India Budget

Below we’ve included our budget for India. We hope this is helpful to all who plan on traveling or backpacking through India. We managed to average less than $50/day while in India. Some days it was significantly less than that, and some days it was higher. We did a lot of sight seeing, souvenir shopping, and traveled all over northern India. wpid-DSC_3629.jpg

Bus from Kathmandu, Nepal to Sonuli (boarder town): USD $23.20
Bus + Taxi to Boarder: USD $1.37


Day 1
Bus to Gorakhpur INR 184
Dinner INR 140
Lodging INR 500
Total INR 824 ($14.05 USD)

Train Tickets to Varanasi from Gorakhpur INR 150
Lodging 2 Nights w a/c INR 1,000
Total INR 1,150 ($19.61)

Day 2
Chai Tea x4 INR 40
Lunch 60
Snacks 60
Water x3: 100
Boat Tour 300
India Rough Guide: 900 ($15.35)
India Map 100
Soda 50
Dinner 120
Beer 210
Total INR 1,940 ($33.08)

Day 3
Breakfast 100
Water x3: 75
Samosas 36
Dinner (Tali) 200
Total INR 411 ($7.00)

Day 4
Chai Tea 10
Breakfast 48
Water x4: 85
Ice Tea 65
Affogato 90
Club Sandwich & Chips 210
Samosa x8 w/ sweet 38
Dinner 78
Auto Rickshaw to Bus Station 80
Chai Tea 8
Total INR 709 ($12.07)

Train Tickets to Agra from Varanasi INR 1,580 ($26.90)
Lodging 2 Nights w a/c 1,400 ($23.83)

Day 5
Chai Tea 20
Breakfast 30
Coke 50
Lunch 350
Dinner 460
Post Cards (10) 60
Cookies 20
Mango Juice 60
Total INR 1,050 ($17.87)

Day 6
Taj Tickets 1,500
Agra Fort Tickets 500
Breakfast 80
Water 15
Soda 50
Medicine 116
Lunch 225
Postage for 16 Postcards 240
Auto Rickshaw to River Taj View 200
Water x2: 30
Cookie 10
Lg. Mango Lassi x2: 120
Dinner 220
Water 15
Total INR 3,321 ($56.53)

Train Tickets from Agra to Jaipur: 760 ($12.94)
Lodge 1 Night: 400 ($6.81)

Day 7
Chai x2: 14
Samosa x4: 30
Samosa x2: 20
Local Bus to City Palace : 20
Lunch: 310
Groceries/Snacks 320
Oreo Frapè 118
Local Bus: 14
Total INR 846 ($14.38)

Ranthambore National Park
Train Tickets from Jaipur to SWM: 800 ($13.60)
A/C Lodge 2 Nights: 1,600 ($27.19)
Extra, late checkout: 500 ($8.42)

Day 8
Samosa: 40
Breakfast: 200
Tea: 40
Water: 29
Dinner: 300
Total INR 609 ($10.36)

Day 9
Tiger Safari: 926 ($15.74)
Guide & Vehicle Fee: 740 ($12.58)
Mango Juice: 80
Water: 40
Snacks/Goodies: 167
Dinner: 190
Water x2: 40
Total INR 2,183 ($37.12)

Day 10
Breakfast: 120
Water: 20
Lunch: 320
Water x3: 60
Soda: 60
Water: 15
Total INR 595 ($10.14)

Train Tickets from SWM to Udaipur: 660 ($11.25)
A/C Lodge 1.5 Nights: 1,000 ($17.04)
Rickshaw to Hotel: 60 ($1.02)

Day 11
Water: 15
Breakfast: 130
Coffee Pot: 100
Mango Juice: 40
Water: 15
Leather Wallet: 200
Lunch US Pizza: 450
Water x3: 45
Total INR 995 ($16.96)

Day 12
Eggs, Toast, Cappuccino x2: 260
City Palace Tickets: 230
Juice: 30
Water: 30
Sandwich & Pancake: 150
Soda: 40
Chips: 10
Watch Battery: 75
Brass Earrings x11: 1,000
Dinner: 250
Water x2: 30
Rickshaw to Bus Station: 60
Snacks: 140
Total INR: 2,305 ($39.12)

