So you have a dream to travel to India and you need an answer to the simple question… “How much does it cost to travel to and in India?”
Well that really depends upon a number of factors; some which apply to all travellers, some which are consequent upon your itinerary and others which are very specifically determined by the comfort and style of travelling that only you can select.
6 weeks in India
My partner and I have just returned from a 6 week tour of India when we made every effort to realise her childhood dreams of visiting some of the most significant ancient places in India including the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Golden Temple at Amritsar.
Quit our jobs
Having resigned our positions in fairly stressful occupations and been going through a precarious house sale we decided our first incursion into the madness of India should be into the less frenetic Kerala State in the south for a relaxing recuperation on the beach. After that we moved throughout India in an attempt to capture as much as possible but certainly not wishing it to be a pure “Tick in the Box” lightning tour.
What do I need to know?
I will attempt to highlight all the considerations needed to plan your tour of India and begin to understand the cost implications of each decision. Based upon our financial situation we decided, even though we might easily have afforded more, to average no more than £65 daily but in this cost was the amortised cost of our flights which were paid for up front.
£65 daily budget for all costs including flights
For the backpacker this will shock because this is a huge amount on a backpacker budget but for us as house owners and ex professionals in our 50s, having become accustomed to good standard hotels, food, travel etc, this was sometimes a challenge but generally speaking quite fun to keep stock of on the trip. After all we no longer had jobs to support us!!
The factors to be considered (in no specific order of importance)
- Getting to India
- Accommodation in India
- Travel throughout India
- Activities in India
- Tourist Attractions in India
- Food and Drink
- Currency Exchange Rate
- On line banking
- Passport validity dates and Indian Visas
- Religious, Spiritual or Self Development ambitions
- Onward travel
Now- In more depth
Getting to India
- Where are you coming from
- Is this a separate stage in a longer Asian tour
- Do you wish to fly or perhaps cruise on a liner
- Cost of flights
- Our flight costs from London Gatwick to Cochin International via Dubai were £530 rtn and identified using Skyscanner a very convenient to use travel comparison site.
- Do you wish to break up your long haul flight with a stopover
- Do you wish to fly Economy, 1st Class or Business Class
- Do you have frequent flyer miles you could utilise
- Do you have a favourite airline and if so does it fly to India
- Which airport in India do you wish to land in and then where to leave from (we flew into Cochin and departed from Delhi to avoid having to return all the way to Cochin)
- How will you get to the airport in your country (to avoid heavy parking charges for a 6 week period we hired a “one way” car rental with drop off at Gatwick Airport)…cost about £35
- Could you make this a “Round the World” experience and take advantage of some offers on multi stop tickets whilst at the same time possibly visiting other countries you have always had on your “bucket list”
- If you think there is a likelihood that you may wish to change dates on your flight/flights then consider buying a flexi ticket for a small premium giving you additional flexibility. I did this on my return ticket to allow me to extend my trip and achieved this through STA Travel who provided and excellent service.
- This comes in all forms from Former Raj Palaces, Colonial Mansions, small guest houses (homestays), budget, backpacker, 5*, houseboats and all manner in between
- To capture the true essence of India and to stimulate our passion for variety we sought to use as many different accommodations as possible within our budget.
- What is your tolerance to “unusual” standards and could you adjust…otherwise you may have to consider quite expensive options to meet your standards…this is India the place you want to experience and it would not be India if everything was as you would expect back home.
- We would recommend booking your first night in any new location via the internet to ensure you reduce the stress related with searching in a new environment…often in the early hours of the morning.
- We usually booked a basic double room with en suite facilities and paid between Rs700 and Rs1400 but on the special occasion of my birthday, whilst visiting the Taj Mahal, we spent Rs2500 on the room.
- The 24 hour Houseboat experience cost Rs9000 for two of us and this gave us our own room on board with and evening meal and breakfast served to us. The boat was ours exclusively and the slow meandering around the backwaters of Kerala is very much recommended.
