India is a huge country and distances can be very long. Fortunately, there are many different options to travel and it is very easy and convenient to move around this amazing country.
The most convenient form of transportation is definitely the train. It connects most places and there are many trains a day going from point A to point B.
While buying train tickets may seem confusing at first, we bought all our train tickets online through the IRCTC website. You only need to create an account and you’re all set to buy your tickets. Sometimes we also used the App Cleartrip, but it wasn’t as efficient as the government website. I recommend buying your train tickets as much in advance as possible as your preferred category may sell out fast.
There are various options when traveling in the Indian railways. Those are defined in classes and the most commons are:
- First AC (1A): The most expensive class. It consists of 2 or 4 berths per compartment with no side berths.
- Second AC (2A): This class consists of 6 berths in each compartment where 2 of those are side berths. I would recommend this option for long overnight trips.
- Third AC (3A): In this case, it’s 8 berths per compartment. It can get crowded and I would suggest selecting the side berth for this class. It is still a good option for long travels.
- Sleeper (SL): This is the cheapest option with 8 berths per compartment. No staff, and no AC. It can get very crowded but also fun for short trips.
- AC Chair Car (CC): This is the chair option with 5 seats per row (3×2). There is plenty of space enough for your legs and is a good option for short to medium distance trips
If you know the name of the train, you can look it up on Google and find a quite accurate coach distribution image. Additionally, this site has pictures and more info on the different classes
Buses in India
Alternatively to trains, there’s also the option to use buses. Buses cover all the routes you can imagine and are very frequent as well. The quality of the buses varies greatly so be prepared to have a fun experience. You can buy tickets from the offices next to the train stations, the bus terminal or any travel agent. There’s also the option of an App called Redbus but we never had the need to use it.
Backpacking itinerary in India
We spent 5 weeks traveling around northern India. We traveled independently and never used a tour guide. We are backpackers so we used public transportation and stayed in guesthouses.
This is the route that we followed:
Delhi >> Agra >> Day trip to Vrindavan and Mathura >> Khajurajo >> Varanasi >> Jaipur >> Pushkar >> Udaipur >> Jodhpur >> Jaisalmer >> Amritsar >> Chandigarh >> Delhi
Arrival in Delhi
We arrived at the airport at 8 am and decided to take the train to reach our hostel in the city center. The Airport Express Line is very convenient, fast and clean. It was an easy way to kick off our experience in India. From New Delhi Metro Station you can transfer to the Metro and go anywhere in the city. The best way to use the metro is to get the smart card. You can buy it at the Airport station or any other metro station.
Getting around Delhi
The best way to get around Delhi is definitely by Metro. Uber is a very good option too, but there’s so much traffic in the city that the metro is more convenient if you don’t want to spend a lot of time stuck in traffic. There are also many tuk-tuks available everywhere. Just remember to agree on the price first and haggle, always haggle.
We spent 3 days in Delhi visiting tombs, temples, mosques and walking around the city center. It was chaotic but fun.
From Delhi to Agra
To go from Delhi to Agra we took the train 12050 / GATIMAAN EXP from the southern train station named NIZAMUDDIN (NZM)to AGRA CANTT ( AGC). Once we got to the Agra train Station we tried to get an Uber but it was impossible. Then we tried the pre-paid taxi boot and it was annoyingly overpriced. Tuk-tuks are usually our last resort because we honestly don’t like all the haggling every time, but here it was necessary. Plus, we booked a hotel close to the East Gate and taxis are not allowed in that area. This location was perfect because the Taj Mahal was walking distance.
We stayed 3 days in Agra, went to the Taj Mahal on the second day at sunrise. Every day we would go to a rooftop cafe or the Mehtab Bagh gardens for sunset.
We used Uber to go to the Agra Fort, the Mehtab Bagh gardens and the bus station, but Uber in Agra was very hard to use, for some reason the drivers would take up to 20 mins to show up and a lot of times they would just suddenly cancel the trip…. so be patient! There are tuk-tuks everywhere so that’s another option to get around.
