India is the seventh largest country in land area and the second largest population in the world after China with around 1.3 billion people. It is home to 35 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country and is the birthplace of Dharmic religions. To the northwest, India shares a border with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to the north, China, Nepal and Bhutan; and to the east, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Family plays a central role in India, with multigenerational families living together or remaining very close by. Although the cast system is no longer recognized by the government, it is still a tradition that is followed by many locals as well as arranged marriages. Approximately 85% of marriages in India are still arranged.
If visiting India, you will learn so much about the culture, economy and way of life. It is hard to experience everything because it’s so large but try to stay here for at least two weeks. Pick an area you want to focus on because even a flight from the north to the south can take up to five hours.
When To Go
India is such a large country with many different weather patterns depending on where you are visiting. Generally best time to visit India is from October to March, during their winter season which is normally dry. Depending on where you are visiting, it does still get chilly at night so it is best to always have a light coat with you. Summers get very hot there and June to September is their monsoon season. If you want to avoid large crowds at the sites, it’s best to go before or after the holiday break in December. If you are visiting the Himalayas, the best time to go is from February to May as it gets pretty cold in December and January.
There are also two big festivals in the country that might be worth checking out if you can. Diwali Festival, known as the grand festival of lights, is one of the most prominent Hindu festivals celebrated all throughout the country. During this festival, houses are decorated with clay lamps, candles and Ashok leaves. This usually happens between mid-October and mid-November, the night of the darkest new moon. Holi Festival, the festival of colors, is one of the most famous festivals of India. This festival celebrates the victory of good and the arrival of spring by singing and dancing around bonfires and by drawing or throwing dry and wet colors on each other. This usually happens in March on a full moon of the Hindu lunisolar calendar. It is such a vibrant celebrations that can be seen all around the country but for the most vibrant colors, head to the northern India states.
- A visa is required for both American and Canadian citizens to travel to India. There are two ways to apply: either at the consulate or embassy in person, or online. It is very easy to apply online and would suggest to do it this way.
- If you apply online for an e-visa, make sure that you go directly through the government website to avoid consultant costs and fake websites. This is the website you should use: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html. The visa will cost $82USD.
- The e-visa will only take a day or two to be confirmed via email, but try to do this as soon as possible in case there are some technical issues with the website.
- You will need to upload a headshot in JPEG format (max size 1M, min size 10KB) with height and width of equal length.
- Make sure that you print a copy of your e-visa which can be found by clicking on “Visa Status” on the government website link above. Keep a copy of this with you throughout the duration of your trip.
- Your passport should have at least six months validity from your date of arrival in India. The passport should have at least two blank pages for stamping by the Immigration Officer.
- You should have return ticket or onward journey ticket, with sufficient money to spend during your stay in India.
- Citizens of countries that can get a visa on arrival are: Cambodia, Finland, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Luxembourg, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam. A Visa on arrival is granted for a period of 30 days, single entry only and for the purpose of tourism.
Before You Go
- Consult with a travel doctor to make sure you have all the vaccinations recommended. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio and Typhoid are the main ones.
- To avoid Delhi Belly, take probiotic pills for two to three weeks leading up to your trip and during your trip. One brand I recommend is New Roots Herbal. Get the Probiotic Intensity 20 Billion+ with 18 Strains (10 human, 1 plant, 1 dairy). You can purchase a 60 tablet bottle at Whole Foods for about $30USD. Human strains are the most important ones as this is the type that will fight the bacteria.
- Only drink bottled water and eat well-cooked food. Brush your teeth with bottled water too. Also, avoid drinks with ice, ice cream and fruit that isn’t washed yourself with bottled water. India isn’t the most sanitary place so it is best to do this to avoid getting sick.
- They have Uber (and it’s very cheap) but some of the smaller cities don’t have many drivers. They also have another local company called Ola which is similar to Uber.
- India has a 25% luxury tax at all luxury hotels and any services provided at hotels including eating at restaurants. So if on a budget, make sure to calculate this in when deciding to stay or eat at a luxury hotel. Most of these hotels do include a breakfast buffet though which are amazing.
- Be careful of scammers. Many people will pick out tourists and try to scam you. The most common way of doing this is offering you tours.
- When walking around cities and crossing the streets, just walk, don’t run as the cars and motorcycles will weave around you.
- Try not to pull out your wallet in public, keep a few small bills in an easily accessibly area in case you need them.
- It is recommended that you do not bring gifts for the kids on the street as they will just follow you and attract more people that will be hard to get away from.
