India Budget

india budgetI’m finishing up our travel budget guides with our India budget. Overall, we were both very pleased at just how cheap we could travel around the country, eat and stay. While it is definitely possible to fly from place to place or even hire a driver to take you around the country, we decided after much encouragement from some friends from India to take the local trains. We had heard horror stories about delays (even though we did experience a 9 hour delay) sold out trains months and general chaos surrounding the Indian train system. Thankfully with guidance and lots of patience, we were able to book our tickets and make it to our trains with little to no hassle. My best advice for navigating the train systems? Go through Cleartrip. They make the headache of registering and booking tickets a little less stressful. And also, book your tickets as soon as possible. We booked ours about a month and a half before our trip and there were only a few seats left. From what we’re told, this is the norm and if you don’t book in advance you’re in for a headache. The worst thing that happened to us while we were traveling was waiting at a less than sanitary train station (Agra was by far the worst one we experienced) for nine hours since our train was delayed due to immense fog that morning. But alls well that ends well since we made friends with a fellow passenger and was later invited to his house for a homemade meal by his mother. It’s one experience we just couldn’t pass up and ended up not only meeting one of the sweetest families during our travels but also having the best Indian food we have ever tasted. Everything after that is held to a much higher bar. I am so grateful for the kindness of perfect strangers and of course, delicious food. 

The India budget below is for 11 nights and 12 days and reflects the price for both my husband and I.india budget

Panna Meena ka Kund, Jaipur Stepping Well

I’m going to keep this short and sweet so I can get to the good stuff. Aka pictures. We had some extra time while we were in Jaipur, India and stumbled along the Panna Meena ka Kund, an old step well in close proximity to the Amber Fort. It’s pretty hidden from the road since the top is close to being flush with the road. I loved visiting Panna Meena ka Kund because unlike one of the larger step wells in the area, such as Chand Baori (which I would also highly recommend if you’re in the area), this one is pretty desolate of tourists and is unrestricted; letting you walk all the way to the bottom with no problem. We were also told that in the summer this area is used as a local swimming hole for some kids; although just looking at the water, I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re taking the 15 minute trip out to the fort, make sure to also make the stop by Panna Meena ka Kund.

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Tips for Visiting the Taj Mahal

taj mahalJust like you can’t visit China without visiting the Great Wall or Nepal without seeing the Himalayas, you just simply can’t visit India and pass up seeing the infamous Taj Mahal, meaning ‘crown of plalaces’. It is beyond breathtaking with its intricate details and sprawling garden grounds. Take note Jeremy, this is how you pay tribute to your wife! Granted it was just one of emperor Shah Jahan’s many wives (no thank you) and it was after she passed away while giving birth to their 14th child (ouch). Same same right? The gorgeous sites are enough to book a plane ticket on their own but what about the pictures? Here are some helpful tips for visiting the Taj Mahal and capturing photos that guarantee a hassle free visit plus are sure to get you drool worthy photos to guarantee friends and family back home a small dose of wanderlust.

Morning Fog. If you go during dry season, beware! If you’re not, you can skip to the next tip. During dry season there tends to be much more fog and clouds which doesn’t exactly condone the best views and pictures of the Taj Mahal. We decided to get up before dawn and get to the Taj Mahal around 6:30 in the morning. It was a little foggy but only grew worse as the morning went on. At one point we were standing literally right beside it and couldn’t see a thing because the fog was so thick. Thankfully the nice guards at the entrance let us re-enter later that day when the fog had lifted. Below you can see what a difference just a few hours can make. Even though there were far more crowds in the afternoon, the better views were well worth the trip back. Plan your timing according to the weather and check with the front desk for their opinion on what time you should go. early morning vs early afternoon picturestaj mahaltaj mahal grounds

Dress Appropriately. Thankfully we didn’t have any problem with this since it was fairly cold when we were there (not what I expected when visiting India!) But remember that you are in a very conservative country and should try to cover up as much as possible while visiting national and religious monuments. Granted, there is no enforced dress code at the Taj Mahal but out of respect I would recommend trying to cover your knees and cleavage if possible. Maxi skirts, long dresses and the popular loose thin trousers found in India are great choices. I also try to carry a scarf with me just in case I need to be even more covered up. If you want more ideas of what to wear in India check out this blog post.

