Tips on Travel to India

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Below are some tips on travel to India. I sent them to ITN today but who knows if and when they'll be published?<br /><br />&quot;I spent 6 weeks in February and March 2010 in India, traveling through Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Rajasthan, with brief visits to Ahmedabad, Delhi, Khajuraho, and Varanasi. Here are some tips based on that experience:<br /><br />Take the time to greet people by joining your hands together upright in front of you, bowing your head slightly, and saying “Namaste.” Even people who speak some English will appreciate the courtesy. I often was rewarded by watching peoples’ expressions change from indifference or suspicion to broad smiles of welcome.<br /><br />Do not even think about driving yourself. Many of the road signs between cities are in languages and alphabets you won’t understand, and street signs are rare in cities. You will be sharing the roads with trucks, buses, minivans, auto rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, carts drawn by bullocks, camels, or men, the occasional elephant or camel, pedestrians, and, of course, wandering cows that have the right of way. On inter-city roads, every lane is for passing, and there are frequent speed bumps that could jar your teeth out of your head if you hit them unexpectedly. On city streets, lanes hardly exist. A common saying among drivers for tourists evidently is: “You need three things to drive in India: good horn, good brakes, and good luck!”<br /><br />India remains a land of carbon paper, and there is a form for almost every occasion. When I arrived at a hotel, the receptionist usually made a photocopy of my passport information page and my India visa, and used that information to fill out much of the form. I was asked for my home address, my previous and next destinations in India, and the number of days I’d be in India. My passport always was returned promptly, and often before I’d finished checking in.<br /><br />When you change money, try to get as many 1, 2, and 5 rupee coins and as many 10 and 20 rupee notes as possible. Five rupee notes are uncommon. (During my visit $1 was worth roughly 45 rupees.) They’re invaluable for tipping, especially the 10 rupee notes, and almost everyone expects a tip. Also, when you make a small purchase, the seller often will not have any change, or at least he’ll tell you he doesn’t. Once I bought stacks of small bills when I changed money at a Bank of India branch. Otherwise, I gave my driver a 500 rupee note and asked him to exchange it for small notes whenever he had the chance.<br /><br />When you visit temples and mosques, as well as some shrines and palaces, you will have to take off your shoes and leave them with an attendant. Socks usually are permitted, and walking over rough stones is much more comfortable in socks than barefoot. So take shoes that you can take off and put on easily, and shoes that you can wear with dark colored socks (which won’t show the dirt quite as much). I bought a cheap pair of shoes with Velcro straps, which saved the need to find a place to sit while I untied and then re-tied walking shoes. Sandals may not be the most practical choice of footwear.<br /><br />Reconfirm flights a day or two before departure. Jet Airways canceled my flight from Ahmedabad to Delhi on two day’s notice, and I only learned about this because I happened to have a chance to check my incoming email. Otherwise, both Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines are acceptable.<br /><br />When you check in for a domestic or international flight, you may have to show your ticket and passport to a security guard at the airport entrance. Then you may have to put your bags through an airline x-ray machine located in the middle of the departure hall and before you get to the check-in desk. Also, be sure to put an airline baggage tag on every piece of carry-on baggage, even if you’ve already put one of your own baggage tags on it. When you go through security on the way to your gate, the security official will stamp your boarding pass and the airline baggage tag on your carry-on bag. Both will be checked before you’re allowed to board the plane.<br /><br />Also for domestic and international flights, I was advised to remove all batteries, including camera batteries, from items in my carry-on bag and put the batteries in my checked bag. Once I forgot and almost had camera batteries confiscated. If you just use AA or AAA batteries, you probably can replace them easily enough. But you may not be able to replace today’s expensive and specialized batteries for digital and video cameras. It’s probably wiser to run the risk of having your checked bag go astray than the risk of having your batteries confiscated, leaving you with a fine piece of electronic equipment that you can’t use.<br /> <br />In addition to admission fees at various sites, there often are extra fees for still cameras and considerably higher fees for video cameras. Some of the carvings and frescoes inside temples and palaces deserve to be photographed, but always ask attendants if there are places where photography is not allowed. In the spectacular Jain temple at Ranakpur, one of the temple guards made a point of showing me the best camera angles. He expected a tip, of course, and deserved it.<br /><br />Power can go off for short periods, even in fine hotels. So bring a small flashlight, and if you bring a laptop, bring a 220 surge protector as well. Few of my hotels offered Wifi in the guest rooms; most either had a small business center or a computer in the lobby for guests to use free of charge, or they could point me to a nearby internet café. I paid everything from 20 to 200 rupees per hour ($1 = roughly 45 rupees). Connections generally were fast.<br /><br />Bring plugs with both two and three round plugs, and remember that you often have to turn on an electrical outlet by flipping the switch located next to it, just as you would turn on a wall light switch.<br /><br />Forget about lettuce, uncooked tomatoes and other vegetables, and unpeeled fruit until you get home. If you’re moving around a lot, it’s just not worth risking an upset stomach. Also, only drink bottled water and then only if you broke the seal on the bottle or watched someone else do it for you. Most hotels provided one or two complimentary bottles of water; others provided water in carafes, which may have been perfectly safe, but I didn’t risk drinking. If you can, buy bottles of water by the case and leave them in your vehicle; you save money and always have water available when you need it.<br /><br />Indian breads, such as naan, help with spicy food, as does ice cream. I often finished meals with vanilla ice cream, which was delicious and removed much of the spice from my palate.<br /><br />You will undoubtedly be taken to various handicraft shops. So sit back, accept their offer of something to drink, and enjoy the skills of Kashmiri salesmen. Just don’t believe anything you’re told about where anything actually is made and how valuable it is. Decide what you like and how much it’s worth to you, and then bargain for a lower price. I tried to pay no more than one-half to two-thirds of the initial asking price, except from street vendors who will ask many times more than you should pay. You’ll most likely still be paying a higher price than what the salesman would have been willing to accept. As a general rule, I found that the smaller the shop, the more I should expect to knock off the initial asking price. In Delhi, the state handicraft emporia near Connaught Place have fixed prices. If you’d even think about buying a carpet or wall hanging, bring the ideal dimensions with you, in centimeters.&quot;<br /><br />Stan Bach<br />Washington DC

