you’ll find a cabbie willing to take you for a third of the quoted price! In all honesty, it is really part of the ‘game’ and you will rarely be blatantly ripped off.

Remember that haggling works both ways and that you can use it to your advantage. Negotiate discounts on accommodation, meals, and even attraction admission wherever is appropriate and at your heart’s content. Pretty much the only things that are unnegotiable are state-managed prices such as train tickets. Even currency exchanges will be open to a little leeway.

The black market is everywhere and so large that the police basically gave up trying to keep it in check decades ago. This is a blessing if you fancy picking up a DVD of the latest hooky Bollywood blockbuster, but don’t expect it to necessarily actually work. In more seriousness, stay clear of anything too shady as the Indian police are not people you want to fall on the wrong side of.

Hashish is smoked openly in large parts of the country despite being ostensibly illegal. That being said, Westerners who do so in urban areas are asking for trouble so keep your wits about you.

Do I Tip In India?

Tipping is expected in India and applies pretty much across the service industry. That being said, 10% is considered a very generous amount and something that is unlikely going to inconvenience most visitors. Look to pay a little less to more casual dining service and cabs, which often (perhaps conveniently) equates to leaving the change on a note. Providing you leave some level of a tip then you are unlikely to offend anyone.

Keep an eye out for ‘service charges’ which may actually be government taxes instead of a tip to be handed to your server. These are common in larger cities (especially Mumbai and Delhi) and can be quite confusing at first. If in doubt, just ask to prevent any confusion.

Something you probably ought to also be aware of is that many tour guides/attendants/drivers are an integral part of the tourist economy and may rely on tips for their entire income. If you take excursions that span multiple days then it is good practice to provide a modest daily tip in this direction – about ₹200/day is reasonable in most cases.

Happy Songkran Festival. - Ultimate India Travel Guide
Happy Songkran Festival.

What Kind Of Budget Do I Need In India?

How long is a piece of string? The days when you could literally travel through India on a few dollars a day have mostly been consigned to history, although it is still possible to travel the country on a very modest budget – certainly far less than what you’d expect to pay in Western Europe or some parts of Asia. Remember that many millions of Indians subsist on less than $2/day so you ought to anticipate pretty good quality for not a whole lot of cash.

That being said, India is a very difficult country to generalize and the prices you pay in some cities will be far greater than what you will expect in the more remote regions. A bottle of beer in a Mumbai bar can quite realistically cost ten times more than one in a Himalayan boarding house.

Here is what the Ultimate India Travel Guide would roughly estimate you should expect from your daily budget. Allow for plenty of leeways according to where you happen to be visiting, as well as how far you book ahead of arrival and the time of year.

Budget (₹3000/day)

We’ve pushed this budget considerably further north than it needs to be, simply because prices will be higher for most people new to India than they will after a little while of ‘learning the ropes’. Still, you should be able to live comfortably and well on a $40/day budget. Good quality hostel beds will cost no more than a quarter of that budget – and you will find cheaper and more exclusive options in both directions.

Indian hostel accommodation tends to vary in quality. Popular hotspots such as Goa can fetch higher prices but be far better quality than those you’ll find in central Hyderabad. We recommend booking your Indian hostel well in advance regardless of what time you are visiting. The best book out months in advance – and hotels are often available for a little more and can offer considerably superior quality.

Indian food is both affordable and superb quality – especially if you steer clear of the noticeably more expensive meat-based options on the menu. We’ll discuss food later in the Ultimate India Travel Guide, but expect to eat a substantial meal for no more than ₹300/time (and often much less). Many of the most famous sights are free or operate on a donations-only basis – so give generously when you can. Guided tours are highly recommended and cost very little.

Budget travelers will appreciate the very low train fares and once again we’ll discuss in further detail later on. Trains and buses are the way to get about India. So overall, budget travelers are still going to find that India can be a very affordable country to visit with very little in the way of unexpected surprises. Providing you are careful to watch your money you can spend very little on a daily basis without needing to ‘rough it’ too much.

