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Planning a trip to India: the ultimate guide for first timers including information about the tourist visa, where to stay in India, how to move around the country.
If you are here after reading the 6 cold hard facts about India and you are still looking forward to planning a trip to India… congratulations! You just passed the first test of courage!
If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you take a look because it helps you understand whether a trip to India is for you.
Here you find all kinds of information you need to plan your first trip to India at its best!
PLANNING A 3-WEEK TRIP TO INDIA.
The first tip I want to give you before planning a trip to India is to stay at least 3 weeks.
India is a country that has to be explored at a slow pace to capture its essence.
Planning a trip to India in detail is impossible. Setbacks are inevitable and if you are a neat freak like me, well deal with it! I had to do it too!
Start with a general idea of what you want to do and see but be aware that you might change your itinerary on the way.
I divided my 3-week stay into 4 parts:
- 2 DAYS IN DELHI.
- 2 WEEKS IN RAJASTHAN: UDAIPUR, JAISALMER, JODHPUR, PUSHKAR AND JAIPUR.
- AGRA AND TAJ MAHAL.
- VARANASI AND THE GANGES RIVER.
Rajasthan is the legendary land of the kings full of places to see, magnificent palaces, Jain temples and Hindu temples.
It’s the cultural heart of India where most ceremonies and festivals take place. The cultural heritage of the people of Rajasthan is very strong and they are proud to belong to a land so full of traditions.
If it’s true that planning a trip to India in detail is impossible, it’s also true that some parts have to be planned in advance.
Starting with the visa.
HOW DO YOU GET AN INDIAN TOURIST VISA?
Europeans and people from specific countries must apply for a tourist visa. The visa lasts for 30 days. Now people can also apply for an e-Visa online at the website of Indian immigration (currently suspended for the covid situation).
Don’t do it last minute. Although the online application speeded up the process, it’s not as fast as it looks.
The documents you upload must be clear and of a certain size, same with the passport photo.
I will never stress that enough: make sure your passport expires at least 6 months after your arrival. This rule applies to many countries and unfortunately not many people know about it.
At first I tried to upload my documents through Chrome but I realized I could only do it through Mozilla Firefox.
I sent the documents and received a few days later an email saying that the photo wasn’t clear and I had a few days to send it again, or else I would have paid for another application.
So be prepared to waste some time but don’t lose your patience. You need it for India!
WHERE TO STAY IN INDIA.
Choosing a place to stay in India is also something you need to plan in advance. Of course you can book last minute but make sure you do some researches on the place you are going to stay.
Unfortunately India is one of the dirtiest countries in the world. Therefore you want a clean hotel.
After a long day walking around dirty streets and cow’s dung, you need a regenerating shower in a clean room.
I list here the hotels we stayed at. Some were amazing. Some less. Anyway they were all clean.
According to the time of the year you are going to India, some hotels might be overbooked. So make sure you book in advance, especially if you want to stay in havelis which normally have few rooms.
WHERE TO STAY IN DELHI (3 NIGHTS).
Hotel City Star in Delhi is perfect!
As soon as you see it you might think: is she crazy? Where did she send me?
But don’t judge a book from its cover! You’re still in Delhi, India. You can’t expect luxury facades.
Once you get in, you’ll get why I loved my stay in this cozy hotel. Starting with the staff, always friendly and helpful!
Rooms are clean: a relief after a long day around the chaos of Delhi!
The location is also great, just a few kilometers from Old Delhi.
WHERE TO STAY IN UDAIPUR (4 NIGHTS).
Go Stops is a hostel chain in many cities of India that offers clean rooms and great service at a very low price.
The one in Udaipur is currently the most recent one. It has simple but clean rooms, a terrace where you can have breakfast and tea during the day and a 24hours reception.
If I hadn’t been so disappointed by Go Stops Jodhpur (I’ll tell you more later) I would recommend Go Stops in any city of India that has one. But I’m still very upset about what happened.
WHERE TO STAY IN JAISALMER (2 NIGHTS).
This wonderful haveli is definitely my favorite place!
You know when everything is just perfect?
Starting with the staff: AMAZING! They are all very attentive! On our last day, when we came back from our desert safari, they even gave us a room to shower and freshen up, although we checked out in the morning.
They booked our train tickets and helped us with anything we needed.
The room is a gem! Big, clean, with lovely furniture. We could see the sunrise over Jaisalmer from our window.
The terrace where you can eat and have breakfast is stunning: the view is breathtaking!
And the location is the highlight of this haveli. It’s right in Jaisalmer Fort, next to the Royal Palace!
A magical place!
Besides, if Mick Jagger chose it too, it can’t be that bad right?
WHERE TO STAY IN JODHPUR (1 NIGHT).
Moustache Jodhpur is the new name of Go Stops Jodhpur. I really like it as a hostel chain because it’s very clean and efficient but as I said earlier I’m still very angry at them!