Day trip from Agra to Vrindavan and Mathura
We wanted to visit the holy cities of Vrindavan and Mathura which are halfway between Agra and Delhi. We were hoping to use Uber but it was impossible to find an intercity ride, so we just took an Uber to the bus station and from there took a local bus to Vrindavan. The bus was quite an adventure: a very old bus going crazy fast on bad roads full of pedestrians and cows. It was fun!
After exploring Vrindavan we took a tuk-tuk to Mathura which is located 10 km away.
We were in the city center of Mathura and weren’t able to find a bus back to Agra. Struggled again finding an Intercity ride with Uber and finally were able to connect with a driver using Ola (the Indian Uber). It turns out that for intercity rides you need to pay only with cash, but the app was not giving us the option to change the payment method. We came back to Agra just in time to catch our night train.
From Agra to Khajuraho
To go from Agra to Khajuraho we took the train 12448 from AGRA CANTT (AGC) to KHAJURAHO (KURJ) that departed at 23:00 and arrived early in the morning at 6:35. We booked this ticket in advance as there are not many options to arrive in this city by train. In Khajuraho, most of the hotels are actually family guesthouses and they offer pick-up. We accepted the ride from our hotel because we arrived so early and the train station is like 10km away from the temple area.
To visit the temples we rented some bikes also from the guesthouse to visit the Eastern and Western group of temples as well as the village. Everything was relatively close so the bikes worked fine. We only stayed in Khajuraho one day but would have liked to stay longer just to relax and enjoy the countryside.
From Khajuraho to Varanasi
Next in our route was Varanasi. To go from Khajuraho to Varanasi, we took the train 21107 from KHAJURAHO (KURJ) to VARANASI JN ( BSB). The train departed at 23:50 and arrived 10:50 am. We also booked this one well in advance.
Once in Varanasi, we took a Tuk-tuk to reach our hotel, but since it was located very close to the Ghats the tuk-tuk was only able to take us part of the way. When we reached the small alleys we had to walk to find our hotel. We stayed for 4 days in Varanasi and walked everywhere.
From Varanasi to Jaipur
The next stop was Jaipur. Since we jumped to the other side of the country, we decided to book a flight from Varanasi to Jaipur. The IndiGo 6E914 departed at 15:45 and took 1:30 hrs to arrive. We paid 7000 IRS for both tickets and the experience was pretty good.
Once we arrived in Jaipur Uber became our best friend. The metro is under construction so the only options are tuk-tuks, taxis, tourist buses or public buses. We stayed for 4 days in Jaipur and used Uber to go everywhere in the city. It was cheap and convenient, although we did spend a lot of time stuck in traffic. Because of the construction of its metro, there are multiple disruptions and road diversions, so traffic in Jaipur was hell!
From Jaipur to Pushkar
We wanted to go to the small town of Pushkar next. To go from Jaipur to Pushkar we took train 12992 from JAIPUR (JP) to AJMER JN (AII). It departed at 14:00 and took 2 hours to arrive at the destination. We then took an uber from Ajmer to Pushkar which is located 15 km away. There are also buses going from the Ajmer train station to Pushkar.
In Pushkar everything is very close. We stayed close to the lake and walked everywhere around town.
From Pushkar to Udaipur
To go from Pushkar to Udaipur we took again an Uber to the train station in AJMER JN where we boarded the train 09721 to UDAIPUR CITY (UDZ). It departed at 08:25 for a 5 hours trip.
We stayed in Udaipur for a week just resting and catching up with work so we rented an Airbnb which was in a residential area a bit far from the city center. As usual, we used Uber to go back and forth. If you stay in the city center you can walk everywhere you want.
From Udaipur to Jodhpur
It’s possible to go by bus directly from Udaipur to Jodhpur but we wanted to visit the Kumbhalgarh Fort and Ranakpur temple which are located between Udaipur and Jodhpur.
We decided to rent a taxi for the day to take us to the temple and the fort and drop us off in Jodhpur. After a lot of haggling in different agencies, we set the price in 3.500 rupees for the whole day. Another option is to rent a taxi for half the day, have it take you to the fort and the temple and then you can wait on the road to catch a bus going to Jodhpur.
We stayed in Jodhpur for 4 days in the city center and walked everywhere. It was easy to climb to the fort by foot and from there to walk to the white palace. To places located further away, it’s possible to use Uber.
