TOP 20 important things you should know before visiting India
To be honest, we don`t even know where to start and if finish with travel tips in India. India is a totally different world with so many rules that apply nowhere else in the world. And t is not like in the movies – colourful dressed ladies, cheerful songs and sparkling temples. It is a real culture shock. Even after visiting 70 countries of the world we never expected to see and experience something like India. There you have to deal with garbage, traffic, pushy sellers and hungry animals on the streets. India is like a love-hate story – you hate everything that happens but at the same time you fall in love with it deeper. Besides that the culture is absolutely head-spinning, the nature is just stunning, the food, people, traditions and everything else is something that just cannot be described! This country gave us such strong impressions that we returned there again, and we truly believe that these two times weren`t the only ones. India.. Go there prepared and open your mind!
1. Diversity of the country
India is vast. It is the 7th biggest by landmass and 2nd most populated country in the world. Actually, it is said that by 2050 India will be ahead of China in terms of inhabitants. There are 29 different states and 7 territories in which the landscape, weather, traditions, cuisine, laws and even the language is different. Yes, every place, town and every city is variant, therefore we recommend you to consider well your exact destination and then examine it as best as possible. It can be too hot and temperatures can also be below zero. It can be touristy or tribal. Of course, everything depends on what are you looking for, and in India you can find that all!
2. History and legends
India is an ancient country so you can imagine that history is very rich and cannot be told in one article. But it is good to know that there are many ancient and sacred sites that reveal some of the most interesting stories. India is origins of the biggest world religions, and here things like chess, shampoo, number ‘pi’, algebra, trigonometry and so many more were invented. India was also the only country in the world where diamonds were found before 18th century when they were found in Brazil too. And that antiquity is something that makes this country so special!
In short, once India consisted of several kingdoms that were joined by British colonialists. Portuguese also played a huge role in India`s development but British rule affected this country the most. The world`s largest mass migration occurred when British divided the territory in India and Pakistan and there are still disputes about the land, especially the region of Kashmir. Basically, it is a long and complicated story, but whenever you visit a place, it is good to study a bit of its history.
Also, India is a country with many legends that explain how things were created and why they work like that. We were buying books one after another as they gave us the glimpse of this land`s way in history. Enjoy this dimension of India as well!
India is located on the Indian tectonic plate and its crash into Eurasian plate created Himalayas that grow 6.1 centimeter a year. And Himalayas are the main source of India`s biggest rivers that give the life to all the country. Under Himalayas you will find Indus Ganga which is the most fertile land in the country. Then comes Vindhyas and Satpuras mountain ranges that separate North and South India. There are swamps by the border with Bangladesh and deserts by the border with Pakistan. There are mountains on the North and beaches on the South. There is so much of diversity in this land that you won`t believe this can be called one country! That`s why we recommend you to decide on your destination first and then study it before coming to India to be prepared!
There are 94 national parks, more than 500 animal sanctuaries. India has the highest population of Bengal tigers in the world. Elephants, royal cobras, river dolphins and others live in this land. There is so much of wildlife! Be prepared to encounter animals on daily basis as in India even dogs, goats and cows are roaming around freely on the streets. The sad thing is that these animals are often hungry and diseased. That was shocking. Of course, be aware that dogs often have rabies, but generally street animals do not attack if not provoked. You will see horses tied to the trees without water, dogs are being beaten. You will see that animals are treated terribly, inhuman to say the least. But this is the time you can actually make a difference, even as a visitor. We always kept a treat for the dog in our pocket, we never let a local beat the animal in front of our eyes. Here you have to embrace yourself. India`s sad part starts with this.
India has more cattle than any other country in the world, around 330 million. And because of the Hindu tradition – that the cow is a sacred animal – most Indian cows are banned from killing and there are penalties for deliberately killing a cow. Of course, as cows are freely walking on the streets, accidents happen all the time. But bulls are the ones that are being used for meat in some states, often illegally, and also as sacrifices in temples for Gods. But these animals are harmless, just let them be.