Unfortunately I had to change the dates of my stay and arrived the following day. Basically we couldn’t make it for that afternoon but we arrived very early the next morning. We contacted the reception and asked them to keep the room for us anyway because we wanted to have a shower at our arrival. “Sure, don’t worry”, they say.
Well, when we arrived nobody knew about this conversation. Our room (which we paid for in advance) was given to someone else and the hostel was fully booked. Zero assistance. And after a night ride on a dusty train you really need that shower! The only “favor” was to keep our luggage in a locker for the day.
Now, I don’t want to judge the whole hostel just by a single mistake but you can imagine how upset I was. And why I don’t feel like recommending this particular hostel. We ended up arriving in Jodhpur very early in the morning, visiting the city, and leaving that same afternoon to catch up with our schedule.
Anyway I think it’s better to take your time and stay one night in Jodhpur. I read very good reviews for Yogis Guest House, apparently a clean haveli right in the city center.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUSHKAR (2 NIGHTS).
Moti Mahal is a haveli just outside the city center of Pushkar. It’s at the end of an unpaved and muddy street so if you get there by tuk tuk expect a bumpy road.
Despite the street, Moti Mahala is a good accommodation. It’s not amazing like other places we stayed in India but it’s clean. And this is what really matters in India.
Rooms are wide, the bathroom is not great but decent for 1 night or 2, and breakfast is served on a terrace with a great view of Pushkar and Gurudwara Singh Sabha.
We were welcomed by the kind staff and two sweet German shepherds. I have to say though that the hotel was quite noisy. And that could be pretty annoying!
WHERE TO STAY IN JAIPUR (3 NIGHTS).
Umaid Mahal is a great hotel. It has a luxury taste, a little tacky though but who cares? It’s in an 18th century palace and completely decorated with Indian style. You feel like a real maharaja there!
Rooms are clean, the staff is nice and the food is quite good as well. On the terrace where they serve dinner you can also watch traditional dances.
It’s not right in the city center but you can get there in a few minutes by taxi.
One of the hotels I liked the most, I totally recommend it.
WHERE TO STAY IN AGRA (2 NIGHTS).
When booking a hotel in Agra, make sure it is clean and especially close to the Taj Mahal.
That’s because I strongly recommend visiting the Taj Mahal at sunrise. Read my article to find all the tips to visit the Taj Mahal avoiding the crowd of tourists.
We chose Hotel Taj Resorts. It’s an average hotel, very simple and clean.
But what makes this hotel great is its proximity to the Taj Mahal and the terrace that offers a stunning view of the mausoleum, especially at sunset!
The rooftop restaurant has good food and a great vibe (although I was devastated by mosquitos but that has nothing to do with the hotel). Make sure you have a strong mosquito repellent with you!
There is also a swimming pool if you want to relax a little before heading to the other cities on your itinerary.
WHERE TO STAY IN VARANASI (2 NIGHTS).
The guesthouse I chose in Varanasi is for sure one of my favorite places in India!
I loved everything about this place!
Especially the welcoming! The guesthouse is owned by an amazing family! When we checked in, the owner explained to us in detail with a map all you can do and see in Varanasi and gave us great tips.
The kindness and sweetness of this family are the best I have ever found in all my trips. And one of the things I loved the most was breakfast. You have breakfast in a dining room in the house of the family together with them and the other guests. The food is great and cooked by the amazing mama. A great opportunity to meet other guests and spend time with this amazing family!
Also, I’m not a big fan of Indian Food, but here I loved it! You can order mama’s food from a menu and you can eat it at a table outside your room.
Another great thing about this place is its location. It’s very close to the ghats but far from the incredible chaos of the city. A real haven after a day full of noise. I definitely couldn’t handle sleeping in a place where I could still hear the noise of the traffic. My head was on fire and going back to my room was my moment of peace.
And when we checked out… no wait I won’t tell you! It’s a surprise they love to do and you have to find out in person!
HOW TO MOVE AROUND IN INDIA.
There are different ways to move around in India: by plane, by train, by rental car with driver.
As much as I love road trips, I wouldn’t recommend renting a car without a driver. It seems only Indians know how to drive the roads of India. They must have superpowers or something because I don’t get how they can drive around without hitting people or cows.
Besides, booking a rental car in advance is not necessary. There’s no need, it’s more expensive, and you might change your itinerary on the way. So it’s better to book everything onsite. When you check in, ask the hotel staff directly to book a car with a driver for you. Make locals do their magic. They’ll find good deals for you.
Don’t trust any driver not booked by the hotel. They have “secret” deals with hotels, restaurants and shops and they take commissions for each customer they bring. I explain all the details in the post “6 cold hard facts about India“. Take a look if you haven’t done it already, it’s very helpful.
Flying is the best option for long distance trips. You can find good deals also if you book last minute.
Let’s see now in detail how to move around the cities of the itinerary I presented at the beginning of this article.
