India is a notoriously cheap place to travel and our breakdown below will confirm that. It is a budget backpacker's paradise with $3 rooms, $2 meals, and $0.25 liters of water. We didn't spend at that level, for reasons I'll explain below, but even so, India was the cheapest country we'd spent time in so far.
We set a budget of $50 a day for the two of us, or $25 per person. How'd we do?
|Days in Country:||24|
|Daily Per Person:||$23.83|
Here's the breakdown:
|Money Spent||% of Budget|
How did accommodation account for so much of our budget if rooms could be had for $3? We didn't stay in those rooms. Being there in May, the hottest time of the year, made me nervous about what the conditions would be like. So, for the first few cities in Rajasthan, I convinced Anaïs to stay in A/C rooms that were more expensive. From Khajuraho on, we stayed in fan rooms and didn't miss the A/C. As a result, we could have traveled for less -- probably $2-5 a day less -- depending on the city. Here are the places we stayed in each city:
Delhi - Moustache Hostel
Located in Greater Kailash 1, we were happy to find a place not in Paharganj. We had heard and read enough horror stories to know we didn't want to stay there. This isn't the most budget-friendly option at 650 rupees a night for a dorm bed, but it has a good atmosphere, the included breakfast is filling, and you're not in Paharganj. The showers are decent, the beds fine, and the lockers are big enough to put your whole bag in it, plus some. WiFi depended on how many people were connected at once, so evenings meant it was slow. If we backpack through Delhi again, we wouldn't hesitate to stay here. Say hi to Raj for us!
Jaipur - Explorer's Nest
Again, not very budget friendly, but we enjoyed our stay here. Arvind, the owner, is a great host and the room we had included a comfortable bed, A/C, private bathroom, and sitting chairs in the room. Breakfast is not included, but a simple one of an omelette for Anaïs, toast and jam for me, and some chai cost 32 rupees a morning - just over 50 cents. The location is great, inside a gated community that actually locks down at night, close enough to walk to the Pink City, and there are good food options located close by. The rooftop offers a nice place to watch the sun set and see residents go about their daily lives. WiFi worked consistently, neither fast nor slow. Transfer to/from the train station was included in the 1,050 rupee price tag. They will cook a veg dinner here for you at 200 rupees a person. It's a simple home cooked affair which is a nice change from the ghee/cream infused restaurant food.
Jodhpur - Kesar Heritage
Located down an alley off an alley through cows and behind three other buildings in the blue part of town, we had a huge room, private bathroom, and A/C for 900 rupees a night. No meals included, but their rooftop/restaurant has incredible views of Mehrangarh Fort and that alone is worth the price. The staff is generally friendly, but there was one young teen boy who couldn't have cared less about the guests and that was frustrating, especially one morning when we were trying to get a quick breakfast before heading to the fort. Everyone else was attentive. WiFi worked most of the time but was not very fast. The food at the restaurant was meh, better for breakfast than anything else.
Udaipur - Udai Haveli
At 680 rupees a night for an A/C room, this was a good deal. Normally 800 a night with breakfast, we agreed to a reduced rate during the low season because the owner's family didn't want to have to make breakfast for us. It worked out as we had a more relaxed schedule in Udaipur and didn't have breakfast during our stay. Grandma does make tasty chai, though. We mainly interacted with Vicky and he was responsive to our needs - they set us up in a spare room when we arrived at 5 AM on the night bus from Jodhpur and didn't charge us extra. Fan rooms were cheaper, around 400 or so a night, and would have been fine given the cooler temperature of Udaipur.
The one issue we had was when we tried to book a car to take us to Chittorgrah. After discussing the options with Vicky, and clearly saying we wanted to go to Chittorgarh, we were booked on a different tour that took us to Ranakpur Temple and Kumbulgarh. We enjoyed the latter tour, and Vicky made amends by returning some of the fee we paid, so it turned out OK. Never ended up visiting Chittorgarh though - next time!
