Some Tips for your Tour
The lighter the
bag, the lesser you sag ! Nothing new to say here except 'Travel
Light'. Yet, in your enthusiasm to have a weightless bag, do not throw
out the essentials.
synthetic blends are most practical for Indian summers. Don't get
synthetics that don't 'breathe' - they'll make you what else but
The sun will
usually be glaring at you most of the day. So a wide brimmed hat and
sun glasses are a must. Winters can be chilly. Come armed with
sweaters and light jackets. A collapsible umbrella will help you stay
dry during the sometimes-sudden, sometimes-continuous rain during the
Sun screen lotion
(lots of it) should be a permanent part of your bag. Also carry a
sewing kit, pre-moistened towelettes, pocket knife with can opener,
lock and key for each duffel or bag, impact-resistant flashlight,
spare batteries (unless they're a popular size). Sports enthusiasts
should bring their own tennis or golf balls – these are expensive in
India. A blow-up neck pillow is excellent for buses and trains. Eye
patches add to comfort. If train traveling, a bike chain is a must to
lock your packs up on trains. A good first aid kit you should have
If you are a
mountain goat or a trekker, bring a day pack that will hold some
essentials like sweater, camera, water bottle etc.
will get the care and attention they need only at a 5 stars’ laundry
room. If you aren’t staying at one, think twice before carrying them.
For most parts of India, you won't really need to mug up any local
lingo. You possibly cannot - there are 18 recognized languages and over
1600 minor languages and dialects ! But there is good news. Elementary
English is commonly understood in cities and towns as it's taught in
most schools and colleges. English is also what the Government and
corporate world writes and talks in. By the way, did you know that the
English language has accepted a lot of Hindi words - veranda, chai,
pyjamas, jungle, loot....there are lots.
Yet, if sometime you get stuck, Hindi should help you get going. It's
spoken in fair parts of north India and understood in the west too. Down
south is the domain of the Dravidian languages. It's either English or a
regional language that will do the trick. So, pick up some words in both
Hindi and Tamil and get going.
|My name's John
||Mera naam John hai
|Please help me
||Meri madad karo
|Where can I
get... ? :
||Kahan milega.... ?
|Where is the
bathroom ? :
||Bathroom kahan hai ?
|How much shall I
pay you ? :
||Kitna paisa hua
Thank you :
India is a huge country. And you can travel through a myriad ways.
Choose what you fancy - cycle rickshaws, tongas or horse driven
carriages, hand pulled rickshaws (in Calcutta only), buses, trains and
Never buy railway/air tickets or book hotel rooms through touts. These
could be invalid. Save yourself all those logistical hassles. Simply,
try us !
Get your domestic tickets done in advance and save some precious energy
and time. Also, there are 'peak' seasons when tickets aren't available.
So, better not take chances. And, now you anyway know where to ask for
tickets from, don't you?
Come prepared for delays, especially while flying in north India during
winters. Smog envelops cities and take-offs are impossible sometimes for
hours. Carry a book or a photo album that you love going through again
and again and...
Pickpockets ant around – especially at crowded haunts like airports,
railway station or even some popular markets and tourist spots. Wear an
inner money belt.
Fares for taxis and auto-rickshaws change frequently and do not always
conform to the meter reading. Ask for the latest official
fare-conversion tariff-card. Fleecing is common so just keep your cool
and act smart !
Trains are a cheaper travel option for long distances and saves you
overnight hotel expenses. Moreover, it is a lot of fun....a great chance
to see the countryside and mingle with the locals.
Ask for an upper berth in the 2nd class, 3-tier sleepers. The lower
berths are used as seats during the day and your berth is your reserved
sleeping space after 2100 hours. Comfortable, isn't it ?
Samosas, biscuits, pakoras, tea, ice-cream are easy to come by on most
bus/railway stations. Though if your palette or tummy doesn't quite
relish all this, carry something along. Some distance trains have a
restaurant car near the upper class bogies that serves meals and tea.
Self-drive car hire isn't really quite the scene in India. Yet, if you
opt for it, take extra precaution - stray animals like cats, dogs,
cattle and pedestrians often just amble along. Night driving is risky -
truck drivers can be rash and callous and other vehicles might not use
lights. Must carry a spare can of petrol. Finding diesel at a filling
station is easier than getting petrol.
The yellow & black taxis plying in most towns and cities are metered.
Just incase you are told that the meter doesn't work, fix a fare before
riding with him. You can ask the hotel desk, your guide or a local for
an approximate fare to your destination.
Simple rules to be followed by the book -
People are generally friendly and willing to help. Guess that's why they
will always have an answer to your query - even if it's wrong! This is
mostly true about direction asking. So, instead look for milestones and
overhead signs. Now, don't get hassled if road milestones and boards
have film posters, circus announcements or marriage bureau ads pasted on
them. Hey....this is what adventure is all about ! Move on and you shall
get there !
