I think it’s fair to say that I have a love-hate relationship with Rajasthan and Northern India. The dizzying tuk tuk rides, the stench of burning rubbish, the overwhelming poverty and the constant battle to avoid the cowpats lining the streets. But in our six weeks here I’ve learnt to appreciate the beauty of this place. The architecture, the fabulously colourful saris, the generosity of the people we’ve met and oh the food! This may be the only place in Asia I’ve put on a few pounds rather than lose them. If you’re contemplating a visit, then read on for my top 30 travel tips…
Essential travel tips in India
1. If you’re going to learn one word make it Dhanyavad which translates as ‘thank you’ in Hindi.
2. Northern India is very conservative, dress appropriately. Trousers/skirts that cover your knees and tops that cover your shoulders. Men can wear shorts but not in religious places.
3. Alcohol is only available at ‘English wine shops.’ You’ll find them dotted throughout the cities.
4. Indians love taking pictures of western tourists, so don’t be surprised if you get asked to join a family photo, it happened to us many times. They are also very open to having their photograph taken, but do ask first. And don’t pay for photos as this encourages begging.
5. WiFi isn’t as common as you think at restaurants and cafes so make sure you know where you are going before leaving your hotel. Pre-load the directions on Google Maps so you can find your way back.
6. Bring an adapter with a European plug.
7. Before you travel, be sure to look up local festivals, not only to experience these for your yourself, but also to ensure transport and accommodation availability.
8. Most people in northern India and Rajasthan are vegetarian. For meat eaters mutton is the local favourite. You’ll never see beef on the menu. With poor hygiene standards, be selective about where you eat meat. We became vegetarians whilst in India and only ate meat in the luxury hotels or home stays.
10. When travelling between cities, sometimes an air conditioned taxi can cost the same as the train/plane. Do your research. Try to find a taxi coming back from a one way trip. Ask your hotel or search on Tripadvisor for reputable companies.
11. Tuk tuks, or rickshaws as they are known in the north, get cheaper the further west you go. Expect to pay around 80-150 rupees (92p – £1.70) for each journey. In Delhi and Agra they cost more.
12. Beware of tuk tuk drivers who lead you into their family shop tempting you to buy things; you’re within your right to say no.
Finding somewhere to stay in Northern India
13. It’s true what they say about Delhi – get in and get out. The pollution is consuming and not pleasant. Finding clean restaurants can be a challenge for Westerners whose stomachs are not so strong – stay near Connaught Place for the best selection.
14. Camping under the stars in the Thar Desert is a must! Arrive by camel at sunset and opt for an open air camp where the food is cooked on a fire right in front of you.
15. Budget to mid-level hotel rooms rarely have windows. Ask in advance if you want to secure one. Or have you considered couch-surfing?
16. A good gym is hard to come by in Northern India. Our favourite was Anytime Fitness in Jaipur or you can pay to use the gym and pool at the luxurious Marriott hotel in Jaisalmer (700 rupees plus tax).
17. Try an Indian homestay at least once. Our favourite was in Jaipur with Kavita and Ramen Gadhoke – take a look here. Make sure you sample their home cooking with cook Bala, it’s out of this world!
18. Stay at The Secret House in Jaisalmer – our favourite hotel of the trip. Owner Naru and his Spanish wife Sylvia have converted this seven bedroom hotel into a stylish retreat! Enjoy breakfast on the rooftop overlooking the fort and be sure to visit the exquisite Jain Temples inside the fort walls.
19. Make time to explore the blue alleys of Jodhpur. A guide can be booked for just 500 rupees and it’s well worth it.
20. No one does luxury like the hotels in India. Expect to pay upwards of £150 a night for the privilege. Instead book a table for dinner and enjoy the good food and ambiance. Our favourite was the RAAS hotel in Jodphur with magical views of the fort.
21. Good coffee is hard to come by, the best I tried was at the 1st Gate hotel in Jaisalmer. Bonus, it comes with a delicious almond cookie and views over the fort.
22. There is a fort and a palace in every city, admission charges soon add up. Be selective about which ones you visit so as not to get ‘fort fatigue.’
Tipping and Money
23. A hefty tax (around 20%) is often added onto goods and services, be sure to check before you order.
24. Tipping is expected. Most hotels will have a tip box and it’s best to add a collective tip that will be shared among the staff rather than to tip individually. 200 – 500 rupees for a tour guide or driver per day is sufficient.
25. Do not tip tuk tuk drivers, but ensure you agree a price before you start the journey.
Hygiene has never been so important
26. Bring a spare sheet or a silk sleeping bag liner to protect against questionable bed sheets. I really rate the Ultimate Silk Liner from LifeVenture. It’s great in hot and cold climates and packs ridiculously small.
27. Electric washing machines are hard to come by, everything is washed by hand and so far more expensive. Bring a Scrubba wash bag with you to wash things in your room.
28. The streets are littered with cow, dog, goat, pig and human waste, so bring old trainers and sandals which you’d happily throw away. You won’t want to wear them again!
29. Carry antibacterial liquid, hand wash and toilet paper at all times; toilets rarely have wash basins, soap nor tissues.
30. Indian waste systems are pretty basic. Never put loo roll down the toilet, use the bin or face an embarrassing blockage.