The two months I spent in India were some of the hardest and most rewarding of my life. It’s not an easy place to travel, especially as a solo female, but it was certainly an adventure worth having. Planning your trip to India is a somewhat futile task, as India usually has it’s own plans for you that might not agree with your own. But it helps to have an idea of how to get from A to B and which As and Bs are worth visiting. Here’s the logistics of how to plan your trip to India.
When to go
The weather in India differs immensely from region to region, and when to go largely depends on what kind of activities you’ll be doing.
From December to March, the weather is cool and dry across the country. In the Himalayan north, this means snow. In the tropical south, this means lovely 30 degree days.
Best region to visit: Southern beaches.
From March to June, you can expect soaring temperatures and humidity across most of the country. The summer comes sooner in the south before enveloping the rest of the country.
Best region to visit: The north, where it doesn’t get as hot or humid.
From July-November, expect high humidity and torrential rains across the country. This is the best time to go if you’re looking for off-season prices and fewer crowd.
When I went
I was in India February and March 2016. I travelled from south to the north, so basically chasing the tail end of winter and it was perfect. However, there were a lot of tourists around, prices were up and accommodation/buses/trains were often full if I didn’t book a few days in advance.
Where to go: my route
Where you go entirely depends on your own interests, but when I was planning my trip, I found it helpful to look at other people’s itineraries to get an idea of common, logistically feasible routes.
The deep south
Kerala was the perfect induction into the craziness that is India. I had two of nights in Kochin before taking the terrifying mountainside bus (five-ish hours) to Munnar to see the tea plantations (two nights). The (far too) early morning bus transported me to Alleppey to see the infamous backwaters (two nights).
I took the train from Alleppey to Varkala beach (i.e. heaven) where I spent nearly two weeks. In part, this was because my camera broke and I was stuck in one place while they were trying to fix it, but it was a pretty amazing place to be stuck in. I also stayed a few nights at nearby Amritapuri Ashram while waiting for my camera to be fixed, which was only a short train ride and tuktuk journey away.
I boarded an overnight bus from Trivandrum (near Varkala) to Mysore (there were no trains on this route). I spent only one night in Mysore to see the palace and break up the journey to Hampi. The overnight train from Mysore took me to Hampi, where I stayed for 4 days. It was amazing and I could’ve stayed longer if I had more time. I took an overnight bus from Hampi to Goa (Anjuna). I only stayed three nights in Goa cause I’m not a party girl.
The overnight bus took me from Goa to Mumbai, which was a really long journey. The bus left Goa about 7pm and arrived in Mumbai at 11am. They dropped us off somewhere completely random in the city, so annoyingly had to get a taxi to my accommodation.
I found a cheap flight from Mumbai to Udaipur, so I didn’t hesitate to book it. Especially given that the train journey would’ve been 17 hours and I was feeling the Delhi belly coming on. Despite the extra cost, I arranged for my hotel to send a driver to pick me up from the airport because sometimes it’s just not worth the stress trying to figure it out on your own all the time. I loved Udaipur, and spend about 5 days there, although a couple of those were spent hiding in my hotel room while my bowels exploded hourly.
Another overnight bus took me from Udaipur to Jaisalmer, which was 10/10 magic. I stayed there for three nights before taking a day bus from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur (6 hours or so). Jodhpur was okay, but I didn’t find much to do other than the fort. I took another bus from Jodhpur to Pushkar (four hours), where I stayed for three nights.
The next logical place to visit would’ve been Jaipur. Bundi was also high on my list. But I’d ran out of time, and needed to get to Delhi for my dear friend’s arranged marriage. I took the train from Ajmer, near Pushkar, to Delhi. I stayed in Delhi for about a week enjoying the wedding festivities.
My initial plan was to travel from Delhi to Varanasi for Holi Festival, but the train was all booked out and flights were too expensive, so I went north instead.
It was surprisingly annoying getting from Delhi to Rishikesh. It wasn’t really a long enough journey for an overnight bus, but it seemed like the only option The bus left Delhi around 10pm and arrived in Rishikesh at 4am. I didn’t really feel comfortable trying to find my hotel at this hour, and the tuktuk driver charged way more than normal because it was so early. But Rishikesh was lovely, so I stayed five days or so.
From Rishikesh, I took the overnight bus to McLeod Ganj on the foothills of the Himalayas. The mountain views were stunning, and the Tibetan influence was fascinating. The bus between Rishikesh and McLeod Ganj was horrendous. It was 14 hours and only stopped once for a toilet break. My window didn’t shut properly and so I had freezing cold mountain air blowing on me all night. Needless to say, I did not get much sleep. There is no train, this bus was the only option.
I took a more comfortable bus back to Delhi, where we again arrived at 4am when it was still dark. I ended up sleeping in the bus for a few hours and making the driver wait with me before I felt comfortable to venture out alone to the metro station.
A few days later, my India trip had finished and I flew out of Delhi!
You will immediately realise that India is fucking big. HUGE. Overnight buses will become routine that you’ll quickly get used to.
You don’t need to stress about transport before you leave. Unless you want to commit to a fully planned itinerary (which I would not recommend), then you can just book buses as you go. The tourist areas have travel agents who can make your reservations, or sometimes the hostel/hotel will do it. You can book them yourself through apps like RedBus, but annoyingly they usually require an Indian phone number and/or credit card.
Buses vs Trains
You’ll notice that I took buses most of the time. This was because trains were usually booked out way before I was ready to commit to a ticket onwards. Also, the buses were more convenient, direct and cheap.
However, the downside of this is that the trains were definitely the more comfortable way of travelling (at least in 2nd or 3rd AC class). The rough, bouncy roads, frequent break downs and constant horn blowing can make for a rough night on the bus.
The cheapest buses are the local, government operated buses. If I went again, I would try to take these more often. I just wasn’t really aware of how much cheaper they were at the time.
I usually took private buses, which were still pretty cheap. You might have the options of sleeper or non-sleeper and AC or non-AC. Sleeper buses have bunk beds, which I really liked because you can close the compartment with a sliding door or a curtain and have a bit of privacy and space. Except sometimes they have double beds, which could be awkward if you have a strange man lying next to you! (Check this with whoever books for you). AC wasn’t necessary during the months I was travelling in because it wasn’t hot at night.
You’ll most often take these when travelling between your hostel and the bus/train station. Some will be reasonable, but many will try to scam you. Try to negotiate a price before you leave, and don’t be afraid to walk away. Just don’t get too angry at them for their dishonesty, they’re just trying to get by in a tough world. You and I are privileged and can afford to help them out a little.
Getting a SIM Card in India can be a pain, but it’s worth doing if you’re staying for a significant period of time, especially if you’re a solo female. Google maps can be a lifesaver, and being able to call your hotel if something goes wrong is also helpful.
I also use the City Maps 2 Go app, which lets you save maps and mark significant places so you can use your GPS to find them when you don’t have data/wifi available.
I didn’t have any safety issues or problems on overnight buses or trains during my two months in India. I sometimes felt uncomfortable as a solo female, but usually, there were other tourists or other women or families who would help me out if necessary. Maybe I was lucky, or maybe the world isn’t as dangerous as we think.