Never leave an unlocked suitcase in a hotel room or an unattended one on
airports/ train stations.
Hindus do not eat beef and Muslims don't eat pork. Don't upset them by
offering what they cannot eat.
In conversations with locals, remember that a left-right nod of the head
may stand for 'yes' and not 'no'. So when you ask the waiter for your
favorite tipple and he wiggles his head left and right, don't feel sad.
It's time to enjoy the sip !
Photography could be an issue at some places. For places of military
importance like railway stations, bridges, airports, defense
installations and sensitive border regions, you would require to seek
permission from the authorities concerned. A few wild life sanctuaries
levy a much higher fee. The Archaeological Survey of India issues
special permits for shooting at monuments with tripods and artificial
lights. Yet, Indians love posing for a picture. But, in some traditional
societies, take care before focusing your lens on women.
For God’s sake
Mind you, religion is a sensitive topic for most Indians. It is nice to
keep your rational / logical self under wraps and follow the harmless
norms. Just be sober and friendly in any holy place and remember some
must-dos that should keep everyone happy.
Step no. 1 is to remove your shoes, sandals, sneakers, slippers etc.
This is done to keep God’s place clean. If you hate walking barefoot and
are lucky enough, there might be a cloth overshoe provided to you. Also,
wash your hands and feet, if you please - it isn't compulsory but just
another sign of reverence to the deity.
Alcohol is a strict no-no inside the premises, though, in some temples
dedicated to Lord Shiva, liquor might be the holy offering itself. It is
said that Shiva loved his sips and probably needed them to beat the cold
in his homelands, the snowy Himalayas.
At some holy places, you might not be allowed in if you don't practice
the faith. Don’t mind this. And, worst, don’t force or bribe to enter.
If you are a woman and in a dress that exposes your legs or hugs your
body etc., beware. Though you might not be stopped from entering the
sacred place but such dresses are seen 'indecent'. An Indian attire like
a Sari, salwar-suit is ideal. A loose blouse and a long skirt can do
too. Covering your head before entering a Sikh Gurudwara or a mosque
will be appreciated. And when you enter a mosque, step your right foot
first into the courtyard. It is the ‘right’ thing to do.
Since most Hindu and Jains are veggies, it isn’t surprising that leather
products like shoes, belts, handbags, camera cases etc. are prohibited.
Now for some body language once you are inside. Do not point your feet
and back towards the Holy Book / the idol / altar. In a Hindu or Sikh
temple, sit cross-legged or tuck your feet away.
Some temples prohibit photography in the main hall and the inner
sanctum. Usually, signboards announce this. Be prudent and ask if there
are no such indications. Some temples and other monuments levy a fee for
In a Buddhist monastery, remember to follow a clockwise direction while
any sort of movement – from spinning prayer wheels to walking around the
stupa or even the exteriors. Inside, do not plonk yourself on the
cushions and chairs. These are reserved for the lamas or the monks. Sit
on the steps outside or on the floor. If you get to meet a rimpoche
(head lama) or any respected monk, it's polite not to turn one's back on
him while leaving. It is decent to remove the hat and lower an umbrella
within the monastery. Basically, be your courteous best.
Travel healthy. Once on the road (or in the air ), take all precautions
that will keep you from that running nose (or tummy !), dizzy body
temperatures, giddy hangovers etc. Make sure you don't embark on a trip
even if there are some early signs of a sickness.
Cholera, dengue fever, dysentery, hepatitis, malaria, meningitis
(trekking areas only) and typhoid are the risks here.
Travelers from the US, Canada or the United Kingdom do not require any
vaccination certificate. Though normally, an International Health
Certificate is not asked for by the immigration officials, its always
better to carry one. Remember to play safe ! God forbid but just in case
you need medical attention, this will be an invaluable piece of paper.
Carry certificates like the one for Yellow Fever Vaccination.
If you believe in taking precautions, take all the vaccinations one
needs. To avoid malaria and dengue, carry mosquito repellents, nets and
sprays. If you can bear the heat, wear clothes that cover most of the
The best thumb rule is to be a careful about food and water. Eating raw
salads and fried food from a street-side vendor is a no-no. Avoid pork
too. If the temptation is soaring, go to a clean restaurant that you can
trust. Eat balanced and healthy meals. Keep popping those friendly
Water has to be from a reliably clean source. If not sure where the
water comes from, ask for a known brand of mineral water. Always carry a
water bottle with you - this will save you from dehydration too. (Make
yourself a quick salt-sugar solution - 1/2 tsp. salt and 4 tbsp. in one
liter of water - to re-hydrate those parched cells). If you cannot lay
hands on branded water, use chlorine / iodine tablets in water. These
kill germs that can cause water-borne diseases. Read the instructions
carefully and do not overdo these.
Carry a first aid kit with adhesive bandages, thermometer,
water-purification tablets, antibiotics, antiseptic creams and mosquito
If you fall ill, see the doc and keep cool. Tell yourself that this too
shall pass !