Also, you will see that mostly streets are dirty, full with trash, the rivers are filthy and contaminated. Do not swim in places that aren`t fully explored! You will also see people throwing their garbage out of the windows of trains or buses. This bad practice comes from ancient times when all the trays were made from natural sources like banana leaves and people could throw them away and they rot. Time has passed, the plastic has been invented and sold, but people`s education hasn`t really changed, especially in poor areas, therefore this practice continues nowadays. Sometimes it`s just unbelievable how blind people seem to be – they are littering nature without any conscience and drink the same water where they just dumped their waste. This is another sad part of India.
India has the third highest level of carbon emissions after China and the US, the fourth when the European Union is counted as one. However, when it comes to the population figure, it is at 2 kilotonnes per person which is not at all high, e.g., Qatar`s carbon emissions are 40 kilotonnes per person.
Of course, the bigger nation, the bigger problems, but not all the people are the same. Many Indians are trying to save their land. E.g., in 2016, India broke the world`s record by planting 50 million trees in a day! They predict that by 2030, 12% of the country will be afforested.
India is one complex land and you will discover so many incredible things here – besides bad there is always a good, too.
Here we can return to the topic about the diversity of the country. Remember that here you can experience unbearable heat and freezing cold weather in different places in the same day. So plan ahead and study your destination! Weather differs in every region of India, therefore it is best to check the weather in your destination before you go. The monsoon season is from June to October, but it generally varies. Monsoon rains cause flooding and landslides, that can lead to disruption of train and roadway services, so you might get stuck in places for days.
Cyclones and tropical thunderstorms mostly occur on East of India, generally from September to December, while in the Bay of Bengal they return also from April to June. Earthquakes are generally more common by Himalayas and the landslides caused by earthquake can affect the hill stations.
India is home to all the biggest religions of the world. Judaism and Christianity came into India before they spread out in Europe. The biggest amount of Christians live on the South and also East of the country in Seven Sisters region. Here in India is the biggest Sikh, Jain and Zoroastrian number among other world countries. Also, the second biggest Muslim population after Indonesia, from which most of them live in West by Pakistan or in East by Bangladesh. 14% of all the inhabitants are Muslim here, thereby India is the country with the biggest number of mosques in all the world – more than 300 thousand!
Buddhism and Hinduism was created in India. Hinduism is the main religion in this country – 80% of Indians say they`re Hindu. And Hinduism based ideologies apply in family, business, temples, basically everyday life all across the country. All these religions are rich with traditions and legends, but we won`t go deeper now. The main thing is to be aware that you will encounter many different religions in India and every sacred place of worship has different rules. E.g., temples will generally ask you to leave your shoes outside before entering – sometimes there is a shoe keeper, sometimes not. Some of the places will have an entrance fee and very specific rules (there is a temple in Kanyakumari where men have to take off their shirts).
Of course, there are some disagreements between the religious practitioners – you will hear them talking badly about each other, but it is mostly because of the rough history. Your main role would be to respect these different religious sites and practices, always think about your appearance and behavior. And also, you will not suffer too much if you won`t catch that “special” shot with your camera. Mostly it is forbidden to take photos in sacred places. So enjoy, don`t be the tourist that sees everything just through the lens of the camera!
There are 1.3 million people in India, it is the second most populated country in the world with 18% of all the world`s population. Can you imagine that people mix? There are 72% Indo- Aryan and 25% Dravidian people. 2000 ethno linguistic groups with around 645 different tribes, also one of the last uncontacted ones – Sentinelese tribe. In the North people speak languages like Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati while in South they mainly speak Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. There isn`t one national language but 22 languages are recognized. Two of them are official languages that are being taught in schools – those are English and Hindi. And it is quite easy to travel around India as most of the people can speak at least a bit of English – India is second-largest English-speaking country in the world after USA.
