Everything you’ve heard is true. The sights, the smells, the food, the people - all are more flavorful and intense than you imagined. It wonderful, busy, and can be intimidating for a first timer.
I planned a 10 day trip for myself and 3 other friends. Here’s your gloguide and what I wish someone told me about the visa application and transportation.
Before You Go
Get the required vaccinations and malaria medication. Here is the list of recommended vaccines from the CDC. I opted for hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines. I went to a specialty travel clinic to get these but most doctor should be able to provide these; call your doctor's office ahead of time to check. You'll also need to take malaria medication. Malaria medication can have strange side effects, most commonly light-sensitivity so be sure to pack extra sunscreen. Finally, I would recommend getting a broad spectrum antibiotics from your doctor before you leave. While we were able to find a pharmacy and pick up some useful medications, I can’t guarantee you’ll be as lucky.
If you know anyone who lives there, or has lived there, ask them for tips! If they currently live there, you may need their number/address for your Visa application.
Book your train/bus tickets in advance. When we arrived, we encountered several “scam” tourist services. We finally found someone who was able to help book train tickets for us. It would have been much less of a hassle to book ahead of time. For tips booking the train, here’s a very helpful website. http://goindia.about.com/od/populartrainroutes/qt/delhi-agra-trains.htm
Check out my What to Pack Gloguide for for tips to packing for India
Take a deep breath. You’re about to apply for an Indian visa.
If you are going to India for a vacation-type trip, flying into one of the major Indian airports, and are staying for less than 6 months, you will need to apply for an e-tourist visa. There are many other types of visas depending on the purpose of your trip; I’ll walk you through the e-tourist visa process.
You need to apply for your e-Tourist Visa (eTV) 30 days before your trip. For the neurotic planner like me, this did not seem like enough time, but the system will not let you apply if your departure date is more than 30 days. The application took a couple of days to complete (not because it was difficult, mostly because the questions were a little confusing) and the approval was granted in a day. The process can be a little tricky, so hopefully these technical pointers will have you submitted and approved no time!
Start at the Indian Visa Online website
Click e-Tourist visa from the menu.
Click on the application page.
Before you begin, you will need a scanned copy of the first page of your passport and a headshot. I used my phone to take a picture of myself.
Enter the required fields and click continue.
At this point you will get an application ID. Write this down. This will allow you to save the application, check the status of your application, and submit the visa fee payment.
Begin filling out the application. Questions that stumped me:
Name - Seems simple enough right? As it turns out, your surname is your last name or family name. Your Given Name is your first name(s).
Someone in the country - You’ll need the name of someone who lives in the country and their address. If you do not know anyone, you can use the hotel you are staying at.
After you submit the application, you’ll need to pay the fee. Depending on your home country, it can be anywhere from $0-$60. It was $60 for the USA. Here’s a list of all countries and their fees.
There are 3 sites you can use to submit the payment.
BEFORE you pay the fee, call your bank to let them know you are going to make a foreign transaction. This stumped everyone who I was traveling with. You only get 3 attempts to pay the fee so, queue freak out. If you forget to call your bank, just call them as soon as you submit and tell them that the charge was not fraud, it was you trying to get to India! Then you can resubmit and the payment will go through.
While You’re There
Pick up a bottled water every chance you get, even if you’re not thirsty. Whether it’s brushing your teeth, late night thirst, or dehydration from Delhi belly, you’ll be glad you did.
Haggling is expected in the markets. Your driver may take you to a nicer shopping center where they will claim to not haggle but if you can get a discount if you stand your ground. Ultimately, it is up to you what you are willing to settle for. Keep in mind, these craftsmen and women work hard to create these items and while you can always expect to overpay from what locals pay, but you have to remember that it’s still much cheaper than goods at home.
Ask a local where to eat! See my Food Post for tasty tips.
Get ready to talk to everyone. This is one of the friendliest countries on the planet. Everyone has a story, a recommendation, or wants to know more about you. Embrace it! We had some of the best nights making new friends and exploring the city with them.*
Keep a journal. You think you’ll remember all the details, but they will start to blur together after a few days. A journal will help explain your pictures, remember all the places, people, and experiences you had, plus it’s fun nostalgia to look back on. Even if it is only a few sentences or phrases a day, it’s worth it.
* Be a smart traveler. Stay in groups in populated areas. Enjoy a drink or two, but don’t lose bearing of your surroundings. Drink out of bottles opened in front of you. Trust your gut.
Delhi AirportI flew from LAX > Dubai > Delhi. The New Delhi airport is easy to navigate and the signs are in Hindi and English. Customs is downstairs and beyond it is an open area for baggage claim. Once you exit baggage claim, you cannot re-enter the airport but there are a couple of vendors and a coffee kiosk outside the baggage claim.Outside the airport, the taxi window is a part of the building. You prepay for the taxi and take the ticket to the taxis parked further outside.
When you arrive in a major city, the taxi driver will claim not to know where the hotel is or that you cannot get to the hotel due to construction, festival, etc. They will take you to a “tourist information” office. This is a scam! The office will tell you several things such as:
The area you are staying in is not safe. They will try to rebook your room elsewhere.
There are no tickets for any trains of buses available and the only way you can travel is by private car.
The trip you planned does not make sense. They will suggest alternate route and departures.
Ultimately, they are trying to get you to spend money on their services. We entered at least 3 of these with each new driver. The best advice I can give is to politely, but adamantly, refuse to go in. Ultimately, they will take you where you want to go. If you find yourself inside, don’t agree to anything, it’s just not worth it. If you’ve researched and planned your trip ahead of time, you’ll be just fine. Here are some other transportation tips:
Always opt for a cab or tuk tuk with a meter.
Just like all other purchases, bartering is key! Be firm, yet polite. Don’t be afraid to walk away, there are dozens of other drivers who would be willing to take you.
We had really good luck with Uber in Delhi. It was safe, clean and a fraction of the cost!
Depending on where you are, a mile should cost about 5-10 rupees.
You may want to hire a tuk tuk driver for the day. Typically, the driver that takes you from the airport to the hotel will offer. In Agra or Jaipur, a full day (8 hours) driver was about 800-1000 rupees. Delhi is a much bigger city so a full day driver will cost more depending on what area of the city you want to explore.
While you have wifi (either at the airport or hotel) load up the directions to your next location. If you are using your smartphone, take screenshots. Cell coverage is spotty at best and if the connection goes out during the ride, you don’t want to be stranded.
There is Uber in India! Here’s a list of all the South Asia cities that Uber operates in. While I am not a fan of Uber in the states, it helped us out quite a bit after we arrived late at a train station. The tuk tuk and taxi drivers were yelling and chasing us and we started feeling uncomfortable. Uber to the rescue! A very clean car was there within minutes and the rate was comparable, if not cheaper, than what we would have paid for a taxi. The only consideration, the GPS signal dropped several times during the ride and we had to reroute a few times.
Totally doable, easy, and cheap!
Booking tickets online is a little confusing, there are dozens of obscure station stops along the way and trains only run certain days/times. Here is a website with some key information.
I would recommend the AC sleeper class.
You need to book tickets at least 2 days in advance. I thought it was something you could do at the station, but this is not typical. If you need to book once you are in the country, ask a local to take you to an internet cafe. The manager there should know how to book, or a reputable place that will help you book tickets (NOT a tourist office).
Keep your luggage near but overall, the trains are safe.
Set an alarm on your phone about an hour before we were scheduled to arrive.