INDIA – It’s a word which is very hard to explain in words. It is a country with such diversity that the words are too short for this. Diversity in cultures, traditions, dresses & clothes, believes, people, languages, landscapes, vegetation, climates, sports (though cricket is the god of all sports here), food, dances, architect, music, religion but still possesses a commonality. Hence it has a lot to offer to everyone of different age, sex, location, mentality, cultures, backgrounds and locations. The more you travel here, the more you’ll fall in love with it. There are snow covered mountains and the sun washed beaches. One finds small villages without proper transport & electricity to high tech fully developed & commercialized big cities and business hubs dealing and even excelling in fields like IT, business, telecom and many more. Some places there are rich heritage forts, palaces & architect and some have cultural & religious temples, mosques & churches.
It is the common belief and saying in India- "ATITHI DEVO BHAVA" means that the guest is god. This is deeply rooted in the minds and culture of Indians to respect & honor the guest and host relationship in an authentic and religious manner. It is also the tag line of the Ministry of Tourism (Government of India).
That’s why it is truly said by the travel guide book - Lonely Planet.
“It’s hardly surprising that this country has been dubbed the worlds most multidimensional. Love it or loathe it, and most visitors see-saw between the two, India promises to jostle your entire being, and no matter where you go or what you do, it’s a place you’ll never forget.”
“NAMASTE” or “NAMASKAR” are the commonly spoken words in India for greeting and salutations to the people. It is commonly used all over India, Nepal & Sri Lanka. Though Namaskar is a more formal version of Namaste, both express deep respect & greetings.
India is one of the most religiously diversified countries of the world having Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Muslim, Christianity and a big heart and room for all the religions.
The Joint family system plays an important role in the Indian society. It is a system where the brothers, sisters, parents, kids, grandchildren etc. all stay together and generally the eldest member is the head of the family who takes decisions which are binding on all.
Here the marriages are still arranged by the parents/ head of the family. Though people of some societies are free to choose their partners but mostly the marriages are arranged.
Being a multi-cultural & multi religious society here people celebrates many festivals throughout the year like Holi (The festival of colors), Diwali (The festival of lights & crackers), Eid & Ramadan (Muslim festival), Gurupurb (Sikh festival), Christmas (Christian festival), Budhpurnima (Buddhist festival) and the list is endless.
The multiple varieties of Indian cuisines are known and characterized by their unique and subtle use of spices and herbs. The spices and herbs are used to enhance the flavor of a dish and create a unique flavors & aromas. The majority of the Indian food comprises of vegetarian food. Each family or society or region has its own ways and techniques of making the food. Generally the food is spicy. Some of the famous dishes are like Thali (Combination of lentils, vegetables, Naan (bread), Curd, Paneer (dish with cheese) followed by a sweet dish like Kheer (made with milk, rice & sugar), Jalebi, Rasgulla etc. The famous snacks are Paneer Tikka, Chicken Tikka, Mushroom Tikka (these are specially roasted & made in a big earthen pot with flames at the bottom called as Tandoor)
The two most common Indian clothing for women are the Indian Sarees and the Salwar Suits. These two are the most popular possession of the Indian females and are famous worldwide as a mark of Indian culture. For men the traditional clothes are Dhoti (long sheet of cloth tied at the waist) and Kurta (A long shirt, generally up to the knees). But the modern clothing comprises of jeans, t-shirts, shirts, tops etc. The interesting part is that each region has its own distinct type of clothing which is trademarked with the name of the region. For example- Rajasthani clothes, Bengali style clothes, Odissi clothing etc. The Wedding dresses are generally very auspicious and well done with glitters, accessories etc. They are very heavy in general. The bridal dress is called as Lehanga & groom’s dress is called as Sherwani.
India is a country housing several hundreds of languages & dialects and some of them are Hindi, English, Punjabi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Urdu, Gujrati, Malaylam, Marathi, Maithali, Assamese, Udia, Nepali, Kashmiri, Rajasthani, Sindhi, Dogri and so on. Hindi is considered as India’s national & most widely spoken language.
India is a country with so many festivals and we believe that it is always in a dancing & singing mood. The people here need no reasons to dance & sing, be it birth celebrations, office parties, house parties, festivals, welcoming guests, and so on. The celebration always continues. Here bathroom singers are very famous and generally are found in every house. Indian diverse dances are of 2 types – Folk & Classical forms. The music varies vastly from Religious, Pop, Folk, Classical to Bollywood (Indian film industry). Generally all Bollywood (Indian cinema industry) movies have few music tracks and movies are considered to be incomplete without music & songs, dancing in different locations and changing several dresses throughout the movie.