HOW TO GET TO UDAIPUR FROM DELHI.
The best way to get to Udaipur from Delhi is by plane. We flew with Jet Airways and the flight is about an hour.
HOW TO GET TO JAISALMER FROM UDAIPUR.
There are no airports in Jaisalmer so the best option is by car. This is the longest car ride we took in India. It takes about 9 hours to get there.
The funny thing is that if you want air conditioning you have to pay extra. And in this case I strongly recommend it.
This is one of the things I don’t understand about India. Are the drivers willing to drive without air conditioning and sweat for 9 hours just because their customers want to save some money? I don’t get it.
One more thing to consider. Cars are not allowed inside the fort so make sure you arrange a tuk tuk with the hotel in Jaisalmer from the drop off point.
HOW TO GET TO JODHPUR FROM JAISALMER.
This is the only train ride I took in India. And this is the reason why.
I literally wanted to cry. But after an hour on the horror train we realized we were in the wrong section. We had a first class ticket but we were in the second class car by mistake.
Well, it certainly isn’t the first class we all imagine, but definitely better than that car.
We traveled at night because we didn’t want to waste time during the day. It’s not easy to book the ticket yourself so once again ask the hotel staff. And remember! Make sure they book first class!
One more tip. Go to the toilet before going to the train station. You don’t want to go to the toilet on the train. Trust me!
HOW TO GET TO PUSHKAR FROM JODHPUR.
After the terrifying train ride, we finally got back to the car. Pushkar is close to Jodhpur, the car ride is only 4 hours.
HOW TO GET TO JAIPUR FROM PUSHKAR.
Car with the driver again! We kind of love it now!
And the ride is even shorter, only 3 hours.
HOW TO GET TO AGRA FROM JAIPUR.
Guess what? Car with driver!
But this time the car ride wasn’t so smooth. In Agra there was a violent protest and many roads were blocked.
I even thought that it was just the usual scam drivers do, but the news was confirmed by the media. Sorry, I couldn’t help being skeptical all the time in India!
After a few deviations we made it to the city of the Taj Mahal safe and sound!
In “normal” conditions the ride is about 4 hours.
HOW TO GET TO VARANASI FROM AGRA.
This time we have to abandon our favorite option and go back to the sky.
Varanasi is too far from Agra by car so the best thing to do is taking a flight.
There are no direct flights but we didn’t even have to leave the plane during our stopover.
We flew with Air India and booked last minute through Budget Air.
HOW TO GET TO DELHI FROM VARANASI.
Here’s where my nightmare began.
I had to get to Delhi to take my flight back to Rome. Since I booked two separate flights with two different airlines (SpiceJet from Varanasi to Delhi and Alitalia from Delhi to Rome) I chose a flight with a long stopover, just to be safe.
The arrival in Delhi was scheduled for 10:50 pm and my flight to Rome was at 4:00 am. I thought 5 hours and 10 minutes would be enough. I was wrong.
My flight from Varanasi kept on being delayed. Bad weather they said. While all other airlines were regularly flying from Varanasi to Delhi with no problems.
The thing is that if the reason for the delay is bad weather, the airline won’t refund you. Spice Jet managed terribly the whole situation and they provided 0 assistance.
So long story short I didn’t make it for my flight from Delhi to Rome.
The problem is that you can’t go inside the airport of Delhi if you don’t have a valid ticket for the day, so I was in a sort of limbo.
I didn’t have a return ticket to Rome so I couldn’t go inside the airport to go to the ticket office or use the Wi-fi to get a new ticket. Or use electricity to charge my phone.
Luckily in Varanasi I met a few people in the same situation and we helped each other out. Thanks to them, a last minute contact in Delhi provided by my uncle, friends and relatives from Italy I managed to get a new ticket and leave the next day at 4:00 am.
After spending the night outside the airport of Delhi and being awake for more than 50 hours.
That’s probably one of the worst experiences I had in India but at least I had the chance to meet Pilar, an extraordinary woman who tried to get home just like. She volunteered in Varanasi for 6 months and she is also a blogger.
What did I learn from all that? That I will never fly with Spice Jet again and that in India you never think ahead enough. So stay an extra night in Delhi before your flight back home. Because I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.
But I also like to think that everything happens for a reason. Without this misadventure I would have never met Pilar and maybe things went exactly the way they were supposed to. I don’t know maybe India made me a little mystical and I like to think there’s karma behind everything.
As you’ll find out, India never stops teaching. And you never stop learning from India.
CONCLUSIONS FOR PLANNING A TRIP TO INDIA.
I tried to give with this article and the previous one a sort of “ultimate guide” with all the information I think you should know before planning a trip to India. But I think that an article about planning a trip to India can never be complete. You are never fully prepared for India and this is a trip that will make you a stronger person and a stronger traveler.
So take these tips about planning a trip to India as a general guide, then let India guide you and learn your lesson. And of course tell me all about it!