Travelling to India from Sri Lanka? Here’s What You Need to Know
Travelling with our busy uni and work schedules is pretty hard. We have a very limited time and we went to have the maximum use of it. So Nathan and I thought every year we’d take 2-3 week trips to somewhere abroad. So, Last October, we went to India for 14 days. We aren’t big fans of doing how-to and guideposts, but a lot of sugarplums reached to us on Instagram, Twitter and on our blog asking for tips. Here’s all you need to know if you plan on travelling to India from Sri Lanka.
Getting an Indian tourist visa is so easy. It’s a pretty long application though. You can apply for e-visa online here. This is a 60-day double entry visa. This is a step by step guide on how to fill the e-visa application. If you are a bit of old-fashion person, basically do not want to go through scanning and filling out forms, you can apply for a tourist visa at IVS Sri Lanka. You can download the form on their website, fill it and bring it alongside with you. Or you can be a lazy bum and give 300LKR to the guy at the little shop next to IVS, and he’d fill it out for you. I’d suggest the latter as they are pros in it. Your visa will be ready in 2-3 days. For Sri Lankans, it is important you go to the right IVS office. If your permanent address belongs to Jaffna or the North, you have to apply at Jaffna. If your address belongs to Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Kurunegala etc. you have to apply at Kandy office. People who reside in Anuradhapura can apply at Colombo. So, we aren’t exactly sure how this works. It’s good to give them a quick call and figure it out. Note: if you apply for a visa here, for Sri Lankans, it’s normally a single entry visa valid for 3 months. Your validation starts the day your visa issued not on the day you land in India. You can apply 120 days – 4 days before your departure date.
Flight Tickets to India
Skyscanner normally tells you the best deals. Download the app on your phones and keep checking every day. You’d get an idea about lowest fares and accordingly, you can book your seats online. protip: For some reason, IndiGo flights aren’t included in Skyscanner search but we’ve now realized they have some of the cheapest flights to many destinations in India. You are likely to get low costs if you book return trip but it’s not always true. Sometimes one-way tickets work out cheaper.
During our 14 day trip, our itinerary was basically like this:
Colombo —-> Delhi —–> Agra —-> Delhi —-> Dharamshala —-> Manali —-> Delhi —-> Colombo
We flew with Sri Lankan Airlines, economy class. It was a direct 3.30-hour fight and cost 42k LKR per person. We landed around 4.30am and we boarded the train to Agra the same morning.
Buying a SIM card in India
Before going to India, we’ve read a lot about how much of a hassle it is to buy a sim card in India. Kids, this is why everything on the internet isn’t true. We bought our Airtel sim in IGI (Indira Gandhi International) Airport. We opted for Airtel but there are small outlets of other mobile operators as well. The guy looked at our passports and he himself filled out the form. No hassle at all. We bought a 30-day planned which was only 1000INR and offered 1GB data a day, unlimited calls in India and 200INR talk time to foreign countries. The sim takes about 5-6 hours to be activated. At the end of our trip, we didn’t finish our 200INR talk time so Nathan made weird, awkward calls to his friends in Canada and Australia whom he hasn’t even talked in 2-3 years. N does awkward things and he gets away with it. Talent!
Train Travel in India
For a beginner, it’s a little confusing figuring out classes in Indian trains. This article explains all the classes in Indian Railways. Now here’s the thing, you cannot reserve your train tickets unless you have an IRCTC account (no, not even on third party websites). To make one, you need a valid Indian phone number. If you happen to have one, or if you have a friend there, you can download the IRCTC app and make an account easily. When you create your account, they ask you to create a password and a code. Then go to Make My Trip or ClearTrip. Make My Trip do not seem to accept international cards. It didn’t accept ours. But it’s a good app to check train schedules. You can book your seats easily at Clear Trip. They accept international credit and debit cards. They are also really responsive on Twitter. Once our booking failed and they immediately refunded our money. Make sure you remember your IRCTC account name and password. If you don’t, you cannot go ahead with the booking process.
If you want to book trains once you are in India, most hotels/hostels/homestays do this for you for an extra fee.
To Agra, we took the Gaatimaan Express. It’s currently India’s fastest train, have all AC compartments, and you get a meal on board. It’s a little expensive but great value for money.
