Roads Rivers and Trails

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9 Tips for Traveling India

 – by Eli “Shinbone” Staggs
1) Eating Well

Finding authentic, cost efficient food that will not make you sick in India is not difficult. In order to hit these qualities a restaurant must have a couple india-blog-2key characteristics. These characteristics include a high turn over rate for customers and no multi-national cuisine on their menu. Detecting high turn over isn’t too tricky. Walk the streets until you happen upon a restaurant (or pot’straunt as some travelers and myself graciously labeled them). If the restaurant has lots of people eating or the restaurant has multiple pots sitting out with food you know they have enough traffic to allow variety. This ensures fresh food and freshness can be guaranteed further if you eat on the Indian schedule; Breakfast between 10 am and noon, Lunch between 3:30 pm and 5 pm, Dinner much later around 10 or 11 pm. The reasoning for not eating at a restaurant where multi-national cuisine is included on the menu is that the prices will be better for your meal and you will be eating at a restaurant that locals eat at. A multi national cuisine restaurant is catering to travelers which means the prices are inflated to accommodate your wallet which is thick with fresh rupees just withdrawn from the ATM. Eating at a restaurant with the qualities will help immerse your experience by allowing you to learn a little bit of Hindi and exchange conversation with Indians eating around you.

2) Haggling/Negotiating Prices
india-blog-3Learning how to haggle appropriately is key to your travels in India. As foreigners we stick out like a sore thumb and the prices for street vendor goods, rickshaws and taxis will be increased because of this. While purchasing items in a bazaar always half the cost of an oddity when starting the haggling process. Once you half the cost work from there. Rickshaw and taxi drivers are notorious for over charging foreigners for their services. All you need to know is that the price locals pay for rides is approximately 25 rupees per kilometer. Do not let a driver charge you 1000 rupees for a ride  from the trains to bus station! When it comes to food, hostels or hotels those prices are fixed and can not be haggled but always ask around for the best priced hostels.

3) Beggars
The choice for whether or not you wil give money to beggars is a very personal decision and I will not try to persuade you one way or another. The only piece of advice I have for you is to make your decision before you depart and to stick with it the entirety of your journey. Picking and choosing who you give money to through out the trip can strain the conscious. One suggestion I implore you to follow is not to give money to children. It reduces the incentive for them to find alternative options and perpetuates the practice.

4) Travel Agencies

Unless you’ll be staying in one place during your travel to India you will have to book either a plane, train or bus ticket along the way. This can always be done online through a government booking website but wifi can prove difficult to find in certain places. And 3G isn’t possible with out a SIM card so you’re left with one option, a travel agency.  Use this as an absolute last resort since these agents increase or even double the price of all tickets to earn their commission. So plan ahead of time, or find a way to access the internet before booking with a travel agent on the street in The area you are in.

5) Large Bills and Change
Upon arrival you will have to exchange all your useless US currency for the new beautiful Gandhi covered Indian rupee. Currently there are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, and 2000 denominations. 2000 notes are what will be given to you when exchanging large sums of USD and this note is practically useless until it can be broken down to smaller denominations. Restaurants, street vendors, and even some hostels will not accept such a large bill since it will deplete the source of change money right away. Best way to acquire change at this point is to try and find a bank or make a large purchase. One more questionable way of acquiring change is to approach a beggar with your flashy new 500 note and request 480 back. Beggars often have large sums of small bills to exchange for a 500 note since the culture of India is to give to beggars rather than the strange tension between homeless and non homeless we experience in the United States.

6) Rickshaws and Taxisindia-blog-4
One more note regarding rickshaw and taxis drivers is to negotiate all pricing outside of the vehicle. Once you enter the vehicle you’ve expressed how badly you need it in their eyes so they will not budge on price. Staying outside the vehicle keeps the ball in your court by allowing you to walk away any time to play the cold shoulder card and hopefully get a better price. Also these drivers are often the last folks you want to ask for lodging recommendations since they can earn commission through taking you to the hotel they have ties with.

7) Learning Hindi
Out of respect and enhancing your experience in India, learning a little bit of Hindi is especially useful. Locals will warm up to you quickly if you can speak even just a word or two of their language. They love to hear you interacting with them through Hindi and will always like to teach you more. It’s a great conversational tool as well as a tool for acquiring appropriate prices and finding a good place to eat. Dont stress about pronunciation and sounding like a fool it is perfectly acceptable. One quick phrase you can say to just about anyone which will make them smile is bahoot achcha. Bahoot achcha directly translates to very good but based on my experience I think certain inflections can create a more dynamic connotation to the phrase.

8) Eat Curd
One of the more unique tips picked up from a traveler was to eat curd with the first couple of meals at every new location you travel to in India. The curd will have all the delicious, beneficial local bacteria you want to combat the nasty barteria lurking around that you at potentially ingest. Doing this will give you one more barrier from the dreaded Delhi Belly that can put you on your back for a few days!
9)AC or Air Conditioned? 

Learning this the hard way can be quite uncomfortable. Advertisements promoting AC with their services does not always mean that its actually a cooled compartment or room. More often than not it means that the hotel room, bus, or train is sealed from the wind or weather. If it is especially hot make sure you can communicate that you are looking for a cooled room beyond just saying AC.