The more people, the bigger diversity. We couldn`t believe how diverse this country can be! Though there are some things that apply to most of this land, while many variations are there from state to state. There is still a cast system in India which divides Hindus into hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (duty). For centuries, caste has dictated almost every aspect of Hindu life, as it was believed that one is born in a specific socio-economic place that cannot be changed, also marriages between different casts were not accepted. People say this is slowly changing, but you will still see this system being applied. Also, arranged marriages still are quite popular.
White in India is aristocratic color, therefore people are afraid of tan and use whitening creams. Usually Westerners are looked up as richer and better, but do not take this as an advantage! In this country, it is amazing how much you can give while getting the experience. You can actually be an important part of this land by helping with your kindness there.
Of course, this big nation has its problems there. Illiteracy is a huge issue. There are highest human trafficking rates in the world, child slavery is still happening. The more people, the more bad ones in the society as well. Stay safe yourself and protect the ones that you can. And remember that during your journey in India, you can actually make a difference yourself, even as a simple traveler.
Remember that in this big country personal space is so much smaller than the one you might be get used to. A walk around streets will feel like a mass migration. Getting tickets to the public transport will ask you all the patience because of the queues. Traffic is just terrible. But people are so used to that! They will just be ok with everything, some will look over your shoulder to read all those things in your phone you are on at that moment. And remember that in these crowds you should watch your belongings more carefully. Also, avoid public gatherings as being crushed by the crowd is a reality in India.
One interesting thing you will come across is Indian head waggle. And it is not our common “yes” and “no”. It took a lot of time for us to understand what they mean with it. And if you are not sure – just ask Indians to say it out loud instead of waggling their head back and forth as a response. The biggest confusion is that this head waggling can have lots of meanings depending on the context. But if the question has to be answered by “yes” and “no”, head waggling most likely will mean “yes”, and they will just shake their head for “no”. Also, watch people`s eyebrows – the higher they lift them while waggling their head, the more certain “yes” it is!
India is a large country and they have huge international connections. They are friends with countries with large Indian populations such as Fiji, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Mauritius, Malaysia. Now it`s actually hard to guess in which country there are no Indians yet! India has relationships with their former colonizer United Kingdom in business and tourism. They have business with China, although both still have territorial conflicts. Indians are getting along with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Actually, India is good friends with Russia as they supported India in a war with Pakistan. Yeah, and now comes the biggest issue – Pakistan. These two countries had wars and now they still have constant conflicts. It is not advisable to travel close to the Pakistan border, the only official land border with Pakistan is Wagah, which is quite corrupt. Experienced travelers can try to cross it as it is a promising adventure, but this is definitely not suitable for holidaymakers.
Basically, the conflict between India and Pakistan started from the day one when India was divided in Muslim and Hindu countries – nowadays Pakistan and India. Their politics, religion, traditions and way of life is different even if these people are coming from one nation (many of them do not even admit it, but there are ones that agree – both nations are just like separated brothers). The biggest conflict is in region of Jammu and Kashmir, so before going there you should follow the latest news – it is very beautiful region, but very unsafe.
And here comes the safety. This is not the most dangerous and unstable country to travel to. Some of India`s parts welcome tourists every single day. But as it is still developing country with its struggles, you always should think about safety.
There are terrorist attacks happening, and it is generally dangerous to be in huge mass gatherings as you can literally get crushed there. Also, you cannot predict what pops in an Indian mind when he is under such adrenaline. Fights and mass rape is something you can hear about every day. But one of the things that can happen more often is pickpocketing. It is generally always busy so watch for your belongings carefully! There are times when tourists are surrounded by crowd of children that are trying to snatch everything while begging for money. You will actually see many beggars on the streets and people will try to trick you many different ways to get your money. What can we recommend – do not give your money but feed the hungry! Those who are just after some cash for intoxicating substances will show you their real face. You will see who is actually thankful for your time, effort and the good heart for bringing a meal, and who is just counting tourist coins to skip work.
