Six Tremendous Tips for Those Traveling to India for the First Time

So you’re thinking of taking the giant leap into the less traveled places and want to travel to India? Maybe you’ve already traveled on the backpacker’s trail in SE Asia and feel like you’ve mastered your skills and feel ready to take on a more challenging destination. In my experience, I did the opposite – India was the first ever country I went to in Asia, and that too Delhi, which sent a shockwave through my newbie traveler system.

 

Temple in Chennai

 

Of all the countries in South Asia, India is one of the most inspiring, life altering, and challenging countries you will ever experience. I wish I would have known some of these tips before going to India, but instead I had to learn the hard way. I wish you an incredible journey in this exhilarating land of seductive wonders. Without further pause, here are some of my top tips for travelers heading to India for the first time.

 

1) Never Accept the First Price You’re Told

 

Don’t accept the initial price for a rickshaw ride (or anything else for that matter) at face value. Always, always bargain! In fact, that’s what the locals expect you to do and if you don’t they will take you as a fool. Lots of rickshaw drivers just automatically assume you’re rich because you’re a Westerner and will try to bleed you for everything they can, so just make sure you’re aware of the general price before catching any rickshaw ride or buying anything from a shop.

 

India is organized chaos

 

Most of the times there are no fixed prices listed on anything, and you have to negotiate with the shopkeeper. A rule of thumb is generally to knock the price in half, then work your way up from there. If they won’t compromise or agree on a price, simply walk away. Then you can look behind you and watch the rickshaw drivers chasing after you, willing to finally negotiate. Just don’t let yourself get taken for a sucker, since lots of people you deal with in India will think you are just that, unfortunately.

 

2) Always Book Your Train and Bus Tickets Well in Advance

 

 

If you don’t manage to book your train and bus tickets in advance, you might just end up in the living Hell that is traveling on a local bus or General Class train. Since there are just far too many people in India, you always have to keep on your toes about where you are heading next, and make sure you plan your route well in advance.

 

General class trains in India aren’t even tolerable for backpackers

Don’t think it’s possible to just show up at the train/bus station and get a ticket on the spot, since chances are they will only have a General Class seat available, which is every local Indian’s nightmare. If you have to travel in general class, especially at night, be prepared to be traumatized. The moment you walk on a night bus and are forced to sit in general class, is the moment where you’ll be crushed up against six sweaty strangers in a box of a compartment, with no fan or windows in the boiling heat of the night with all eyes on you, the foreigner.

 

Hitching a last minute ride on the local government bus

 

Chances are you’ll have people prodding and touching you with all different body parts. I even woke up from a five minutes sleep with someone massaging my feet! It was utter hell and I ended up staying awake all night, paranoid someone might grab at me or harass me in some way, and I couldn’t sleep for the whole 19 hour ride.

 

Train stations in India are madhouses

 

The local buses in India are also a disaster. Sure, they’re cheap, but you have to sit on a metal sheet of a seat without fans or A/C. At times if the bus is crowded you’ll end up being forced to sit in the aisle of the bus. I ended up in this situation on the way to Mysore and had the choice of either hanging around a shady bus station at 3AM or hopping on the local bus – I chose the latter, and to my detriment I ended up cramped and hunched down in the bus aisle with a bunch of pot bellies of creepy old men hovering over me. One of the best sites to book a bus in advance is Red Bus.

 

3) Don’t Ever Let Someone Else in Your Rickshaw Ride

 

At times when you take an autorickshaw to get around town, the driver with often try to pick up some other locals and invite them in your ride. At the same time the driver will proceed to try and charge you for the majority of the ride, and charge the locals less.

 

Never take the first price a rickshaw driver gives you

 

Especially do not let a man/group of men share your ride, since this could lead you into a dangerous situation. If the drive lets anyone else in your rickshaw, either A) Force him to pull over and get out of the rickshaw and don’t pay him or B) Tell him he has to stop and get  the other people out of your ride, especially if he refuses to lower the initial price he quoted you to match the price for the others in your rickshaw.

 

4) Nothing Is What It Seems

 

If a shopkeeper tries telling you something is “real” gold or a “real” gem, or real silk, always take what they tell you at face value. There are hundreds of markets and shops in India set up to fool foreigners into paying an outrageous price for goods, which lots of the time are not even the real quality goods.

 

Lots of shops don’t sell the good quality stuff to tourists

 

 

Always buy from a reputable store, such as Tanishq, which is a well known chain throughout India. This is so you know what you are getting, rather then buying something fake from a shady guy selling supposed real Kashmiri silk out of the back of his cycle rickshaw.

 

5) Be Polite, But Take No Shit

 

 

India is a tough country to travel, and due to all the people struggling for survival on a day to day basis, it is truly a dog eat dog world here. You have to be able to shut someone down the minute they try taking you for a fool or harassing you, and don’t be afraid to lash out when someone tries intimidating you. As long as you make a scene, that person will usually back off, since all the collective eyes will immediately be on you and them.

 

If you continue to get creepy stares like this, just stare right back or give em the big middle finger

 

If you’re a woman it’s best advised not to make eye contact with the men, since in India they usually take this as the green light for talking with you or as an advance from your part, that could open you up to all kinds of bullcrap. I’ve had all kinds of things happen to me while traveling alone in India as a woman, such as gangs of men stalking me outside of temples, priests of temples following me around the entire time demanding money, people trying to force me to buy something from their shop, cows nearly impaling me with their horns, men flashing porn to me on their phones in the streets thinking somehow this would get me to talk to them, and rickshaw drivers trying to take me for a ride then verbally attacking me whenever I protested. You have to be able to hold your own in India and don’t show any vulnerabilities or weaknesses. Although there are kind people out there that would be willing to help you if you’re a woman alone, there are also tons of people who would have nothing but evil intentions for you, especially since traveling as a woman alone in India is not the cultural norm.

 

6) You Get What You Pay For

 

When it comes to guesthouses, hostels, and hotels in India, you truly get what you pay for. Not to mention India does not yet have the tourist infrastructure to cater to backpackers, so hostels and other actual guesthouses are rare here. Most of the times your best bet is to get a hotel, and make sure you check out the room first before agreeing to pay. One time I checked into a room in Chennai, and the room was covered in wet towels and garbage from the people who’d previously stayed there and was just utterly trashed, so I refused to stay there and just walked out.

 

Yes, the door was literally see through at one of the guesthouses I stayed at in Chennai

A lot of the guesthouses I stayed at in Varanasi and other cities were total shams, and I’d have felt more comfort staying in prison cell than their guesthouse. Most of the times you’ll be met with a fat, hairy grumpy shirtless guy at the front desk grunting and reluctantly showing you your prison cell of a room, and the lingering staring men hanging around the common area don’t make it any more comforting either.

I’m a sucker for challenges, and India was one of the greatest challenges for me. It helped strengthen and energize my desire to travel and learn about the world. Where would you rank India on the list of places in South Asia to explore? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments! Don’t forget to like and share my article with the social media links. I’d love to keep giving you tips and advice so feel free to follow me by clicking the Follow box on the right. And don’t forget you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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