India On A Shoestring Review
Thinking of booking the India On A Shoestring tour with either STA Travel or G Adventures? This post will cover all the basics of the trip; from the accommodation to the transport to the wifi. If there's anything else you'd like to know, please ask me in the comments below!
Ahh India, you crazy, colourful country. The India On A Shoestring tour was actually my first taste of an organised tour/coach trip holiday. I was quite sceptical at first and I only found one blog that talked in depth about what to expect . . . until now! That was super cheesy, I apologise. Anyway, without further ado let me begin my review!
Possibly the most important thing of the entire trip. You'll probably have read that you'll be staying in hotels rather than hostels, which can seem like quite the luxury for the budget traveller like me. Although India On A Shoestring is a yolo tour (read: basic as basic can be), the accommodation isn't dreadful. There was only one hotel that I can honestly say was disgusting and I considered staying somewhere else.
Let's start with the best: Bhairon Villas in Bikaner. This is actually the same hotel that they use on comfort trips, which explains why it was so nice. It's the gorgeous red hotel that you can see in some of the photos and it has a pool! Unfortunately you only get to spend one night here and you have to leave at stupid o'clock in the morning the next day, but it is beautiful. My recommendation to the organisers would be to either do this trip in reverse so this treat of a hotel is last, or spend an extra night here. I know there's not much in the vicinity but you can just sit and appreciate the decor for a few days ;)
Aaaaaand the worst. Do I name them? Do I not? Well, all I'll say is that it was the hotel in Agra that wins this category! If the hotel you're staying in begins with a P and there's a creepy man working there with a scar on his cheek, you've hit the jackpot. Our first room was filthy: the carpet was stained and had lumps of debris on, the toilet leaked and didn't flush, the towels were really dirty, and the whole room smelt of cat urine and cat food. Unsurprisingly we asked to move and were moved to a better room without a carpet, although the urine smell lingered. There was also a window into next door's bathroom, but hey ho. There are also thousands of dead bugs in the stairwells and downstairs toilet, and rat traps in the restaurant. Also the staff don't knock before entering the room and just generally make you feel uncomfortable. Sorry, I didn't mean to go off on quite a tangent but I felt like I was on an episode of How Clean Is Your House?.
I honestly don't know how I would've coped travelling by public transport in India without being on this tour! It's crazy. You'll become an Indian train expert in no time, I promise you. Indian Railways is one of the biggest railway networks in the world, transporting on average 22 million passengers per day. For reference, Australia has a population of just over 23 million people. With this in mind, trains are sometimes late. I have to say, though, that only one of our trains was running late and it was a night train on our penultimate day. Not too shabby. I have heard that if the weather is bad (so winter time) trains are more likely to be running late or not at all.
General train travel tips:
- Don't wait for people to get on or off the train in front of you, you just have to push your way through.
- In third class, people will just keep piling on. This leads to people in the luggage racks, on the floor, and at least ten people crammed onto seats meant for four.
- Having said this, if you do have to go to the toilet (good luck) your seat will still be there when you get back. Crazy, right? If that was in London it'd be gone in the blink of an eye!
- Feeling peckish? Men will somehow squeeze themselves along already-packed aisles with chai, crisps, and big buckets of some rice-y type food.
Tips for the night trains:
- Take an eye mask and ear plugs. On our first overnight train, a fellow passenger decided to watch a gangster Bollywood film in the early hours without headphones. Also, if you're as lucky as me, you'll get squealing children on the bunks below - yippee!
- Bring a jumper, long trousers and socks because it gets cold at night - even in third class!
- Try to brush your teeth either before you get on the train or as soon as you do, I wouldn't want to be hanging around the toilets for a second longer than I needed to.
- Charge your babies - a.k.a phones and electronic devices - before you get on unless you have a snazzy portable charger. There are a few plugs on board but it's one or two between six.
You'll spend a significant chunk of the trip travelling - India is a big country - so this inevitably means a lot of early mornings. We tended to catch most trains before 7am, arriving in the next destination around midday. Not only is it cooler to travel during these hours (there's no air con in third class!) but it also gives you more time for activities, plus our guide always factored in a couple of hours of 'rest time' once we arrived in our new hotel for showering and sleeping. It might sound like a drag but it's not that bad. You'll get to see a lot of the Indian landscape and it's the easiest way to travel the vast distances. It's also a great way to immerse yourself in the culture and really mingle with the locals. Having survived an Indian train I feel I can survive anything!
India is definitely a cheap country and remember that you've already paid for most things! At the start of our trip, our guide advised us all to put 2000 Rupees into a 'tip kitty'. This meant that we didn't have to faff around individually with tips and whatnot throughout the trip. I have no idea if this is a common thing on these trips, but India is a country that expects tips, so I didn't mind chipping in. At the end of the trip our guide produced a list of everything that the tip kitty had been used for - literally everything was written down in date order with the amount paid.
Food-wise it's dirt cheap. You can get a meal and a drink for a few hundred rupees. Bottled water in supermarkets or the street is rarely more than 30 rupees and the most expensive entry ticket that I bought was 500 rupees. In some places you'll have to pay extra for a camera ticket, but this is usually just 250 rupees - so about £2.50. (I've just discovered that this Aussie keyboard doesn't have a GBP symbol. What is this madness?! I've had to copy and paste one from google lol).
I'll have to double-check the exact amount as soon as I get my laptop back, but I didn't spend more than £200 in three weeks. This includes all food, the tip kitty, souvenirs, the elephant trousers I bought, and the wifi! Like I mentioned in this post, I used the Thomson travel money card and I've had 0 problems with it. It's so easy to top up and I've actually been using it in Australia whilst I'm waiting for my bank card to arrive.