- For most cultural sites, there will be a separate line for foreigners to purchase tickets and to enter. If you don’t see the line, usually they will just let you pass if you go to the front.
- Try to hire a guide at the main cultural sites and cities as this will give you a better understanding of what you are experiencing and can give you a different perspective. We had an amazing guide while we were there. Below is his contact info. He is like a walking encyclopedia.
- Name: Chanchal Srivastava
- Phone: +91 9837439099
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- For most security checkpoints including at the airports and tourist sites such as the Taj Mahal, women and men are separated into different lines.
- On domestic flights, you can bring water bottles through security.
- You won’t be able to connect to Wi-Fi at most airports unless you have your phone on because the service will need to text you a code to log in.
- It is common to tip around 10% in India to drivers, guides and at restaurants.
- English is taught as a second language in school so most people speak English. Understanding some of their accents might be a different story.
- The only place to buy alcohol is at liquor stores. There are separate stores for beer and liquor. Imported alcohol is very expensive due to the high import taxes.
- Hotels on average are very cheap in India and you can find some luxury ones for only $100USD. If on a budget though, check Airbnb as there are many great places listed for very cheap (around ~$15-20USD per night).
- India is 13.5 hours ahead of PST and 10.5 hours ahead of EST which isn’t ideal for adjusting time zones so try to plan your sleep schedule on the flight to adjust the best you can.
- India police numbers is 100 and ambulance service is 102.
- Learn a few basic Hindi words: namaste(hello/goodbye), shukriyaor dhanyawad (thank you), theek hai (alright or OK), haan/haanji (yes), nahi (no), madat (help), kripya(help/please), chai (Tea), chalo (let’s go).
What To Pack
- Pack hand sanitizer, baby wipes and small packs of tissue. They go a long way there!
- Women’s arms and legs are generally kept covered so keep this in mind while packing.
- Shorts are also not worn by Indian men (unless at the beach).
- Pack a light jacket to keep you warm at night as sometimes the temperature drops.
- A scarf also comes in handy, especially if you are visiting some temples.
- In India the power sockets are of type C, D and M. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. Most of the top hotels have outlets that will fit American plugs. If you have a European converter, this should work in most places.
- Pack a few bars, snacks and cup of noodles in case you need some comfort food.
- Depending on where you are visiting, you may need bug spray. It is best to pack some just in case.
- On domestic flights, the weight limit is 40-44lbs (depending on the airline) so make sure to keep this in mind if planning to fly domestically.
- It is highly recommended that you lock your bag with an approved TSA lock.
- Avoid wearing valuable jewellery and watches.
- Keep in mind that clothes are very cheap in India so if you are looking to wear some traditional Indian outfits while traveling around the country, purchase some when you arrive. You can get a nice Punjab for around $6USD. Pantaloones is a great store that has many options. You could even order some clothes online and ship them to your hotel and if you don’t like them, return them.
From Canada and the US there are direct flight to India. Air Canada flies non-stop to Delhi from Vancouver (~15 hours) and Toronto to New Delhi (~14 hours). From the US, you can fly non-stop to India (all flights are ~14-15 hours) from New York, Washington DC, San Francisco and Chicago on Air India and United (only from New York). All cites fly direct to Delhi but from New York you can also fly direct to Mumbai. On average, flights will cost you around $1000-$1200USD but if you book in advance during the non-peak times, you can find deals from $400USD round trip.
There are many local airlines to travel around the country. Most have a tendency to be late but IndiGo airline prides itself for being on time. Air India and SpiceJet are two other domestic airlines that are decent as well. Make sure to always check the status of your flight before heading to the airport.
Currently, the Indian rupee is approximately ₹70 to $1USD and is around ₹50 to $1CAD. Credit cards usually have pretty good rates at hotels and at bigger stores, but make sure to ask if there is an additional charge for using a credit card. It is always good to have some local cash on you though, especially if you are purchasing things at markets, and taking taxis. You won’t be able to order rupees from banks but suggest changing a few hundred before you go at a money exchange shop. Do not accept any ₹1000 bills as these are old and no longer valid.
Bring cash as many of the smaller places don’t take credit card. You also might have trouble pulling lots of cash from ATM’s as some have limits and they dry out during the holiday periods. Usually you can pull around ₹10,000 of an ATM.
What To Eat
As you may know, cows are sacred in India and can be seen all over the country roaming freely. They are considered part of the family because of everything they contribute (help in the fields, provide fertilizer, provide food) and are not eaten. It is very unlikely that you will find beef on a menu in India. Below are a few items that will frequently pop up on all Indian restaurant menus.
