ITINERARY IN INDIA: TOUR PACKAGE vs DIY TRAVEL

I’ve been to India twice, in 2015 and 2018. I was still a travel newbie the first time I went; at that time, I went with a former travel buddy, and we availed of an all-inclusive Golden Triangle tour package from a local travel agency in Jaipur. Three years later, I went back on my own and did everything backpacker style. Your Itinerary in India and budget cost will vary greatly, depending on how you plan to visit this country. I will recount my experience in both travel styles and share how much I spent on both trips.

INDIA FAQS

Do I need a visa to travel to India?

You most probably need a visa to travel to India, as only certain nationalities, mostly from South Asia, are visa-exempt. But don’t fret! The Indian government issue an E-visa for short-term tourist visits. It’s good to know your itinerary in India before applying because they will ask the cities you will visit in the online application. You can check my e-visa application experience here.

For longer-term visas, or for visas of different purposes other than tourism, then you will need to head to the nearest consulate or embassy of India for more information.

What is the currency of India?

India uses the rupee as its official currency. Today’s exchange rate can be found here.


Is India a cheap country to travel to?

Generally speaking, India is a very affordable destination and one of the cheapest countries I visited. Meals in local joints will cost you as low as 1$ or 50php per order, while it will cost just around 5$ in restaurants. Hostel reservation is also cheap, starting at 3$ per night. But please make sure that you choose a well-reviewed one, as the saying “you get what you paid for.” can be applied in India.


Is it safe to eat street food in India?

It depends. Honestly, I experienced the worst food poisoning during my first visit (story here.), which almost ruined my itinerary in India. Be careful with what you eat here; please don’t consume any raw food or drink any beverages with ice, as these are the common culprits in contracting traveler’s diarrhea.


Is it safe to visit India?

I will be honest here, India is not the safest destination to travel to. You need to always be on your guard because some will out to trick and scam you. But don’t let it detract you from visiting the country! Indians are also some of the friendliest and most genuine people I’ve met, and I made so many long-lasting friendships with people I met here. Always be on your guard and have a presence of mind when you visit.



How to go to India?

Planning your itinerary to India is easy because it is well connected to many countries worldwide, as it is one of the hubs in South Asia. You can check out local flight carriers such as AirIndia, IndiGo, and Spicejet for flights, but honestly, I had difficulties booking with these companies using my local credit card.

If you are coming from the Philippines, the cheapest way to do it is to travel to Kuala Lumpur and then buy a ticket to India. I used AirAsia on both my trips, and I never had any problems with them.



TOUR PACKAGES vs DIY TRAVEL

India is not the easiest country to travel to. Even though there are already established tourist routes like the Golden Triangle, it is challenging to plan your itinerary in India due to the restrictions when buying train or plane tickets online. Aside from that, the cultural aspect is also one of the many factors to consider: the language barrier, religion, and the caste system, to name a few. It didn’t help that the country also got some flak from the rape incidents that happened these past years, giving an impression to potential visitors of the danger that one may experience.

Street food in Varanasi. This is as local as you can get.
Street food in Amritsar. It’s as local as you can get.

Availing the service of a travel agency to plan your itinerary to India is not bad at all, especially when you get them from a reputable company.  The first time I visited, it was impossible to reserve a train ride in India without using an Indian credit card. Aside from that, I also got sick on the road, and had I traveled without an agency; I was sure to be in deep trouble that time.

The downside of traveling on a tour package is that you will have a very fixed time to explore the places, and I hated that they brought us to stores that pushed their products on us. For sure, the travel agency gets a commission for bringing us there.

The holy city of Varanasi.
The holy city of Varanasi.

As I travel to other exotic countries, I became confident with my backpacking skills, so to start my gap year, I decided to give the country another chance by backpacking there. I worked in an Indian company in my country, and I befriended many Indian colleagues, who helped me plan my itinerary to India (special shoutout to Naveen!) Not only that, but 12go Asia also started offering train and bus routes in India. With it, I can already use my local credit card to buy train tickets, giving me more options on my destination. Traveling on my own here also gave me a lot of freedom, and it made everything cheaper too. When I go back to India in the future, I will do it on my own again.

ITINERARY IN INDIA – TOUR PACKAGE

We availed of the Golden Triangle tour from Leisure India Holidays, and they are legit. They planned our itinerary in India well and quoted $500 for an 8-days tour, which includes our driver, four start hotel accommodation, and tour guides per city. I contacted them via e-mail, and they responded promptly, and they provided us all the necessary information. We also added Chokhi Dhani and Fatehpur Sikri to our itinerary, making it more expensive than the $355 they ask on their website.

Hawa Mahal, the palace of winds.
Hawa Mahal, the palace of winds.