The most famous Folk dances are the Bhangra (Of the state of Punjab), The Dandiya and Garbha (of the state of Gujrat), the Ghoomar (Of the stae of Rajasthan), the Bihu (Of the state of Assam), the Odishi (Of the state of Orissa), the Chahau (Of the state of Jharkhand), the Yakshagana (of the state of Karnataka), Lavani (of the state of Maharashtra), and Dekhnni (of the state of Goa). Some dances have mythological elements and are in narrative forms very well known as Classical dances. These dances are- the Bharatnatyam (of the state of Tamilnadu), the Kuchipudi (of the state of Andhra Pradesh), the Kathak (of the state of Uttar Pradesh), the Kathakali (of the state of Kerala), the Manipuri (of the state of Manipur), the Odissi (of the state of Orissa) and Sattriya (of the state of Assam).
The Indian paintings & architect goes way back thousands and thousands of years found in the Indus Valley civilization (2600-1900 BC). India houses some very beautiful, traditional and rare architectural structures comprising of Forts, Palaces, Taj Mahal (one amongst, The Wonders of the World), beautifully done and carved temples, mosques and other religious institutions, extremely intricate bronzes as well as temple carvings. Some huge shrines, such as the one at Ellora were not constructed by using blocks but carved out of solid rock. During the period of Gupta Empire & Maurya Empire many architectural & monumental complexes were made such as Ajanta & Ellora caves and Sanchi Stupa.The earliest Indian paintings were the rock paintings of the pre historic times and the paintings done on the walls of caves & houses. The most famous and commonly found Indian painting form is Rangoli. This is a freshly made flour painting found outside the common households of India, especially during the festivals.
India is a country with wide varieties of sports played and is also a host of many international sports events like Cricket world cup, Hockey world cup, Common Wealth games and so on. The Chess is believed to be originated from India during the Gupta Empire. The Hockey is the national game and Cricket is believed to be the god of all games and is the most famous sport here. The other sports that originated from India are Kabaddi, Kho-Kho, Gilli Danda & Snake boat race.
Indian cinema industry is named as Bollywood. It’s a Mumbai based industry and is the world’s largest industry in producing and ticket selling. The films are made with all types of modern views and reviews and the topics ranges from romance, action, thriller, suspense, drama, religious, traditional, regional to classical. The Indian movies have been widely accepted and acclaimed throughout the world and in Oscars too.
IMPORTANT TIPS ON PRE TRAVEL PREPARATIONS & HEALTH PRECAUTIONS
Well getting prepared to travel to India? Good. Here we would like to share some important tips before you prepare yourself to travel to India. It’s always said that it’s good to travel light. True. But don’t forget the essentials following this tip. It’s good to travel light but pack wisely depending on the region of travel, weather etc.
- The very first tip is to choose your route wisely. As appropriately stated by Lonely Planet - If you have specific interests then
- Shopping - Delhi
- Beaches - Goa
- Trekking - Himachal Pradesh
- Yoga - Rishikesh
- Food – Everywhere!
- Tigers - Madhya Pradesh
- Thrill-seekers - Manali
- Religious fervor - Varanasi
- Just chilling - Kerala
- So the basic step is to realize the place of interest keeping in mind your interests.
- Please make sure about the visa requirements. Nationals of most of the countries need a visa to travel to India and it is not available on arrival. Please refer to the Government of India tourism site of your country for any clarifications on visas.
- While packing your bags make sure you keep the necessary and important stuff like a hand torch, some extra batteries, small sewing kit, pocket knife, a pair of small scissors, pre moistened tissues, a lock and key for all your bags, your medications (as prescribed by your doctor or the ones you take regularly as the name of the salts and medicines are not same), a first aid & your shaving kit.
- Keep the copies of your passport and visa in all your bags. Keep some extra copies while you travel as most places you don’t need original passport.
- Always have handy the addresses of the Missions, Embassies & Consulates of your country in case of any emergency.
- Some paper strip soaps which are always ready at disposal when you need along with some paper napkins both dry and pre moistened.
- For Indian summers - cotton or synthetic blended (easily breathable) clothes are recommended along with the wide brimmed hat/cap and sunglasses. A sunscreen lotion is a good choice too. Don’t carry delicate fabric clothes which need extra care as it might be difficult to find a proper laundry everywhere.
