Backpacking Rajasthan – 7 India Travel Tips

by Sarah de Winne
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7 India Travel Tips For Backpacking Rajasthan

Backpacking Rajasthan was our first experience of some of the best places to visit in India. It was an incredible experience which we will never forget. If you want information about India, read on for the lessons we learned first-hand on our epic 2,366 km road trip around Rajasthan.

1. Indian Rupees Cannot Be Exchanged In Advance Of Travel

India’s currency is the Indian Rupee (INR) which is made up of 100 paise. £1 is approximately 90 Indian Rupees. However, what you may not know is that India operates a closed currency. This means that you can only buy Indian Rupees on arrival in India.

So, what does this mean for us as travellers? Before embarking on my trip to India, I checked out the India travel advice on the UK Government’s website. Currently, this advises that visitors (including tourists) are not permitted to bring any number of Indian Rupees into the country check Travel Advice Money

rupees notes

As a result, travellers heading to tourist places in India need to take cash or Traveller’s Cheques in any other foreign currency to exchange on arrival either at the airport’s Bureau de Change or on your travels. Debit cards can also be used to withdraw local currency from ATMs in India.

2. Tipping In India Is Appreciated

Whilst writing about money, we wish we had known more about tipping in India before we headed to our travel destinations in India. India does not have a strong tipping culture, but tips for good service are always appreciated! When visiting the many tourist destinations in India, you may want to consider tipping for food, transport and accommodation.

Firstly, let’s talk about food because everybody needs to eat! If you buy street food, there is no requirement to tip. For a small meal like breakfast which costs under about 300 INR (approximately £3), a 10% tip would be fair. For a meal costing between 500 INR and 1,000 INR, a tip of 7% – 10% would be appreciated. For meals over 1,000 INR (approximately £10), tip between 5% – 7%.With regards transport, a tip of 50 INR – 100 INR (approximately £0.50-£1) would be appropriate for a simple pick up/drop off. If you have a driver for the day, a tip of 200 INR – 400 INR (approximately £2-£4) would be adequate. However, if like us you hire a driver for multiple days, a tip of INR 300 – INR 600 (approximately £3-£6) would be appreciated for 1-2 passengers (INR 500 – INR 800 for 3-5 passengers).

If you have had good service in a hotel, you could tip the whole staff. A tip of 100 INR per person per night would be welcomed. Click here to book hotels in India.

3. Toilet Roll Is An Essential Packing Item

There’s nothing worse than going to the toilet and finding no toilet paper! Well, be aware that in India there is generally no toilet paper, especially in public lavatories and even tourist attractions in India. During our Rajasthan road trip, we always carried travel-sized toilet rolls in our rucksack. Along the way, we found that some public toilets had attendants and they would provide toilet roll in exchange for a small tip of Indian Rupees. However, they are not overly generous with supplies, so our advice is to be prepared when going to India …!

4. Thali is Great Fast Food

india thali

On our north India trip, our driver was our essential India travel guide. He introduced us to Thali in Bikaner and we loved it! Thali is delicious and inexpensive Indian food which takes its name from the round metal plate used to serve a variety of traditional Indian dishes.

In India, it is customary that Thali includes a perfect balance of 6 different flavours: sweet, salt, bitter, sour, astringent and spicy. Sometimes the thali is served in small bowls called katori which are placed around the edge of a tray. Within the katori, typical dishes include: dal, vegetables, papad, dahi (yoghurt), chutney or pickle and a sweet dish. In the centre of the tray is usually a portion of rice. The dishes are often replenished throughout the meal and are traditionally eaten with your fingers.

5. Avoiding Becoming A Selfie Star Is Impossible

The only time I have come vaguely near to celebrity status was when my photograph was published in the local newspaper after appearing on a school float in the village procession. From our arrival in Rajasthan, locals asked for selfies with us wherever we went, regardless of whether we were in the best tourist places in India or Off the Tourist Treadmill! This is not something you read about in an India travel book!

At first, this is all very strange and it can become overwhelming, especially if you are travelling alone in India. However, the reason for this fascination is that many domestic Indian tourists have little contact with foreigners in their home towns. If you think about it, it’s exciting for these tourists to take home evidence of meeting someone from another culture.

Embrace the experience and see it as an opportunity to find out about local people. One of my favourite memories is having my picture taken with a little girl in front of the Taj Mahal. It made her parents’ day and it was rewarding to make a family so happy with such a small thing! Click here for information about travel gear.

6. Arranged Marriage Is Still on Trend

Whilst on a walking tour of the Havelis in Mandawa, we got to know our local guide. Not only did we learn about the history of the havelis, but we also learned that his family had arranged his marriage to a girl who lived in a village about 300 km from Mandawa. He explained that he trusted his parents to make a good choice for him as they knew him well and that the girl would leave her family to start a life with him in Mandawa.

Incredibly, 85% of Indians still prefer arranged marriage as opposed to choosing their own life partner. This practice is particularly popular with Hindus and dates back to 500 AD. Like the young Hindu tour guide in Mandawa, a 2013 IPSOS survey reported that 74% of young Indians aged between 18-35 preferred that their parents made this important choice for them. Interestingly, India has a low divorce rate of 1 in 100.

Even today, parents and other relatives still decide who is a suitable match based on religion, caste, cultural background, horoscope/birth chart, professional stature and physical appearance. In rural areas, the art of matchmaking remains relatively unchanged. However, in other areas of India, 21st century technology has made an impact on the traditional role of the matchmaker which is being replaced by computerised programmes.

Jaisalmer Street Art

7. Lord Ganesha Street Art Has a Romantic Significance

Certainly, one of the intriguing places to see in India is Jaisalmer fort. This ancient fort resembles a sandcastle and within its walls are mazes of streets lined with impressive buildings. Although there is a surprising architectural sight at every turn, we didn’t expect to see bold street art here in this desert town.

Hidden away in the backstreets of Jaisalmer fort, Lord Ganesha is boldly daubed on the wall next to the entrance of many houses. It turns out that these vibrant splashes of street art are the equivalent of a Rajasthani wedding announcement. Painted a week before the marriage, this quirky wedding graffiti shows the name of the bride and groom along with the year of their marriage. Romantically, these murals will remain on the wall forever, unless another marriage takes place within the same family. Click here for a full guide of Rajasthan and Click here for our full guide about Udaipur.

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