Having traveled together across 9 countries, India easily came out as one of our top destinations. We fell in love with the vibrancy of the culture and the harassment of the crowds. Indian food quickly became our favorite cuisine and local buses were soon our go to method of transport.
It takes a bit of time to fall in love with India. If you don’t have at least a month to dedicate to the country, then don’t go. Wait until you do and the reward will be well worth it.
We initially planned to spend 3 months in India, and aimed to see as much as we could within that time. When we came around to getting our visas, we discovered it was the same price for 1 month as for 6 months, and that’s including double entry. So, having obtained a 6 month visa we realised, why stick to 3 months when we can travel for longer? So 3 months became 5 months but, even this didn’t feel long enough for us.
If you have 5 months, or there about, here is what we managed to achieve during our time spent travelling here. We travel at a slow pace, the only time constraint being our visa and cash flow.
We saw what we consider to be the highlights of each state and our experiences, no matter how challenging, are what made us fall in love with this unique country.
1. Kolkata – West Bengal
We began our epic adventure in Kolkata. This was our first glimpse into what India had in store for us. We felt slightly thrown into the deep end with open defecation happening left, right and center and appallingly filthy rooms for £10 a night! We expected it to be a little dirty but we were in no way prepared for this.
But, having said that, nothing can prepare you for your first journey into the chaos of India. Nonetheless, we fell in love. We had breakfast for 60p and dinner for 99p. It was all absolutely delicious. We wandered around the city and quickly encountered the rickshaws pulled by hand. It’s actually the only place where this is still used as a way of transport. In the past, there has been campaigns to try and abolish the practice, but the workers themselves refused to stop, as for them, it meant giving up their job. I still couldn’t bring myself to support this however, and I’m really not sure how I feel about them. It’s certainly an eye opener into the desperate need to find work.
We stayed just 4 nights in Kolkata because we were eager to visit the living root bridges in Nongriat. You may have seen these on Human Planet, if not, they are basically bridges made from the roots of trees which have been wound together over hundreds of years to form a strong, living bridge. They are currently only accessible on foot via a trek that includes no less than 5000 steps!
We booked 2 sleeper trains to take us from Kolkata to Meghalaya.
Find out more: Traveling via train in India: A typical journey.
2. Cherrapunji – Meghalaya
The journey to Cherrapunji went by, surprisingly, without a hitch and our first sleeper train experience was a success. All in all, it was a cheap, easy, if not very long, journey. We caught the train from Kolkata to New Jalpaiguri, then another train from New Jalpaiguri to Mariani Junction for ₹220 each. From there, we jumped in a shared taxi to Shillong, the state capital, where we planned to spend a few nights. Once we arrived however, due to a local holiday, there was no room at the inn and so we were forced to move on. We got another shared taxi to Cherrapunji instead, which was to be our main base for the trek to the root bridges.
We stayed in Meghalaya for roughly 10 days, with 3 days dedicated to the root bridges trek. We spent the rest of the time in Cherrapunji enjoying the laid back life and peaceful air of the hill station. After our sore legs had recovered from the trek back up the 5000 steps from Nongriat, we decided to make our way to Majuli island. We didn’t plan to travel any further East in India however, after a few different people recommended we visit the island, we decided to see it for ourselves.
3. Majuli Island – Assam
We jumped in a couple of Sumos (huge 4×4’s used as local transport) to reach a city called Guwahati in Assam. From there, we caught a 7 hour train, a 30 minute rickshaw, a 1 hour boat and a 30 minute jeep ride to get to our hotel, La Maison de Ananda, on Majuli island. The journey took us 31 hours in total. The boat from Jorhat to Majuli island cost ₹20 and took 1 hour.
One of the best things to do on the island is to rent a bike. The islands natural beauty is more than enough to keep you occupied. We cycled around for a full day and found the Masks made by the famous Mask Makers of Assam. Whilst on the island, there are small villages you can visit that are inhabited by The Missing tribe. It’s actually very authentic and not fabricated for tourism.
For more information on Majuli island this article is informative and almost identical to our own experience. We stayed on the island for 4 days and found this was enough. The island is really beautiful but, it is sadly predicted to sink within the next 20 years. So hurry and see the beauty before it’s too late and the island is gone forever!