- Roti – flatbread made with flour
- Naan – flatbread made with wheat
- Green Chutney – made with coriander (cilantro) or mint
- Red Chutney – made with tomatoes and chili
- Dal – lentil based curry
- Aloo Gobi – cauliflower potato curry
- Kofta – cheese and potato dumplings in curry sauce
- Masala Chai – black tea with spices and herbs
- Masala Dosa – rice crepe filled with potato, onion and curry
- Biriyani – mixed rice dish
- Idli – ground rice and lentils, steamed in little circular moulds eaten for breakfast
- Tandoori Chicken – chicken marinated for hours in a paste of yogurt and spices, and then roasted in a clay oven called a tandoor
- Tikka Masala – an orange colored creamy curry that contains many spices, usually served over chicken
- Paneer – an unsalted non-melting cheese used in many Indian curries
- Samosa – fried snack made with potato, onion and pea stuffing
There are 4 religions that originated in India which you will likely learn about throughout your trip Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. About 80% of Indians practice Hinduism. You will also find many people who are Muslim and Christian.
Many people might tell you to skip Delhi but this massive capital city is worth visiting for two days. Most of the non-stop flights from the US and Canada fly into Delhi so it is an easy city to stay in. Home to over 25 million people, this political hub will also show you many layers of rich heritage.
From the airport, you can take an Uber, a taxi or the metro to the city center. Uber prices change based on the time of day and demand. They can be as low as ₹270 but a more realistic cost will be around ₹450. A prepaid taxi will cost ₹400-500 depending on where you are going. You can purchase this at the ticket counter inside or outside the terminals. These taxis don’t have AC but you likely won’t need it depending on time of arrival and time of year. A regular metered taxi will cost ₹600-700 and these have AC. If you are on a budget, you can take the Delhi metro airport express train (the orange line) for only ₹60. It runs from the international Terminal 3 to the New Delhi Metro Station and only takes 20 minutes. Keep in mind that traffic during rush hour times can be very bad and can sometimes take you up an hour and a half to two hours to get to the city by car, so it might be worth looking into the airport express train if you are landing during these hours.
To get around the city, you can take tuk tuks, taxis, use Uber or the metro. All are very cheap but make sure to negotiate with the tuk tuk drivers before hopping in (and hold them to what they say as they might try change the rate when you are paying). For a 5 minute ride in a tuk tuk, you should normally pay ₹10 per person. The metro is usually your best option if you are going far because it avoids traffic. One ride is ₹10 and to get a metro card it is ₹100. The Delhi metro system is the 7th largest in the world with over 300km of track. The first and last cars are reserved for women only.
Where To Stay
- Le Meridien New Delhi – located around government institutions and ministries in the heart of the city close to Connaught Palace and Janpath market.
- Aloft Aerocity – if you are connecting through Delhi and need a place to stay near the airport, this is a good Starwood hotel.
- Shangri-La Eros New Delhi
- ITC Maruya
- The Oberoi New Delhi
- Airbnb also has many good options.
What To Do
- Humayun’s Tomb – the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun that was commissioned by his wife after his death in the 16th It costs ₹600 to enter (₹50 for a local). This tomb took 16 years to build and was the first garden tomb in India, inspired by the Blue Mosque. This was also the first building to use lots of red sand stone in India and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Jama Masjid – the biggest mosque in India. It is free to enter but will cost ₹300 to bring your camera in. Women need to wear gowns and everyone needs to take off their shoes. Slippers cost ₹100 but you can enter with your socks or bare foot. There is a lot of bird poop around so would recommend bringing or renting slippers.
- Qutub Minar – a minaret that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Costs ₹600 to enter (₹50 for a local) and is about 30 minutes from the city center.
- Khari Baoli – Asia’s biggest wholesale spice market located in Old Delhi. Around this street is an incredible place to wander and explore. You will see people selling everything from flowers to peacock feathers on the street and you will also run into street barbers and ear cleaners. If you are looking to bring back spices as gifts, Mehar Chand & Sons is a great place to purchase from as all are packaged very nicely. I would not use your credit card here as they charge you a fee.
- Gurudwara Bangla Sahib – one of the most prominent Sikh temples in Delhi with a golden dome. Highly recommend visiting this temple. It is free to enter but everyone has to cover their heads before entering. You can borrow a head cover there but women can also use their own scarves. Every day of the week, the temple provides free food to anyone who comes and visits (and you don’t even have to be Sikh). On a regular day, this temple feeds 20-30K people but on Sundays it will feed around 100K people. Make sure to walk through the eating hall and the kitchen where you can see massive vats of curry and how they hand make the naan.