Khajuraho - Hotel Isabel Palace
We knew we would be arriving late after at least 22 hours on the train and we didn't want to be hustling into town to find a place to stay. The other options available online weren't great, so we went with this place for 1150 rupees a night. We had a great stay here with a massive fan room, comfortable bed, more dressers than we had clothes for, private bathroom, breakfast, and an outdoor seating area. The restaurant prepared tasty meals and the included breakfast was tons of food: eggs, toast, pancakes, juice, coffee, tea - have it your way. The staff were great, transport to/from the train station was included, and we felt like the money was well spent. It was a long walk outside of town, so keep that in mind. There are also certainly cheaper options available.
Orchha - Friends of Orchha Homestay
At 600 rupees a night, this was an incredible value. The experience we had was amazing and one of the best stories of our trip. The air-cooled room was large, the beds comfortable (straw mattresses on cotton slats with a bamboo frame), and I spent hours in the seating area just watching life happen. Food is not included but is pretty cheap - 40 rupee for breakfast, 80 for lunch and/or dinner per person - and is good. I also promise grandma will not let you run out of chapati. The experience of spending time with the family was why we came here and that part was great.
Agra - Friends Paying Guest House
There weren't great options in Agra at our price range, but this seemed the least offensive of the bunch. Hard bargaining only brought the price down to 400 rupees a night and, with the enclosed hotboxes they call rooms, not a good value for May. No food included, but what they made was tasty enough. The WiFi worked fine, but there were issues with the network multiple times (or so they claimed...). We weren't thrilled with this place, or this city, but it was good enough for two nights. Probably a much better deal in the winter when the hotbox nature would be of more use...
Transport contains the usual suspects - taxis, rickshaws, and trains. We could have saved more here if we had chosen different trains. For Delhi-Jaipur, Jaipur-Jodhpur, Orchha(Jhansi)-Agra, and Agra-Delhi, we rode in the AC Chair class. Udaipur to Khajuraho and Khajuraho to Orchha were both in 2nd class AC. We could have paid a fraction of the price and ridden sleeper or third class AC. In hindsight, the AC Chair class rides that included food were worth it, but we would have been fine with 3rd Class for the two trips we took in 2nd. In cooler months, sleeper would definitely be an option.
We made all of our train bookings before we arrived because May is peak domestic tourism season when all the kids are out of school. India Mike has a great guide on how to sign up for and use Cleartrip for train bookings. We did so and had zero issues with our tickets -- using their mobile app to purchase provided a small discount as well.
Anais has covered the food in pictorial detail so I won't rehash, but I will emphasize that India is delicious. Heavy, lots of ghee and bread, but insanely delicious. It's never a surprise to see we spend a good chunk of our budget on food. Entertainment was higher than usual as we visited a ton of monuments and sites that involved paying an entrance fee, sometimes also a camera fee. Some may gripe that foreigners have to pay more than locals, but even so the fees are reasonably low and with such poverty rates, it's nice that the average Indian can visit these national treasures without spending an excessive amount of money. Going Out includes our first night in Delhi in Hauz Khas and beers with Ricky in Jaipur. Groceries is mostly water but also includes a few snacks.
Schedule - 24 Days
Delhi - 3 days
Jaipur - 4 days
Jodhpur - 3 days
Udaipur - 5 days
Khajuraho - 2 days
Orchha - 3 days
Agra - 2 days
Delhi - 2 days
India in Retrospect
I'll just say it - we loved India. The hardships we faced fade away when we think of all the incredible people we met, food we ate, and places we experienced. This becomes more and more true as time continues to pass - it was much easier for us to remember details about the good things and write about them than the bad. The negative stories from our Rajasthan and Pradeshes posts are a vital part of our India narrative, but they do not define our time in country. They are the necessary antithesis to our positive experiences to help us better frame the story and remember India for what it was.
I believe there is a magic to India and if you open your heart to it, it will infect you with a happiness that can only come from a place of difficulty. People talk about the poverty, the dirtiness, the spitting, the staring, the poor hygiene, the constant bartering, the rampant scams, the utter chaos of daily life - all of it true. If you get stuck on these issues - and we certainly did at times - the entire experience will be negative. It is when you look past these impediments that you start to see the beauty behind it all.