4. Darjeeling – Back to West Bengal
The journey from Majuli island to Darjeeling took us a total of 31 hours. I can not stress strongly enough the necessity of arranging this trip before hand! We took the ‘make it up as you go along’ approach which turned out to be a very bad idea. It was a full test of mind, body and strength. But we made it in the end and it was an unforgettable experience to say the least. We took a train for 20 hours and what seemed like endless sumo’s, taxi’s and rickshaws. But eventually, we made it to Darjeeling and, in true British fashion, we had a nice cup of tea.
Darjeeling is a hill station so the temperature is more bearable than some other parts of India. There is plenty to see as well as tea so we spent 4 days here. We felt 4 days was enough but you could probably spent less. We saw some of the various tea plantations and tea shops dotted around the center of town. The staff in the tea shops are incredibly knowledgeable and just to listen to them talk about tea is strangely inspiring. You can post some tea home easily from here too. There’s also a pub called Joey’s and inside its kitted out like a proper British pub!
My favorite thing about Darjeeling, besides the tea, was the Tibetan Refugee Help Center that’s set up to, well, help Tibetan refugees. You can speak to some of the refugees there and learn about their troubled history which I found really interesting, especially as I didn’t know much about it before.
Whilst in Darjeeling, we were able to arrange our permits for our next stop, Sikkim. You can not freely travel across this state like most of India and a permit has to be arranged before you go.
5. Gangtok – Sikkim
We came here in search of beautiful Himalayan views and incredible lakes. This can be found if you go at the right time of year, which unfortunately, we did not. We still enjoyed the state however, and travelling between each city is stunning. The roads curve around the mountains whilst following wide turbulent rivers and navigates through endless overflowing falls. No matter how many people are jammed into your sumo, it’s impossible not to enjoy the journey.
We traveled through Sikkim from Gangtok to Ravangla, from here to Pelling, then on to Namchi. We enjoyed Pelling the most out of each stop. There are many walks to take around the area which take you into the mountains and through small remote villages.
Each time we arrived to a new place, we began by asking in a few hotels for the room price. This gave us an idea of what we should be paying and, most of the time, it’s cheaper to ask at the hotel than it is to book online. A lot of hotels are not featured online either so we found the best way to get a room within your budget is to find one when you get there.
Getting around Sikkim was really easy. We used sumos, the big 4×4’s. Basically, ask anyone where the sumo stop is and you’ll be directed to the area where they all wait. The destination of each sumo is written on the front window. If your destination isn’t there, it means you may have to change once or twice to get where you want to be. We only had to change sumo’s a maximum of 3 times during any one journey. They always stop en route for a break where you can buy food or water. Definitely buy a samosa or two if you see one along the way.
The permit gives you 2 weeks to travel around Sikkim. To be honest, the weather just wasn’t great for us, so we could have spent less time there. Traveling here at the right time, March to June, is really important. You’re more likely to get clear skies and therefore, the best views.
When leaving Sikkim, remember to tell your sumo driver you need to stop on the border for an exit stamp. Only foreigners need the stamp and our driver didn’t stop. This caused some issues with a policemen, but in the end, there was nothing we could do because we’d already crossed the border. Just be mindful to help avoid any unnecessary bureaucratic issues.
6. Agra – Uttar Pradesh
To get to Agra we flew from Silliguri, in West Bengal, to Delhi. However, it would be better to get a train instead and visit Varanassi on the way. We missed this stop because we flew which I’m a little devastated by. From Delhi, we caught a 3 hour bus straight to Agra. This was fairly simple, we climbed aboard a non AC bus packed with locals. Some very nice gentlemen insisted we take their seats so we were reasonably comfortable. We purchased the ticket on the bus. This is a big tip: purchase the ticket on the bus, means you pay local rate. Most of the time.
We didn’t find much else in Agra other than, of course, the Taj Mahal which you can see for ₹1000 per person. We spent about 2 or 3 hours walking around the monument just before sunset. We stayed at Big Brothers Hostel which is very close to the entrance to the Taj Mahal, reasonably priced with great food and even better company.
We took the same bus as before, but in the opposite direction. Again, it took 3 hours with a quick stop for ice creams along the way. We bought our ticket from a small office located where the bus waits and it was really cheap. Local buses are by far the best way to travel through India when making last minute plans. Plus, they’re great for meeting and chatting to locals who just can’t help but seek you out for a conversation.
