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Traveler FAQ's

Transportation Questions

Should I use auto and bicycle rickshaws?
For travelling within a city, the auto rickshaws are a very cheap way to go, and bicycle rickshaws are even cheaper. One major drawback for auto rickshaws, however, is the pollution - these little two-cycle engines spew enormous amounts of particulate pollution that often ends up right in your face, in addition to the toxic emissions of all the other vehicles on the road.
The air quality can be so awful that I would recommend bringing with you dust mask that are used at construction sites, or a good bandana to wrap around your face.

Should I take busses?
Avoid busses if you can, unless you're on a tight budget.

Should I use the train system?
Absolutely. You should take trains between cities at least a couple of times during your time in India. The Indian rail system is an amazing feat of organization, employing something like two million people, the largest single employer in the world.
Taking the train gives you quality time with the locals like no other venue. You can make some wonderful connections with the folks, gain valuable information that you can't get elsewhere, and open the door for some interesting opportunities and adventures.

What class should I travel on in trains?
The most 'luxurious' class is called 'air-con' or 'chair' class, and this can come in handy during long rides through the hot Indian climate. Most trains seems circa 1960 with windows that are yellowed.
But you should try first and or second class at least once to really get the feel of India. They have fans on the ceiling which actually work sometimes. But you can go between cars or try to get near a window if you want to cool yourself down with a blast of hot Indian air.
On all classes of trains, you can watch the train track go by through the bottom of the toilet, so watch wear you step if you're ever walking the line in India!
Note: Keep alert if you are getting off at a particular stop - sometimes trains can take off quite abruptly. Be prepared for your stop.

How should I travel between cities?
For a few inter-city journeys take the train, just to get the experience of the Indian countryside, meeting the locals on the train. This can, however, get old very quickly, and if your money to time ratio is in favor of money, go for flights between cities. The pleasure of being in a clean, western style airport is sometimes  worth the trip!

Resting your Head

How clean are the hotels?
The 5 and 4 star hotels are pretty much like any high quality western hotel, and many of them are western chains. But then the quality drops dramatically to 1/2 stars - anything considered 3 stars or less in India is basically a crap shoot. After a while, I started to rate hotels based on the number of insect and blood stains on the wall near the bed.
It's good to start your stay in India with a higher class hotel, just to break yourself in slowly. The four star hotel that I first stayed in, despite the mints on the pillow, had a slightly run-down quality that seems to be ubiquitous in India.


How should I plan my itinerary?
Pre-trip itineraries are significantly more costly than itineraries generated while in India. In every city there are plenty of travel agents. There are a lot of travel agencies and travel houses.
Best thing is to: Plan an itinerary for the first few days in India, including tours and guides. Plan itineraries for the next three or four days, or when moving from one town or city to the next. Learn the ropes, get street smart, and do it yourself.

What kind of luggage should I bring?
Depending on where and which places you are travelling to, bring along just enough luggage and clothes as you will get a lot of nessessary and essential things in India itself which is much cheaper. So pack your luggage lightly , with only your basic requirements. Avoid carrying a lot of bags, as you might find it difficult to carry around when moving from one tourist destination to another.

How should I carry my money around?
In a money belt or in a passport pouch that is carried around the neck. This way it is always in front of you, in your sight. It is better to carry all your valuables in this pouch (rupees, dollars, passport, traveller’s checks, etc.) under your shirt at all times out and about. Any travel store has these passport pouches. If you are carrying a wallet at the back pant pocket, be very careful while moving around in a crowded public place.

What type of  camera should I bring?
Any type of camera will do as you have a lot of professional camera shops available just in case something goes wrong with your camera, If you are an amateur a point and shoot digital camera carried in a waist pack for quick access is advisable and if you are a professional photographer you can carry the SLR’s or the DLSR’s.

Should I use a guide?
Only in the first few weeks, or if you are doing a very special outing. Once you get a feel for getting around India, you can be your own guide, setting up an itinerary to your schedule and liking. At best, a guide may be helpful getting you into places that as a western tourist you would not normally have access to or even know about.

