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Family Travel in India
India is a full-on assault, in a fantastic way! It's impossible to visit this country and not be completely intoxicated by it. The sounds, smells and sights are overwhelming, but stimulate the senses and make one truly feel alive. From friendly, regal Rajasthan in the North, to the steamy beaches of Goa in the South, India has something for everyone. Family travel in India can be challenging, but it's definitely possible and SO rewarding. Take a deep breath, jump feet first, and give in to the craziness that follows. I promise, it'll be worth it!
Family Travel in India
India is not for the faint of heart, but it's an incredibly rewarding country to travel in if you take a few deep breaths and give in to the chaos. It's also a large country, and each province is quite different from it's neighbour. We traveled extensively in Rajasthan. The temperatures (in the spring) were a bit cooler than the south and significantly less humid. It's a desert as opposed to the jungle after all! The people are also incredibly friendly and the food is delicious.
It's quite easy to apply for an Indian e-Visa online from the government website. The processing time is only a few days, so you don't even need to plan that far in advance! There were a few questions that tripped me up a bit, like the one about listing all the countries I'd visited in the past 10 years. Unlike the Russian visa however, they really don't care about ALL the countries. I was advised to just fill in the blanks and stop when I ran out of space.
The application requires an uploaded passport-size photo and picture of your passport. You'll need to know which "port" you'll arrive into as well, and an estimated date of arrival (I think this is only to ensure you have enough time to complete the eVisa application process). You also have to print the eVisa. Be aware that many airlines won't let you fly unless you have the printed copy in hand. The eVisa costs $50USD (kids are the same price as adults) and was straightforward to pay online. My credit card company wasn't happy with this and put a hold on my card after paying for our 4 visa applications. I wasn't impressed...it's an Indian GOVERNMENT website! That's a whole different conversation though.
Accommodation in India
Accommodation options are varied more than anywhere else I've traveled. As with everything else in India, there's everything available from the very bottom to the very top. You can stay in incredibly cheap guest-houses for $5/night, and 5-star swanky hotels for over $2000/night! It's incredibly important to do your research, because a higher price tag doesn't always mean better.
Most of the moderately priced hotel rooms also included breakfast, and the cheap ones d0n't. You have to take the cost of breakfast into the total cost of accommodation, because often the cheaper places don't necessarily end up being cheaper.
It gets chilly at night in Rajasthan and further north throughout the fall/winter/spring months. Many buildings don't have central heating, so make sure there are blankets on the bed. Often, there's ONLY blankets on the bed, and I can only hope they're washed regularly. In most places I used my sarong as a sheet separating me from the blanket. It's likely worth bringing either a sleep sheet or sarong to use for this purpose.
Every accommodation we stayed in had hot water (thankfully!). Sometimes it was a bit finicky, and it wasn't always as hot as I wanted, but at least it wasn't cold.
Recommended Family Friendly Accommodations in India
Jaisalmer - Wanderlust Guest House (check prices on booking.com)
Khuri - Badal House (call direct +91 81073 39097)
Agra - Hotel Atithi (check prices on booking.com)
Amritsar - Hotel Sallow Royal Amritsar (check prices on booking.com)
Delhi - Omera The Farm Stay (check prices on booking.com)
Delhi - Meditation Palace (check prices on booking.com)
- More expensive does not always mean better.
- Make sure you thoroughly read up-to-date reviews!
Train Travel in India
As easy as the eVisa was to get online, figuring out the online booking for the train system was a complete and utter, totally frustrating disaster. The process isn't complicated, and once I actually managed to get myself registered it was fine. The registration process was unnecessarily complicated though.
The IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Co) processes all the train tickets. There are a few third party organizations that allow online train booking (Clear Trip and Make My Trip are two popular ones), however both of these require an IRCT account anyways, so I found it easier to just deal with one website rather than try and register on a third party site as well.
My suggestion is to do this at home, well before you travel to India. Trains can book up quickly, so if you know when you'll be traveling it's best to book as early as possible. Reservations open up 90 days prior to departure, and fill up quickly, especially around holidays.
There are seats on many trains that are reserved for tourists, however it's a massive PIA to book these seats. They have to be done in person, at a train station, and I've heard it often takes many hours. I guess if there's no other choice this is a possibility.
Signing up for IRCTC
I signed up for my IRCTC when we were in Laos. There's a minimal fee as a foreigner, and I had no problem paying this with my MasterCard for about $2CAD. Next, you have to verify with an email AND text message. I'd read on ClearTrip that it's no problem, just put in a dummy phone number and then email to let them know I'd need a text message verification code. This did NOT work.
I put in my Laos number (but I only had a data plan and couldn't receive a text message), and then emailed to get my verification code. I never heard back. I decided to wait until we were in India, then I could just enter my Indian number once I had a new SIM and book our trains.
Our first night in India I hopped on the IRCTC website to finish setting up my account and book our trains. However, when I went to put my India number it it wouldn't let me because I'd signed up with a foreign account. AHHH. I tried to sign Randy up instead, using his Indian phone number, but it wouldn't verify his email address.
In the end, after much hair-pulling and a bit of swearing, I ended up using a friend's number from home. She received the verification text message, sent it to me (via iMessage) and I was able to book tickets.
Finding tickets online was relatively straightforward, and I was able to pay with my foreign credit card. Indian trains are wider than ones I'd ridden on in Europe and have multiple classes. We stuck with AC3, AC2 and CC.
AC3 class has 3 bunks up each side with 2 more across the aisle. AC2 has 2 bunks on each side, with 2 across the aisle. The AC2 bunks have individual curtains to shut out a bit of the light and provide some privacy. Often, AC3 was the highest class available, and it was just fine. I was a bit nervous at first to be sleeping in an open area with the girls and all our stuff, but it ended up being okay. Randy and I put our valuables in our PacSafe bags, locked the bags, and attached them to the table beside our heads.
We tried to request the lower berth whenever possible. It was easiest for the kids, although they liked sleeping on the higher beds. It also meant we were sleeping with our heads beside the table where we could lock up our bags.
Booking Tickets Online
Once you have IRCTC figured out, it's relatively easy to book online. You can search for multiple trains and classes on multiple days. It also shows how many seats in each class are available, so you'll have a good idea if you need to book right away or if you're able to procrastinate! I also figure if there are lots of seats available we're more likely to be seated together and in the lower berth.
Once the purchase is made IRCTC emails the ticket. There's no need to print it, just show the digital copy on your phone to the person checking tickets. It says on the website that you'll need to show ID also, but we were never asked.
Once You've Booked
I loved the NDTV website as it had pretty much up-to-the-minute information about every train in India!! You can use it to check which platform your train is leaving from and whether or not it's on time. You can also use it to see when your train is going to arrive at your destination. Since trains frequently fall behind schedule in India, it's nice to have a resource to check the actual time!
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