Northern India, on the Cheap
January 27, 2009 12:28 PM   Subscribe

Heading to Northern India (specifically Varanasi, Agra, Delhi) soon and looking for the insiders guide (i.e. places, transport, lodging, food) What hints do you have for newbie NRI travelers (only have been to family's in Kolkata and environs)? Any thoughts on cheap (under 550 rupees) lodging and simple, staple food places (less than 100 rupees for meals) in these locations.

I'm traveling with Bengali mom who likes to spend like a middle class Indian (even though she's a rich american). I know, I'll ask on Thorn Tree Forum, but I like the quality of answers I get from this forum, as well as the quality of the formatting.
posted by sandmanwv to Travel & Transportation around India (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Public transport should be the cheapest. But if you are a woman and intend on traveling on your own, you might want to think twice (or thrice) about getting into a public bus or a taxi, especially in Delhi.
posted by xm at 8:00 PM on January 27, 2009

Best answer: I did this trip as a white-girl backpacker, not a NRI with mom. Also, it was in 2001, and I know things have changed a lot in India since then. So the standard caveats apply.

That said, the train is far and away the best way to make this trip. It's all pretty easy by train and quite pretty. Second-class sleeper was my favorite, for a good compromise between comfort and price. First class is obviously more comfortable, but it was so boring - the windows were glazed, so you couldn't see anything, there were no chaiwallas or other vendors coming through, and the other travelers in your car are less likely to be friendly.

Other tips:

Don't do Agra as a daytrip from Delhi on a tour. I did this as a compromise with a friend I was traveling with and it was a long, miserable day. 16 hours total and only one and a half were spent at the Taj Mahal (I think we actually spent more time at overpriced gift shops).

Be really, really careful with what you eat and drink in Varanasi, even if you're used to Indian microbes. Because the river there is quite dirty and frequently contaminated with rotting corpses, it's stupidly easy to get sick there.

Do, however, give yourself a good amount of time to just wander around Varanasi. It is an amazing city and I wish I'd had more time there.

In Delhi, stay in Connaught Place, which has nice restaurants and hotels but isn't all high-risey. That's where I stayed, but I was in an odious backpacker guesthouse which was good for meeting fun Aussie guys but not really a place to stay with your mom. Actually, I do remember that Delhi accommodations were very expensive even 7 years ago and finding something clean and reasonably comfortable was impossible under 500 rp. But you can make up the difference everywhere else - I think I paid 50 rp for my simple, clean, comfortable room in Varanasi.

Also, I think there was a causeway that ran under the circle (Connaught Place) and had lots of crafts vendors, and I'm pretty sure there was an above-ground crafts market as well.

The Jami Masjid in Delhi was really stunning.

That's all I can think of for now. Oh, and as for travel boards, I prefer Bootsnall's travel boards to the Thorn Tree. Far fewer assholes and British gap year kids. It's a smaller community but I find I get much better information there.

Have fun!
posted by lunasol at 11:47 PM on January 27, 2009

Manju Ka Tila/Manju Ka Tilla is the Tibetan Colony in North Delhi, its a popular destination with tourists because of the cheap guesthouses and because foreigners love Tibetans. I stayed there and felt perfectly safe and happy, cheap tibetan food (probably other types too, can't recall), internet and guesthouses. There was talk of it being demolished to widen the highway back in 2006 but I haven't been able to find complete mention of this happening or not happening on the internet. Another downside was that it was a little out of the way, I think? My sense of Delhi's geography is way off because I just went around in taxis or on the subway a lot.

I can also attest that Connaught Place is a good hub for travelers, I also stayed in that area. My only complaint was that it felt pretty touristy... its where you can find the Subway sandwich, McDs, Pizza Hut and eat Bacon Cheeseburgers with beer at TGIFridays. Other stuff, too, though.
posted by dahliachewswell at 9:35 AM on January 29, 2009

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