Overnight A/C Bus from Udaipur to Jaisalmer: 1,800 ($30.67)
Lodge 1 Night A/C: 500 ($8.50)
Camel Trek 2 Days/1 Night: 3,000 ($51.00)
A/C Lodge for the Day: 250 ($4.25)
Total INR: 5,550 ($94.34)

Day 13
Indian Street Breakfast: 30
Cold coffee x2: 90
Water x2: 30
Snacks: 35
Soda: 50
Slice: 70
Elephant Pillow Case: 100
Water: 20
Dinner: 150
Scarf x2: 180
Snacks: 120
Total INR: 875 ($14.87)

Day 14
Banana Lassi x2: 60
Breakfast: 100
Tea x2: 25
Total INR: 185 ($3.14)

Day 15
Soda: 70
Lunch: 260
Snacks: 155
TukTuk: 20
Room for day: 250
Total INR: 935 ($15.89)

Train Tickets 3AC from Jaisalmer to Delhi: 2,400 ($40.79)
A/C Lodge 2.5 Nights: 1,650 ($27.77)

Day 16
Chai: 20
Breakfast: 70
Metro: 18
Water x3: 45
Soda: 52
Large Frappè: 264
Deluxe Thali x2: 140
Ice Cream: 70
Total INR 679 ($11.43)

Day 16
Street Breakfast 60
Chai: 20
Juice: 35
Water x2: 30
Rickshaw: 40
Starbucks mug: 500
Starbucks drink: 170
McDonalds Snacks: 160
Rickshaw: 40
Rickshaw: 50
Water x2: 30
Total INR 1,135 ($19.11)

Day 17
Mango Juice: 60
Water: 20
Street Breakfast: 90
Chai x2: 20
Tandoori Boneless Chicken: 100
Soda: 30
Water x2: 30
Tuktuk: 30
Post Office 5.2 kg: 3,211
Tandoori B/L Chicken x4: 200
Soda: 30
Bar date night: 556
Taxi to Airport: 350
Christmas Ornaments (4): 400
Mango Juice: 60
Water: 10
Total INR 5,197 ($87.48)

17 Days in India + 2 People = $779.61 ($45.86/Day)
India Budget


A Taste of Delhi

I’m going to share a snippet of a journal entry I wrote prior to arriving in Delhi, India.

Saturday, May 31st, 4:45pm:

We are now boarding the train to Delhi. It is scheduled to depart at 5:15pm, and arrive late tomorrow morning in Old Delhi. It’s hard to believe we are on the last leg of our travels in India. And that this is our last train ride. I hope we do many more trips via train in the future. It is quite an amazing way to travel! I am really going to miss this… the cool air blowing on my face, letting my feet dangle in freedom over the tracks, the chai tea vendors coming through every half hour… A month ago I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve really fallen in love with India… and I already want to come back.