They asked us to spend 30% of the payment via wire transfer, and we paid the rest upon arrival in Jaipur. Everything went smoothly, except for those three days I was sick, but our driver, Ashok, helped me a lot.

GOLDEN TRIANGLE TOUR – Tour cost – $500

Day 1

  • Late-night arrival in New Delhi, India
  • Check-in at Jivitesh Hotel

Day 2

  • Early morning travel to Jaipur, India
  • Check-in at Royal Orchid Central
  • Chokhi Dhani – Rajasthan culture experience

Day 3

  • Full-day Jaipur tour – Elephant ride at Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, Birla Temple.

Day 4

  • Early morning visit to Hanuman’s temple
  • Drive to Agra, India
  • Check-in at Howard Plaza
  • Late-night Mohabbat-e-Taj cultural show

Day 5

  • Full-day Taj Mahal and Agra Fort tour.

Day 6

  • Side trip to Fatehpur Sikri
  • Late-night arrival in New Delhi
  • Check-in at Jivitesh Hotel

Day 7

  • Full-day tour New Delhi – Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Lotus Temple, Qutb Minar, Raj Ghat, Jama Masjid, Government complex.

Day 8

  • Flight back to the Philippines.
INCLUSIONS:
  • 07 Nights accommodation 01 Double occupancy room (King or Queen Size Bed)
  • Daily Buffet Breakfast at a coffee shop or restaurant at a hotel.
  • Transportation and sightseeing in an exclusive air-conditioned Swift Dzire Sedan Car 
  •  All airport and hotel transfers.
  • Services of an English-speaking guide during the sightseeing schedules.
  • Evening dinner with Folk Dance at Chokhi Dhani, Jaipur.
  • Elephant ride at Amber Fort, Jaipur.
  • Tonga ride at Taj Mahal, Agra.
  • Visit Mohabbat-e Taj Show, at Agra.
  • Rickshaw Ride in Old Delhi.
  • Complimentary mineral water bottle
  • Ice Box and First Aid-Box.
  • Fuel, toll-tax, driver’s allowances, and parking charges.
  • All kinds of transport and luxury Taxes.
  • Assistance to all arrival and departure points by the company representative.

EXCLUSIONS:
  • All kinds of personal expenses such as tips, laundry, telephone bills, and beverages.
  • It also does not include any meals unless and otherwise specifically mentioned.
  • Entrance fees to the monuments.
  • International airfare.
  • Optional, suggested, or unspecified activities.
  • Camera fee (still or movie)

DIY BACKPACKING IN INDIA

As I mentioned, DIY travel in India is on a different level; it can be challenging to plan your itinerary, and some websites may not accept your foreign credit card when you try booking your route. I visited during Diwali season, and it was extra hard because prices tripled and most routes became fully-booked, so I spent more than the average.

One more thing that stressed me a lot was the constant bartering and haggling. I hate doing this. In my country, we haggle, but not to the extreme, but in India, it is the way things are, and as a foreigner, they look at you as someone who has money, so they will always charge you ten times the regular price.

Shri Lakshmi Narain Temple
Shri Lakshmi Narain Temple

On a positive note, DIY backpacking in India can be dirt cheap, and to date, it is still one of the most affordable countries I’ve visited. The country also has an excellent internet connection, so even if I traveled twice on a 2-day journey from Amritsar to Varanasi and Varanasi to Mumbai,  I didn’t get bored because I can browse only to keep me entertained. Indians are also some of the nicest people I’ve met, wherein people helped me in tight spots without asking for anything in return.

ITINERARY IN INDIA DIY BACKPACKING


AMRITSAR

  • Amritsar´s streets are very loud. Be prepared to be culture shocked.
  • The Golden Temple is free.
  • You can only enter barefoot, and you also need to cover your head before being allowed inside. There is an area to deposit your shoes just near the entrance, and they will provide a bandana for you too.
  • They say that at certain times of the day, the temple serves free food to visitors. I never experienced this, nor did I see it, but it´s something you can check out when you visit.
  • You cannot use your tripod inside the temple grounds. I´ve been reprimanded by the guards when I used mine.
  • I ate thrice at the famed Kesar Da Dhaba, a famous restaurant patronized by locals and many celebrities. They typically serve traditional Punjabi thalis and other delicacies of the region, so this is the perfect place to satiate your Punjabi food curiosity.
  • The Jallianwala Bagh, the place where the Amritsar massacre happened, is just two blocks away from the Golden Temple and is free of charge.
  • Our hostel offered to tour us to the Wagah border for a small fee. Be sure to follow their meetup instructions when you are there, as it is easy to get lost once you are inside.
  • We also went to the Gobindarbargh fort, a good 30 minutes away from the Golden Temple. If you will stay longer in Amritsar, then a trip here is inevitable.