- Take a rickshaw ride around Old Delhi and explore the small streets. Depending on how long your ride is, it should only cost you a few hundred rupee.
- Red Fort – a historic fort in Old Delhi which used to be the main residence of the Mughals. Costs ₹600 to enter. If you have limited time in Delhi, this wouldn’t be a priority to visit.
- Chandni Chowk – a busy shopping district right next to Red Fort.
- India Gate – a war memorial stands 42m high and located in New Delhi. The archway is the Indian version of the “Arc de Triomphe.
- Lotus Temple – a flowerlike shaped temple that was built in 1986 for $10 million.
- Akshardham – a Hindu temple that has a unique architecture.
Where To Eat
- Bukhara – a restaurant in the ITC Maurya hotel that has the most delicious dal. Order the Dal Bukhara that takes 24 hours to make. Making a reservation far in advance is recommended as they get booked up fast. You can also walk in but the average wait is 2 hours.
- Lazeez Affaire – a delicious restaurant for Indian food. You can find both locals and tourists here and would recommend eating here.
- Lutyens – touristy but trustworthy place located right across the street from Le Meridien hotel.
Home to the Taj Mahal, this is a city you must visit when traveling to India to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World! You can either take a day trip from Delhi or stay one night on your way around the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra & Jaipur).
Agra is a 3-4 hour drive from Delhi and a 4-5 hour drive from Jaipur. It is best to visit coming from one of these cities as there is only a military airport in Agra. You can either hire a car to take you there or if on a budget, take a bus. Your hotel can arrange for a car to drive you there (and back if you are not staying the night) and can arrange for a guide as well. Another option to get to Agra is by train. There are many trains that leave from Delhi but make sure to take a fast or express train. You can purchase tickets at the station or online.
Where To Stay
- ITC Mughal – a very nice reasonable hotel
- Oberoi Amarvilas – if budget isn’t an issue, this is the best hotel in Agra
What To Do
- Taj Mahal – the most recognizable structure in India and the only building in the world built for love. Built in the 17th century, the Taj Mahal took 22 years to complete. The last 400 years, the Taj Mahal hadn’t been cleaned but in 2017, the government cleaned all but the dome. If staying in Agra for a night, go to the Taj Mahal at sunset and sunrise (if not clouded over). It opens 30 minutes before sunrise and closes 30 minutes before sunset. Do not plan to visit on a Friday as it is closed. Costs ₹1250 to enter, including mausoleum (₹50 for a local) and children under 15 are free. Tripods are also not allowed.
- Agra Fort – standing along the banks of the Yamuna River this red sandstone fort was built by three Mughal emperors. You cannot bring food in because the monkeys will steal it. Costs ₹550 to enter.
Known as the “Pink City”, Jaipur was once painted red to welcome England’s price in 1853 and the fading old buildings still retain their hue. The city is home to 10 million people but get ready to experience the traffic because it was designed for only 2.5million back in 1727. This is also the city to buy gems, tailor clothes, and where many textiles (through block printing) are made. Try to stay two or three days if you can.
It is a 4-5 hour drive from Delhi, a 4-5 hour drive from Agra and a 5-6 hour drive from Jodhpur. You can also fly here from all of the bigger cities in India and there are flights from Thailand, Oman, Malaysia and UAE as well.
Where To Stay
- ITC Rajputana
- Jai Mahal Palace
- Hilton Jaipur
- Airbnb also has many good options
What To Do
- City Palace – located in the city center, most of the palace is now a museum but this is still the Maharaja’s residence. Costs ₹500 to enter the palace grounds and the museum but to actually enter the palace, it costs ₹3000 for a 30 minute visit. When both small and large flags are flying, that means that the Maharaja is in the Palace. Here you will find beautifully decorated doors.
- Hawa Mahal (Wind Palace) – built from pink sandstone and sitting 5 storeys high, this palace is nicknamed “Wind Palace” because of the many semi-octagonal overhanging windows.
- Amber Fort and Palace – situated 9 miles north of the city, this 11th century fort and palace is a blend of Hindu and Muslim styles. This is one of three forts overlooking the city of Jaipur. The other two are Jaigarh Fort and Nahargarh Fort. Walk up the steps or take a jeep to the fort where you will see a beautiful view of the city. It is best to go in the afternoon as the morning is very busy with elephants roaming the streets. Costs ₹550 to enter (₹50 for a local).
- Jal Mahal Palace – stop to see the Jal Mahal Palace in the middle of Man Sagar Lake on your way to or from the Amber fort.