When we arrived in Delhi, we had already been traveling through India for quite some time, so I feel like we were more prepared to face this bustling city. Since our train was arriving at the station in Old Delhi, we wanted to sight-see this part of the city first. The train station was just a kilometer away from the Red Fort, so we decided to head there on foot (which of course, lead to disappointing many eager tuktuk drivers).Delhi Train Station Delhi Train Station Exploring India's Capital Exploring India's Capital Red FortAfter admiring the Red Fort, we realized that Jama Masjid (a very large mosque in Old Delhi) was just 1.5 kilometers further down the road. Not wanting to hassle with a tuktuk driver over such a short distance, we set out on foot again. Exploring India's Capital Exploring India's Capital Exploring India's CapitalWhen we arrived at the mosque, we were met with a bit of a surprise. The staff at the entrance almost wouldn’t let us through because we were foreigners and they wanted us to pay. Entering the mosque is free, however, they charge a “camera” fee to all tourists. We said that we were not going to take any pictures, and that we just wanted to take a look around. This caused quite a commotion, but the eventually let us in. So you can have a visual, below is a picture of the Mosque by India Africa ConnectMUSLIMS OFFERING NAMAJ ON THE OCASSION OF EID AT JAMA MASJID IN THE CAPITALWe eventually made it to a hotel recommended by our guidebook in Main Bazaar. We knew finding inexpensive lodging in Delhi was going to be difficult, but after some bargaining, we landed a deal at Hotel Namaskar.Exploring India's Capital Exploring India's Capital It wasn’t the nicest place, but it was air conditioned and inexpensive.Delhi Hotel We did more exploring, sight seeing, and souvenir shopping in Delhi the next day. Exploring India's Capital I added another Starbucks mug to my growing global collection.Starbucks in Delhi Exploring India's CapitalIndia FlagExploring India's CapitalExploring India's CapitalExploring India's Capital  Exploring India's CapitalWe were able to meet up with a missionary family during our visit. Jared had known Pastor Abraham and his family for years. Since he was a young boy, Pastor Abraham had spoke at his church each year when he visited the States. It was amazing to hear about the work God is doing in India.DelhiChicken in DelhiExploring India's CapitalExploring India's Capital Exploring India's Capital Exploring India's Capital Airport We had many mixed feelings as were were leaving India. We had both grown to love the country, and we were sad it was time to move on already. However, we were also very excited about our layover in Dubai. As we boarded the plane, we were already dreaming of returning to this amazing country.Delhi Airport


Camel Trekking in the Thar Desert

After our romantic getaway in Udaipur, we headed to the golden city of Jaisalmer for a different adventure–camel trekking in the dessert! c We took an overnight bus from Udaipur to Jaisalmer, and to our surprise, it was quite nice. We paid the extra money to get an air conditioned bunk, and while we enjoyed laying down, it was freezing in our a/c cubical. We should have unpacked a jacket from our bags before storing them below. Bus ride in IndiaAfter some bargaining, Jared landed us a great deal on an a/c room in a 300 year-old palace hotel. We met some friends along the way, Guillermo and Mariana, and stuck with them for the duration of our stay in Jaisalmer. Jaisalmet HotelJaisalmer is a neat city. All of the buildings are old, and you definately feel close to the desert. The Jaisalmer Fort is also a sight to see. It was built in 1156 AD and is one of the largest fortifications in the world.Jaisalmer FortThat evening we toured the town and made our way inside the fort to explore.Jaisalmer Fort Jaisalmer Fort Jaislamer FortJaisalmer City Fort  Jaisalmer Fort Jaisalmer Fort Jaisalmer Fort The fort is surrounded by lights that illuminate the outer walls of the massive structure.Jaisalmer FortOur tour of Jaisalmer certainly set the mood for our up-coming adventure. On the way back to our hotel room that evening, we stopped by a shop and bought some scarves to keep the desert sand out of our faces. The gentleman at the shop was kind enough to show us how to wear scarves in the desert.Jaisalmer Shope Jaisalmer ShopeThe next morning, we made it to our booking office and set off in a jeep towards the desert to fetch our camels and guides. JaisalmerThar Desert Trekking with CamelsOn the way, we stopped to see Kuldhara, an abandon city about 15km west of Jaisalmer. Back in the 18th century, a powerful man started abusing the women of the village and planned to attack the chef’s daughter next. Everyone was terrified, and as the story goes, the entire village decided to abandon their homes overnight. After everyone left, a holy man cursed the village and it has remained a ghost town since then. It was surreal being in such a large village with finished homes that has remained empty for such a long period of time. Kuldhara Kuldhara Kuldhara Kuldhara Kuldharawpid-IMG_4112.jpgAfter another half an hour drive in the jeep, we pulled off the road and met our camels. And that is when I fell in love with camels! I had only seen them in zoos before, and I had never paid a great amount of attention to them. As I climbed on my camel, I couldn’t believe we were really going to ride these massive animals!Camel Trekking in India Camel Trekking in India Camel Trekking in India Camel Trekking in India The trek was amazing. I was in awe of the way God created camels, and I throughly enjoyed the entire experience. Riding a camel felt similar to riding a horse, but the stride of a camel is much longer. I loved how high they held their heads, and how they always held their nose up as if they were proud.Camel Trekking in IndiaWe rode for about two hours and then stopped for lunch. Our guides prepared a delicious lunch for us. To start with, they built a fire, milked a desert goat, and made us some delicious Indian chai tea. For the main course, they made us chapati, veg curry, and rice. A simple but very tasty Indian meal.Camel Trekking in IndiaCamel Trekking in IndiaCamel Trekking in IndiaCamel Trekking in IndiaWe rested in the shade of a large tree until the heat of the day was diminishing. We trekked for another two hours before we reached our camp.Thar Desert Camel Trekking in India Camel Trekking in IndiaCamel Trekking in IndiaWe had a wonderful night we had sleeping under the beautiful stars of the Thar desert. I was awakened by the light of dawn. Jared and I sat up in bed to watch the sunrise over the desert. It was amazing!Thar Desert It was very neat to wake up and see our camels standing 3 yards away from us. A little later that morning, we packed up camp and headed back across the desert. Glass in the desert Camel trekking in IndiaOverall, we had a fantastic experience, and we highly recommend camel trekking next time you are near a desert!