- For Indian winters – Your jacket, sweater, moisturizer, lip guard/ balm, warm socks and thermal inners are must.
- A neck pillow with eye cover patches for your long travels by road, train in India.
- A nice camera with some spare batteries or charger is a great idea. Don’t forget to load it with a high capacity memory stick as you will need it to capture the uniqueness of the country.
- In winters come prepared for the delays of the internal flights especially in North India and the months from mid-November till January because of fog. The Indian airports generally are not equipped with fog enabled flying techniques and equipment.
- Keep yourself well informed about the political and regional situations of the places of visit. Some places have political unrest most of the time like Kashmir (Parts bordering with Pakistan) and some Eastern parts of India.
- To carry a guide book (like Lonely Planet or any other internationally acclaimed book available in your market and language) with you is a good idea. These guide books give you a basic idea of the things and prices. You will not feel a complete stranger. But the prices stated in the guide books are sometimes not updated and you can end up in an argument or feeling all left alone if you stick to these prices. For example the auto rickshaw (a common trike public transport vehicle) fares are never found to be appropriate or updated in some guide books.
- Language is not a big problem in India. Even though there are hundreds of languages and dialects, English is widely spoken and understood. You will find people speaking (not very accurate but communicable) English all over except in small villages. If it’s a tourist place, yes English will be spoken and understood. For specialized services there are different world language speaking guides (Like Spanish, German, French etc.) to hire. These guides are generally available on pre booking only.
- Money- The currency used in India is Rupees. One rupee is divided in 100 paisa. But Rupee is not available outside the country. Hence you can change your currency (USD, Euros, CHF, GBP etc.) in India to rupee. You will find banks and money changers all over the places. But be prepared to bargain and try few money changers for good rates. In banks the bargaining is not possible and all the banks generally have fixed and same rates. Don’t forget to carry some rupees back for your next trip.
- It’s always advisable to have your booking confirmed for the airport pickup and at least 1st night of hotel in India. This is avoid yourself from the clutches of the touts, commission agents and the hassles of India (Details about this will follow in my next blog).
- Well as a first timer (even for travelers who have visited before) it’s always advisable to have all your travel pre planned and well organized to avoid any hassles. This also assures you to travel in peace and you see more places without losing much time & money. In pre-paid packages it seems that you pay more but actually when you are in India, you tend to pay more but you don’t feel as you pay in installments. Believe me – getting a pre-paid and pre-planned package saves you a lot of time & money.
- Always choose your travel agent carefully. It should be approved by Ministry of Tourism & Government of India. Other valuable and international credentials are like IATA, international branches, international partnering etc.
- If you have booked an airport pickup through a travel agent, then make sure that you keep the agent’s contact, driver’s contact numbers handy. Also make sure to ask you agent that at what gate the driver will be standing and what type of paging board he will be carrying at the airport. Please ask your travel agent to send you a copy of the paging board which the driver will be carrying at the airport.
- For health issues please consult your doctor before travelling. There is no need for any shots/ injections before travel to India but it’s always advisable to consult your doctor and let him check & decide if you are fit to travel. The doctor might advise you common shots like malaria, cholera, flu etc. If you believe in precautions, then take the vaccinations your doctor suggests. Always carry mosquito repellants, nets and sprays to be on a safer side. Normally an international health certificate is not asked by immigration officer from the visitors of USA, Canada, U.K., Europe, Australia, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand etc. but it’s advisable to check with the Indian government site.
- Please carry adhesive bandages, antiseptic creams, antibiotics, thermometer etc. in your first aid kit. If you fall ill, don’t worry and keep your calm, see a doctor and you will be fine.
IMPORTANT WARNINGS / PRECAUTIONS & SPECIAL TIPS
Travelling to India is always a memorable experience for everyone. To make this experience a very positive one we have some tips for the foreigners travelling to India. These are completely our views/ experiences on this subject and have nothing to do with the official system. Since we live there, belong to the same travel industry and have seen it deeply, we believe that our views can be of a help to the travelers coming to India.
We will start with the general warning like be aware about the political and regional situations of the places of visit. Some places have political unrest most of the time like Kashmir (Parts bordering with Pakistan) and some Eastern parts of India. So please read about the safety situations of places you want to visit or ask your travel agent about this. You can even read and follow the travel advisories issued by your country from time to time.