Crowds. On the reverse, if there’s no fog (the fog usually goes away by the end of January) make sure to go early! By the afternoon, I’ve heard horror stories of the thousands of people in the complex. Not shocking seeing as how over 3 million people visit per year and about 15,000 people visit per day. Even by the time we left around 1pm we could see the warms starting to file in.

photo tips for the taj mahal

No Tripods. Yup, it’s true. There are no tripods allowed in the Taj Mahal or most public monuments in India. I’m not really sure of the reasoning behind it but it’s better to just leave it in the hotel room rather than have to go through the hassle of renting a locker for a few hours, even though that is a good option if you forget to leave it behind. But don’t worry, see all those friendly people with the really nice cameras? Wait till they’re done taking their photos and I’m sure they’d be more than happy to oblige in taking your photo for you.

Check Pinterest. Not exactly the traditional advice huh? Before a big trip I always like to check Pinterest and look for photos of a certain attraction we are going to. Often times you will find areas not well marked on a map, different angles to try out or inspire a completely different idea for really unique photos. Simply take a screen shot of the pictures you like so you can pull them up on your phone without wifi when you are there. And to go along with that, try playing around with different shadows, angles and areas. Even though the fog was a real bummer early in the morning I actually really like how some of them turned out because it added a whole other aspect to the building that I hadn’t seen before. You might be surprised what aspects you thought would be a negative actually make for a great photo.

photo tips for the taj mahal couple photos at the taj mahalMahtab Bagh. This is a place you can’t miss. Take a tuk tuk across the river from the Taj Mahal and to the Mahtab Bagh garden. Here you have one of two options. In front of the gate (not entering the garden) take a right and go all the way to the end of the street until you reach the river. This provides a great view of the Taj Mahal from the back side but you can’t get directly in front of it. If you want a better view, pay the $1.50 admission fee and enter the gardens and go directly to the back for a truly amazing view. We went at sunset and I would highly recommend the same time frame to snatch some pictures that are sure to be your favorites. photo tips for the taj mahal

What to do in Delhi

what to do in delhiWhat do we do? It’s the question that we all ask once we book our tickets to a new destination. Or heck, even a destination that we’ve been to umpteen million times. It’s always about what sites to see, where to eat, where to shop and who has the best coffee (let’s keep our priorities straight). So when we landed in Delhi we pulled up our list we made from Tripadvisor, blogs we’d read, and recommendations from friends. There is a ton to do in Delhi that can keep you busy for any amount of time you’re there and since we had a few days to kill between the other two cities we traveled to so we decided to hit the ground running. These were our favorite places that we visited to answer the question of ‘what to do in Delhi?’