Stay tuned for our next adventure–exploring India’s capital city!


Udaipur… The City of Lakes

Udaipur, often called the City of Lakes, is a romantic city filled with stunning views and historic architecture.wpid-IMG_3991.jpgWe took an overnight train from Sawai Madhopur to Udaipur and arrived at 7:30 in the morning. We bought overnight bus tickets (since there wasn’t a decent train route) to our next destination, and then headed into the city to find a hotel.

After some bargaining, Jared found us a very nice and spacious a/c room at a beautiful historic hotel next to Lake Pichola.Udaipur Hotel Udaipur Hotel  After eating breakfast at the café in our hotel, we went for a stroll down at the lake.Breakfast India UdaipurThe Gangaur Ghat was beautiful, and it had a terrific view of the lake.Gangaur Ghat Gangaur Ghat Gangaur Ghat Lake Pichola View Gangaur Ghat Udaipur India Udaipur India Udaipur India  That massive building is Udaipur’s City Palace. Udaipur India And that’s the Taj Lake Palace… and very fancy hotel with suites starting around $6,000/night. Udaipur India By lunch time, Jared was craving pizza. We got online and found a pizza restaurant that was across town. They were running a special, so we decided to give it a try.

We love going places by foot, even if it’s a few miles walk. It allows us to soak up the culture and the surrounding better. On the walk back, we came across a park called Sajjan Niwas Garden. It was gated, but there were no admission fees. As we strolled through the park, we were so glad that we had decided to walk. It wasn’t just a park, it was a beautiful walking park with gardens, ancient buildings, and a miniature zoo.Udaipur Garden Udaipur Garden Udaipur Garden Udaipur Garden Udaipur Garden wpid-IMG_3983.jpg Udaipur GardenAt sunset, we headed to the other side of the lake to catch some different views and to get a better view of the City Palace.  Udaipur Sunset Udaipur SunsetThe next morning, we headed out to tour the City Palace. Unfortunately, the ticket prices were double if you brought a camera with you, so we didn’t take many pictures. Our tickets allowed us to enter the courtyard and Palace Museum. The museum, which was in the actual palace, was very nice. We enjoyed learning more about Udaipur as we strolled through the old corridors of that ancient marble mahal.Udaipur City Palace Udaipur City Palace Udaipur City Palace Udaipur City Palace Udaipur City Palace Udaipur City Palace Udaipur City Palace Udaipur City Palace Udaipur City Palace Udaipur City Palace Udaipur City PalaceWe spent the rest of our day getting some souvenir shopping done. Jared did some great bargaining and landed me some really great deals!

We left that night on an overnight bus to the desert city of Jaisalmer. Stay tuned to hear about our camel trek in the desert!