Now comes some special tips when you are in India. Let’s start from the Airport itself. We consider Delhi (the capital city) as your arrival point and the tips are almost same for other international airports too. If you have a taxi booked already through a travel agent then it is advised to keep handy the contact numbers of the travel agent & the driver. It is important to know that at which gate the driver is waiting for you and make sure that you exit from that gate only. Please ask your travel agent to send you a copy of the paging board which the driver will be carrying at the airport.
Please note that generally the International airports have many exit gates. Please note that sometimes when you don’t find the driver at the airport (may be because of rush time or simple over sightedness) then you might find someone offering you a free help or ride. Don’t trust any other person. They can even pretend to be from the company you booked from and take you to some other hotels where they get commissions. Sometimes this is common that they call their friends and these friends act as your travel agent or hotel manager. Be careful and dial the number yourself if needed. Here the copy of paging board helps. You can trust only the person having the same copy. It’s easy.
If you don’t have a booking for airport pickup, then please book a pre-paid taxi from the official booth in the airport (before you come out of the airport customs). This booth is generally owned and operated by the local traffic police. They ask you the hotel name or place of visit so that you are dropped at the right place. Don’t reveal your travel plans or how many days you stay in India etc. to the cab driver or anyone else. Simply and politely ask him to drop at your destination and don’t start discussions about your travel. If you do discuss the plans, you will notice that the offers will start pouring in. Please make sure that you don’t give the pre-paid taxi advice slip to the driver till you are at your destination. Generally the pre-paid drivers ask for the slip as soon as you board the car.
For any problem at the airport, you will find a police complaint booth and a well-appointed tourist police jeep. The tourist police generally have police men and women who speak English and are helpful and prepared to help tourists.
When you are there (in the city), you will be followed by many people for different reasons. The most common of them are the Touts (the commission agents who try to take you for shopping or to the travel offices etc.). Other form is pick pockets and of course the beggars.
Beggars- You will find that there will be poor small kids, old people begging on the streets or especially at the traffic signals. The Government campaigns against giving them monetary help at the signals as the monetary help is actually not reaching to them. This is also common that if you give help to one beggar, you’ll attract many more. So better stay away and keep walking. If you give money to kids it generally taken away from them and is like a business. If you really want to help the kids, then donate clothes, candies, food etc. to them. But again I will warn you to do this when you are very sure that you will not be mobbed by huge number of beggars.
Pick pockets- When you walk in the markets, tourist places or crowded places, please make sure that you don’t have your important stuff & money (passports, cash or credit cards) in a carry bag. It should always be in a pouch which is kept safely with you underneath your clothes or in inner pockets or in money pouch next to your skin. It’s not that all the places you will find pickpockets but this is for your own safety. And as always said Prevention is better than cure. It is also advisable to carry a copy of your passport with you instead of the original. Just in case you lose the original, then it’s a big hassle. Generally you are not asked for your passport except while checking in the hotel or booking a train or flight ticket.
Touts- This is a very common sight and experience in India. To be followed by touts and people who try to be friendly and pretend to help you even without you asking them for help. Most commonly you will be followed by touts when you come out of train stations, airports, while walking in the market etc. The first thing is keep walking and with confidence. If you don’t know the directions then stop and ask someone (people in India are generally very friendly and asking a direction is very common there). Once you know the direction you can continue but don’t follow someone if they offer to take you there. Think- why would anyone leave his work and take you to your destination without any motive?
Sometimes the touts take you to travel offices which are generally not approved by the Government of India tourism department, simply for commissions. These travel agents pretend to be the official government tourist office. But actually they are not and more over, most of them are not even approved by the Government of India to be the travel agents/ tour operators. If you land up in such situation, ask for their visiting card and the picture will be clear to you.
Never buy a train ticket or any travel ticket from a tout. Some people claim to get you confirmed tickets even though the trains are full. Be little wise and choose your own way. At times when you are completely on your own, these touts can be helpful. If you are directed to a travel office or a market where there are many agents, you know the way... simple. Just visit many offices, take offers and bargain. But decide wisely (as nothing comes for free in this world).
Now this is interesting. The rickshaw and taxi drivers will stop for you and will tell you very less price. These prices are much below the actual rates. They do this so that once you sit in their cab/ rickshaw and then they start digging. Digging as how many days you have? Where you travel? If you need a cheap hotel or taxi or train tickets etc. And now you know why they ask all this……….
Touts can be in form of small vendors like selling post cards or small wooden chess games etc. Generally they lure the tourists with offering free city or country maps. They are generally in groups of 4-5 people working together. One leaves and other comes and so on. On the whole we see all this as a big scam and a money making machine without any proper motive of customer profit. The only people who profits are the fake travel agents, touts and the taxi/ rickshaw drivers.