Generally, be very careful with your money. When taking it from ATM, see if nobody is really waiting for this opportunity to get your PIN or your cash. Do follow the money exchange process as in money changing booths you most likely will be cheated and the exchange rate will be silly. Check the notes that you are given as Indians themselves do not love ripped paper money but will definitely give you one, also, they will try to give you less change than actually necessary.
Woman travelers should be especially careful – always dress respectful and proper, do not uncover shoulders and knees. Do not stay in isolated places, do not travel in public transport alone and avoid traveling in the night time. There are some terrible stories about women abuse in India, but that can be changed by following basic safety tips and being as less noticeable with behavior and appearance as possible. Read our safety tips!
Be careful on the sidewalk if there is such thing at all. Streets are full with everything and everyone – starting from animals to human and all kinds of transport. Enjoyable walk is something we have never experienced in Indian cities. In this country, you should always be alert. Someone can just drive over your feet, rob you or you can step in a cow`s poo. If there is a sidewalk, most likely it will be full of open holes and sharp things that can hurt everybody. Just be very attentive and look around! This is not a country you can go daydreaming!
Trouble you can encounter differs from place to place. In biggest Northern cities of India there`s extremely high levels of air pollution that seriously affect children and elderly. There are chances of altitude sickness and extreme weather conditions in mountain areas. There are mosquito-borne diseases like Dengue fever that occurs all year round. There is a risk of Zika and Chikungunya virus transmission as well.
Study your destination and follow these safety tips!
9. Food poisoning
Along with the safety, one of the biggest issues for tourists in India is food poisoning. We got a very bad experience when we first visited this country, but we were smarter the second time, and now we can share our lesson.
Generally you should avoid the cheapest street huts as food quality and preparation is not safe for your stomach. A bit more pricey places are still cheap, but at least safe. Of course, in India you can never be 100% sure as the food sanitation standards are different there. But there are some things that might save you from poisoning. First, try to be vegetarian for this trip. Meat and water are two main reasons why travelers get disease, and you will see for yourself that meat is not refrigerated, there are flies partying on the steak before it is being prepared. Try to avoid milk products, also ice-cream. Check if the hot drinks like tea are properly boiled not just heated up. Avoid sauces, choose fruits and veggies that you can peel yourself, do not eat grapes and berries you cannot peel. Sometimes you will find bugs in your plate – people tend not to wash the pan properly every time after use. And also, there are so many bugs and bacteria you haven`t seen before! Never drink water from the tap, check if the cutlery and your water cup is clean before using it.
Basically, your body just isn`t used to that different bacteria that is in the water and food in India. And Indians have noticed that foreigners have diarrhea quite often, so in some pharmacies they already offer a special kit for that. We have tried loads of things, the medication we brought with us from other countries just didn`t work. But if you have food poisoning, the best meds will definitely be Loperamide (in India, usually yellow capsules). Of course, if you continue to have stomach issues for more than three or four days, see a doctor as you may need an antibiotics. During our second time in India we were just following the food safety very carefully and times to times drunk the pills just for prevention, and it worked out well!
Let`s talk about the food! Indian cuisine is rich and we absolutely love it! 75% of the world`s spices are coming from India. Meals vary from region to region, bread is more popular in North while in the South they love rice. But that is not it. We cannot name all the dishes as it would take ages, but we are sure you will love Indian food if you find the right place to have it!
Firstly, India has the lowest consumption of meat worldwide. With the world`s largest vegetarian population at 40% of inhabitants, they have made their meals super-diverse without killing lots of animals. Also, cows and pigs are rarely cooked as those are the sacred animals of Hindu and Muslim people. India has the world’s most irrigated land and it is therefore the world’s largest producer of many products such as bananas, lemons, limes, mangoes, ginger, chickpeas, milk, butter and fennel. Yes, there is definitely lots to eat and to combine besides meat – and that is healthy, fresh, delicious and sustainable! Plus, having vegetarian meals reduce risk of getting sick from badly prepared meat.