Catching a Glimpse of a Wild Tiger

Ranthambore National Park was our next destination. After touring the Taj Mahal, spotting a wild tiger was next on our list for India. India is one of the only places in the world where tigers still roam free, but even in India your options are limited. There are several parks and reserves dedicated to protecting wild tigers, and Ranthambore is one of them. The tigers at Ranthambore roam in and out of the park, but due to the amount of water sources and food population inside the national park, many of the tigers stay for years, or even their whole life.

After touring Jaipur, we caught a train to Sawai Madhopur, the town closest to Ranthambore National Park. We were shocked when we got off the train that we weren’t greeted by loads of rickshaw drivers fighting for our business. Actually, there wasn’t a rickshaw driver in sight. We just headed in the direction of the town on foot while hoping a hotel wasn’t too far down the road.RanthamboreWe passed several hotel options until we came across Ranthambore Palace, a hotel recommended by our guidebook. It looked new and modern, and above our price range. However, Jared walked up to the front desk and bargained them down until we were in the high-end of our budget ($13/night). My jaw dropped open when I saw our nice A/C room equipped with wifi and a flatscreen TV. It was clean, tidy, and so peaceful. Actually, we were the only guests in the hotel for our entire stay. Ranthambore PalaceThe bathroom was the best part–white and sparkling with a rain shower. It may not look like much to you, but as backpackers traveling through India, this was luxury.Ranthambore PalaceWe wondered around town later that day and stopped in at a restaurant for some more delicious Indian food…Indian FoodWe got some rest that night and headed out on foot early the next morning to get our safari tickets. When we arrived at the ticket office at 5am, there were several other Indian men getting tickets for clients. We got our tickets, and then headed outside to find our safari canter and guide.Ranthambore Safari Ranthambore Safari Ranthambore CanterRanthambore Safari Our guide met us at the canter, and then headed towards the park. He stopped at various hotels along the way to pick up guests who had pre-booked their safari. Ranthambore National Park The safari started out with an abundance of deer, peacocks, and monkeys. We kept a sharp eye out for a tiger, but didn’t see one.Ranthambore National ParkRanthambore National ParkRanthambore National ParkRanthambore National ParkRanthambore National ParkRanthambore National ParkRanthambore National ParkRanthambore National ParkRanthambore National ParkRanthambore National ParkRanthambore National Park

Ranthambore National ParkWe stopped at the lake towards the end or the tour in hopes we would see a tiger coming out to cool off or get a drink. No such luck. Our tour time was about up, so we piled back into the canter and started heading back to the entrance of the park. wpid-IMG_3908.jpgAnd that’s when we saw her. Our guide told us her name was Machli. She was the most famous tigress in all of India. She had just caught a deer and was mulling it apart. It was amazing to watch a giant cat in the wild. Machli Ranthambore National Park SafariMachli Ranthambore National Park Safari We were very luck to spot a tiger on our first tour. We thought about going out for a second tour, but Jared became ill that afternoon and we took the next day to rest and recuperate. Remember that food from earlier? We are pretty sure it’s what made him sick. But thankfully, that was the first and last time one of us got sick on our trip. Machli Ranthambore National Park Safari


The Pink City of India

Aside from seeing the Taj Mahal, our next priority in India was to see a wild tiger! After some research, we decided to head to Ranthambore National Park where many tourists have caught a glimpse of a wild tiger. Since Jaipur was between the two destinations, we thought we’d to take a day to see the “Pink City.”