Mid-Level (₹5000-10,000/day)

Mid-level visitors will account for a large proportion of the Indian tourism industry and you should expect to enjoy a considerable ‘upgrade’ compared to the budget experience. The Indian hotel sector is enormous and you’ll find bargains (and rip-offs) throughout. The good news is that you’ll always find somewhere to stay even during the busiest times of year – but the savvy visitor should conduct plenty of research and book in advance where possible.

A very good mid-level hotel room should be clean and comfortable with air conditioning and ensuite facilities. Expect to pay around ₹4000/night for a double and perhaps 25% more for a similar quality room in a branded chain. Overall, these are hardly ‘cheap’ compared to other expenses but they ought to be well located and provide plenty of creature comforts.

Organized tours of the highest standard ought to be well within this budget and we’d advise most people to take a look towards this direction. There are literally hundreds – if not thousands – of official, semi-official, and private tours throughout India and the best will offer a truly excellent experience. Once again – research is your friend and make plenty of effort finding a well-reviewed tour that matches your interests. A full-day excursion will cost between ₹1000-2000 depending on distances and whether or not it includes entry fees and so forth. Walking/cycling tours of cities are much cheaper (and often just as interesting).

You can really spend big at Indian restaurants on this budget and we thoroughly suggest that you do so! Top-quality restaurant meals rarely head far north of ₹2500/person and you should expect really high standards. Make the most of the local cuisine and check out some of the premium fish restaurants around Goa in particular. Cricket tickets are very cheap although those new to Indian cricket may want to splash out on seats in more refined parts of the stadium.

High-End (₹10,000+/day)

If you really go for it you could spend double this budget on a hotel room/suite alone throughout all of the major Indian cities. Expect absolute opulence, concierge services, spas, pools, and often ‘free’ restaurant meals. The very finest restaurants – and we’re talking the best in the country – will cost about ₹5000/person. Remember to tip generously!

Should you have the luxury of this kind of budget then India really is entirely your oyster. We’d suggest well-heeled visitors look towards very high standard private tours that usually also include a personal driver retained on a daily basis. You should anticipate spending ₹3000/person/ each day for this level of quality, plus extra for a dedicated specialist guide. In the grand scheme of things that is not actually very expensive and without doubt the best way of seeing most of the accessible parts of the country in comfort and in your own time.

The same can be said for travel expenses. India may rightly be famed for the quality and affordability of their rail network, but the first-class experience is something from another planet (and some may say ‘time’). Fancy watching India slowly slide by while enjoying five-star food served around the clock? Perhaps even in your own private compartment? Yours for around ₹10,000/day.

Overall, while India is not quite as cheap as it used to be it still ranks as one of the best countries in the world for value. That is the keyword and will be relative to pretty much everything you do in the country. An enormous $1 bowl of daal and rice is undoubtedly fantastic value, and so – in very different ways – is the couple of hundred dollars you’ll spend enjoying first-class rail travel.

There is no end in ways to spend and save your money while in India and it can take several trips before you really appreciate that while something is always going to be ‘better’ value elsewhere, in comparative senses you can’t really beat the country overall. It’ll infuriate penny-pinchers, and delight those who amaze in seeing how far they can casually stretch a reasonable daily budget.

Indian wormen near the river - India Travel Guide
Indian women near the river

What Languages Are Spoken in India?

India has several hundred different languages and dialects – although only Hindi and English are considered applicable for official ‘governmental’ purposes. About 600m Indians speak Hindi and a good proportion – although far from all others – will speak it to some level as a second language. Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Marathi, and many more are the first languages in their specific regions and do not count on everyone understanding even basic words of Hindi.

You may assume that English is spoken quite widely because it helps such a diverse country to operate – much as how Latin dominated the ancient world. That is not really the case – as only around 10% of the population actually speaks English to a conversational standard. An inestimable further number will know basic words but that’s about it.