- By stark contrast, and to gain an extra experience and a relaxing chill out we booked the Uppal Hotel in Delhi close to the airport so that we could do nothing other than relax by the pool before heading home…a sort of airlock/recalibration experience. This 5* luxury cost £45 with the meals on top pretty much doubling that. Trust me though, whilst this piece of luxury may have been welcome after 6 weeks on the road and rail it was nothing other than what you would expect from a quality hotel ANYWHERE in the world….this had nothing Indian about it other than some misinterpretations in the language.
Travel internal to India
- There are a number of flight options but the best operator we have had the pleasure to use have been Indigo and you can do comparison through Skyscanner or go direct to their site after checking the competition.
- My last flight from Delhi to Kathmandu cost £60 one way and believe me the alternative of rail and bus over a couple of days simply did not outweigh this simple option.
- Indigo did have a poor safety record in the past but we checked this out and it appears to have been addressed and certainly with their new fleet of aircraft you could only feel you were flying with one of the top airline operators.
- Rarely do I make specific recommendations but Indigo and recently Aegean Air into Greece have been excellent.
- Remember India is a vast place so when it seems a cheaper train or bus would have you between two places post haste this can turn into a 10, 12, 24 hr journey!! We decided to take an overnight bus from Periyar to Bangalore to get us part way up the country….and although there are no major regrets because we had a mad sometimes frightening experience, I would not recommend this to anyone, fly direct to Delhi and save time and anxiety! We did after all fly with Indigo from Bangalore to Delhi because the thought of a long train ride just didn’t do it for us.
- That flight cost about £110 for the two of us.
Now…you simply have to experience at least one train trip whilst in India otherwise you will never be able to tell the folks back home you REALLY experienced India.
Trains are extremely cheap, really cheap, cheap or very reasonable dependent upon the class of carriage you opt for. India has the largest rail network in the world and there is an excellent article outlining everything you need to know about trains in India here.
But in summary you have 3rd class, 2nd class, sleeper class and first class with variables dependent upon whether you go for the A/C (air conditioning) options which are not always available on certain routes. The express train is an oxymoron compared to European or American high speed services but will still get you there marginally before the non-express train.
Costs for our train journeys varied from Rs300 to Rs1600 (exchange rate at time £1=Rs80) and these were all significant distances and usually overnight with varying sleeper classes experienced (we NEVER went cattle class because despite it costing only a few Rupees’ this was just not worth it…packed, dirty and uncomfortable as opposed to packed, fairly dirty and less uncomfortable!)
Booking rail tickets has its own complications and is one of the areas which DOES require a little bit of prior planning. Do take additional photocopies of your passport with you along with additional passport type photographs…India is not quite up to speed with paperless processes so it is good to be prepared. These precautions could help you gain access to the emergency tourist quota of tickets available on most trains at a slight premium.
Like the trains in India there is a massive network which is the mainstay transport for the majority. It does mean there are varying standards however; in general, any routes servicing the needs of the tourist have a variety of buses and standards.
The bus is cheap. Munnar to Bangalore was about Rs1600 for two on a “Volvo deluxe sleeper” and was about 11 hours journey….at least two hours of which was equivalent to the scariest ride in Disneyland!!
There are standard tourist class buses similar to the UK National Express (old version of course) or the American Greyhound services and then there are the buses catering for overnight journeys which can be semi sleeper or full sleeper and we tried both of these. Usually you will need to take the bus from remote places like Daramsala, Periyar, Munnar etc because the rail link does not reach here and you only other option would be to hire a taxi (driver and car as opposed to a metered ride)
We discovered whilst in Kerala that the best way to get to some of our destinations was by hiring a driver and car (taxi) at a negotiated fixed rate dependent upon the distance covered and the terrain. We used drivers on numerous occasions and this did give us flexibility and saved worrying about directions, catching buses, changing buses, toilets etc…all covered and accommodated by having your own man. For backpackers this appears expensive but if you have a few people going the same way then it provides and economy of scale with no hassle.
