Advice for travelers to India

READER’S DISCRETION ADVISED:

Contains honest opinion said in a rather impudent tone.  No sugar or artificial flavours added.  May contain traces of biases.

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1. When in India always keep in mind that you are in India and not France

When you are traveling through India you will see lots of things that seem bizarre, weird, abnormal and often impossible.  Don’t just conceive them to be inferior or wrong because they look different.  You need to be open-minded and accept things the way they are.  The socioeconomics is totally different from what you would expect in a developed country.  And as an Indian, I vehemently hate (often goes unexpressed) when I see people criticize or make fun of things they see in India.  Sure they may appear crude or monolithic to you, but keep in mind that India is a country that has been plundered by the English (no hard feelings against a common Briton) for over two centuries up until 1947.  Even a small change takes time and it’s much easier said than done.  Also, we home a billion people in a democratic society.  I always feel like saying this, “a billion is a thousand million”!

Moral of the story… don’t go to India with a utopian mindset that there will be a Taj Mahal at every intersection.  You will be grossly disappointed.

2. Don’t give money to beggars unless it’s really compelling

What you saw in the movie Slumdog Millionaire is probably true.  Although not as frequent (or maybe it is) kids do get kidnapped, crippled, blinded, amputated and then trained to become professional beggars. There are evil guys behind the scenes, just like how the movie showed.  Giving a beggar some money (unless of course it’s a massive amount) will not give her a break from her misery, but will encourage those bad guys to ruin the future of several other kids.

And if you see a decently dressed kid begging for money (targeting foreigners only) you should realize that you are being considered an easy target.  The money will be used to buy drugs or cigarettes.  By giving money to that kid you are ONLY making yourself feel good and ruining his/her future.

On the contrary, if you see a little boy or a girl on the street doing acrobatic tricks, singing or playing a flute to earn some money, I see absolutely no harm in pouring out your wallet (if you can) to help them.  And I always encourage giving money to the old people as they are the least looked-after in the crowd and often have nowhere to go for help.

I personally buy kids ice creams and pop if I feel bad for them.  Good karma all the way!

3. Don’t always tip with 50s and 100s

When you start tipping 50s and 100s (Rupees) you are getting yourself marked.  People will continue bothering you all the time for tips.  Here is an example, we checked in our hotel (name and place undisclosed) at 5:30pm and the housekeeping guy came at 6:30pm to check if we needed our room to be cleaned.  Who the heck wants their room cleaned at 6:30pm??? So I politely said “No, thank you”.  And because we were marked, the same guy rang the door bell waking us up at 9:30 pm to give us some “goodnight candies”.

The following is based on my observation in 2009:

What you can get for a dollar in USA/Canada, you can get the same for about Rs. 20 in India.  1 CAD = Rs. 44 (Sept 2009), a bus ride can cost a maximum of Rs. 10 in India.  Save the Rs.100 tip when you check-out (or for the guy who helped you with your luggage when you checked-in) and give the elevator guy a twenty-rupee note for pressing a button.

4. Don’t get delusional about the exchange rates

When you convert your foreign money you’ll most likely get a good exchange rate.

When you spend that money do not forget the sweet exchange rate you got.

Long story short, you get what you pay for.  One rupee unfortunately doesn’t have the same mileage as one dollar.  In India there is nothing like a B & B (bed and breakfast) accommodation.  If you happen to find a backpackers type accommodation it will be crappy.  An average Indian wouldn’t even think about staying in one.

You can really do two things at this point…

  1. Make  a Youtube video showing how terrible the Rs. 150/night hotel was and focus on the bedbugs
  2. Pay what an average middle class Indian would pay (around Rs 1500) and stay at a decent place.

The video would be cool to watch, but I’d recommend that you stick with option 2.

I know it’s a bad scenario description, but some people tend to get delusional when it comes to spending the converted money.  For whatever reason, they start believing that an accommodation for Rs500 (little over $10) will be swanky.  HOW???? A modest Holiday Inn room will cost you Rs. 4000 a night.

5. Don’t buy souvenirs from peddlers.  Always buy from a store that has a “glass door”

At most tourist destinations you will see peddlers buzzing around you to sell junk.  Either don’t buy from them or don’t whine about what you got for your money.

6. Never hire a taxi on kilometre basis

Our Delhi-Agra-Jaipur trip in an air-conditioned Toyota Innova for three days and guides was Rs. 8,500 (hotels not included).

Our trip to Mayapur (“Hare Krishna” hub) from Kolkata and back (7 hours) was Rs, 7,500 (310 Kms X Rs. 25/Km)

Always ask for the inclusive price for a long distance trip and never go to an unknown place on kilometre basis.  The sweet and innocent taxi driver will not leave any road unvisited to maximize the number of kilometres.

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