Lodi Gardens. A large garden area that spreads over 90 acres. Includes several different tombs, gardens, ponds and the largest crows you’ve ever seen. Seriously though. As beautiful as the grounds were, I somewhat felt as if I were an involuntary extra on the set of The Birds. We spent a few hours one foggy morning wandering around the grounds, watching people go for a run, have engagement photo shoots and taking their dogs for a good romp. The only thing I can compare it to is New York City’s Central Park but with historical archeological tombs scattered throughout it. While it was a beautiful place while we were there that would be perfect for an afternoon picnic, I can only imagine how much more beautiful it is in spring when all the gardens are in bloom. lodi gardens lodi gardens lodi gardens lodi gardensHumayun’s Tomb. Yup, another tomb. There’s a lot of them in Delhi and most of them are worth the trek to go check out. Can you imagine being buried in a place like this!? I think America needs to rethink their whole graveyard system because this would be a whole lot better to go visit loved ones. If it’s too crowded to get the pictures that you want, try one of the other sides of the main tomb since it’s the same all the way around. The first picture is from the front but the second one is on one of the sides.
Humayun's tomb Humayun's tomb Humayun's tombLotus Temple. This one is quite a hike across the main part of the city and I’ll be honest that I have no idea the significance or what’s on the inside. The line was miles long (or seemed that way at least) to get inside so we just took our time wandering around the outside before heading back. If you have some extra time one day I would encourage making the trip out just to see it.
lotus templeHauz Khas. This is one place that we didn’t spend nearly enough time in. It’s a beautiful little village on the banks of a water reservoir filled to the brim with coffee shops, rooftop restaurants, vintage shops and upscale boutiques. We made the mistake of grabbing lunch right before going and instantly felt regret when we walked down the street and saw all of the amazing choices there were to choose from. I highly recommend grabbing a cup of Chai tea and strolling around the water before picking one of the rooftop restaurants that overlooks the water for a late lunch to watch the sunset. Then take your time wandering through the vintage shops in hopes of finding a Bond movie poster. We looked in a few of them in hopes of finding a poster from Octopussy which was filmed in the nearby Udaipur but had no such luck. hauz khas hauz khas

The Streets of India

In the last month, before returning to the States, we went on a whirlwind of a trip. We visited China, Hong Kong, Nepal, India and lastly England before hopping on the last of our ten flights that would bring us back to Oklahoma. Throughout our travels we saw some incredible sights, met the most generous of people, made new friends, crossed off items on our bucket list and had an unforgettable time. But before I get to recapping our trip (and going through the thousands of photos) I wanted to share a small bit of our time in India. While it may not seem significant, I truly believe that not only do we need to appreciate the main attractions in a country but also take in the sights, culture and experience of just everyday life there. So today, I want to share a small peek into what we experienced on the streets of India.

India is an attack on the senses to put it kindly. For better or worse. Whether its the streets filled with beautiful women in equally beautifully patterned saris and kurtas, street vendors with carts piled high with deliciously colored fruit, naan and masala chai being cooked on the street corners, or the incense in every store and street side temple that makes you want to stock up with piles of boxes (which we did). But then there’s also the inevitable downside in which we were warned about before we left. The smog and smoke from curbside fires that clings to your clothes as an unwanted souvenir and also makes the sun blaze a fiery orange. It’s as if it’s no longer the star that your parents warned you to not look directly at, but instead like something painted and smudged in the sky as the smog acts as a buffer between the two of you. You spend your days dodging past the tuk tuks that have gone rogue, testing to see how long their horn will blast without going mute and taking part in an unofficial race to get their customer to their destination. And not to mention, avoiding the wafts of odor coming from the outdoor urinals and what you hope is animal feces from the cows and dogs that roam wild. Animals, might I add, that you have to pay attention to if you don’t want to be head butted by a large cow looking for it’s next trash pile to rummage through. By the end of the day it takes you a few hours to process the chaos that you were just a part of. But as with each country, you have to take the good along with the bad and try to focus on the positive of the country you are playing guest in.

Our trip was a mixture of multiple feelings and emotions, like trying on our patience as we waited at the train station for our nine hour delayed train; chaotic as we rubbed shoulders with the almost 10 million people who populate Delhi, and at times we felt like they were all on the same subway with us as we were pushed and shoved to fit just one more person on; emotional as we saw poverty as we had never imagined before; and unforgettable as we wandered through the grounds of the Taj Mahal. It’s sufficient to say that it has taken awhile for us to process what we have seen traveling through the streets of India, but maybe that’s a good thing. As not everything we see while traveling should be easily understood. Some things are better when time is taken to evaluate them and therefore reevaluate what we know and what we consider to be our norm.

These are just a few photos we snapped of the streets of India during our ten day tour of the Golden Triangle. There are loads of places where you can book these tours, our included visiting Delhi, Agra (with the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur. In the following weeks I’ll be recapping the rest of our trip through the country.

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