Mantra Wild Travel Information & Tips - Travel to India
Looking to travel to India? Reena Tory, Founder and Director of Mantra Wild Adventures has spent many months travelling in India alone. Her experience riding in trains, local buses, and some very interesting experiences has helped her develop her itineraries to help take the stress out of travelling to a country like India. These tips may help client's and especially single women traveller's based on her own unique experience. The great things about travelling on a package with Mantra Wild, is that many of these issues will be non-existent, however this is also great knowledge for India travel from another traveller's experience.
When landing at Delhi airport, as you exit, look for the pre-paid taxi stand. This is a government run taxi service. Delhi police take note of get your name and taxi number plate when you leave the airport. It's very safe. They will also charge you reasonably. You just tell them your suburb, and how many bags. DO NOT go with any taxi people on the street, only the pre paid cabs. You can tip the driver 10-50rs if he helps you with your bags when he drops you off.
Rough guide from Delhi airport to places:
Delhi to Vasant Vihar - 160-180 rupees
Delhi airport - south delhi - approx 250-300 rupees
Delhi airport - central delhi - approx 500-700 rupees
At Mumbai airport, taxi's are metered. You can ask the cab driver for the meter sheet (or it may be available at the airport). When you arrive at your destination, I can guarantee that the cab driver may try and over charge you, say the meter isn't working or another excuse. Pressing your point or mentioning you travel to India often will help.
I suggest changing approximately $200-$500 (up to 10,000 rupees) before you go to India and take out about that much when you travel at a time. In some of the remote areas, especially national parks, and rural areas they don't take Visa/credit card and phone connection is not that great, hence they won't be able to process payments. It just makes it easier while travelling. There are ATM's all over the major cities and in major towns.
If you want to use a money bag under your shirts, that's fine. I have found travelling safe and use my back pack, but whatever you feel comfortable with. Just be alert, always look like you know where you are going (or pretend to) and very confident (I found that really helps me)
Hotels: most hotels have a tip box these days. Just tip whatever you feel comfortable with. As a guide, for a few nights stay and the service was great, I tip 50-200 rupees sometimes more.
Guides/safari drivers: if they have done a great job pointing out animals, you have good sightings because of their skill… tip 50-100rupees each as a guide.
Taxi drivers: 10-50 rupees
BE careful of any person approaching you wanting to take you to a travel office, rickshaw, taxi (unless its on the prepaid cab line), market etc etc. These are touts that get paid a commission to bring tourists to their businesses. Touts can even be taxi drivers!! They may try and take you to a different hotel or place. If the person says trust me, dont! This doesn't happen as much, just be aware of it. If people approach you offering services, just ignore them and keep walking - Avoid eye contact. Eye contact means "I'm interested".
Homeless Kids / Beggers
You will see a lot of beggars on the street. The Indian Government recommends not to give money, as it promotes that way of life and most of the time the money doesn't go to the person you gave it to! I used to carry a stash of lollies, little toys etc. I would give them out instead of money OR if it's not in crowded areas - I maybe would buy them a meal from street vendors (but always be alert…).
Wear loose clothing that doesn't really show your figure (this relates to women!)… it's better off not getting the attention. Wear a ring on your wedding finger if you can, makes things easier and as a woman travelling on my own, it helped heaps. I used to tell people if they talked to me, that I was meeting my husband at the next stop, airport etc...Wear minimum jewellery.
Safaris - earthy, tan's, khakis/cargo's, forest type colours are best. Comfortable loose clothing really helps. Hiking boots, or sneakers are fine for Safari's and bush walking. Remember the animals think that the jeep are animals themselves… colours that blend in, won't scare off animals.
Layer up for safaris - it tends to be really cool on the early morning safari's and the fact you are in an open jeep! Beanie's, scarf, gloves etc (they usually keep blankets for tourists on the jeeps), and wear clothes you can strip down to… sometimes it does get warm in the day.
Dress modestly at temples and be prepared to take your shoes off. It may be a good idea to get a punjabi suit while travelling to wear and fit into the local culture. The locals will appreciate it. Sikh temples will require you to cover your head. Stick to shirts with sleeves and avoid singlets.