Our first priority in Jaipur was to find a place to stay. We went to a few different places in our guidebook, but none of them would bargain down to our price range so we headed off in search of lodging on our own. The first hotel we came to seemed decent and the manager arranged accommodations that suited our budget ($6.50/night).Jaipur Hotel Jaipur, India The roof-top restaurant seem nice, but we opted to dine at a local place instead.Jaipur, IndiaWe left our bags in our room and headed out to catch a local bus into the city center. While we were walking to the bus stop, an auto-rickshaw driver came up to us and wanted us to hire him to take us around. We refused and told him we were going to take the local bus. “Local bus not for tourist. You must take auto-rickshaw. Local bus very hot and many many people!” We ignored him and kept going. He finally gave up and shouted at us as he drove away. After our chat with him, I was thinking that the bus would probably look more like a pickup truck with twenty people packed in the back of it. But, we were pleasantly surprised when our bus pulled up. It was large, air-conditioned, and spacious. Plus, the bus tickets only cost $0.16/each on the way there, and $0.11 on the way back!Jaipur Local BusSo, why is it called the “Pink City”? I was wondering the same thing until I actually saw the city… The majority of the city has been built using a pinkish-red sandstone.Jaipur, India Jaipur, India Jaipur, India   Hawa Mahal, Palace of the Winds sits in the middle of the city.Jaipur, IndiaJaipur, India The streets lining the city are packed with vendors selling various goods.Jaipur, India Jaipur, India Jaipur, India For dinner, we ordered special thali, an assortment of different Indian curries. Jaipur, India  We finished our sight-seeing, and then headed back to the hotel to get some rest before catching our train the next morning. Jaipur, India Jared made a new friend along the way…Jaipur, India We rested up that night and headed out on a train to Sawai Madhopur the next morning. Stay tuned to hear about our tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park!

The Beautiful Taj Mahal

If you’ve seen the Taj Mahal in Agra India with your own eyes, you’ll understand this post more than anyone else can. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Taj Mahal as being the most beautiful building in the world, but you really don’t grasp that concept until you are there, looking at it with your own eyes. The Taj is one of those bucket-list places that won’t let you down.

We left Varanasi and boarded our overnight train to Agra. The overnight train ride was better than we could have expected, and we fell in love with traveling by train.Train Rides in IndiaWe got our first glimpse of the Taj from our auto rickshaw on the way to our hotel. It was spectacular. We ended up booking two nights at the Shanti Lodge after our Scottish friends recommended it to us. The main draw to this particular lodge was it’s amazing view of the Taj. We were not let down. We were able to order lunch on the roof top restaurant at our hotel with the most amazing view possible in Agra.Hotel Shanti Lodge View of Taj Mahal Hotel Shanti Lodge View of Taj Mahal The food was also very good, although a bit pricy (around $2.00-2.50 a meal). For most of our time in India, we opted to stay away from restaurants marketed towards Westerns, but with the amazing view, we thought it was worth it.Shanti Lodge Agra Menu Shanti Lodge Agra Menu Oh how we miss Indian food!!!Shanti Lodge Agra MenuWe used the free wifi at the roof top restaurant to phone family and friends from back home.Hotel Shanti Lodge View of Taj Mahal Some people think the Taj Mahal is a temple, when in fact it is not. It’s a tomb. An emperor built this immaculate structure for his deceased favorite wife who died after giving birth to her 14th child. He buried his wife’s body in the center of the dome, and after his death, his body was buried next to hers. Hotel Shanti Lodge View of Taj MahalWe wanted to get the best experience of the Taj as we could, so we opted to see it at sunrise the following day. Our alarms rang at 4:30am, and as we started getting ready for the day, we became increasingly excited. This was the day we were going to explore the famous Taj Mahal, and mark off a place that had been on our bucket list for ages.