- Purchase Jewellery – India is known for cutting precious jewels and for making jewellery for a very reasonable price. Emeralds, rubies and blue & yellow sapphires are all found in India. A great place to purchase some jewellery is Rajasthan Gems Dev Corp which is located very close to the Jal Mahal Palace.
- Purchase Hand Made Carpets – Jaipur is known for handmade carpets as well. At Saraswatii Global Pvt. Ltd. You can find handmade silk, camel wool and silk/cotton rugs. There are a few different sizes and prices start at $180USD.
- Purchase Clothing – Jaipur is known for its printed fabrics as well as tailoring outfits. A good place to go to shop for already made items or tailored items is Saraswati Global Limited. If you are getting something tailored though, make sure that you will have enough time to do at least one fitting in case they need to make some adjustments (which they likely will). You will also have to negotiate the price on some of the items as stores always will start at a higher price.
- Bapu Bazar – a market located within the old city area is the busiest market in the city. Here you can buy many typical Indian products and souvenirs.
- Chand Baori Step Well – if driving to or from Agra, stop in the town Chand Baori and visit the oldest step wells in India. It was built in the 9th century and consists of 3500 steps. It is open from sunrise to sunset. In 2019, they will start charging an entrance fee. Many movies including the Dark Knight Rises were filmed here.
- Jantar Mantar – this astronomical observatory is a UNESCO World Heritage site and features the world’s largest stone sundial. It is located near City Palace and costs ₹200 to enter (₹50 for a local).
Where To Eat
- Green Pigeon – delicious restaurant with Indian food open for lunch and dinner. Order Kerk Sangri (a local curry from the area), Aloo Gobi and Okra Masala.
Known as the “Blue City”, Jodhpurs is home to many Brahmins (top of the Hindu cast system) who paint their houses blue. The city lays in the Thar Desert so during the day it can get very warm and at night very cold. Two days in Jodhpur would be ideal.
It is a 5-6 hour drive from Jaipur and a 4-5 hour drive from Udaipur. You can also fly here from all of the bigger cities in India and there are flights from Thailand, Oman, Malaysia and UAE as well.
Here it is a bit harder to get around the city as there are only a few Uber drivers and taxis aren’t readily available. You can go on the street and hail a tuk tuk, but it is best if you hire a driver or take a tour that includes transportation while you are here.
Where To Stay
- Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotel – if you have always dreamed of staying in a palace, this is the place to do it. This hotel is still home to the Maharaja of Jodhpur and is where Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra got married in Dec 2018. There are 64 rooms and each room is about $800USD per night. To step foot on the grounds or to eat at the restaurant here you must be a guest staying at the hotel.
- Taj Hari Mahal Hotel – a great hotel at a more reasonable price in the city.
What To Do
- Jaswant Thada Memorial – this elaborately carved white marble memorial has a great view of Mehrangarh Fort. It took 22 years to build in the late 1800s. Open 9am to 6pm and cost is ₹50 to enter. If you would like to hire a guide, it will cost ₹100 for 1-4 people.
- Mehrangarh Fort – founded in 1459AD this hilltop fort is still run by the Maharaja of Jodhpur. It is 5km long and consists of a series of courtyards and palaces. Costs ₹600 to enter and includes an audio guide. If you want to take the elevator up, it will cost an extra ₹50 and if you are bringing a camera inside, you will have to pay an additional ₹100.
- Maharani Textile & Handicrafts – similar to Jaipur, Jodhpur is also known for textiles. This store is the place to find amazing local handicrafts. They have a huge warehouse full of treasures. The company exports to many countries around the world and clients include Anthropologie, Etro and Hermes. This is not only a great place to find furniture and home goods but also to purchase bedding, scarves and even jackets. They are trustworthy and can also deliver to the US or Canada for $8US per kg and it will arrive in about 10 days.
- Sardar Market and Ghanta Ghar (Old Clock Tower) – walk around the hectic market where they sell everything from kitchenware to snacks. Take a look at the old clock in the center of the market that is usually surrounded by cows and dogs.
- If driving to or from Jaipur, stop in the small town of Nimaaj and eat at the Nimaaj Palace.
Where To Eat
- On the Rocks – this outdoor restaurant has great Indian and Italian food. The courtyards is very beautiful and covered by trees. At night they have heaters.
- Rigveda Restaurant – this vegetarian restaurant is 3 blocks away from the Taj Hari Mahal hotel and is very popular with the locals. Try Malai Kofta here.
- Shahi Samosa – they have the best samosas here for only ₹16 each. They also have other items on the menu, all which are worth trying. This stand is located near the Sardar Market.