Please note that sometimes the touts misguide you like this is the wrong ticket or you paid more for the travel or go to police as you have been cheated etc. This is all on purpose to make you cancel the tour and then depend on them for the services. Never reveal or discuss your travel plans with anyone to avoid hassles. The best tip is to tell them that MY HOLIDAY IS FINISHED AND I GO HOME TONIGHT. Easy and simple.
IMPORTANT TIPS FOR WOMEN TRAVELERS TO INDIA
This column is for the women travelers, travelling alone to India. Even after being influenced largely by the western world, India is still a traditional country and some practices by the women are considered as inappropriate & are unacceptable to the society. We would not say that there is any problem in travelling alone but just have to keep some things in mind to make your travel a more secure & a memorable experience. Here are some tips to be followed-
- It is advisable not to wear clothes or dress that exposes your legs or other body parts. It is considered as an invitation to unwanted attention & stares which might make you feel uncomfortable. In big cities like Delhi or Mumbai or Chennai etc. it is ok to wear the western dresses of your choice, but at small touristic places, towns or villages it is not advisable to wear short skirts, tight pants or blouses which can make you stand out in the crowd and attract glances. A wise choice is to wear clothes which neither define the body shape nor expose the body parts.
- Most of the places have separate ladies queues to buy tickets, ladies compartments in trains, Delhi metro train etc. So preferably use these ladies queues or compartments for travelling. It is safe and avoids any unpleasant hassles or delays etc.
- An important tip is to always have and carry a friendly nature but please avoid getting friendly or personal with people. Especially with people who serve you in hotels, cab drivers, people you meet in busses, restaurants, street etc. It may be viewed as flirtation.
- Simply ignore the stares or weird looks you get from strangers. It is very common as being a foreigner; some people tend to look at your different skin or hair color etc. Don’t get offended by this and simply ignore it. If it is hard to ignore, instead of an argument, wear a sun glass or use your computer/ reading book etc.
- Don’t accept any free or cheap ride from unknown person or from a taxi/ rickshaw in which the driver is accompanied by someone. A big no to sharing tours/ rides etc.
- It’s not a rule but advised all over the world to keep your hotel room locked from inside when in the room.
- Avoid keeping the things of your personal use or undergarments lying all over the hotel room. Personal stuff is meant to be personal and it is not advisable to flaunt it. That’s a hotel room tip which applies globally.
- It is good to know or learn local culture, but avoid invitations from unknown or local people at their house or room for meals, tea or drinks.
- Always be attentive in noticing the people and their activities around you. I am not saying that everyone is after you or will hurt you but it is good to keep a sense of your environment while travelling to a new place/ country amongst new people and culture.
- Always avoid people who approach you themselves. If you have asked for a help or something then it’s different, but if someone approaches you himself/ herself then there must be a reason and it should ring a bell in your mind.
- Apart from the big cities, touching a person of opposite sex in public is very unusual. Even the married couples abstain themselves from a public display of their attachment or love. Please don’t extend your hand for hello unless the other person does so. The best way is to fold hands near chest and say Namaste. This is traditional and looks very decent.
- Even in beaches in India you will see ladies fully clothed. It depends on what beach you are visiting. Some beaches like in Bhubneshwar (Ganga Sagar beach) is considered holy and on the other hand on beaches in Goa you will find all foreigner ladies in swim suits. So there you may wear swim suits on the beach but it is inappropriate to walk away from the beach in same attire.
- Avoid isolated places and it is advisable to avoid going out in dark or very late nights.
- A way to get more respect from Indians is to try the Indian women clothes like a Saree or a Salwar Kameez. It looks ethnic a traditional. It’s purely your own choice and not a compulsion.
- In India a clean and appropriate facilities for women are either few or at a distance, especially when you travel between two cities or though village/ highways etc. So take every chance you get to use the washroom facilities in a restaurant, hotel etc or else you will later regret that.
- Always carry some wet tissues, sanitizer & toilet paper with you while travelling. It will be handy.
- And one final tip which is stated by Mei Yin Tao, a Journalist from Toronto, Canada- Indians are very curious by nature and will ask personal questions. So, don't be offended. I had men ask me things like: "Are you married?", "How much money do you make?" and "Do you sleep with your boyfriend?" They meant no harm.