But where could you look for the food? Sometimes restaurants in India are called “hotels”. But those are actually eateries not places to sleep. In hot and humid parts of India restaurants will have two separate rooms – one with air-con and the other one with fan. Even if it is the same restaurant, prices in the menu for same meals will be higher in the air-con rooms. It is good to know that in India people are used to eat with their hands. Of course, in the restaurant you will be given cutlery if requested, but you might get an invitation to family dinner where you have to go with the flow. Be wise – wash your hands properly! And try not to eat with your left hand as that is seen as a hand for the toilet, so eating with it is considered rude.
In South India, there is not a big variety of breakfast dishes, it is just rice cake idli and layered rice batter dosa. Well, after a while we just couldn`t get these in our stomach anymore, therefore we bought the meal in previous eve. Usually the biggest variety of foods you can get in the afternoon, but it also varies from place to place.
And last, but not least – count your money when you get the change! Indians have tried to trick us too many times, so this is something that we do automatically, but you might just have to pay more attention to your finances. Tipping in India also varies, in smaller eateries it is not common and locals won`t even understand why you are giving them something extra. But in touristy places Westerner has already taught locals to take everything they can.
Let`s start with the water. It is very, very important to remember that in India only bottled water is safe. And it is recommendable to use it also when washing hands, brushing teeth and washing fruits and veggies. And keep your mouth shut when showering! Inspect the bottled water you have bought as sometimes it has just been refilled with tap water and you can get very bad poisoning. In many restaurants you will see water cups on the table for waiters to fill in the water for you. Well, firstly, those cups might have been there for quite a time full with dust, they are not washed properly and the water that`s been brought can be straight from the tap. Safest is to carry around your own drink!
A very popular drink in India is chay or tea. You will hear sellers shouting out “chay, chay chay” on the streets, in trains and all around. It is usually tea with milk and sugar that they carry in their special thermos. Yes, we said that you should avoid milk and check if the tea is boiled properly, but usually these don`t give any bad stomachaches. Though remember that here they use sugar. And a lot! If you ask your tea or coffee without sugar, you will be seen as an alien.
Of course, there are loads of traditional drinks, but we will not talk about the drinks themselves but rules around them. And one important part is alcohol. Alcohol is banned in states of Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram and Nagaland, as well as in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep. Even if you can get yourself a drink illegally, generally alcohol consumption is not a common thing. Even if touristy beach towns of Goa and Varkala consists of bars, you won`t find this often. Banglore is the city that`s called „The pub capital of India”. Here you can chill in variety of bars in the central part, while a bit further away from the developed business district, you can find the average Indian as well.
Alcohol is sold in special shops. Sometimes opening hours are odd, sometimes you will encounter 45-minute-long queues. And, yeah, it is not that cheap as well and might give you bad hangover. So maybe this time try some chay and enjoy your journey sober!
You won`t find many families with kids traveling in India, but it`s still quite visited country. They even have the world`s most visited place that was written in the Guinness Record book. It is the Golden temple in Amritsar where we have been, too. Every single day around 100 thousand people are visiting it! Though, of course, there is a reason why India is more popular among travelers not families – it is still quite a challenge. So think through who you are taking with you!
But generally it is easy to move around India as it is the second biggest English speaking nation in the world. Almost everyone will be able to communicate with you at least in the basic level. English translation can be found in menus, in transportation centrals, hotels and road signs.
But even if Westerner has traveled through India before, people still will turn attention to you. They will look at you, some will be brave enough to start conversation. They will make photos of you and point fingers at you. But Indians are generally very nice. Besides those who want to rip you off there will be those who are just curious. So be ready for that! And try not to stand out – wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees. For ladies, even when swimming T-shirt might come handy to avoid being photographed by Indians that are roaming around the beach just to glance at ladies in bikini.
