Survival guide: India

Golden rule # forget Europe or South East Asia! India is a world apart, not a vacation destination. It is the kind of girl you want to get in bed with, have a couple of fast paced weeks or months with, leave her and keep it in your memory.

 Logistics

Getting around

Trains

Rule #1
Forget images of people on top of the trains. Maybe in super special holidays. But not a familiar sight.

I believe trains to be the best way to travel here. Alternative you have the bus, which is for when booking a train appears to be impossible or taking to long.
Don’t have personal experience, but heard its super fast to buy your ticket and the quality range is from super comfortable in Mumbai to awful in Rajasthan. Can’t confirm dough!

More than 3rd class (3AC) its in my opinion a waste. Sleeper it isn’t as bed as it sounds. All trains have beds, and except for Second sitting and Ac chair you get your own berth/bed. Sleeper class is just a fancy name for a lower class than the 3rd where they don’t give you linen, ac is off and you don’t have curtains. Second sitting is jungle so use it only if necessary  it is doable for short trips but a hassle (safe dough, just crowded).

Berth preference: always choose upper ones. Middle ones are not open when you board and trying to open it with people sitting on the one below is a trouble. Lower ones serve the sitting purpose of the upper ones, so if people are sitting there you just have to wait for them to go to their own before you can lay down and rest.
Best is the side upper one (only if your not taller than me!). Opened, more space for a big backpack to stand up, and no one occupying it.
Basically it is like this, upper berths (or lastly side down), sleeper for day trips or on a budget and 3A for night trips.

Booking trains
Not the simple of tasks. To get an idea, I’ve waited 5 hours to book a same day ticket from Delhi to Varanasi. And this was in the tourist ticket office. Gladly foreigners have access to a tourist quota to get available tickets in almost fully booked trains, otherwise would be impossible. Families book trains months in advance. It is a lot a people moving around in a slow system.

How to avoid this, be efficient and hassle free?
Either you have the plans of the trip all previously mapped out and know exact days or you have to do it online.
If you have it planned just go to the train station of arrival/nearest  to you, tourist office (watch out for fake ones and ignore everyone who tells you it is closed – rule #2 no matter what people tell you, always double or triple check for yourself and if possible with another well speaking English traveler  Many times people just agreed with me and nod their head repeating what I’ve just said, just to figure out later their info was wrong and didn’t spoke a word of English.), fill out the form, wait in line, pay and get all your tickets.

Online: Cleartrip.com made my trip here splendid. They charge a fee of 20 rupees a ticket but you get to see all trains and choose your seat preference.
But still this an option only for one staying in India for some time, travelling without a plan or just traveling around a lot. Because to register you will need an Indian simcard, and for that takes like a week to activate and of course you have to give your home address and other useless things indian bureaucracy demands. If you manage, do it with a locals phone or the guy from the hotel. That’s what I did. You just need to get a verification code, other than that the phone number is useless.
You get your ticket in pdf and you can either print it or have it in digital format on a smartphone or tablet.

Tuk-tuks and rickshaws


Hoo god! They will take you anywhere and nowhere.
Rule 1# always try to get the price asked in advance from a trusted source (hotel owner)
Rule 2# bargain like crazy, and the more they are the more you should. Make use of the bone you are for this dogs, they will come running to your white skin atm face.

Rule 3# Decide the price before getting in. And by this I mean, decide it in rupees and by person. Don’t be afraid to ask 3 times ‘x rupees for both right?’

Advice 1# have the image of the entrance of the hotel (book it always previously not to get surprises). Know the specific address and name. If possible a map. One can never be to careful with hotels with similar names, be taken to a wrong hotel where the driver gets commission or just be told “that hotel is no good”.

Rule 4# the function of a driver is to drive. Get you from A to B. It is not the kind of person you want to ask for things or trust in anything they say. Know your shit before! (opening times, location, name…) – “knowledge is power”.
If they say it is closed demand to see it closed, if it went out of business demand to be there to knock on the door. Just know things and used them to get to the places. A to B with no stops between!

Advice 2# if available choose the richsaws (guys on bikes). Their hard work and poverty will most likely result in honesty and I personally prefer to give them the same amount I would give to a tuk tuk driver.

Public buses
Dirt cheap (10 to 15rp) and surprisingly take you long distances within the city and pass along sight spots. Ask in the hotel.
Hard to know where they stop and uncomfortable, but saves you money and tuk tuk hassle.

Eating
If you can get an hotel with restaurant do it! Nothing is safer and convenient.
I don’t recommend or tell you to avoid street food, but it is always a lucky guess. Like washing your teeth with tap water.

Safety&Scams
You have more probability to get stabbed in Portugal than here. Violent crime is not a major thing here.
But like everywhere pick pocketing and other robberies happen.
Bring lockers, one for your bag (lock it to something or yourself in the night trains) and one for double safety locking your room door.

The predominant way people take money out of you? With their head/intelligence.

You can be the smartest person back home, but these people have been in this decades, they know how to use hunger as a motivation, emotions as a manipulation, and your reactions as a strategy.

Golden rule #1 don’t go anywhere with anyone.
It is a shame to miss out on an event or a chance to have dinner with an Indian family. But each of these people has their business or gets commission or just wants to make some money for the day.

Conversations start from a honest “where are you from?” to a dropping “I want to show you something”
Again, have chai, talk to people (specially in neutral places like trains), but don’t go anywhere with them. Not even “next corner”!

Once you are inside a shop you are in their territory  They will convince, beg, and soon your money is out of your pocket.
If you want to buy something its a different story, but again, know the prices from a trusted source.

Scams go from “can you help me write a letter in english?” and then be asked “is there anything I can do for you in return?” in Jaipur – you write a fake love letter, get compassion for the men, have a question on your mind of how much it costs something or how to get somewhere and he got you in any kind of deal he gets commission from (tuk tuk driver to a silk shop).
To putting something in your hand (flowers) or wrist (fabric bracelet) in Pushkar and give you a blessing, just to ask you for 2000 rp after. Yes, blessings aren’t free here.

Golden rule 2#
India can be dirt cheap (with rooms for less than 300rp, 7h train rides for less than 200rp and lunch for less than 140rp) but it is never free!
Everything you pay, and the whiter and the better your English the more you will.

Beggars? Feel sorry for them?
See the movie “Traffic signal” and tell me how your against feeding prostitution or drug business/mafia but not the beggar.
Don’t feed it. Keep it from growing.

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3 responses to “Survival guide: India

  1. This feels to me like Morocco except even worse in some matters. And besides, many people are morocco are really trying to give you some hospitality and not just scamming you. But then again, the Arabic and Hindu cultures are also different.

    Sounds like you had an experience of a lifetime already just in India. Too different of a culture. :p

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