We headed out on foot to the West Gate, bought our tickets, and were in line at 5:15am (there was only one other person ahead of us in line).Buying tickets for the Taj Mahal We received our tickets along with a bottle of water and a pair of socks. The socks were to wear inside the Taj, where shoes are not allowed. Buying tickets for the Taj MahalWe were nearly the first people to enter the Taj Mahal, and thus got amazing photos without thousands of people behind us! Taj Mahal The Beautiful Taj Taj Mahal I’ll let the pictures escort you through the rest. We did tour the inside of the Taj, but photography was not allowed.Taj Mahal Taj Mahal Taj Mahal Taj Mahal Taj Mahal Taj Mahal Taj Mahal The Yamuna River runs along the backside of the Taj.Taj Mahal Taj Grounds Taj Mahal Taj Gates By the time we were done touring the Taj Mahal, hundreds of tourists had flocked in behind us. Taj GroundsAfter the Taj, we decided to take advantage of the still-cool morning air and headed off to see the Agra Fort. We bypassed the man offering camel rides and headed to the fort on foot.Camel Rides in AgraIt was massive, but for some reason the beauty of the Taj lingered over us and the fort just didn’t come close to comparing with what we had seen earlier that morning. I’m sure we would have enjoyed it more had we gone prior to our Taj visit.The Red Fort of Agra The Red Fort of Agra AgraThe Red Fort of Agra The Red Fort of Agra The Red Fort of Agrawpid-DSC_3337.jpgwpid-DSC_3338.jpg wpid-DSC_3334.jpgThe Red Fort of Agra The Red Fort of Agra This girl shyly walked up to me and asked for a picture. The Red Fort of AgraThe Red Fort of AgraThe Red Fort of Agra  On the way back from the fort, we spotted a small vendor selling breakfast curry. Of course, we couldn’t resist our favorite $0.20 meal!Breakfast in IndiaLater on that day, we decided to head across the Yamuna River to view the Taj from another angle. We didn’t pay to go into the gardens located near the river, we simple walked around them to get the view we had come to see.Taj MahalAll in all, we had a wonderful time in Agra, and with each new stop in India, we became increasingly excited about seeing more of this vast country! Stay tuned to hear about our time in Jaipur, and our time at Ranthambore National Park where we spotted a wild tiger!Taj Mahal view from across the river

Vibrant and Colorful Varanasi

India, oh India…

Before I begin this post, I’ll give you a little background on our decision to go to India. It’s always been a dream of ours to see the Taj Mahal, but other than that, India didn’t rank high on our travel list. In our minds, India wasn’t a vacation destination… It was a cultural experience; and one we weren’t sure we were ready to embrace. We’ve had a handful of friends who have had negative experiences in India, and we had other destinations we wanted to see.

With that in mind, we originally didn’t plan on visiting the country at all. That is, until we met Michael and Julie. Do you remember the Scottish couple we met in Thailand? Yep, they had just traveled to India and convinced us to go.

After hearing the amazing tales of India through Michael and Julie’s experience, we decided we must go. We were definitely excited about going to India, but we entered the country with extremely low expectations (which is probably the best way to approach India; your experience has no where to go but up).

After obtaining our Indian visas in Kathmandu, we caught a bus down to the boarder town, Lumbini (also the birthplace of Buddha). Welcome to IndaiBy the time we crossed the boarder, it was nearly 7pm. We knew we needed to get to Gorakhpur, the city where we could catch a train to anywhere else in India. We caught the 8pm bus and arrived in Gorakhpur at 11pm… with nothing pre-booked. wpid-IMG_3556.jpgNormally, if we knew we would be arriving in a city late in the evening, we would book something in advance. But since we had changed our plans around so much, we hadn’t even thought about it. Oh well, it’s India, right? We should be able to just walk around and grab a room.

We went into the first hotel we saw and were astonished when the owner informed us that they were completely full. What? Okay, so we went to the next place, and the next… all full! Thankfully the fourth place we tried had a room left–yes, one room. We looked at it and then turned around. Surely, we can do better than that. With no internet, and no guidebook, we wandered around the streets for the next thirty minutes before realizing that we only had one option. That dirty hotel room. With a sigh, we welcomed ourselves to India.Dirty Room Dirty Hotel Room Thankfully, we only had to stay there a few hours. We woke up at 3:45am and went outside to try to find a way out of Gorakhpur. With a little stumbling around, we ended up finding the train station. And that is when we realized we had no idea what we were doing.

There were people everywhere… sleeping on the ground, and standing in lines. We finally found the signs that said “Unreserved Tickets.” That was us, and my goodness were the lines long! I spotted a shorter line over on the side and noticed that there were only women in the line. Is that where I get my tickets, and Jared stands in another line for his ticket?

We gave it a shot and thankfully the “women’s only” line went fairly fast. When I went up to the window, the man asked me in broken English how many tickets I wanted. Two? Can I get a ticket for my husband here? I thought to myself. I guess so. “Class?” he asked. I knew the answer–2AC or 3AC. “No” he said. Hmm… it must not be available. “Only 2nd Class or General Class.” Which class was the better or the two? I couldn’t remember. “Umm… General Class, please.”