You will notice that the entrance fee for Westerners is much higher than for locals and Asian tourists. And that is at least 10 times higher! But, well, you are the one to decide how much you are willing to spend. We generally avoided expensive sites as the most beautiful places in the world are for free.
But watch out for scams! It may happen that someone just grabs you by the hand saying you now have a free tour guide, but at the end you will be pressured to make a donation or to buy a sacred offering. Sometimes you will find yourself with a red dot on your forehead before even saying “no, thank you”. And, of course, you will be asked to pay. Usually donations that are named are unreasonable, therefore, to avoid the conflict, just keep a small change in your pocket and say that is all you got!
Also, be careful with tickets as you can get fake ones here! Especially in big cities there will be even fake train ticket stations and information offices. Yeah, and no one does anything about it. Before buying the tickets, do some research in internet to know if the transport company actually exists and see how does the ticket you wish to purchase looks like. Or, even better, get a local friend – a hotel receptionist or someone you trust, and ask him to help you!
Generally, there are many interesting things to discover as a tourist, and India is a country that will always reveal a secret. And one of the places we really recommend you to enjoy is cinema. One thing that united Indians was hatred of colonialism, and now they are proud of being Indians. The other thing was love for music and films! India has the second largest film industry, producing 2000 films a year. Indian movies are awesome! Tickets are sold outside the cinema building for one or two movies that usually are shown 4 times a day. They might not have English subtitles, but the stories are great! They also have very old type cinemas that are made in the old theatre buildings where old movies are played for couple of cents. Some rats are running around and fans on the ceiling are making that scary-movie vibe, but if you wish to see the real authentic India without the tourists and scams, this is a great option!
13. C form for foreigners
In India, there is such a thing as C form for foreigners, but we got to know about that only in our second visit when a host from Couchsurfing insisted for us to fill it in. It is an arrival report. As Government of India regulates the entry, presence and departure of every foreigner to and from India, this form should be submitted in the official homepage, and it has to be done by the hotel or guest house or couchsurfing host within 24 hours from the time of guest’s arrival. It basically helps Indian government to follow your activities. It is actually said that if no form has filled, the punishment applies, but, hey, nobody never did this form with us except that one man one time in all our stay.
But now more about the form itself. Any person hosting a foreign guest for monetary consideration in India, even for a few hours, should submit C form through online platform that you will easily find in internet. After registering and filling in the form, your host will need to visit local FRRO (Foreigner Regional Registration Offices) or submit the documents via post or courier. What is necessary to complete this process? Printed registration form, copy of visa and passport, also the small passport photo. The host may also be required to submit the proof of his/her address. Basically, these are the things your host might be asking from you, but submission itself has to be done by him/her. Officially C forms should be submitted twice for each foreign guest – when checking-in and checking-out.
There are many ways to get around India and there are many different things to know about each of the transport types, but here we will cover the basics.
Firstly, if you travel by plane, always be on time and even before as in India random checks are quite common – if your bag is chosen for search, you might get stuck for hours and miss your flight. Often it is needed to present passport and flight ticket even before entering the airport, otherwise they won`t let you in. If you need to print the flight tickets, look for Xerox – this is how they call printing shops.
If you go by taxi, be aware of travel scams. Often taxi driver will pretend he has never heard the name of your hotel and circle around the city thus making more kilometres in taxi meter and more money. Indians also might lie that your hotel has been closed and suggest you another one – there are hotels that pay locals to bring in tourists, or it may be a family business.
The most common way to travel around India is by train. Indian railway connects more than 7100 stations, it is the biggest railway network in Asia, bringing more than 23 million passengers in more than 12000 trains. But here are some tips how to get the tickets. Indian trains are busy, but they have made them easier for foreigners because of tourist quotas. Even if the locals themselves wait in lines for months, there are always some spaces booked out just for travelers as foreigner cannot wait for the ride that long, right?