Very helpful tips. Thanks for reporting it.

Great tips. Thanks for taking the time to report this. Agree, do all your shopping at the State shops - great choices and prices and absolutely no hassles. Shipping and packing available there too.

Traveling to India seems to inspire this sort of article.Thanks for all the info, Stan.Several years ago I wrote a similar, though less detailed, piece for ITN. Here is my final paragraph from that which still obtains:"Finally, a great online forum, with all kinds of travelers offering all kinds of advice, is . Any question you ask about India is likely to be answered in a matter of minutes."jbh

Stan, I read your letter in the August paper ITN about India travel tips. You said not to leave any batteries, including camera batteries, in carry-on bags, and that you ALMOST had some confiscated. I use rechargeable AA batteries and like to leave them in the camera in case I want to use it. What do you think is the risk of losing them? Thanks

Kay Louise,
All I can say is that an airport security official almost confiscated my AA rechargeables when I'd failed to take them out of the camera in my carry-on bag. I acted apologetic, foolish, and dumb (all three being true at the time) and he relented.
If I were you, I'd check your batteries. I think the odds of them being confiscated are greater than the odds of you losing them because you lose your checked bag.
As for using your camera AFTER you arrive at an airport or before leaving it at your destination, I wouldn't advise it. As I recall, the Indians don't look kindly on people taking photos of their airports, which they consider to be security-related facilities. You don't want to have your memory card, or even your camera, confiscated!

If you want to keep a ready camera with you,could you put your rechargeables in checked luggage - and use regular batteries in your camera while flying? If there is a problem, you would not lose the rechargeables.
In times of very high alert as well as when flying near a border or sensitive area such as Leh (for Kashmir), Gauhati (close to Tibet and Myanmar borders), Amritsar or Bhuj (near Pakistan border), security can be extra tight. Some years ago I watched officials remove a watch battery from the man in front of me in the security line.
On regular tourist routes, airport security would probably let a camera pass, sometimes they ask you to take a photo to show them it is a "regular" camera.