Known as the gateway to the Thar Desert, this is a place to visit if you want to go on a Camel Safari. You can stay overnight at a safari lodge or just visit for the day.
It is about a one and a half to two hour drive from Jodhpur depending on traffic. Hire a car to take you there and back as it will be impossible to find a taxi out there. It costs around $35-40USD per day for a driver.
Where To Stay
The Mountbatten Lodge’s “glamping” style tents. One night stay is around $100USD.
What To Do
Take a camel ride in the desert and watch sunset from the top of the hill. The camel ride isn’t in a desert where you only see sand dunes but it is still enjoyable with the trees and houses in the distance. Two people sit on each camel. After the camel ride, enjoy a local music and dancing show by the fire and then a delicious dinner in a tent.
This Portuguese influenced state is the smallest state in India and known for its beaches. Here, it will feel completely different than the other big cities around the country. Would recommend staying here for a few days here to relax and take a break from the busy bustling cities.
The best way to get to Goa is to fly into the Goa International Airport. There are flights from all of the big cities in India as well as from Finland, UAE, Oman, Qatar and the UK
Where To Stay
- Taj Exotica Resort & Spa – an amazing resort in the Benaulim area and was ranked the 25th best hotel in the world.
- Airbnb has many options as well. If you stay at a place that isn’t right on the beach, there are plenty of restaurants that provide free lounge chairs (on a first come first serve basis) if you eat at their restaurant throughout the day. Seafood Point Restaurant in Benaulim is a good option.
What To Do
- Watch the sunset at the beach. Two great beaches are Benaulim and Palolem Beach but most of the beaches along the coast will have the same beautiful sunset.
- If you want to scuba dive, you have to go near the airport to Bogmalo Beach or north of the airport to the Panaji area. Goa Diving is a good company to go with to Ilha Grande. It costs ₹5000 + 18%GST for two dives.
- Buy some beach wear at the small shops along the beachside. Right next to Seafood Point restaurant on Calvaddo Beach, there is a small row of shops (on the road). You may see lots of women trying to bring you to their shop but if you need any beach covers or souvenirs, go to the last stall on the road, stall #9. A woman named Sylvia owns it and she is very sweet and not pushy at all. She can also give you a decent foot massage, ₹250 for a half hour!
Where To Eat
- Seafood Point, Calvaddo Beach – this is an amazing place for any meal, snack or just to have a drink. Located right on the beach you can sit and enjoy the view of the beach with your feet in the sand. This is only a few steps away from the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa. It is very reasonable and have amazing fresh seafood. Order a fish the day before if you know you will be eating there! A large beer here is ₹100.
- Lobster Village, Taj Exotica Resort – if budget isn’t an issue, this is a great restaurant with a beach view at the resort. They have fresh seafood that can be cooked with any flavouring and in any style you like. It is expensive here though.
In this financial capital of India, you will find a lot of British and Portuguese influence. With around 22 million inhabitants, Mumbai is where you find some of the richest people in the world but also the biggest slums in Asia. The city was mainly built for trade by the British and it was them who gave the city the name Bombay. But in 1993, the government officially changed the city’s name back to Mumbai. Seven small islands were strung together and land between them reclaimed to form the bustling metropolis it is today. Try to spend at least three days in the city.
All the local airlines fly to Mumbai as well as many international airlines from Europe (Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM to name a few) and Asia. United Airlines also flies direct to Mumbai from New York. From Pune it is about 3-4 hour drive and only costs ₹1300 using Uber promo code IC1299.
Taxis are pretty cheap and a convenient way to get around. To get from Nariman Point to the CSMT train station or to Trishna restaurant, it is only ₹100. Uber is another good option. If you are on a budget, taking the local trains around the city isn’t a bad option. During the weekdays they can get quite busy so I would avoid doing this during rush hour but it is not busy at all on Sundays.
Where To Stay
South Mumbai is the best area to stay in as it is very central to many sites and there are many good restaurants and bars in the neighborhood. Lower Parel is also a decent area with lots of restaurants and bars and that is where the Four Seasons is located. Juhu/Bandra area is where the Bollywood scene is, but it is far from the main areas of the city, especially with traffic.
- Taj Palace Hotel – if not on a budget, this is the place to stay in Mumbai. It is a beautiful hotel in South Mumbai. Stay in the Heritage wing.
- Trident Nariman Point Hotel – good reasonable hotel in South Mumbai right along with a full view of Back Bay.
- The Oberoi Hotel – connected to the Trident Nariman Point Hotel in South Mumbai.
- Airbnb also has great options around the city.
