So, our time in India has come to an end and we managed to squeeze in 8 places over a month including Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Jaipur, Mumbai, Goa, Chennai and Madurai. As we move onto Sri Lanka, we thought we would share some tips we have learned along the way that are helpful for anyone to know if they are planning a trip to this magnificent country.
1. Barter on everything
You will be surprised at how cheap you can get things for. From 450 rupees to 100 rupees for a vest top, or 400 rupees to 100 for a tuk tuk. Be sure to barter, plus its fun. You can usually get things half the price or less. Stick to your guns with a price and walk away when necessary – if they are willing to sell, they will chase or shout after you!
2. Download Ola and Uber
Ola and Uber are great apps to use for transport (although not active in Goa). They usually work out to be a cheaper and safer option in comparison to taxis, including prepaid. It is also a useful tool just to get a guideline price for your journey so you can negotiate with tuk tuk/taxi drivers to save on your ride – 90% of the time they will match or go cheaper.
Ola also has a built in safety button, not that we ever had to use it. Plus the apps keep a document of your transport spend.
3. Get an Indian mobile sim card
This should be the first thing you do, if preparing longer than a few days in India.
We purchased one sim card between us 5 days into our trip and it was so worth it! For 500 rupees (around £5) we got a month prepaid sim with 2GB data daily and free calls/texts to Indian numbers. We were able to Facetime family at the Taj Mahal, order transport from anywhere, use google maps when necessary and complain when our UberEats order didn’t arrive! It also comes in handy when booking rail tickets in which you need an Indian number.
4. If lost or in doubt, speak to security guards
In front of most tourist spots, you will find yellow barriers belonging to the police. Near these you will find police/security in cream uniforms that tend to be very helpful and trustworthy. Numerous guards have helped us find our train platforms, got us VIP into temples and given us directions on many occasions. Definitely worth asking for help when needed! You don’t ask, you don’t get.
5. Resist giving money to beggars
This sounds pretty harsh, I know. However, reading online and hearing from locals, you shouldn’t give money to beggars to encourage their behaviour. Apparently children in India are provided with food and schooling by the government, so if you see children begging, it seems this may be down to their parents to make money. It can also lead to further scams.
We have seen little girls perform handstands in the middle of traffic, and then bang on car windows for money, and mother’s encouraging their young children to spit on people if they refuse to hand over money (unfortunately James got the wrong end of the deal on this one).
6. You can refuse selfies
Something to expect in India, is a lot of locals asking for selfies with you. This came as a shock to us to begin with, but you start to get used to it. We researched this online and came to understand that due to many Indians not being able to leave India, the sight of a Caucasian person is unusual and exotic. It is an outreach of friendliness when they ask for a selfie. You can accept or decline politely. We accepted most, and they were always friendly and grateful, but sometimes felt a little uncomfortable.
7. Download MAPS.ME if you haven’t already
This map app has got us out of trouble on so many occasions whilst travelling and we couldn’t recommend it enough! Before we set out our day, we mark out places we want to visit and use it throughout the day as it works perfectly offline. It’s a free app too!
8. Take additional clothing to cover up if necessary
In India, most people tend to be fairly covered up. We have been respectful of dress code as much as we can, whilst trying to stay comfortable in the heat. However, in some more religious temples or buildings, it is appropriate for women to have shoulders, knees and occasionally heads covered. I always took a shawl with me in my bag for additional cover up when necessary. It seemed less strict for males, but James tended to pack longer trousers just in case also.
Also, females, if you visit a waterpark, expect to fully cover up. Skimpy bikinis just won’t cut it.
9. Pack tissues and wet wipes
Never assume toilet paper will be available in India – even at tourist places! We always ensured we had a packet of tissues and/or wet wipes with us for calls of nature, sweat mopping, shoe cleaning (lots of cow pats), bird poop cleaning and general freshness! Plus if backpacking not all places will provide toilet roll, and it will cost you 50p a roll from the local shops.
10. Always carry the right change and check receipts
India is pretty cheap, and therefore having 2,000 rupee notes is not always useful for a short journey, or snack. Aim to change up larger denominations when you can at your accommodation, restaurants or tourist sights where they are likely to have change.
It is always helpful to ask a driver or vendor if they have change prior to handing over a larger note – we got caught out where our driver didn’t have change for 500 so we ended up paying more than agreed (it was only about £1 extra, but still frustrating)!
Also, when using larger notes such as 500 or 2,000, ensure you say the amount you are handing over so there is no mistake in the change you are expecting. And check the change of course!
On occasions, we have found that our bill has been more expensive than we were expecting following the menu price. Whether this was a genuine mistake or not, we continued to double check the receipt against the menu and question if necessary.
We were apologised to on one occasion and told there was a new menu soon to be in place, hence the mistake. No excuse in our eyes.
Finally, enjoy every minute
India can definitely be overwhelming, but ensure you take in the vibrant colours, the tantalising food smells, the crazy driving, the friendliness of the people and the beautiful sights!