I didn’t realize that I had made a huge mistake until we found the train cars marked “general.” They were the last two cars on the train and they were absolutely packed. Even the luggage bins were completely full–of people.
General Class Train India Yes, people were sitting up in the luggage bins, in all of the seats, and all of the floor space was also taken. We found a man who looked like he worked for the station and explained our situation. We asked if we could sit in 2nd class and pay the difference. He seemed to think that was okay. Thankfully, 2nd class was nearly empty.Train in India India train ridesWe ended up having a great train ride, but the entire time I was worried we would be kicked off of the train in the middle of India. Let’s just say that we learned the class system of India really fast after that!VaranasiOne interesting thing about the trains in India is their toilets. The hole in the bottom of the squat-toilet leads straight down to the tracks below!VaranasiWe finally arrived at our destination–the holy city Varanasi. In Hinduism, Varanasi is the holiest of the seven sacred cities. For that reason, Hindus from all over the world flock to Varanasi on pilgrimages to become more holy, or in many cases, to die in the holy city. Sacred cremations are held 24 hours a day along the holy Ganges river.

Upon our safe arrival in Varanasi, we hired an auto rickshaw (motor-cart taxi) to take us to a decent hotel that had a/c rooms. We were very disappointed when we booked an a/c room only to discover that is was water-cooled. And if we left the water cooler on too long, it was steam up and turn our room into a sauna. (The temperature outside was around 100-110F.) Anyway, it had a TV and was much better than our previous stay. Streets of VaranasiVaranasiVaranasi That evening, we decided to take a boat out on the Ganges River at night to watch the ceremonies. The river is considered holy and the more river water you are in contact with, the better. So each morning hindus will bathe in the river, brush their teeth with the water, drink it, and wash their laundry in it. Sewage and waste pipes lead and are dumped into the river. And dead people who are already “holy” are dumped into the river without being cremated. Varanasi It was a nice peaceful ride on the river. Varanasi Under each fire along the river is a body being cremated. Varanasi The ceremonies performed each night are blessing ceremonies to bring the people good luck. Varanasi  Varanasi Varanasi We explored the city the following and we were pleasantly surprised with our experience. Varanasi was full of color and life. There was a bakery of sorts down the street from our hotel where we decided to try an Indian breakfast. At first, I was very against trying curry for breakfast. I love my american-style breakfasts, and I didn’t want to give that up. But I decided to give it a try–just once. Not only did I end up liking the breakfast, but I ended up craving Indian curry for breakfast for the rest of our time in India!

The bakery was just a hole-in-the-wall sort of a place, but we fell in love with the delicious breakfast they served us.Varanasi I wish I knew the name of the meal, but I never caught it. It was some sort of fried bread that you dipped in a delicious curry. The meal was finished with something that sounded exactly like “jelly bean,” although after looking up the word, it’s actually “Jalebi.” It’s some sort of sweet (honey-flavored) fried batter. 

Our breakfast cost us about $0.20 each, but we would normally get a large bottle of Slice (mango juice) to share which added a hefty $1.50 to the cost of our breakfast. Since we didn’t eat any fresh produce in India, we splurged on bottled juices.Indian BreakfastAre cows really everywhere in India? Yes, they roam the streets like kings. Everyone pets them, gives them the right of way, and feeds them as much as they can eat. VaranasiVaranasiVaranasiVaranasiVaranasiSunset on the river was beautiful. It was a perfect way to end our time in Varanasi. Both Jared and I agreed that the best way to describe Varanasi was not a tourist destination with “sites” to see, but rather a place to be. The culture and vibrant color of Varanasi cannot be grasped through photos and words, the only way to truly experience the city is by physically walking through the streets, smelling the the smells with your own nose, and seeing the city with your own eyes. VaranasiNext, we were off to Agra to see what is known at the most beautiful building in the world. Varanasi