Be respectful to driver but always keep information to a minimum. When you speak too much about personal info, they tend to start taking advantage - learnt from experience! Just keep chat to very small talk. Don't be afraid to let your driver know when you are not happy about anything. i.e. driving too fast, turn on the air con, put your own music on etc. Some drivers are good to help translate when you need to go to the shops to grab something or stand at the ATM with you if you need them to. Use your common sense.
It is possible to buy a sim card in India to use for your mobile phones. If you are staying in India for more than a month, this is a good option. It really makes sense as calls are so cheap and you can call home if you need to, or call your driver or contact in India. Remote places of course won't have good reception, however major cities and towns will have reception. You will need passport size photographs and will need to fill in a form to receive the sim. You can buy recharge cards at most of the side street shops, vendors and mobile phone shops.
Domestic/int'l check ins - you will need to show your passport to enter the airport. There are separate security check in for men and women. The women check in, you will get padded down! They are not shy… just be aware of that!
Whenever you get off at a plane and exiting, just always make sure you look like you know where you are going - even if you don't!
There are many guides at monument areas - if you need a guide, it's best you have one arranged already rather than using the ones in front of the monuments. The touts/vendors in Agra and Fatehpur Sikri are very aggressive, just ignore them. Try and buy things in the local markets rather than the tourist areas.
At markets etc, any price they offer, always drop it to 50% then work from there. Indian's vendors see tourists and instantly think "charge more!". If they won't go any lower, walk away and trust me they will change their minds!
Good Shopping spots in Delhi:
Dilli Haat is a must!! It is one of the best govt markets in India. It has trinkets, scarves, souvenirs from all over India. It's great! you can literally do all your shopping there!
Lajpat nagar is great for Indian outfits, kurta tops, Punjabi suits, anything really. I bought a suitcase there once for $30AUD!
Sarojani nagar - for rejected labels e.g. adidas, reebok, cheap kurta tops. I suggest going here with a local Indian as you won't see many foreigners at this market.
Be careful of vendors that say they can ship things back to Australia for you. Sometimes they are lying, even though they will give you all relevant paperwork.
I suggest not to go out at night on your own, unless you have a driver to take you around, especially in Delhi.
Some other great shopping and entertainment areas:
Select city Walk - this is a huge shopping mall with EVERYTHING, including restaurants, cinema.
GK II N block - good restaurants and a good expat night club called Urban Pind - A good expat club. They have some funky Indian shops - Fab India which is a great shop with funky kurta tops, and there is another one next to it that sells beautiful cotton tops and pants.
It's best to travel to India light so you can come back with lots of great clothes, trinkets and souvenirs.
I strongly suggest, sticking to the following:
• Drink only bottled water (some hotels have filtered water, which is fine to drink, but always keep bottled water).
• Eat only cooked food. ANYTHING that is not cooked and fresh food, will 95% be washed with tap water, which can get you sick. Fruits that you can peel, like bananas, mandarins, oranges are fine.
• You should be ok to eat much of the fruits etc in the hotels, as they cater for westerners, but if in doubt, just ask the hotel.
• Stay away from yoghurt and drink's like lassi's, if they have been made with ice or water added, you can get sick.
• Stay away from street food. I now eat street food (it's so good!), however save it for the 2nd trip to India when you are more brave! If you really want to try it, stick to fried food's.
• Don't accept food from anyone on the streets, trains etc.
• Eating at the hotels is your best bet, or anywhere you see foreigners eating at.
Additional things that may help to take…
• Flash light (expect blackouts every now at then...more so in regional rural areas)
• Toilet wipes (take a couple of stashes) - these are great esp when travelling - very hard to find toilet paper in public toilets.
• Antibiotic hand gel - so you can wash your hands if you there is no soap around!
• Snacks for your long journeys - muesli bars etc
• Locks for your baggage - I suggest locking everything before you check in, otherwise don't be surprised if your luggage has zips opened with random items missing.
• It would be good to buy an Indian Punjabi suit for when you go to the ashram/temples… it helps fit in and also very cool to wear when its warm
• Avoid bringing anything white - it won't go back home the same colour!