India

What to Expect: Ten things to know about India

Photo credit: Matt AmbreyChaos. That, and supplying my own roll of toilet tissue were the only things I anticipated before my trip to India. I wasn’t disappointed, although I wish I had been better prepared for other things. After all, you can’t tip a porter with toilet tissue.

1. Expect to love it one minute and hate it the next.

Before I arrived I swore I wouldn’t be one of those people who “still can’t decide how they feel about India,” but I am – and at least now I can understand why. In India good and bad experiences rapidly intertwine, leaving travelers confused and skeptical one moment and delighted and amused the next.

2. Expect to tip everyone, for everything.

Porters, hotel security and waiters? Tip, tip and tip. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard they worked for you – they’ll be expecting something for their trouble. The amount, however, is “as you like.” Keep small bills – 10, 20 and 50 rupee notes [ed. values current at the time of posting of about $0.20, $0.40 and $1.00 US] – in an easily accessible place for these occasions.

3. Expect to drink a lot of chai.

Locals drink chai [ed. tea] three or four times a day, and this number can double in the colder months. It will be offered to you in homes, shops and street corners. Accept and enjoy the sweet, milky black tea; this is one show of service that doesn’t require a tip.

4. Expect to be stared at, and possibly groped.

Several times in India I wasn’t sure if my tushie was touched on purpose or accidentally in passing, but after a young man brushed up against me in a semi-deserted area I realized it was deliberate. Men don’t seem to be affected, and as a woman there isn’t a lot you can do to stop this sexual harassment, but modest clothing and a male companion seem to help.

5. Expect cows actually to cause traffic jams.

Photo credit: Matt Ambrey

No, this isn’t something that only occurs for comic relief in movies; Hinduism’s most scared animal rules the road. And the sidewalks. And the markets. Add to them the absence of traffic laws and a size-based vehicle hierarchy (pedestrians taking the lowest rung) and you can count on some delays.

6. Expect your guidebook to be wrong.

With an estimated 1.21 billion people and a growth rate of 1.58 percent, it’s no surprise that India is ever-evolving, so don’t be surprised if prices are way off mark or businesses have moved or closed down. Cross reference with Google, a travel agent, your hotel staff and other travellers to save yourself the time and cut down on any potential frustration.

7. Expect to look like a walking dollar sign.

Even if you aren’t rich, you are rich in comparison. Expect souvenir prices and transport fares to be inflated to suit your foreigner status – surmise that every fee is up for negotiation and haggle hard. No matter the item, it’s safe to assume they won’t sell it for a loss.

8. Expect train tickets to be sold out.

Book in advance, enough said. I went to India with romanticized plans to travel strictly via the rail system, but so many of my intended journeys were sold out that I hired a car and driver instead. Expat Heather’s article, How to Book Indian Railways Tickets Online, offers great tips; and Dara Flynn’s advice in The Scam: How Not to Book A train Ticket in India is equally as helpful.

9. Expect to get sick.

Contracting traveler’s diarrhea, also known as ‘Delhi Belly’, is a real possibility. Anticipate this – on your packing list include activated charcoal and azithromycin. These things take up very little room in your luggage and most people won’t be disappointed if they bring medication and don’t need it, particularly when the opposite can be oh-so-painful!  Oh, and stick to bottled water with seals intact, and use common sense when eating and drinking around town.

10. Expect the Taj Mahal to be closed on Fridays.

Unless you are going to the afternoon prayers at the mosque inside the complex, no public visitors are allowed. Plan accordingly – a trip to the Taj would be devastating to miss. Other major tourist attractions enjoy days off as well, so visit Go Away’s India to synchronize your schedule.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura is a teacher, traveller, writer and wife who has backpacked through Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Her hobbies include photography, SCUBA diving and trying the latest spa treatments. Her website is www.writingsfromabroad.com.


 


 

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 Full name: Republic of India

 Population: 1.2 billion (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: New Delhi

 Largest city: Urban Mumbai (by population)

 Area: 3.287 million sq.km. (1.27 million sq. mi.)

 Major languages: Hindi, English and 14  other Official Languages

 Major religions: Hindu, Muslim, Christian,  Sikh, Other

 Monetary unit: Rupee

 GDP per capita: US $3,700

 Internet domain: .in

 International dialling code: +91

 Source: CIA World Factbook