Firstly, get to the train station. For shorter rides, only sitting carriages will be available and the tickets can be bought in the ticket office. The first who finds a free seat, gets it, others have to stand. And in India 4-hour-ride is a short one. But for the longer rides, the system is different. You will need to take your number or join the special queue that is usually for women, elderly and tourists, men are always separately. After that you will receive an application form that you have to fill in with your passport data and train number, traveling day and time, which you can look up in internet, in www.irctc.co.in. If you haven`t found your ride yet the cashier will help you. Sometimes even tourist quotas are all taken, and then you have an option to get into waiting list. Usually many cancel their ride and then their seat is taken by the people in the waiting list sequentially. But if you do not get a place, again – you can still get on train, but you have to stand or sit on the floor.
Sometimes locals doesn`t check their seat number or just try to sit in other`s place. If there is someone in your seat, you can ask them to present their ticket, and they will usually go. Of course, there are ticket control guys that sometimes come, and they also can help. And then – enjoy the ride! There are first class carriages and ones that don`t have any seats at all – those are the cheapest ones that only locals use. Depending on what kind of traveler you are, the choice is yours! We just have to mention that traveling with locals is fun, but, of course, remember all the safety tips.
If you choose to go by bus, remember you are subject to traffic and other crazy drivers. Buses are not comfy, they are slow and usually full. Even highways are often empty, the roads though cities and towns are too busy to get ahead. If you are going to a place which trains are not reaching, the safest is not to purchase the bus ticket in advance as the bus might not come, the ticket office can disappear in a day. We have tried all the means of transport and bus rides were not the best ones for sure.
India also has the second largest road network in the world. But the traffic is chaotic and if you wish to rent a car, think it over. Also, the police can be corrupt and stop you to ask for ridiculous things and some money, of course. It is more common to hire a driver which will cost you around 30 euros a day. It is much safer way to move around.
Then there are rickshaws and auto-rickshaws also called “tuk-tuk” or “auto”. Human rikshaw is usually a person that has a carriage for passengers which he is moving by his bicycle or by walking. This is slow way to move around and quite pricey as it is human power. The auto rickshaw is a three-wheeled vehicle with the motor of a small motorcycle. These also have a meter, but it is well-known that tuk-tuk drivers cheat a lot.
In India, you will see streets you have never seen before. There is chaos, constant beeping, humans and animals among all the different vehicles. It is not easy at all and therefore do not expect things happening on time. Delays can be measured within hours. So plan things ahead!
India is a country where you can really save on accommodation. It is easy to find places in the main booking sites like Booking.com, Agoda, AirBnb, etc. But there are some things you should know. Turn attention to references as the photos of the place can be wrong. People will say if something is wrong with the place. Of course, do not expect the highest class service in budget accommodation, but remember there can be dodgy places in the basements with lots of bugs and no safety. What you can do to save is actually skip the booking and just go straight to the hotel. Tell them that you have seen their place in internet and ask how much is it. Usually they will name lower price than you have seen. But if they ask for more, just show them the price in internet. Also, book the first night only, ask for discounts if you stay longer. Often your stay in Indian hotels is planned for 24 hours – if you checked in at 9AM you have to leave at 9AM next morning.
Remember that higher price doesn`t necessarily mean higher quality – the conditions in India are always similar. And also, keep in mind that the bedding might not been changed after every single person, floors might not been cleaned. Instead of toilet you might get a hole in the floor and water bucket. But if you have reached India, enjoy everything that`s there!
India has lots to offer and bright markets are the ones you can reveal that colourful life of locals. Of course, again – do not keep valuables in visible places and be careful of pickpocketing. But then – markets are just incredible – you can find so many amazing things there for lowest prices possible! But do not forget to bargain. Indians even expect you to do that! At the beginning when you hear the highest price, name at least half of it. Then you can jump up and down with the seller to find something that fits for both of you. But we wouldn`t recommend you to buy something in the first place you enter – go around and compare the prices as they might be incredibly different even in the nearby shops. Also, you can tell the seller that you can buy the product for the price you offer at this very moment, otherwise you will reconsider his/her offer and come back later. Usually sellers are afraid to lose the deal and agree. And ayway, if you start walking away, the price will drop. India is cheap – do not spend more money than it is necessary! And be careful when purchasing souvenirs like raw stones or animal products as some of them can be illegal.