Money Exchange and Scams

How should I handle beggars?
Give only to the neediest: the cripple and to the very old. Even then, in the big cities, some of the most needy beggars are drug addicts (particularly Mumbai), hooked on 'brown sugar or weed' . The lack of a social security or welfare system in India leaves many extremely vulnerable. Just be careful as some of them might come behind you until and unless you give them something.


How should I handle child beggars?
Candy for children in the cities. Children are often sent out to rake in money for their elders and are part of a larger beggar industry. Giving children candy breaks their whole act, they can't resist getting candy, and often forget about their duty to bring back the rupees. Children in villages invariably ask for pencils & pens. If you intend to give, carry around lots of them.

What are the expectations regarding tipping?
Many restaurant bills in India contain a service charge, which includes the tip, so check it out. Otherwise it depends on the type and class of restaurant you dine in. Tipping ranges can be anywhere between Rs. 10 to 100.

How do I deal with taxi drivers' fees?
Most of the taxis in India now have a digital meter fixed and depending on your itinerary you are charged accordingly. Eg: If you are just going from one place to another within the city  then you have to pay the  meter rate. And if you want to travel for one full day to a picnic spot or anywhere else then there is a fixed charge per kilometer. All these charges are pre fixed by the taxi company .
At the end of the journey if you feel that the driver was good enough with regards to his driving his way of communicating and overall he being courteous, you can tip him with additional Rs. 50 – 100. This entirely depends if you are planning to tip him or not.

Where should I buy souvenirs?
Ask around and avoid the taxi drivers making the decision for you as they're paid commission to bring you to particular gift shop. Purchase souvenirs, especially heavier ones, in the last few days of your trip and purchase an extra suitcase. Stay away from the most common areas, the tourist’s traps. Ask the locals, they always know the best places. Almost always avoid someone who has come up to you on the street. They are getting a commission by some souvenir shop. And only pick up gifts or souvenirs that are very unique to that particular place or if you are a foreigner pick up something that is unique to India.

Should I bargain with vendors?
Always! Be willing to walk away. In fact, try walking away, and notice how quickly the price comes down! Be firm, even though things seem incredibly cheap, you have to get into the mode of the local economy. Paying too much for items simply will make it more difficult for visitors who come after you.
Whatever the price quoted by the vendor always bargain for at least 30 to 40% less.

How to best avoid being scammed?
If anyone suspicious looking person asks you about your nationality, politely inform them and move out of that place. Avoid anyone who approaches you for exchanging currencies or enchasing traveller’s cheques, etc. Always approach a government authorised money exchange house or a bank to exchange money or en-cash your traveller’s cheques.

Money Issues

How much money should I bring along?
This really depends on your Itinerary - the quality of hotels you will be staying in, the kinds of restaurants you will frequent, the modes of transportation, the amount of moving around you do. As time goes on, this becomes less and less of an issue. There are numerous ATM’s available in every nook and corner.

In what form should I carry my money around?
Mostly cash, just a few travelers checks, just for emergency purpose. Carry enough money if you are just lazing around within the city. Carry money in a money pouch. Avoid removing entire cash from your pocket or pouch in full public view as this might be an invitation to robbers.

What forms of rupees should I exchange money for?
You will receive bundles of money in various denominations, and you must ask for 50, 100 and 500 rupee notes from the teller.  Always exchange money from authorised exchange houses or from any banks. Do not exchange money from any unauthorized agent or from any person approaching you as you might get fake notes or end up getting less exchange rates.

When should I exchange my money?
Definitely take the time to exchange the money at the airport when you arrive. It will accustom you to how things work in India and prepare you for stepping out into the real world of India, cash in hand. It is advisable not to exchange the entire amount of foreign currency you have at one go.

Are ATMs available in India?
Yes, there are lots of ATM’s available throughout India. You can find ATM’s in every nook and corner and of various banks who are affiliated with Visa, Master Card, etc.

What is an encashment certificate?
It's a certificate that allows you to exchange your rupees back into local currency. When you leave India, you can change money back at the airport. They will ask to see your encashment certificates, so save them. If you don't have a certificate, you cannot change money back.