What To Do
- Elephanta Island & Elephant Caves – take a one hour ferry ride to see the caves which date back to 550AD. At this UNESCO World Heritage site, you will see 9 sculpture murals of Shiva, the supreme destroyer of evil. It took 200 years to build the caves in the 5th century and all of the carvings were made only with sunlight. This is a must see if you are in Mumbai. There are 1500 people living on the island spread out into 3 villages. You can also find lots of stall to buy cheap gifts and souvenirs. Make sure to bargain though. When you visit, try to go first thing in the morning and catch the first boat that leaves at 9am from India gate, otherwise you will be waiting for a long time in line. Costs ₹200 per person for the boat ticket, ₹5 for the island tax that you pay when you arrive, ₹10 for return train ride when you arrive on the island, and ₹600 to enter the caves.
- Hanging Gardens (Phrerozeshah Mehta Gardens) – here you will find a nice viewpoint from the Kamala Nehru Park where you can see the whole Back Bay. Do not pay to go into the Pramod Navalkar viewing gallery as the view is exactly the same as the park. Entrance is free and it is located near Malabar Hill.
- Prince of Whales Museum (now called the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vatsu Sangrahalaya) – this building is incredible and if you like art is worth checking out, but might not be worth it for those who aren’t interested in museums. It costs ₹500 to enter and includes an audio guide. Make sure to check out the miniature Indian paintings.
- Dhobi Ghat – what is known as a laundry service in the slums of Mumbai. There are many areas that provide laundry service but this one near Saat Rasta circle is an interesting one to check out. Here about 70K pieces of laundry are washed every day. Corporate companies such as hospitals have contracts with them.
- Mani Bhavan – this is now a Gandhi museum but was once the house Gandhi stayed at while visiting Mumbai from 1917-1934. There is a library of books inside that are free to read. Entrance is free as well.
- Take a Train – CSMT (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus) is the main train station in the city, previously known as Victoria Station. It is a beautiful building and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. About 212 trains leave here daily with tens of thousands of people using it daily. If you are looking to take a short ride only, start at the CSMT station (platform 3 or 4) and go to Byculla station (which is 3 stops away on a slow train). It will cost you ₹10 for a return ticket and the journey will take 5-8 minutes to get there. The front and back carts are always just for women.
Where To Eat or Drink
- Trishna – one of the best seafood restaurants in the city. You must get garlic pepper butter crab and the deep fried shrimp.
- Cooper Chimney – a nice restaurant in South Mumbai where you can find delicious Indian food.
- Bombay Canteen – an industrial chic restaurant that focuses on local dishes. Each dish and drink has a story to tell. Located in Lower Parel area.
- Koko – an Asian fusion restaurant with great cocktails in Lower Parel area, a few doors down from Bombay Canteen. A cocktail here costs around ₹650.
- Aer – a great place for sunset drinks on the rooftop of the Four Season Hotel in the Lower Parel area. Here you can really see the contrast of the slums and high rises. They have Happy Hour from 5-8pm which is buy 1 get 1 free (per person). A cocktail here will cost ₹1000. Aim to get there at least half an hour before sunset to get a good seat.
- Table – a restaurant in the Colaba area in South Mumbai that features world cuisine. It is walking distance from the Taj hotel.
- Miss T – a Southeast Asian restaurant in the Colaba area, and sister restaurant to Table.
- Leopold Café – one of the oldest restaurants in Mumbai located in South Mumbai near Nariman Point. Great place to have a drink.
- Woodside Inn – if you need a break from Indian food, this is the place to go. Serving American and Italian food, it is great for a comforting meal or just for some drinks. Located in Colaba.
- O Pedro – a Goan restaurant located in the Bandra neighbourhood.
- Indigo – located in the Coloba area walking distance from the Taj Hotel in South Mumbai.
- If you have a strong stomach and are willing to try some street food, Mumbai is the place to do this. There is a small area where you can find street food stands right behind the Trident Hotel in Nariman Point on the corner of Jamnalal Bajaj Road and Barrister Rajini Patel Marg. A few things to try are:
- Vada Pav: spiced mashed potatoes deep fried into a patty served in a bun with chili powder and tomato & coriander chutney. Costs ₹20.
- Ragda Puri or Bhel Puri: puff balls filled with potatoes, chickpea curry and raw onions, topped with coriander chutney, tomato chili chutney, a sweet brown sauce, salt, pepper, crispy dried noodles, diced tomatoes, sliced cucumber and chili peanuts. Costs ₹20-30 depending on what you get. If you are worried about eating raw food, you can tell them no tomato, onion and cucumber.