ITINERARY

Day 1

  • Late-night arrival from Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
  • Check-in at Jugaadus Hostel

Day 2

  • Morning Golden Temple tour
  • Late afternoon Wagah border excursion.

Day 3

  • Jallianwala Bagh tour
  • Evening stroll at the Golden Temple

Day 4

  • Gobindarbargh tour
  • Two days train ride to Varanasi

Varanasi

  • I arrived in Varanasi after traveling for almost 50hrs from Amritsar. I had no other option as all flights got fully-booked. It is something I will not do again in the future (if I can avoid it!)
  • If Amritsar is chaotic, then be prepared in Varanasi, as the craziness level is three times more. Here, the cows reign supreme and are sacred in Hinduism, so the locals treat them with respect. Due to this, you will see it everywhere; on the roads, at the temples, near food stalls, etc.
  • An excellent place to eat good food is the Deena Chat Bandar, a restaurant offering hygienic, typical street food of Varanasi.
  • Varanasi is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities globally, considered to be holy by Hindus. They say that dying in Varanasi, or at least to be cremated here, will give you extra merits in achieving Nirvana. Many temples also serve as crematoriums, so don’t be surprised when you pass by a place and see them cremating corpses. Locals can get aggressive if you take pictures of the cremation ceremony, so don’t even attempt to do it.
  • Most hotels will offer a sunrise tour of the Ganges river. It will give you an excellent chance to take an incredible panoramic view of the whole old center and experience how daily life starts in this city.
  • Sadhus, or India’s holy men, call Varanasi home. Sometimes they will ask for a fee if you want to take pictures.
  • Don’t ever leave your things or hang your clothes in an open area! Monkeys nearly stole the clothes I hang on the rooftop.
  • The Ganga Aarti Puja, or the night prayer ceremony, is a daily occurrence at the Ganges River near the Dasashwamedh Ghat. Be sure to attend this, as it is a magnificent sight to behold!
Itinerary

Day 1

  • Afternoon arrival from Amritsar
  • Check-in at Bhadra Kali Guesthouse

Day 2

  • Early morning boat ride
  • Leisure stroll around the ghats

Day 3

  • Leisure stroll around the ghats.
  • Late-night Ganga Arti cultural ceremony.

Day 4

  • Afternoon trip to Mumbai

MUMBAI

  • Mumbai, or Bombay, is India’s most populous and largest city. I immediately felt the chaos of this city after stepping foot outside the train station.
  • Mumbai has lots of tuk-tuks, but they still scam people. When I took one on the way to the nearest metro station, an accomplice of the tuk-tuk driver went with us and midway threatened me by trying to hold off my bags. I started taking their pictures and equally threatened them to go to the police with their photographs and the tuk-tuk number. They let me go in the end.
  • The metro system of Mumbai is complex and efficient. It connects to many parts of the city, though it can be too chaotic during peak hours.
  • The ferry to Elephanta Caves is at the back of the Gateway of India. It leaves every hour, from what I remember.
  • Be sure to bring cash when you go to the caves. I got accustomed to using credit cards here, that I forgot to bring some cash to pay for the entrance, that I needed to return the next day, wasting a lot of money.
  • If you are a fan of Slumdog Millionaire, then the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Railway Station will surely be familiar to you. It is a railway station and also listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. When you visit, don’t go during rush hour, as it can get hectic inside the station.

Itinerary

Day 1

  • Arrival from Varanasi
  • Check-in at Padne Dormitory

Day 2

  • Leisure trip at the Corniche
  • Late afternoon tour at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Railway Station

Day 3

  • Gate of India and Elephanta Islands

Day 4

  • 2nd attempt Gate of India and Elephanta Islands

Day 5

  • Morning trip to Pune

PUNE

  • My primary purpose in visiting Pune is to see my friends. As I mentioned earlier, I worked in an Indian company back home, and our partner headquarters was the company’s branch in this city, so I worked with many folks here, and I bonded with most of them.
  • I let my friends Channu, Govinda, and Aditya plan this segment for me, specifying that I would love to see Hindu temples. I precisely wanted to see a Ganesh Ganpati Temple, the elephant Hindu god, and Maharashtra region patron.
  • Besides Ganesh Temple, we also visited Shiva Narayaneshwar temple and Shri Balaji temple (dedicated to Balaji, the god of money lending), whose temple is inspired by those found in Southern India.
  • We also went to Sinhagad Fort, an essential outpost during ancient times. There is an old story associated with it; General Malusare, a commandant of Shivaji Maharaj,  scaled the fort with monitor lizards at the dead of the night, catching enemies by surprise. This lead to their victory and subsequent recapture of the stronghold.