Bus Travel in India
For long distances: there are so many types of buses. Travelers usually take the Volvos for long distances when there are Volvos in a particular route. ISBT Kashmere Gate is the main bus stand in Delhi. We didn’t pre-book our bus tickets as it was the off-season. So we came to the counter and just bought the ticket there. There are separate counters for separate routes inside the bus terminal. We booked HPRTC government buses to Dharamshala. The bus was almost empty! You get a water bottle on board and there’s a charging point, too. If you book private buses (Bedi travels etc), there’s a chance they may cancel it during the off-season due to low number of passengers. So always book the government ones. We were the only passengers on our bus to Manali from Dharamshala and we’ve never felt safer although it was the bumpiest bus ride in our lives. We booked our tickets to Manali at Dharamshala bus stand. At Manali, we booked our tickets back to Delhi. Basically, there are so many buses. So you don’t need to worry much!
Metro in Delhi
God bless the Delhi Metro! That’s how Nathan and I felt about it. We did take a few taxis (more about this later) but mostly, we used the Metro and it saved us a lot of cash to shop and eat. Delhi Metro is spotlessly clean, air-conditioned, and the fastest way to get from A to B in Delhi. And it’s super affordable. Download the Delhi Metro App on your phone. It’s very easy to use, has a guide for tourist attractions and mention nearby metro stations as well. It suggests you the metro route from A to B and gives you an estimated time for your journey. Sometimes you would need to change lines. At first, it may be a little confusing but you’d get used to it. Everything is clearly mentioned at all the metro stations. If you still have a question, do ask someone. Delhites aren’t the most smiley people in the world, and they don’t basically give a shit about the world, but they help you when you need to figure things out. And that’s our favorite thing about Delhi. There’s a metro card and a special tourist card but you don’t actually need it. Just enter your money into the machine at the every metro station, and buy your token.
Taxis in Delhi
There are three main taxi operators: Uber, Ola, and Meeru. Ola was our favorite. They have the autos aka tuk-tuks as well. The taxi fares are a lot cheaper compared to Sri Lanka. Download the Ola App on your phone. Most drivers use Google Maps efficiently. If we are to complain about it, the drivers take a little time to come to your place but that’s not a big deal. We used Meeru only once at the airport to get to Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station. They are at the airport, and you don’t need to book them on your phone.
Accommodation in India
In every place, there’s a wide range of accommodation options. Our recommendation is to search thoroughly on Booking.com. Book places which have a good rating and read the reviews. You don’t need to pay our $$$ to a good-looking place with crappy hosts.
Where we stayed:
Delhi: Let’s Bunk Poshtel in Haus Khaz Village and The Hosteller in Saket. We aren’t really fond of both but The Hosteller is only a five-minute walk to Saket Metro so it’s really in a good location for your in-city travels. Haus Khaz Village is Delhi’s hippiest place with so many boutiques, cafes, retreats, clubs, and bars.
Agra: Max Guest House. This is our fave accommodation on our whole trip, or in our lives. Max was really nice, helpful and his momma’s food is just amazing. He’ll email and assist you with everything prior to your trip once you made the booking.
Dharamshala: Vidya Ashram! Love love love this cute little abode hidden inside the deodar trees. However, you cannot book the place on Booking.com or Agoda or any other third party booking site. You have to make an advance payment via a bank transfer or Paytm. Max at our Agra homestay maid a Paytm payment for us so we got to stay in this cute little place. If you are trekking to Triund in Dharamkot, this is the best place as the road starts from here. Note: Vidya Ashram is in Dharamkot, not in Dharamshala or McLeod Ganj. It’s a short taxi drive from Dharamshala Bus Stand will cost you about 600INR or you can walk uphill to this place as there’s a shortcut. Just ask a local. The people in Dharamshala are so open and welcoming.
Manali: Orchard House – The Hidden Tribe! Yaaas, really the lost tribe. Tucked inside the village of Old Manali, this quirky place won our hearts. They also have a cute little cafe, apple orchards, and a garden full of corn and pumpkin with cute pooches. And the view from the house is breathtaking.
Do you have any tips and recommendations? Comment below and let us know!