A very useful thing to know is something called MRP. These three letters you will see on the most products in the shops. MRP is Maximum Retail Price. Sellers legally cannot sell the product for higher price than MRP. People are even been encouraged to report if something like this happens. Of course, sometimes, especially in alcohol stores, locals still put the price up, but it differs in couple of cents. But when in touristy parts they add couple of euros, you can tell them you know the law.
17. ATMs and money
Sometimes it can be a real problem to get money in India. Often ATMs are just empty, but those rare that are working can be surrounded by hour-long queues. So what to do? Firstly, Indian Rupee is a heavily regulated currency and it is not permitted to take Indian currency out of India nor purchase it overseas. So when you come here, you can get Indian Rupee in airport or in exchange offices, also in the bank. But the lowest fee for exchange will be straight from ATM. And when you have found the right ATM, make sure you take enough cash and keep it in a very, very safe place. Also, in India, you should always carry cash on you. Preferably divided by different secret pockets – in one, change for donations we talked about earlier, in other – small change for food and for hotel. Never count money in public and try to exchange the big notes before purchasing something as hotels, restaurants and especially markets will not have change for you.
18. SIM & Internet
Wifi is widely available in India, so you wouldn`t have to have problems with it. Though sometimes it requires password to start the wifi and it is sent to your phone number. So you need a SIM. But SIM card can be a bit more complicated thing.
We have bought SIM in different places across India and in every place the rules are different. One time we got SIM just by presenting our passports, but it turned out to be useless in couple of days. So what you have to do is – first, find a place to purchase SIM, which can be any phone operator shop. And they will ask you a lot. You will need your passport, small photos, the copy of visa (which is in your passport), and local address, sometimes the proof of that, too. We were also asked the contact number of a local citizen and we were lucky as at that point we were staying with our friends.
Why the contact of a local person is required? The SIM card company would call the local person to finish the registration. They really do not wish to give out SIM cards any random person, so they want to know who would be the responsible for possible prank phone calls or other tricky situations that can happen in such a huge and complicated country. The worst thing is that if your “local person” misses the call from the company, the next one can come within days. Yeah, getting SIM card asks for some time.
Once the network has called your local reference, your phone should display a signal. And then you should activate your SIM. How exactly – that depends on the company, but generally you text or call to the specific number to confirm all the details. Remember that SIM card activation has to happen at the same place, town, city you have started the registration.
Oh, India is a challenging country in every way, also in the terms of toilets. And the worst thing is that you might not find one when you experience the food poisoning. In India, it is generally safer to look for the toilet first and then go for a meal or attraction. Although sit-down toilets can be found, usually you will see squat toilets, especially in public places. And some of them are terrible, so be prepared for that! Also, you will not find any toilet paper, so carry one along. No soap either, so hand sanitizer can be handy, and we encourage you to use hand sanitizer as often as possible!
India is a very special and very spectacular country. There are so many weird and at the same time fascinating things happening you will never see in the rest of the world. And that ancient breath, that knowledge and energy just brings every traveler back if he/she has let India to show all of its sides. Generally your experience will be pleasant if you will respect everything that`s happening around you.
Do think about your outfit. And do not be surprised if locals are too much interested in you if you are half-naked with camera hanging around your neck. Avoid public displays of affection as it is still not accepted in India! Look around – this is a totally different land and you are a guest not an owner! Humble and respectful visitors will see the magic of India!
India is something incredible. It will definitely impress you, but the emotions that you will take home totally depend on you. So try to open your mind – this country is truly magical. Accept that things happen differently here and enjoy your travels!