Anyway, we stayed at the Zostel in Paharganj for 2 nights. Paharganj is the backpacker area and where you want to be staying. You can’t drink in the hostel common areas so if you want to enjoy a few beers, you have to drink in your room or find another hostel.
We only came to Delhi in the first place to get our chest X-Rays for our New Zealand Visa. We spent a few hours walking around Connaught Place. It’s basically a circular bazaar full of shops, restaurants and bars. It does feel a bit touristy so don’t expect it to be cheap like the rest of India, a beer will set you back about ₹400 at the very least.
Also, bare in mind that when we say touristy, we also refer to Indian tourists. People from India travel within India. There are over 1 billion people here, so that’s a lot of tourists.
In Delhi, local people are notorious for scamming tourists. One of our lovely Indian friends can not grasp the concept of haggling and much to the frustration of his best friend, he accepts the first price given to him for everything. We met countless Indian people who told us that even they got ripped off in Delhi, so try your best to avoid it but if it happens it happens. We definitely got ripped off a coupe of times, but luckily, only for small things.
8. Amritsar – Punjab
We took a direct bus to Amritsar from Delhi. It took us forever to find the bus stop until Charlie realised the number ’14’, that was printed on our ticket, was actually referring to a huge concrete column supporting a flyover road. Of course! How could we be so stupid… Anyway, unfortunately I was extremely ill throughout this journey and even 4 Imodium could not save me. So, safe to say, it was not the most comfortable of journeys. The great thing with India though is that if you gotta go on the side of road, you’re not the first to do so, so just roll with it.
We stayed a total of 8 days in Amritsar mostly because I was ill. Two days is probably enough if you’re lucky enough to have full control of your bowls. In India, this is something that should never be taken for granted. We visited the Wagah Border, the Golden Temple and Jallianwala Bagh, a memorial site honoring the lives lost when British soldiers opened fire on a crowd of peaceful protesters. You can still see bullet holes in the walls surrounding the site making for a slightly harrowing experience.
Read more: The Beating Retreat at The Wagah Border.
We stayed at a pretty nice hotel for ₹650 a night purely because I was sick and desperately craving a little bit of comfort. Rickshaws are everywhere and are the easiest way to travel around the city. Amristar is one of the cities to use the electric rickshaws. If you can find them, use them! Pollution in India is a massive problem so even these small changes will benefit everyone. They don’t cost anymore to use than those that are fuel powered.
9. Jaipur – Rajasthan
We caught an overnight sleeper bus to Jaipur city from Amristar. The road was soooo bumpy I got hardly any sleep. Somehow, Charlie managed to grab a few hours. If you are a skilled sleeper on public transport, you might be alright. The road was so bumpy, I’m pretty sure we spent half the journey airborne.
Once we got to Jaipur, we headed straight for our hostel that we booked previously online, called Hathroi Palace Backpackers. We went to Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Jodphur and Pushkar whilst in Rajasthan. We left Jaipur via non AC sleeper bus which we definitely recommend. Non AC is surprisingly more comfortable that AC, which we talk about here.
Find out more about this magical state: Best places to visit in Rajasthan.
10. Mumbai – Maharashtra
Mumbai, also known as the financial capital, is actually Indias largest city. Part of the city stretches along the bay. At night, you can sit with the locals and enjoy the view of the lit up skyline. Not far from here is the Gateway of India, a massive stone arch built in 1924.
From New India Gate, you can catch a ferry to the Elephanta caves which I’ve heard are impressive. The ferry doesn’t leave on Mondays though so don’t get caught out like we did. It’s a photo hot spot here so be prepared to have a lot of people approach you for selfies. Actually, be prepared to have a lot people approach you for photos everywhere in India.
In the student area, Bandra West, there are a load of bars and cafes along with the Bar Stock Exchange. Imagine the stock exchange, but with drinks. The more popular the drink is, the more the price increases. When the drink is bought less, the drink loses it’s ‘value’, and so the price adjusts accordingly. They even have an app you can download to your phone for real time ‘stock market’ updates. It’s great for giving you some encouragement to try something new. Who knows, you might even find a new favorite beverage!
Accommodation is expensive all over the city no mater where you stay. Couch surfing is really popular here and a good way to be shown around by a friendly local. We stayed here for 4 nights and met up with our friends who took us home for a traditional, authentic Indian meal. We left very privileged to be able to have this experience, and if you get offered, seriously consider yourself lucky and say yes!
