North India Trip – Getting from Pondicherry to Delhi
We failed to get any train tickets for our journey from Chennai to Delhi so we ended up flying with Spicejet from Chennai, it is all getting a little bit busier as we find ourselves on the more popular routes.
We took the local express bus from Pondicherry to Chennai bypass and had a fun journey with the wind blowing in our
hair bald patches until we reached the edge of Chennai. Here the driver told us that the bus in front would get us all the way to the airport doors. We hopped of the Pondicherry bus and onto the local one and within another 15 minutes we were at the departure gate at the airport. The journey had taken us just three and a half hours and cost exactly 100 Rp each for the door to door journey. Incredible India…
The flight was fine, left on time and considering we booked it just two days before cost us $120 to get the 2300 kilometres from North to South India we didn’t think it too bad.
Getting from the airport was easy, we had considered taking the metro as our hotel was right by the main railway station, but in the end marched up to the prepaid taxi counter run by Delhi Police and paid the fixed fare of 250 Rp from the airport to our hotel. We also lucked out in the taxi queue and managed to get the ride in an Ambassador, my first trip in this iconic car. I have loved these cars since arriving here and was not disappointed by my first ride in one. The taxi driver called our pre booked hotel and one of the staff from the hotel came and met us to walk us through the tiny backstreets in the Bazaar to our room. A great start to Delhi. The room service staff got us a late meal and a few beers and we settled in to Delhi life.
North India Trip Planning
At this time in our trip we should have been heading to Darjeeling to fulfil one of my longtime ambitions of riding the toy train to the hill station of Darjeeling. Sadly we discovered that the line is currently closed due to an earthquake last year. That will have to be left for another North India trip.
We had quite a bit of planning to do for our North India adventure that involved a few trains from Delhi to Varanasi and back via Lucknow and then to search for a driver for our 14 day road trip through Rajasthan. We had not considered this form of transport until chatting to some Dutch travellers we met in Wayanad and while more expensive than train travel, it will give us a unique view along the way and will not have us locked into pre booked train tickets.
Buying Train Tickets in Delhi
For the most part we have been booking our tickets online through Cleartrip. However, its getting busier as the festive season approaches with only general quota and last minute ‘Tatkal’ tickets available. To access the foreign ticket quota allocations (there are a few in this quota on the most popular routes) you have to visit one of the international booking centres in the main city railway stations. You can check whether there are foreign quota tickets available on the India Trains website here before you go or at the information desk in the booking office. When you get there be prepared for a long wait as the ratio of booking clerks to ticket purchasers is usually about 40/1.
When you do finally reach the front of the queue the service is great. You have previously filled out your personal and train number details on the forms and the clerks whizz through the screens booking your tickets. You need to pay in cash (rupees or US dollars) and the tickets are printed there and then. Don’t forget to take your passport with you.
Be aware of the very conniving touts at the entrance to the station who will very convincingly explain how the ticket office is closed or has moved to somewhere else and will very helpfully put you in a rickshaw to their commission paying international tourist ticket office somewhere else in town. Ignore all of these lies and be assured that the international ticket office is in the station, in Delhi on the first floor and it is open 8am – 8pm and 8am – 2pm on Sundays.
Finding a Car and Driver for Rajasthan
We contacted some car/driver operators on-line to get an idea of the costs after having looked in forums to see other people’s experiences of this option. We also asked our hotel travel service to see what they could offer. Most charge a daily rate and a per Km allowance with a minimum of 200 or 250 Km per day charge. For a fourteen day tour and driver we decided that anywhere between 30 and 45,000 rupees all inclusive (petrol parking, state taxes, driver allowance etc) charge would be reasonable.
We knew that getting the right driver was the most important factor so we narrowed the quotes down to one larger tour company and the hotel travel desk offer. We asked each to provide the actual car they were offering along with the driver who would accompany us for the 14 day trip. Each was asked to take us on a Delhi tour. This would allow us to meet the potential driver and the cars. I have had a romantic idea of doing this in the Ambassador but kept getting told they were uncomfortable for this long journey and only a few companies still offer the service in these vehicles. The idea of road tripping through India in one of these would not let me be dissuaded. In the end we agreed to try one new car (Toyata Etios) and a new model Ambassador.
The first driver came with the Etios. He did an OK job on the tour, gave us basic facts but was a bit too heavy on the horn, even by India standards and was a bit boring. He also insisted on taking us to one of his friend’s shops during the tour. This annoying detour and his poor communication in English struck him off the potential list.
We were nervous that the same would happen on our second day. We needn’t have worried Chander turned out to speak excellent English, his tour of Delhi gave us much more incidental information and tips about the city and his driving was much smoother with almost no use of the horn. He also drove an Ambassador which gave him a major plus points before we even started. So we have our Ambassador and driver who will pick us up from Delhi station after our Varanasi trip.
I know some may think we are bonkers for going with the older car, but my rationale is this. These cars are everywhere in India, as are the spare parts and knowledge to fix them. Not sure how many Toyota dealers there are in between Jodphur and Jaisalmer who can fix an engine computer system if that pops a fault!
Even though we like him we know he is like many Indian service personnel who will have his own commission paying places to stop at along the way. We will keep him on his toes steering him away from these pricier hotels and restaurants on the journey, but at least we can communicate our wishes clearly. We’ll see how it goes in the later north india trip posts. Our guts say we have a good driver.
We ended up paying 40,000 Rp for 15 days (this includes Christmas day), we could have got this much cheaper for a modern car and less experienced driver. We could have done the tour in a much shorter time frame but we’ve allowed plenty of time to stay extra nights in places we like. We are planning to leave him at Udaipur and he will have to make his way back to Delhi on his own – but in India you always have to pay for the return journey whether you accompany the driver or not. We could have gotten this trip cheaper but we have read some horror stories of people who had paid less and ended up with a driver they couldn’t communicate with and who they didn’t meet until they set off for the tour with a trashy car, or being asked to pay ridiculous taxes on top of the fee agreed. Not ideal for someone who you are going to spend the next fourteen days with, so we have decided to go with a reputable company which is well established with a large fleet of cars and a good reputation. Our north India trip is now booked, planned and we are ready to go.