Yet from a visitor’s perspective, you’ll have next to no problems being understood in most parts of India. While the tourist industry is not quite as developed in the sense you’d find in western countries, those who work in it (and many other administrative agencies) will speak good English. As with pretty much everywhere, younger people are more likely to speak English and be more open to chatting confidently with a visitor.

What Religions Are Practiced in India?

Religion is a seriously big deal in India – which is probably why the state is so unambiguously secular! Hinduism – in its various forms – accounts for almost 80% of people, with Islam (approximately 15%) and others making up the rest. There are legal protections for the freedom to practice religion throughout the country and these are actively enforced.

Without wishing to be bogged down in detail, visitors will appreciate that while the country does not have an official religion, Hinduism is very much the biggest fish in the pond. While Hinduism is a non-violent religion there have been ongoing anti-Islamic flashpoints and these continue to persist with Pakistan on a state level.

You can (and arguably should) read up a little more in-depth about religion in India before you visit as it is central to the ‘Indian’ culture and historical timeline. As a visitor, you will not face any problems practicing your own faith providing you are very respectful when visiting any Indian religious sites – which is perfectly fair enough in the opinion of the India Travel Guide.

Practical Tips From The India Travel Guide

We’ll now shift the focus of the India Travel Guide more towards the practicalities involved in experiencing the best of the country. Before we do so, it is worth outlining a few little details that will stand you in good stead for when you arrive in the country. India may be a massive, confusing, and sometimes a rather chaotic country on the surface but you’ll soon realize that everything serves some kind of purpose.

As a visitor you will be made most welcome – Indians are a very hospitable bunch and you’ll be surprised at how kind they can be – and a considerable part of this comes down to their sense of politeness. Call it a hangover from British imperialism or just the ‘proper and easiest’ way of doing things, but Indians are very big on their manners. That includes what is considered appropriate for you – as a visitor – to mention and discuss.

The decades-long animosity with Pakistan (interspersed with the occasional war) is something that you are best avoiding altogether. If the UN can’t fix it, chances are that you’ll be unable to shift the opinion of your everyday Indian, and attempting to even make them appreciate the opposing side’s point of view is tantamount to spitting on the flag. On the plus side, expect a pretty fantastic atmosphere every time they play each other at cricket – which is mostly the extent of the conflict nowadays besides the occasional mountaintop skirmish. Both are nuclear powers, and thankfully neither are keen on mutually assured destruction.

Hygiene and sanitary standards are other things that you really should keep to yourself. No Indian is going to ask you to settle down and take a squat on the street – and it is best not mentioned that these do exist in many places. The approach towards littering and recycling is enough to make many westerners faint alone, but then they don’t need to provide world-class sanitation for a billion people on a third world budget. Everything in India is relative and you need to try and understand that.

Nobody is saying you ought to leave Western sensibilities at the door – but just be assured that there are aspects of the country that you may have believed were left behind hundreds of years ago.

The caste system is another perilous conversation path to take and one that many people – even those further down the ladder – take as part of the accepted Indian cultural landscape. It isn’t quite as bad/apparent as it was twenty or thirty years ago, but make no mistake it is still a core cultural tenant that many people find rather distasteful. Once again – nobody is going to request that you take part.

House boat in backwaters - Ultimate India Travel Guide
Houseboat in backwaters near palms at Kerala, India

What About Health and Safety in India, Is It Safe?

India is massive – and large parts are very poor – meaning that crime rates are higher than you’d find in many other countries. But by no means is this an unsafe country to visit provided you take basic security precautions. Treat the major cities like you would any other large and unfamiliar city and you’ll be absolutely fine. Naples can be much scarier than Mumbai at nighttime.

Thanks to an enormous and proactive police force tourists are rarely picked out for crime, especially not anything violent. You should take precautions against pickpockets and bag theft – money belts are a very good idea – and avoid taking up any unsolicited offers for services or goods. Begging is literally everywhere in some parts and can be difficult to ignore/avoid at first. Sad as it is, you are best off not getting involved.