IMPORTANT TIPS ON FOOD & DRINKS
India is known to be a country of wide variety of cuisines and cooking patterns. Each area or region has its own specialty and cuisine. There is a lot to choose from. If you are a food lover, then you are in a paradise. There is a vast variety to choose from like very rich, oily, light, healthy, green, snacks, spicy and so on. The Indian food generally is spicy and we would suggest to always make sure that it is prepared according to your taste before ordering it.
In India it is very easy to find vegetarian food as most of the population is vegetarian. This again is a matter of choice and cannot be generalized. For Hindus beef is a strict no-no and for Muslims pork is a strict no-no. So please make sure that you respect their beliefs and don’t offer them these food items.
One should always avoid the street food as sometimes it is not hygienically prepared or stored and you tend to get stomach or health problems. Specially with the oily, fried and spicy food like Samosa, Tikki, Pakoras etc. If you really want to try the street food then please make sure that it is prepared hygienically, it is stored in proper conditions and is fresh. But our personal advice is to avoid the street food. When you travel in trains, busses etc. then you will find many vendors selling open food, cut fruits etc. Avoid it. You can always carry with you or buy packed food and fruits like a bag of chips, cake, food packed from good restaurants, bananas etc. Where you are not able to find the right food, you are always safe with food items like bread, butter, eggs, biscuits (cookies), etc.
The food in nice restaurants, big hotels and big food joints is safe to eat. But you have to make sure that the spices are according to your taste. Before ordering your food you can have a taste or ask for less spicy food or the food to be prepared with fewer spices. For example the south Indian food is generally spicy as the curry used (Sambhar) is always spicy. So if you want to have south Indian food then you can try food like Idli, Vada Upma etc. with coconut paste as these are generally without spices and tastes good too. The north Indian dishes (like Dal (lentils), Subzi (vegetables) etc.) can be made as per your taste and is generally not a problem. For specialized cuisines like Chinese, European, Continental, Italian etc. there are specialized restaurants and generally all 5* hotels have a multi cuisine restaurant. For the list of specialized restaurants you can always search internet or ask your travel agent. The usual sweet dishes found in India are Rasgulla (a sweet cheese ball), Burfi, Jalebi etc. If you want you can try them as they taste really good and different but again the safest option is an ice cream.
DRINKS - India is famous for the vast variety of tea. There are many flavors to choose from like Mint, Tulsi, Ginger, Jasmine, Rose, Lemon, Peach and the list is endless. The readymade Indian tea is called Chai and comes with milk & tea, all in one, properly boiled and the sugar can be added to the taste. This Chai is easily available at street corner shops, restaurants, hotels and everywhere. The flavored tea is generally available in good restaurants and hotels.
With water you have to be very careful. Make sure that you drink only the bottled water when on the move and you open the bottle seal yourself. In good hotels there is a water purifier system installed and you can drink the distilled/ purified water from there if you want, as it is generally safe. But we advice that prevention is better than cure hence have the bottled water only. Most of the diseases are water borne. There are famous brands which are trusted and found all over India like Bisleri, Kinley and Catch.
IMPORTANT TIPS ON TRANSPORT IN INDIA
Here the topic is the public transport system and tips on how to get from one place to another, best mode of travel, things to keep in mind and the cautions. We think that it will be of a great help while travelling in India.
First of all we would like to give you some special tips or warnings –
- Be prepared for delays of trains, flights and even the road travel in winters, especially in North India and the months from mid-November till January because of fog. The Indian train stations & airports generally are not equipped with techniques and equipment to help run during the fog.
- Never buy any train ticket, flight ticket or hotel reservation from and through a tout. These tickets might end up been fake or stolen. You might end up in a big hassle or problem.
- Pick pockets are common in the train stations, bus stations around busy places like markets etc. So beware (Please refer to the “Warnings” link for more details).
- Always make sure that you reserve/ buy your tickets well in advance. India is a heavily populated country and due to so many holidays and festivals, it becomes very hard to get confirmations on the spot. This is a very special tip to avoid any type last minute surprises.
- Choose your class of travel in trains wisely (Please read further for the train tips).
Local Buses: - There is a good network of local busses within each city. But these busses generally are overcrowded. You might even find people travelling on the bus footsteps and sometimes the buses are so packed that you can hardly move or breathe in it. This is funny but you might see people hanging on the busses.