A driver and A/C car will cost between £25 and £40 per day and the trip can be up to 5 hours driving into the hills, it sounds perhaps a little expensive but when you consider the time and distance this is pretty good value. A friend of ours from Wales, UK, hired a driver for 2 weeks and directed him to find good clean budget accommodation each evening as part of his duties and the cost was about £400 for the 2 weeks and the experienced chauffeur took them to places they could never have expected to reach by public transport….and they did not have to worry about the accommodation (cost of accommodation was separate but the driver was directed to find it within the budget set by our friend)
Everywhere in India has its own auto rickshaws or tuk tuks….you will simply have no option but to use them but after the first time when you will probably be frightened for your life you will come to enjoy the freedom to see around and simultaneously be mesmerised by the driving antics all around you.
These modes of transport afford you the best, quickest and most reliable form of short distance travel…enjoy.
The price is another element of course and you simply must agree the price prior to getting in the tuk tuk. The driver will ALWAYS request a higher fare so the easiest and best way to negotiate a price/barter if you are not familiar with the “going rate” is to cut the drivers price in half and then when he gasps just insist it is your last offer…he will come back with different and then you can decide to be fair and add about 10-20% on top of your final offer. The process is fun and let’s face it the costs are ridiculously low compared to a cab in our country…a good friendly driver is worth holding on to and they will undoubtedly offer you their extended services. Rides cost from Rs10 to Rs250 on long journeys.
Where to visit
India is a massive country and the question of where to go is probably the biggest set of decisions to be made in the planning of your trip.
That said, our trip was largely spontaneous so we planned nothing other than our first port of call and then “winged it” from then on; but this was OUR conscious decision because we wished for the flexibility this afforded us you may well need to organise things differently. In the whole of this marvellous country we had only two key places which were “must sees” and the journeys between were easy to fill with unique experiences in this land of plenty.
Arriving in a city is one thing; the “attractions” in that city are another; so you need to be prepared for the number and scale of what there is to see in each location. Travel guides and websites like this one have a wealth of useful information to help make your choices.
Attractions & Things to Do
All attractions will have an associated cost whether it be in getting there or entrance fees once you do get there. Because they are common places of worship, most of the temples are cost free other than your cost to get there, the exceptions being the Muslim Mosques where you will often incur a cost. As an Indian citizen the entrance cost for most attractions is a mere RS20 when to the tourist the costs range from Rs100 to Rs750 at the Taj Mahal (but worth it for sure).
Wildlife reserves and the official and unofficial safaris or tours come at a price and in most cases these are actually set by the Government which means that most tour operator offer almost EXACTLY the same tour dressed up slightly differently.
A worthwhile visit to a Spice Garden in Periyar was Rs100 and worth every Rupee whilst the entrance fee to the Tea Museum & Factory was about Rs500 and didn’t match the garden for value. The facts are that you WILL pay out so just budget for it.
My estimate would be to factor in Rs300 per attraction and the cost should average out nicely
Places of Interest
- Wildlife reserves
- State Monuments
- People Places
- Shopping opportunities
- Adventure opportunities
- Food, Drink and Culture
- Formal Gardens
- Botanic Gardens
- A good comprehensive insurance is a must when heading to foreign countries and perhaps more so when heading to India with the omnipresent potential for ailments due to the completely different culture.
- Insurance is often best purchased on a long term basis so that it covers for more than one trip but you do need to be conscious of length of trips.
- Age plays a factor in your insurance….my son bought yearly backpacker insurance for a pittance but the same company would not cover me because I was over 55. I eventually gained insurance for 4 months for about £120.
Food and Drink
One of the reason for travelling to India must surely be to sample the fantastic aromatic and spicy dishes on offer around the country. As for the budget then the news is fairly good depending upon where you eat.