One unpleasant aspect of Indian travel that should be outlined is the simple fact that women are likely to have a tougher time in the country than men. Harassment – almost always very ‘petty’ – was until recently very common. Attitudes have firmly shifted against this now so do not feel afraid to shout, point, and ask others to intervene on your behalf. LGBT visitors are also advised to try and keep a lower profile in most of the country than they may elsewhere. Pride is not really a well-understood concept in India just yet.

While crime does exist in India a much greater risk that applies to all visitors regards their healthcare. Once again – we are going to have to talk in slightly generalized terms – because the country is so large what applies in one part may not in others. As a general rule, you should not expect very impressive standards of hygiene or food care throughout the country. You need to take care when eating (it is one of the reasons why vegetarian options are often better/safer) and only drink bottled water – and lots of it.

No matter how careful you are, you will be lucky to avoid experiencing some kind of general illness as your body acclimatizes. In almost all cases these will pass within a couple of days – but a well-stocked medical kit is essential for everyone’s luggage list.

Health care in India ranges from world-class in the cities (if you are wealthy) to pretty poor everywhere else. India trains many doctors and nurses but a high proportion leave to work overseas – and while you can expect knowledgable care, the facilities are likely to be quite lacking. You need to make sure you have watertight medical insurance no matter what else when you visit India – and that should ideally make provisions for upfront payments and repatriation costs.

If you are planning on any ‘extreme’ activities then make certain these are included in your plan. Carry copies of your documents and upload them to the Cloud.

Prescription medications are generally available throughout India, although don’t expect to be issued with many familiar brands – especially antidepressants or more modern medications. Make sure you have copies of your script that outline exactly what you need/take so a pharmacist can assess what they stock that can provide the closest possible match. You will almost always need to visit an Indian doctor for a new prescription. Costs vary depending on ‘quality’ and how quickly you wish to be seen.

You may be surprised to learn that despite the country being a relative hotbed for airborne and waterborne diseases, you only need to make sure you have a vaccination for yellow fever. We’d highly recommend hepatitis, typhoid, varicella, polio, and tetanus just to be on the safer side. Rabies is also worth considering if you are going to be spending plenty of time in poorer areas and the countryside. Meningitis is sensible if you intend on staying for several weeks or longer.

The Ultimate India Travel Guide doesn’t mean to scare anyone off visiting India. Once you are in the country and started to get used to it, you’ll realize that the numerous risks we’ve discussed here are really rather secondary. Precaution is always better than a cure, but providing you are organized and make suitable arrangements beforehand you ought to be fine. India has a scary reputation for diseases but it is no worse than central/south America and large parts of Asia.

What is the Best Transportation in India?

India is a breeze to get around. Bet you didn’t expect to hear that! In all honesty, you should have no problem covering the enormous distances involved in relative ease provided you take the time to plan a little ahead of schedule. We heartily recommend the railways for those who are not in any particular rush and wish to experience some truly classic routes. Trains come in all shapes and sizes – and are almost universally busy – but you can be comfortable enough even in second class carriages.

Tickets vary in cost but are never what anyone would consider being expensive unless you opt for super-comfortable carriages and sleeping cars. Punctuality is pretty good – especially when you factor in the 7000 stations included on the entire network! Book your tickets online and have them issued at the stations for onboard inspection.

E-tickets are slowly catching on but only currently accepted on selected urban-based networks. You can try and get by just showing your seat reservation on your phone but they are not always accepted, so take a minute to get a physical ticket as well. Rather oddly, you can get a refund on most tickets (at a discounted penalty rate) if you miss the train. The rules are rather complicated but it is possible!

Travelers in a hurry – and even those wanting to save some cash – may be surprised at how cheap internal flights can be. India is enjoying a boom in cut-price discount airlines at the moment, and there are very frequent services between all of the major cities and a good proportion of regional airports too. If you fancy hopping from Mumbai to Goa – and can handle the environmental impact – then the plane is the way to go providing you are in a hurry. Shop around for tickets and be aware that airlines routinely overbook – so it a good idea to arrive early and get to the front of the line.