This is the situation when the pick pockets take advantage. Sometimes it’s not that bad in big cities like Delhi or Mumbai but at small places … Yes that’s the way it is. The busses are generally not well maintained, shabby and dirty (except in Delhi as the transport system has improved drastically in last few years with all new fleet of busses like low floor busses, air-conditioned and hybrid busses etc. And all of them run on green fuel – CNG). But again it is advisable to avoid the public transport as far as possible.
One important thing for women travelers- some people tend to take advantage of the heavily packed busses and touch ladies or women travelers. BEWARE. So on the whole according to our experiences with tourists- a local bus is a strict no for tourists but if you wish to travel between different states then there are some good and pre reserved bus services with advanced busses like Volvos etc. That will be a good choice but only if you are lucky enough to get a reservation.
Taxi and Auto Rickshaw/ Cycle or Battery Rickshaw: - These are the most famous mode of transport in India. The taxis are generally more expensive than auto rickshaws. You can get an air-conditioned taxi or choose a cheaper version which is non-air-conditioned. The fare of the taxis and autos keep on changing frequently and the drivers never want to serve you with the officially fixed fares. They generally make their own fares which are quite high. You will have to ask them the fare before boarding and fix it after bargaining. The correct and official way is to travel by the meter fare. Generally it is not followed.
Always insist on the latest fare sheet to be sure of the fare. On stations, airports and bus stations you will find a prepaid taxi booth, go for it. Auto rickshaws always have to go their own way and don’t be surprised if they flatly refuse you to let you board their rickshaw if you don’t pay them the fare they desire. Well for small distances a cycle rickshaw will be a great idea and experience for you. It is generally cheap (a little slow) but a good experience. It’s good if there is no rain or not too hot or not too cold… Hahahahaha… but that’s true.
Flights:- The flight connections between different states & cities in India are very huge, well organized and advance. It is one of the best networks in the world and covers mostly all of India. There are 2 main scheduled carriers Air India (The national carrier) & Jet Airways. The other small or low cost carriers are Spice jet, Indigo and Go air.
The fares are never guaranteed unless booked and paid for. The fares of all the airlines are flexible and depend on many factors like how advance you book, flight load, weekends and week days etc. Please make sure to book all your tickets in advance and never wait till last moment. The last moment fares are generally very high and shocking as compared to what you might get if you book early.
Delhi Metro Train (Subway system): - This is the latest addition to the public transport system in the capital city- New Delhi. It is one of the worlds most advanced and fastest growing transport network in Delhi. It now covers major parts of the city including the domestic & international airports. It very well connects the stations, airport, markets, cinema halls etc. It is very good, affordable, comfortable & safe service and is always advisable for the tourists. The only drawback is that there is no service between 11 pm – 6 am. The new introduction in metro is the lady’s compartment. This compartment is generally 1st compartment of the train and is exclusively reserved for lady travelers. Well as the metro trains and stations are also crowded, one has to be careful with the personal belongings.
Indian Railways: - Now we come to the biggest transport network of India. The Indian Railways. It is the only network which connects each and every corner, city, town, village of India. Basically it is the life line of Indian transport and it connects people from North to South, East to West and vice versa.
Trains are always recommended for long journeys like overnight journeys so that you can save that hotel money and still sleep and travel in comfort. Advance booking is always recommended as we told you before also that this network is always very busy and it is very hard to get on the spot confirmations. Especially in tourist places and places like Rajasthan where there are very few (sometimes only one) trains between many cities.
There are 7 classes in the Indian trains and from lowest to highest they are – 2S, SL, 3A, CC, 2A, FC, 1A. For tourist we always recommend the classes 3A and above as they are air-conditioned and pre reserved and cleaner. Still for a nice experience we suggest you to travel in either 2A or 1A only.
Rajdhani and Shatabdi are the names of 2 best trains of India connecting only big or famous cities. Other places the connected by express or passenger trains which are slower than them. There are also many quotas (reservations) in the trains like General (for every one), Tourist (only for foreigners), Defense (for military), Ladies quota etc. You will generally find many touts at the train stations trying to sell you confirmed tickets or tickets from foreign quota. NEVER fall for the trap. Sometimes they act as train officers and take the tourists to private offices located outside the station. SAY NO to them and book your tickets only through your own travel agent or yourself in the station official counter for foreigners.
Better to have your agent book them for you and you can print the electronic ticket and travel without any hassle of touts, queues, looking for connections etc. If someone tries to be friendly in the train and offers something to eat, then don’t accept it. Have your own packed food, fruits, water etc. with you. Also keep a chain and lock to lock your bags in the train. Sometimes people misguide the tourists like this is the wrong ticket or you paid more for the travel or go to police as you have been cheated etc. This is all on purpose to make you cancel the tour and then depend on them for the services. Never reveal or discuss your travel plans with anyone to avoid hassles.