Itinerary

Day 1

  • Arrival from Mumbai
  • Check-in at Bombay Backpackers Pune
  • Night tour of the city center with friends.

Day 2

  • Morning temple tour – Ganesh Ganpati, Shiva, ad Shri Balaji Temple
  • Afternoon Sinhagad Fort tour
  • Travel to Jaipur by plane at midnight

Jaipur

  • It was my 2nd time in this city, and at that time, my goal was to visit sites that I wasn’t able to see the first time and celebrate Diwali with my friend Akki and his family.
  • This time, I stayed far from the old town to have more peace, as the center is very chaotic at all times.
  • To get around, I always used Uberbike, a cheaper alternative to private Uber cars only available in India and some other Asian countries.
  • Places I visited this time included the Birla Mandir Temple, Albert Hall Museum, Maharaja’s City Palace, Nahargarh Fort, and Jawahar Circle.
  • Jaipur is said to have the best Diwali celebration, and I agree. During the days leading to the festival itself, every building started putting out its decorations and light patterns, remarkably illuminating everything at night.
  • Diwali, or the Light festival, is a week-long festivity that celebrates the victory of good over evil and welcomes the goddess of light, Lakshmi.
  • During this time, everyone will be celebrating at home, and it will be tough to look for a place to eat since no businesses will be open.
  • Being invited by someone to celebrate this is a remarkable experience. I get to experience firsthand the rituals observed by every household and try the typical food cooked only during this occasion.

Itinerary

Day 1

  • Arrival from Pune by Plane
  • Check-in at Hotel Cordon Vay
  • Leisure walk around Jawahar Circle

Day 2

  • Birla Mandir Temple, Albert Hall Museum tour

Day 3

  • Maharaja City Palace and Nahargarh Fort tour

Day 4

  • 1st day Diwali

Day 5

  • 2nd day Diwali

Day 6

  • Travel to New Delhi and flight to Moscow

ITINERARY IN INDIA EXPENSES



AMRITSAR TRAVEL EXPENSE

ITEMPHILIPPINE PESOINDIAN RUPEEUS DOLLAR
Taxi to hostel330.00500.007.00
Wagah border tour132.00200.002.80
Grocery363.00550.007.70
Gobindarbagh Fort entrance fee198.00300.004.20
Food567.60860.0012.04
TOTAL1,590.602,410.0033.74



VARANASI EXPENSE

ITEMPHILIPPINE PESOINDIAN RUPEEUS DOLLAR
Tuktuk to hostel132.00200.002.80
Hotel1,584.002,400.0033.60
Boat tour Ganges River165.00250.003.50
Magnet132.00200.002.80
Food673.001,020.0014.28
Tuktuk to train station79.20120.001.68
TOTAL2,765.404,190.0058.66



MUMBAI EXPENSE

ITEMPHILIPPINE PESOINDIAN RUPEEUS DOLLAR
Transportation metro and train264.00400.005.60
Boat to Elephanta Islands264.00400.005.60
Magnet33.0050.000.70
Hostel1,069.001,620.0022.68
Entrance to Elephanta Islands396.00600.008.40
Food594.00900.0012.60
TOTAL2,620.203,970.0055.58



PUNE EXPENSE

ITEMPHILIPPINE PESOINDIAN RUPEEUS DOLLAR
Tuktuk to hostel132.00200.002.80
Hostel336.60510.007.14
Magnets198.00300.004.20
Food798.60200.002.80
TOTAL798.601,210.0016.94

JAIPUR EXPENSE

ITEMPHILIPPINE PESOINDIAN RUPEEUS DOLLAR
Albert Hall Museum198.00300.004.20
Hotel3,954.725,992.0083.89
Uber bike396.00600.008.40
Food1,006.501,525.0021.35
Bus to Airport New Delhi306.24464.006.50
TOTAL5,861.468,881.00124.33

OTHER COSTS

ITEMPHILIPPINE PESOINDIAN RUPEEUS DOLLAR
India E-visa4,468.006,746.6894.45
Bandar Seri Begawan to Amritsar13,022.0019,663.22275.29
Train Amritsar to Varanasi1,452.002,192.5230.70
Train Varanasi to Mumbai1,452.002,192.5230.70
Mumbai to Pune Red Bus313.00472.636.62
Pune to Jaipur IndiGo4,300.006,493.0090.90
TOTAL25,007.0037,750.57528.65

*** Special thanks to my friends Naveen, Amartya, Akki, Channu, Govinda, and Aditya for helping me plan this itinerary in India, and also for the great company during my stay in this lovely country!****

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