Obviously can only offer tips on where we went but here goes!
Transportation & Accommodation: To book train tickets prior to departure go to cleartrip.com we found this to be the only way that we could pay for our train tickets. For internal air travel we used Kingfisher Airlines and found them to be excellent, we booked using zuji.com. Hotels we booked through expedia.com and used tripadvisor.com to check out reviews.
Mumbai – Apart from the strange little windows in the shower the Godwin was a great little hotel in the great location of Colaba, it’s only 10 minutes from Mumbai Victoria Train Station (CST) and a short walk to Leopold’s Bar and Cafe. The walk to Leopold’s in an evening takes you through the mass of street hawkers desperate to give you a good price. Food wise we tended to look for small places that were filled with local people and was never let down.
From Mumbai to Goa: we traveled on the Mandovi Express taking almost 14 hours departing at 7am. We booked first class AC and it was worth it for such a long journey through the day. The sleepers are a little wider, and the berths are a little more private.
Goa – We stayed at Benaulim on the south side of Goa, very quiet and pleasant. Our accommodation was L’Amour Beach Resort, rooms had double bed (made up of 2 singles) bathroom and toilet, very basic but comfortable. You do need to let reception know 5 minutes before you want hot water unless you want a cold shower. The rates are reasonable, we had air conditioning but in reality we didn’t need it and you pay about double for a room with air conditioning. There are so many accommodation places in Goa so if I went back I am not sure I would book necessarily before I arrived. On speaking with people it turns out that you can rent an apartment for 2 months for the same price as most holiday places charge for 2 weeks.
I reckon 2 weeks is probably a little long unless you love lazing on the beach. Saying that the beach shacks are great. Our friends stayed in Colva and one problem was getting from Benaulim to Colva later in the evening, auto’s were often nowhere to be found, Colva to Benaulim was another matter.
Hang Town in Colva was a great place to have breakfast, very friendly and great food. Domnick’s Beach Shack in Benaulim is probably one of the best beach shacks and it kicks off on a Thursday night!
Anjuna markets are definitely worth a trip if you want to wander around a market, it is located about an hour north of Benaulim and has definitely been influenced by the British Tourists, we were greeted with “Asda Price” and Cheap as Chips” which wasn’t what we really wanted to hear. As you enter the market you are swamped by stall holders but as you head into the maze of stalls it becomes a lot more pleasant. If you are traveling from Australia don’t buy the drums, unless you are happy to pay about $60 for quarantine the drums cost a whole $5 unless you give in at the extortionate price the sellers start at!
The Spice Plantation is definitely worth a visit, again about an hour in car. Entrance fee covers lunch and a tour around the plantation. I think that the groups are probably a little large to get the full benefit but it is very informative and worth a look. Don’t forget to buy your spices! But remember if you are traveling from Australia Bay leaves and whole Nutmeg are a no go!
Dudh Sagar Falls are definitely worth a look, after an hours drive you transfer into a 4-wheel drive for about another 30 minute hike in the forest area before arriving at the falls. There is a water hole that you can swim in if you choose but be aware the water is freezing and there are some very big fish that like to be fed crackers! When you change cars you acquire a guide who will inform you that you can pay for his service “if you want” when you arrive at the falls. That said the guy who traveled with us was knowledgeable.
For all trips you can book through reps, hotels, etc but I would suggest you consider hiring a car and a driver, we used Mario’s Cars in Benaulim and for four of us we paid around $50 for each trip and our driver was fantastic. We were never rushed and had the opportunity to just wander around, the driver arranging to meet us at a time set by us.
Goa to Delhi: Kingfisher airlines, it did take a while because we flew via Bangalore but very comfortable with inflight entertainment and 2 meals!
Delhi first hit was using a pre-paid taxi who then conned us out of a further 50 rupees for our bags, it’s not a lot of money but a con is what it is! Our Hotel, Le Roi, was in Panja Ganj. The hotel was a little oasis of quiet in the centre of pure India! Hot running water 24 hours, tea and coffee making facilities, the only average thing really was the menu but the buffet breakfast was good!
There are touts everywhere and usually in the guise of very helpful young men. Auto is the way to get around, Delhi is very spread out so walking between sights is madness. The main Bazar in Panja Ganj is great for a wander and to grab a decent meal in the evening.
Red Fort – definitely worth a look, it’s a good walk around once inside.
Connaught Place – pleasant and if you are after some high end shopping at good prices definitely worth a wander. The underground Bazar was nothing very special and at the time we visited it was dusty from work being carried out so the air was thick!
Gandhi Smriti – If you like anything about Gandhi and what he stood for it’s a must. From Panja Ganj it cost 150 rupees in an auto.
Indira Gandhi Museum – Visit Indira Gadhi’s house and have look around, very informative look into her life.
Gandhi Smriti to Indira Gandhi Museum, these are a 10 minute, at the most, walk from each other, it’s a very pleasant walk in a very exclusive area of Delhi.
Delhi to Agra: purchased sleeper class via cleartrip! I reckon auto is the best way to travel to and from Agra Cantt train station!
Agra – hotel Taj Plaza excellent value, basic with double bed and bathroom but only a short walk to the Taj and great views of the Taj from the rooftop restaurant. Hot water was again an issue and one that didn’t seem to sort itself so be prepared for a cold shower!
Only managed to visit the Taj Mahal, but be aware that tickets can now only be bought from the Tourist information centre, you can no longer buy tickets at the gates. Head off the main road for dining, there are some great little places tucked away in the side streets.
Agra – Delhi: Train booked via cleartrip.com
Delhi – back to Le Roi for a comfortable night!
Delhi to Varanasi: Kingfisher airlines
Varanasi – we stayed in the Varanasi Cantonment area which is a fair hike to the Ghats but it is a little quieter. We stayed at the Zeebras which was probably the only accommodation disappointment we had. It is supposed to be a mid – top range hotel and is located next door to the Radisson. The room had a king bed and a bathroom, there were no tea and coffee making facilities, the linen was not clean. Reception called us within about five minutes of getting to the room encouraging us to book a massage, there is a shop in the lobby and you are asked to “come and see my shop” even in the place you seek sanctuary from the hustle and bustle. The key is to be placed in a port for electricity but lights go off as son as you take the key out so if the door is locked when you are in the room and you go out at night you can’t see a thing – take a torch! We were also woken by staff entering the room while we were sleeping there is no additional lock on the door, such as chain or bolt!
Enough moaning about the accommodation because Varanasi was the most amazing experience – the sight of the Ganges for the first time is quite awesome. Walking through the alleyways (Galis) are a must, the tiny little alleyways are home to tea houses, souvenir shops and cloths shops. The Brown Bread Bakery is a great place to stop for a lunch or dinner and while serving great food it also support a women’s empowerment program and school for children living in poverty. There is a rooftop restaurant called the Dolphin Restaurant – food, atmosphere and views are fantastic. For a boat ride down the Ganga I would suggest that you arrange it direct with the people at the Ghats we paid 50 Rupees each as opposed to what some packages may charge – it’s basic, but you get to travel down the Ganga when you choose and if it is at sunset you get to see the ceremony from the water.