- Samosas: a fried pastry with spiced potato, onion, peas or lentil filling. Costs ₹10.
- Sugar Cane Juice: made fresh with a hand crank juicer. Costs ₹10-30 depending on size.
“The lighthouse for the wandering soul”.
Also known as Banaras, Varanasi is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world at approximately 6700 years old. The five mile part of the Ganges River that runs through Varanasi is called Kashi, and this is the most sacred Hindu pilgrimage site in the world. About forty thousand pilgrims visit daily. This city is a place you must visit on your trip to India and it is unlike anything you have ever experienced in your life. You will witness numerous cremation ceremonies as well as the Ganga Aarti Ceremony alongside the famous Ganges River. Spend two nights here if you can.
SpiceJet, IndiGo, Air India and Jet Airways all fly to Varanasi from Delhi and Mumbai. Flying is the best way to get there because it isn’t really near any other big cities and would take a long time to get there by train, by bus or by car. It is also not too far from Nepal either, about an 8 hour drive.
Traffic can be really bad during rush hour and can take up to two hours to get from the airport to the Ganges River (this normally takes around 40 minutes). So try to time your flight to avoid these hours if possible. Also, be sure to keep checking the gate of your flight because they are known to change frequently and last minute in this airport.
Where To Stay
Because the Ganges is a sacred place you won’t find any new hotels or big named hotels along the river. Personally, I think it is best to stay at least one night along the river.
- Taj Ganges or Taj Nadeser Palace Hotel – located about a half hour from the Ganges but this is one of the nicest hotel to stay at in the city. It costs around $120USD per night to stay at the Taj Ganges. The Palace is more expensive and only has 10 rooms so must book far in advance.
- Suryauday Haveli – located right on the Ganges, this hotel has a great view and includes a boat ride and morning yoga on the roof. It isn’t anything fancy but it is worth staying on the Ganges for the night that you will watch sunset and the ceremonies and when you wake up for sunrise. There are only 14 rooms and I it cost around $190USD per night.
- Brijrama Palace – the best place to stay along the Ganges River but also the most expensive. Costs around $250USD per night but also sells out very quickly.
What To Do
It is best to wear closed toed shoes while walking around Varanasi as the streets can be wet and dirty.
- Cremation Ceremonies – this is something you need to experience while in Varanasi and it will be unlike anything you have ever seen. 150 cremations happen in the city daily and bodies are flown in from all around the world. The Manikarnika Ghat is the bigger Ghat of the two cremation Ghats in the city. It is first come first serve to get a spot and usually only wealthy families can afford to have a cremation ceremony here because the materials cost a lot. Most pilgrims (about 70%) who come to Varanasi will come with the ashes of a loved one to spread into the Ganges. Even though most of the bodies being cremated are only a few days old, you won’t see anyone crying here because this is a happy ceremony since the person will achieve Moksha (the liberation of rebirth). I can go on to explain what happens throughout the ceremony, but it isn’t something you can describe, it’s something you just need to experience yourself. While close to the ceremony, please do not take pictures as it is disrespectful.
- Ganga Aarti Ceremony – a Thanksgiving ceremony that happens twice daily, at sunrise and sunset, and performed by the Brahmins. Watch the sunset ceremony (it is bigger) and head over to the Dashashwamedh Ghat a bit early to get a good seat (seats are first come first serve).
- Watch the Sunset – take a boat ride or walk along the Ghats of Varanasi. Enhanced by thousands of oil lamps, vibrant colours and holy chants that start at dusk, watching the sunset on the banks of the Ganges is an enchanting experience.
- Sunrise Boat Ride – in the morning, pilgrims come and bathe in the Ganges to pay homage to the Sun God. Wake up early and witness all the spiritual rituals that happen.
- Sarnath Archeological Museum – if you have time, visit this museum which features findings from Buddhist monasteries. It is located in the north of the city and costs ₹5 to enter. No bags or cell phones are allowed, but they have lockers for you if you need. Regular cameras are allowed.
- Dhamekh Stupa – a famous Buddhist temple located right next to the Sarnath Museum and a deer park. It costs ₹300 to get in.
- Get Henna – at the entrance of the Sarnath Archeological Museum, a lady sits outside the entrance and offers Henna. This is the place to do it. She is an amazing artists and you can ask her to do a traditional design from the area. Her name is Twinkle and she is there from 9am to 5pm daily. Designs start at ₹200 for one hand.
Where To Eat
- Varuna Restaurant – located in the Taj Ganges Hotel and serves traditional Indian food.