We took another non AC sleeper bus from Mumbai to Aurangabad.
11. Aurangabad – Maharashtra
I’d read about the Ellora and Ajanta caves, both of which are a bus ride from Aurangabad, albeit in opposite directions. This means you need 2 days if you want to see both caves. The Ellora caves were my favorite of the two. The temple is carved into the rock and the complex detail of the structure is fascinating. It is busier compared to Ajanta, but that’s because it’s more accessible.
To get to the caves, get yourselves to the main bus station hub. From here ask at the counter for the bus to the cave you want to reach. Be warned that hotels will tell you that buses don’t go to the caves and you have to book a car with them. They’ll try to charge you ₹3000 or more but it’s not true, there is a cheap local bus. The bus to Ajanta caves cost us ₹32 each. They will probably know where you want to go because there isn’t much else going on for tourists here.
At the time of visit, we paid ₹500 each for entry into Ajanta which I believe has decreased to ₹250 with ₹5 fee for your camera. We paid ₹250 each for entry into Ellora. To get back from the caves just wait on the road for the bus. We caught the bus back from Ellora after only a 10 minute wait and we hitchhiked back from Ajanta.
We were lucky that our trip coincided with the Bombay Circus on tour so we had our evening entertainment sorted. Other than that, we didn’t see anything happening in the city in the way of nightlife and entertainment. Don’t expect much in the line of accommodation either. Where ever you stay make sure you haggle hard, we got our room for ₹600 after an initial quote of ₹1200. We still feel we over paid. It was not a pleasant experience.
12. Anjuna – Goa
We caught another overnight bus to Goa then a rickshaw to Anjuna. Anjuna is a small village that has been popular with tourists since the 60’s when it was discovered by the hippies. It’s famous for outdoor trance parties and is hugely popular with travelers of all ages. Due to it’s popularity, we found it to be pretty expensive compared with other places we visited in India.
We arrived during September which is early for Anjuna. The season doesn’t begin until November and the village can seem pretty quiet before then as lot of the shops and bars are closed. We decided to wait it out and rented a house for 35 days for ₹17000. You can find houses for more or less than that depending on what you’re looking for. The lowest we were quoted was around ₹12000. If you are wanting to rent a house, we found ours through asking anyone and everyone we saw until eventually, we were driven to our lovely, Portuguese style cottage.
Read more: Renting a house in Goa.
13. Kochi – Kerala
After over a month relaxing in Goa we traveled south to Kerala. In Cochin we saw the Katakali. A traditional dance which was incredibly loud but well worth seeing the skilled art of face painting and elaborate costumes. At the beach, you can see the Chinese fishing nets at work. It was really special to see the men halling in their catch ready for sale that day. This makes it one of the best places to have fresh fish. Along the harbor there are tonnes of stalls selling gifts, tat and snacks as well as a loads of restaurants. You can easily spend a day wandering through the city and its different quarters.
From here we went to Munnar Hill station and took a drive in a rickshaw through the hills and tea plantations with a stop at some waterfalls too. Munnar city itself didn’t have a lot to offer in terms of shopping or entertainment, but you can buy some excellent hand made chocolates.
From Munnar, we caught a local bus to Alleppey for the famous backwaters. We spent a whole day on the water on our own beautiful houseboat. It is busy with boats everywhere, but this means you get to watch other boats float past you, expect a lot of smiles and waving. There are a lot of overnight options available but we felt a day was plenty for us. We spent about 2 weeks exploring Kerala and found it lot less intense compared to the North of India. If you are new to traveling or new to India, it’s a good idea to travel south to north to help you get used to navigating between your destinations.
14. Hampi – Karnataka
Karnataka was the final state we visited in India before our flight. We spent a week in Hampi but quickly fell in love. There is so much culture and history here that all the locals are very passionate about sharing with you. A day ride around the temples is the highlight of the town, along with hiring your own bike and exploring the surrounding area. We hired a rickshaw with a guy called Hanauman, named after the god. If you see him he’s great! It’s easier to ride around with a guide than do it yourself. Plus, they know everything about the site so you get loads of quality information about what you’re looking at.
Getting here was awkward for us because we insisted on using local buses all the way. It’s a total of 4 different buses from Goa and took us 2 days. But we made it and we only got on the wrong bus once. Wha-hey!
Find out why we always got local buses where possible here, along with details of all transport within India.
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