Buses are another classic way of touring India and can open up areas that even the massive railway network cannot reach. The national lines work semi-autonomously and there are countless regional operators too, and literally thousands of private hires to choose between. As you probably guessed you can get amazing value here and see parts of the country that others will not visit very often at all. In urban areas, you may want to split the cost of a cab between your group if you want to get anywhere in some degree of comfort. Indian public urban transit is insanely busy and staggeringly cheap.

Chances are that however you choose to visit India will make a considerable impact upon the quality of your experience – and as ever, there really is no right or wrong way of doing it. We’d suggest that trains offer the quintessential way of seeing the country and offer the best overall value in terms of cost, quality, and experience. Throw in some buses where required and perhaps a plane or ferry to the islands and you are pretty much set. Car hire is possible but really only necessary if you are truly heading out to the unexplored areas. Driving is not easy or especially fun, so factor that into your decision!

Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, Khajuraho, India, UNESCO heritage site
Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, Western Temples of Khajuraho, Madya Pradesh, India – UNESCO world heritage site. Popular world tourist destination.

What Are the Best Accommodations in India?

We’ve covered large parts of this already throughout the Ultimate India Travel Guide but it is worth outlining the main principles one again. Budget travelers are going to find plenty of cheap places to crash down for the night – just do not expect your hostels to offer a great deal of privacy or comfort. Quality varies so check online reviews and book the best options well ahead of your arrival in the country. Get a good hostel arranged and your stay will be many times better compared to splashing out on a shabby budget hotel room.

Mid-market accommodation varies and this is almost always reflected in the price. Despite the city premium which is the same as what you’d expect pretty much everywhere else, you do tend to get what you pay for in India. A ₹1000 difference in the price of two hotels offering identical rooms may be down to something as simple as the cheaper one laying right next to a six-lane highway, whereas the more expensive option is next to the station. Research is – as always – your friend.

High-end accommodation in India is something that even mid-market budgets can sometimes stretch towards and if that’s your scene then it can certainly be worth the added cost. Little things like international TV and working wi-fi do make the experience a fair amount easier! You may also want to look towards the private accommodation sector, although be careful here and understand that it may not be a sensible call for those entirely new to the country. Living with a family can be fantastic but chances are you’ll end up miles away from the central sites, so once again it really depends on the type of visit you are hoping to enjoy.

How Can I Practice Responsible Tourism in India?

Tourism alone is never going to fix the massive issues the country has with poverty. You ought to look towards touring the slum districts with the help of one of the many local charities – and use social media to help with fundraising from your experiences. That is perhaps one of the best ways you can actually help to improve the daily lives of the millions of people who live in absolute destitution throughout the country. Pick a charity that matches your specific interests and remember that they also operate in the countryside too.

Try and visit conservation sites and make sure that any tours are operated on a non-profit basis with all proceeds going towards the upkeep of the area. When it comes to wildlife the same applies – especially with tiger tourism. These can actually be very popular especially with Indians to whom the tiger is of cultural significance. No matter what, make sure your chosen tour treats the animals respectfully and does not employ any coercing strategies whatsoever. Elephant tourism is another popular activity but you should only engage in it via designated conservation sites. Do you really want to sit on top of a sad jumbo?

Chances are that not too many people will fling their clothes in a suitcase and just hop on the next plane to India, so we cannot stress enough how important it is to read up and understand what is going on within the country as much as possible before you visit. You’ll find some things (child exploitation, awful labor conditions, etc) that you may specifically want to try and help with during your time in the country. Many charities do work towards helping those enduring such awful plight – so give money and exposure whenever you can.

What Food Should I Try In India?

Needless to say, if you like curry and spices then you will have a far easier time eating well and cheaply during your time in India! You may find that many curried dishes are actually much drier – often cooked in a Tandoor oven – than what is commonly found in the west. Likewise, curry-style soups are very common and often served with large chunks of deliciously fresh and fragrant naan bread, pitta bread, samosa pockets, fried bhajis, pakoras, and of course, rice.