You can experience great food from many of the kerbside stalls, experience equally great food from the many shady looking cafes and restaurants, experience equally wonderful food in better surroundings and trappings in a more expensive place. Generally speaking though, regardless of how diligent you are at hygiene, there is every chance you might get the dreaded Delhi belly at some point and the guarantee is you will have no clue which part of the Indian culture brought it on!
Sensible precautions are obviously recommended but even this may do nothing other than perhaps spoil an experience of a lifetime by not trying some of the local food.
£2 for breakfast £4 for lunch and £4 for evening meal
As for the cost….meals in middle of the road restaurants will cost between £1 and £4 for most main courses…often for the whole meal including drinks. Budget for about £2 for breakfast £4 for lunch and £4 for evening meal if you can stomach it. We probably did not come near this though and the portions of food in general are enormous. Sadly this was no help to me because my partner is vegetarian and I aint….she wins in India!!!
Drink though is much more of an issue. Unless you are staying 5* and prepared to pay a sizeable amount for a bottle of wine…forget wine on the trip. The local wine we sampled was the only drink…almost in my whole life…that I refused to drink and sent back.
All alcohol in many parts of India is restricted to say the least but when available and on offer, beer will cost between Rs150 and Rs350 per 650ml bottle.
In Rishikesh for example there was no beer ANYWHERE and no meat either…despite this we actually stayed here the longest period during our trip.
Currency Exchange Rate
Little to say on this one other than to gauge when the right time is to change any currency but the best option is to load up a Cash Currency Card available from a number of places but we got ours from Thomas Cookes in UK. Thisis a safe way to carry currency and saves on cash withdrawal charges.It is just like a debit card really but preloaded.
At the time of writing the exchange rate was:
£1 = Rs80
There is no cost implications here but it is worthwhile notifying your bank so that your card is not stopped. Be aware that you willincur banking charges for each withdrawal…and this can mount up because the maximum I have been able to withdraw per visit has been Rs10000 just over £100. It is worth taking two bank cards if you have two bank accounts…just belt and braces.
- Make sure you have any medical and dental check-ups needed before travelling
- Make sure you have all inoculations and jabs relevant to where you are visiting; some of these will cost to have updated.
- If travelling for a longer period ensure you have sufficient medication or contact lenses to last the duration.
- Purchase what ever Malaria protection your doctors recommend.
- Medical assistance in India is remarkably good and surprisingly cheap too.
Passport validity dates and Indian Visa
Your passport must have sufficient time left on it otherwise you will need to consider renewing it prior to travel at the relevant cost.
You will certainly require a visa and this varies in cost from country to country. In the UK we paid £100 but you dohave to send away your passport and allow time for processing so do allow at least 2 weeks.
Religious, Spiritual or Self Development ambitions
If you are intentupon conducting any courses whilst in In India you should factor in the cost of these. There are a plethora of yoga, meditation and slf enlightenment courses on offer virtually everywhere in India and the difficulty will be to determine one that suits and at what cost.
As an example, yoga and meditation courses we attended in and Ashram in Rishikesh cost us Rs100 to Rs150 per session and a course can last pretty much any length of time you wish.
All the Samsonite and Gucci designer luggage is going to be wasted in India. There are few places you could use a “wheelie” case so dont even consider bringing it. Both of us bought rucksacks with front opening capability and are really glad we done so…but it is an extra expense of about £50 to £110.
If you have booked return flights then this really doesn’t apply but for me I had decided to head into Nepal and so there is the cost associated with this to consider.
My flight from Delhi to Kathmandu cost £60 and my entry visa another $40.
The final figure for our trip is now fully realised and we were able to stay within our budget give or take a few quid so the upshot is that doing a long trip like this is possible on £65 per day.
If you do decide on a shorter trip then obviously the cost of the flights would be more significant when looked at on a daily basis.
I hope this brief article might help you at least to consider certain elements in your planning and if you have questions on any aspect please feel free to post a comment and I will respond fairly sharply…..safe trip and do not be put off by some of my flippant comments…India is a unique and wonderful place to travel to.
cheers Gary 🙂