In India, more often than not, a tip is money paid to get things done
and not for something well done !
Tips are optional in a not-so-fancy restaurant. Place only a few rupees
as a tip and not a percentage of your bill. But outside restaurants and
hotels, tipping or ‘baksheesh’ is commonly practiced.
At most eating joints, you can pocket the tip unless you are in a
swanky, upmarket one - the kinds that dot the metros and has liveried
men serving you. Some tourist restaurants and hotels add a 10% service
charge to the bills.
In a 5 star, the waiter, room service boy, housekeeper, porter, doormen
will all expect tips. For railway porters, always fix a price before
taking his services. For a not-so-heavy bag, Rs. 5 - 10 per bag is ok.
Yet much depends on the weight.
No tips for taxi drivers unless he miraculously got you to the airport
or put you on a train that you never thought you could make it to. Rs.
50-100 is a handsome one. Give a local guide Rs. 50 for 4 hours of his
service and Rs. 80 for a full day.
Hand out a few rupees to people whom you photograph on the road like the
snake charmer, the cart puller or the camel rider...
Carry small change - you'll need it often for people who help you with
little things like those who keep your shoes outside temples/mosques
The Indian bazaar - a place that puts your temptation resistance skills
at test. They are stuffed with bright and beautiful things -
handicrafts, silks, ethnic jewelry, curios and what have you. You can
shop till you drop. Read more to be a smart shopper in India.
First, the thumb rule - get the right bargain. This stands for all items
that don't come with an MRP (Maximum Retail Price) stamp like clothes,
jewelry, leather goods, carpets, paintings etc. Don't grab the first
good-looking thing and pay extra bucks for it. And who knows....it might
be fake or of poor quality. Always, always look around, compare prices
and then buy.
Exporting items like ivory, fur, animal skins, antiquities etc. is
illegal. If you must have it, obtain a certificate of legitimate sale
and permission for export before leaving the country.
If you don't see what you're looking for in a store, ask. There's more
than meets the eye ! Most stores have little display space, so much of
the stoSck is above the ceiling or in a separate room.
Visit the various state emporia and the Central Cottage Industries
Emporia (most major cities have one like Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai,
Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad etc.) The prices here are fixed and will
give you a fair idea of the cost with a regular dealer.
If you need a delivery, ask if the price includes delivery charges. Be
ready to pay additional customs (generally 20% of the cost) and handling
charges (normally a 10% of the total value of the good).
Never, never believe the touts (they hang around the tourist-y spots and
cities) who promise to take you to the best shop around and get you the
best bargain. They usually have their handsome commissions built into
Those sparkling gems and patterned carpets look very attractive but the
market is flooded with imitations. You don't want to pay for a 'real'
one and get a fake, do you? Be sure you know the grain from the chaff !
Just a suggestion. While buying carpets, look for one with a Smiling
Carpet label - these come from factories that do not employ child labor.
Once upon a time, women traveling alone used to be frowned upon in
India, but times are a changin'. Ladies travel a lot more now - infact,
there are now ladies’ queues for train tickets, ladies’ compartments in
trains and even ladies’ seats in buses. So you see, it is not that bad.
The 1st commandment - Be friendly but don't get friendly, especially
with those servicing you in hotels, trains or even your cabbie or
Don't wear anything that attracts glances or invites cat calls. In
metros like Delhi, Mumbai etc., it is ok to dress western but in smaller
cities and towns, short skirts, tight pants or blouses can make you
stand out in the crowd. Dress sober - loose and long clothes that
neither define body shape nor expose it.
Never accept a ride to..…anywhere..…if there's someone accompanying the
driver in a taxi or an auto-rickshaw
Keep your hotel room locked while you are inside. Chain locking your
hotel room door is a smart precaution.
It's a good idea to avoid eye contact. If your eyes like to look around
and you cannot resist glancing, put on sun glasses while out of doors or
just carry an interesting book and glue your vision there.
No place is completely safe. Yet, some are safer than others. The safest
of cities can be 'unsafe' at a different time of the day or have 'seedy'
places. So, why worry? Just pick your bags and trip on !
Don't be reckless. Rely on your senses and instincts and not so much on
the local Tourist office. Remember they will always want to play it
Agreed that you want to experience local culture etc. but never accept
invitations from locals to their homes for a chai or a meal. Not unless
you want to invite trouble.
Carry your passport, travelers cheques, money, cards etc. in an inner
shirt/jeans pocket. Better still, shove them in a hidden money belt
against your skin. You can then dance around pickpockets and yet be
safe. The worst thing to do is to carry them in a zippy bag hung over
the shoulders. You will never know when someone just slips it out. The
fanny bags or waist packs spell 'money' to pickpockets and make you an
easy prey to swoop on. You cannot escape their nimble fingers and sharp
Turn your alarm sensors on when in crowded places like airports,
railways stations etc. Watch for faces that are always lurk in a radius
of 10 feet.