IMPORTANT TIPS ON TIPPING IN INDIA
In India, GENERALLY tip is paid for 2 things- First is to get the work done and the Second is for a well done work/ job. Well you will have to find a balance between the two. Tipping is a common practice in India and is good to tip as per your wish if you are happy with the service. We advise to give a tip to the room boy or waiter as and when you check in. This will be very beneficial for you as you will get the great service you expect. At the end of your tour the car driver also expects a tip. If you are happy with his services, behavior and the promises made to you were kept then yes tip him.
We would again say that the amount is purely your wish and it can vary from 100 rupees (about 2 -3 $) to any amount you wish. In good restaurants generally the tip is 10-15 % of the bill amount. These days some restaurants have started adding 10-15% service charges in the bill, there you don’t pay tips. For potters on railway stations/ bus stands, always fix the price before you allow them to carry your bags. It generally depends on the weight and a 20kg bag could cost you anything between 50 – 150 rupees (2- 4$). Don’t forget to tip few rupees to the people of whom you take pictures like elephant or camel owner, snake charmer etc. We advise to always keep small change to tip people like cleaners, who guard your shoes when you go temples etc.
TIPS ON RELIGION & CULTURAL BELIEFS
Some common tips are mentioned below. Please follow them to avoid any misunderstanding, arguments or hurting the sentiments of the people.
- Before entering any religious institution make sure that you are not drunk or don’t possess any type of alcohol. Alcohol is a strict no and prohibited in religious institutions like Temples, Mosque, Churches, Sikh temples etc. There are few temples where the alcohol is offered to the god as a religious belief and is considered to be sacred. They are the temples of lord ``Bhairo`` also called as Bhairo Baba.
- It’s always good to wash your hands before entering any temple or religious institution. You will find the water taps or tanks before entry gates or in parking lots. In mosques it is advisable to enter with your right foot, it’s a belief.
- Always take off your shoes/ sandals/ footwear before entering and temple, mosque or any religious interest place. It is compulsory for all. You may choose to walk with your socks on, but the shoes are a strict no. Always take off your shoes to the designated and supervised shoe stands only and take a token for it (if this service is available).
- When you are in the temple please don’t point your feet towards the deity’s idol or holy book or towards the priest. It’s considered as abusing and should be strictly followed. If you want or need to sit then sit with folded legs in such a way that your feet don’t point towards them.
- Also please don’t turn your back towards the deity’s idol or holy book or towards the priest. It is un polite and rude. If you want to sit then either sit on the carpet, stairs or places meant for the followers. Don’t use the chairs of the priest or temple authorities.
- At some temples you may be asked to remove the leather products & belongings like wallets, belts etc. Please don’t feel offended as the Hindus are generally vegetarians and the leather products are not considered sacred in the temples.
- At temples generally the use of mobiles, cameras etc. is prohibited. If it is not mentioned there, still don’t take pictures unless you have taken permission. It’s always better to avoid taking pictures at the temples as it is a general practice & prohibition.
- At some temples foreigners or people of different religions are not allowed. Please don’t get offended but that is due to some religious beliefs and practices.
- Please be very considerate about the clothes you wear before going to a temple. Revealing clothes for ladies like short skirts, tank tops, cut sleeves tops etc. are not allowed. Please wear decent clothes covering your full body. Some places like Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) it is compulsory to cover your head with a cloth or hanky.
IMPORTANT TIPS ON SHOPPING
We think that shopping is unavoidable in India. With all the beautifully decorates, hustle & bustled markets, shiny & eye catchy, traditional & handicraft products it’s simply irresistible. In India the markets are called as Bazaars.
We would always say - Avoid taking help of any person who claims to take you to cheap shops etc. They are commission agents and have huge commissions added to the cost of the product you buy. Bargaining is the golden rule in these bazaars. For the stuff which doesn’t have a fixed or marked price (especially in local markets), make sure you bargain (sometimes it’s overpriced by even 200%), look around many shops and then decide. For big branded shops or shopping malls – just forget the bargain rule and you can pay the written/ printed price. The best place to shop for Indian handicrafts, carpets, ivory or precious stones & jewelry is the government emporiums. The prices here are fixed and better deal than the vendors outside.