From Jodhpur to Jaisalmer
Our last stop in Rajasthan was Jaisalmer. To go from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer we tried to use the app Redbus to book a bus but it was not possible so we went to the train station and found an office outside of the station selling bus tickets. We bought it there but later realized we could have bought the same ticket from any agency in the city (the train station was a bit far).
In Jaisalmer, we stayed in a cute hostel close to the city center. We walked every morning for sunrise to the Ghadsisar lake and then walked around the fort and the city enjoying the markets and the Havelis.
Day trip to the Thar Desert
While in Jaisalmer we wanted to visit the Thar desert and arranged with the manager in our hostel to take us there. We don’t support camel riding (or any other animal riding)so we asked them to just take us in their 4×4 to the dunes.
There we spend the afternoon visiting the desert. They prepared our dinner right there in a fire on the sand, we watched the sunset and slept under the stars. It was a beautiful experience.
From Jaisalmer to Amritsar
Our next stop in India was the state of Punjab. To go from Jaisalmer to Amritsar we did something silly in order to save some money. We took train 12467 from JAISALMER (JSM) to JAIPUR ( JP) which departed at 23:55 and arrived at 12:20. Then we took a flight from Jaipur to Amristar, SpiceJet SG3562 departed 18:25 and took 1:30 hours. We could have flown directly from Jaisalmer to Amritsar but it was way too expensive. Although the many hours traveling and waiting at the airport were excruciating so I’m not sure it was worth it.
When we arrived at the airport a guy from Ola (the Indian Uber) came to us to help us get a ride. We stayed for 2 days in Amritsar in a guesthouse close to the Golden Temple so we were able to walk everywhere easily.
Daytrip to the Indian-Pakistani border (Wagah)
We wanted to see the flag-lowering ceremony at Wagah Border, which is fascinating and very entertaining. We were able to book tickets in our hotel to get on a tourist bus that would take us back and forth. This was the cheapest option (you can also take a taxi), and it worked out pretty well.
We were dropped off at the parking lot and had to line and cross security checks. We had one small bag that had to leave in the lockers of a restaurant. After the ceremony, we returned to our bus and came back to Amritsar. Pretty easy.
From Amritsar to Chandigarh
We had the crazy idea of visiting Chandigarh before going back to Delhi. To go from Amritsar to Chandigarh we took train 12412 from AMRITSAR JN (ASR) to CHANDIGARH ( CDG) which departed at 17:30 arrived at 22:20.
I say “crazy idea” because we didn’t enjoy this city at all. We were kicked out from 3 hotels at midnight (!!) because we were not Indians and they didn’t accept foreigners, even though we had reservations from booking.com.
And then the city was just boring. We only spent one full day here but it dragged on for so long. We were interested in visiting it because we read it was a different side of India, it was clean and organized. And yeah, it was. But honestly, it was a boring city with nothing interesting to do.
From Chandigarh to Delhi
The end of our trip. We had to return to Delhi to take our flight out. To go from Chandigarh to Delhi we took train 12046 from CHANDIGARH (CDG) to NEW DELHI ( NDLS) (north Station). It departed at 12:00 and arrived at 15:25.
We were taking a 4 am flight so we had to use Uber to go to the airport, otherwise, we would have definitely taken the Airport Express Line again.
Uber in India
We used Uber in India so much because it’s very affordable and convenient. We paid around 1, max 2 euros for each ride. It avoids haggling and it’s very comfortable. It makes life easy when everything else is a bit overwhelming.
But, using Uber in India also comes with its challenges. A lot of times you need to wait for a very long time for your ride to arrive. Most times the driver would text you in Hindi asking where are we going. I’m not sure if they are not able to see the destination we picked when ordering the ride or what, but that happened ALL the time. And then other times they just didn’t want to do it and would cancel the ride after a while. We could have been waiting for 10 or 15 mins and then would get a notification that they decided not to come.
Other times they would accept the ride and then not move at all. We could see from the GPS that they were not far, but they just won’t come. Many times we had to text them to see if they are coming or not, sometimes we had to walk to where they were parked and even once the driver replied that we should wait because he needed to eat first! (haha seriously!).
So be patient, as with everything else in India. Getting around can be frustrating but it’s all part of the adventure.