As with much of India, you’ll notice that the cuisine tends to vary a great deal depending on which region you are visiting. If we were (rather dangerously!) to pick a national dish it would probably be biryani – whereby curried meat/vegetables are mixed and cooked with rice – often pilau heavily seasoned with turmeric, nuts, and raisins. Visit Assam and you’ll likely notice that foods tend to be considerably more mild and delicate – butter chicken washed down with a cup of their famous tea is a real delicacy.

You will have endless opportunities to try new dishes throughout your time in India – and should not be scared off trying the often exceptional street food stalls that may serve thousands of people every day. Vegetarians – and to an extent vegans – will find no end of wonderful foods that suit their preferences, whereas carnivores may well discover a new found love for vegetable-based dishes.

Temple on the water in India
Arches and temple in Gadi Sagar lake in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India

What Should I Pack for A Trip to India?

You really should pack a decent little medical kit featuring plenty of good quality products that you are already familiar with. Wet wipes, water purification tablets, and good plasters/bandages are also well worth considering depending on how far from the cities you intend on touring. You can buy pretty much anything you may forget in India itself – often at astonishingly low prices – but it makes sense to take some essentials with you. Remember that airlines have restrictions on water-based products so perhaps stock up at the airport when you arrive.

Despite crime being generally pretty rare against tourists, a money belt is a sensible idea. You should also bring a battery pack for your electronic devices and a cross-compatible charger if required. A waterproof is handy at most times of the year.

What Clothes Should You Wear In India?

This is a tricky one and will vary on when you intend on visiting. Our best advice at the Ultimate India Travel Guide would be to try and dress a little more conservatively than you might expect, and to pack clothing suitable for the season. Given that many of the most popular tourist sites are culturally significant and religiously sensitive, you ought to try and stick to very lightweight trousers and dresses as applicable. Headscarves are a reasonable – but not essential option – for women, as are hats (just remember to take them off where appropriate). Men should avoid shorts apart from when enjoying the beach.

The more upmarket side of India expects people to dress well. The rest of the country won’t particularly be bothered providing you are not wearing anything too outrageous or showing too much skin. Generally speaking, we’d suggest trying not too stick out too much and avoid ‘tourist wear’ as much as you can.

What Are Some Interesting & Important Facts About India?

Hopefully, you will have found the India Travel Guide an informative read, and we hope that some of the advice we have provided will serve you well towards exploring this frankly amazing country. Now is a fascinating time to visit India. The country, for better or worse, is going through modernization at a breakneck speed and while plenty of people will be rightly a bit shocked at some aspects of the country, it is one of the most ‘honest’ and upfront countries there are on the map.

If you can get past the difficulties then India is one of the best places in the world when it comes to rewarding persistent and engaging travelers. Many people visit India and expect not to like it much, only to keep returning as often as time allows. It really does get under your skin, and thankfully most of the time that is in the right ways.

We’ll wrap up the India Travel Guide with a handful of fun little facts that will hopefully tempt you further to push your boundaries and get exploring this one-of-a-kind destination. Happy travels!

▸ India has over one hundred thousand post offices – so think of that next time you need to buy a stamp.

▸ The word ‘shampoo’ derives from ‘champu’ which is a word for Indian massage.

▸ India is a nation of innovators and philosophers. You can thank them for both fiber optic cables and the concept of zero.

▸ Cows really are regarded as holy and allowed to roam freely pretty much whenever and wherever they wish.

▸ India has a spa dedicated entirely to elephants.

▸ ‘Flexible vegetarianism’ may as well describe 80% of the population.

▸ The Indian railways employ over one million people.

▸ ‘Monsoon’ is one of the six Seasons listed in the Hindu calendar.

▸ Despite cricket’s popularity, Kabbadi remains the national sport. India has won every single world cup to date.

▸ The Golden Temple attracts the highest number of daily visitors of anywhere on the planet.

We hope you enjoyed reading the Budget India Travel Guide – and good travels! Contact us with any questions you may have about travel to India.


Now that you have read about Thailand, what’s next? Let’s learn more about a China trip. Check out The Ultimate China Travel Guide


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