Health and Safety Issues

What do I do if I get sick?
Hotels will have doctors on call. The quality of healthcare is comparable among the best. There are several hospital chains that are apparently reputable in all the large cities. With India promoting medical tourism and a lot of westerners visiting India for medical treatment, you can be assured of the best services.
Note that there is very little regulation regarding prescription drugs in India, so if you want to self-prescribe, you can get just about anything over the counter in India.

What kind of shots should I get before going?
It is advisable for foreigners to get shots for the following diseases:
Hepatitis A
It is a good idea to check various websites to determine if there are any outbreaks of diseases in the areas to which you plan to travel

What about 'charas', 'ganja', hashish?
All this is readily available, but don't buy it from a stranger on the street, it may be a scam to get you busted. It is plentiful and cheap, particularly in Northern India, even. It can be purchased in stores in some locations. But be warned it is illegal, and possession can get you time, and you don't want to spend time in an Indian jail. In Goa people selling this might come behind you near the beaches providing a list of stuff available with them.

Should I drink the local tap water?
No! The quality of water is substandard, and though you will ultimately drink the local water, in the form of tea or in your food, it's best to avoid as much as possible unless you've been there for several months. Even then it's dicey. With India's ever burgeoning population, water will be an ever increasing health issue as time goes on.

Is the bottled water safe?
Yes, there are a lot of brands of bottled water on the street. But check the bottom of the bottle for holes and broken seals around the cap. They've been known to refill bottles with tap water.
It is always safe to carry two bottles at all times, one open and its replacement. You will invariably find yourself in situation where you cannot purchase water for some time, and purchasing of bottled water is a health pre-requisite.

What other safety precautions should I take?
Use common sense. Despite its overwhelming poverty, India is a relatively safe country. But always remember to exercise caution whenever  you hit the road. Avoid getting into fights or avoid hanging around if there is any fight or tense situations going on. If at all you get into any sort of bad situation always approach the police.

How much clothing should I bring along?
About one weeks’ worth. You can get your clothing laundered for a relatively inexpensive price, and there is plenty of opportunity to purchase native dress . There are a lot of traditional dresses like 'kurta's, which is a traditional shirt in India that is popular in the west, popularized in the '60s.
Should I wear shorts?
Yes you can. Despite the hot weather, very few Indians wear shorts. India is a developing country trying to catch up with the west and you will find a lot of people wearing shorts in tourist places and in the cities.
How covered up should I be, so as to not offend the locals?
Bigger issue for women. The best policy to try to blend in with the locals, which is not hard to do. Baring skin is mostly an issue in the village areas where people are not used to seeing a lot of western dresses. Cities should be fine with more tolerance levels.

How should I dress on the street?
Dress like the natives: short sleeves, long pants, and don't look like you are carrying around lots of money. This is not so much for safety reasons as to limit you being a target for touts, scams and everyone else trying to sell you something. You're going to get that anyway, and it is definitely worth your while to minimize this awful inconvenience of travel through India.


How should I prepare for weather?
The driest weather seems to be October through January, and if you go through the non-monsoon season, which is the dead of 'winter' (India is slightly in the northern hemisphere), be prepared for weather that is much hotter and humid than you could ever imagine. Even if it rains, it doesn't cool down that much. Unless you're trekking in the Himalayas, a sweatshirt or windbreaker is about all you'll need for warmth. You will be uncomfortably hot, much more than uncomfortably cold most of the time, except for the higher elevations. The exception is Bangalore, which has a mysterious and wonderfully mild climate, even though it is located in south central India.


What is the Internet scene in India?
All major cities have numerous Internet cafes for email and general surfing. Rates may vary (Rs. 10 to 20 /hour) usually, so check around.
There are a lot of service providers in India (BSNL, VSNL, Airtel, etc.) who provide high speed Internet at very competitive rates. With so many competitors in the market it’s the end users who are benefitting.  India being one of the major technologies hub of the world is fast improving in the cyber domain.

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