I’ve been back home for well over a month now after our somewhat impromptu trip to India in Feb, and I have been so overwhelmed by the happenings of life that I actually haven’t gotten around to blogging a single thing about any of it. Of course now it seems kind of pointless and a bit back-tracky which I hate, but I did promise a friend that I would put together some tips for her so I thought maybe I could do that in the form of a blog post and then I can pretend to myself that I do actually write about nice things as well as things that are…well…less nice.
Of course one of the biggest factors in us choosing to go to India was the fact that our Rand stretches a little further there than it does in other parts of the world. I will, however, admit that this particular trip cost well over twice as much as the next trip I have planned. So, I’m learning. I’m learning how to work things out in a more cost-effective way, and all the while feeling exceptionally grateful to have somehow managed to wangle one of my favourite yet seemingly unattainable things into this life of mine.
Travel. Is there anything better?
Here are a couple of things I learned on my trip. You might take a few of them into consideration if you’re thinking of going to India:
Ok so the general consensus on the web is that the touring companies rip you off and that you are better off without them. Possibly this is true, but I am still grateful for the guy that helped us with our tour. I initially decided to go with a pretty complete tour package because I was unsure of what to expect from India. What I would do now though is that I would organize day tours with Aftab and get my own transport to and from airports just using the regular taxi system. Regular taxis are cheaper for airport pickup. But hiring a driver and guide to take you around town is great and it doesn’t have to be too expensive. So whatsapp Aftab and get him to help you. I promise you his service is great, and good service is kind of hard to come by in India (as far as I experienced).
Aftab: Glimpses of India
2.) Use Booking.com
I friggen LOVE booking.com. Get the app. Use them forever. Ok, fine, you can use airbnb too if you want. But personally I prefer Booking. I got our tour company to book most of our hotels for us, but honestly I wish I had done the whole thing myself. When you book your own hotel and you end up in a weirdly dodgy place, it’s kind of easier to accept. When someone else books it for you it’s a little more bothersome when you rock up at a place that looks nothing like their photoshopped website!
One of the first things we learned on our trip is that when someone comes up to you and just starts doing things: don’t go with it! As South Africans we tend to be pretty vigilant people, but as Port Elizabethans I guess my husband and I also tend to be quite polite. What happens a LOT in India is that someone will walk up to you, or block your path, and then either pin something to your shirt or draw something on you or (weird as hell) start cleaning your ears. You will then be overwhelmed by your brain trying to process what the hell just happened and the touchy person will then demand a donation of a specific figure to compensate them for the “service” that they have provided.
4.) Be South African
We found that expressing our origins was kind of helpful in India. While Europeans, Americans, Australians, and New Zealanders all have very strong currencies, I can guarantee you that the South African currency is pretty much just as weak as the Indian one. Don’t be afraid to express this. It will help when haggling about the price of things. Just to give you an idea of what a few basic things should cost: T-shirts – 250 INR Dresses – 250 INR Harem Pants – 200 INR Towels – 200 INR
In Mumbai and in New Delhi we found that you had to pay to take photographs at quite a few places. If you go to the Mosque in New Delhi pay the fee! It wrecks me that we listened to our guide about this because he insisted that the mosque in Jaipur would be similar but it wasn’t. In Mumbai the fee for taking photographs at the Kanheri caves is worth it too.
6.) Cash vs Card
We bought a cash passport to travel to India with and honestly it was useless. They love to tell you how “swiping is free”. This might be true, but honestly, any place that has a card facility is going to charge you WAY MORE for the stuff you buy than what you can get it for with cash. So keep this in mind. Cash is far more useful than your card.
Some drivers/guides act as if they are saving you from bad quality stuff by taking you to a “better shop” with “good quality” items. This is nonsense. They are taking you to an expensive tourist shop where the stuff is the exact same quality as what you find in the flea markets. It just costs four times more and the guy gets a kickback. If you’re a guilt ridden person like me, you will probably end up buying from all these places regardless. But it’s good to keep in mind when you are souvenir shopping.
8.) Delhi Belly
Honestly I always just thought that Delhi Belly was food poisoning. I might be wrong, but now I don’t think that it is. It’s just a really loose bowel minus the constant need for the toilet, the bellyache, the fever, and the vomiting. It’s not so bad. The unexpected constipation is actually worse. I hope it will be different for you, but gosh. For us it was either one or the other. There was no inbetween.
9.) Bad English
India is supposed to be bilingual, with English being a compulsory language for all school goers, but believe me when I warn you that communication is not going to be as easy as you are expecting.
10.) Airport Shops
Weirdly some of the airport shops are cheap. Especially the book shops. If you’re a book hoarder like myself…oh gosh those airport bookstore are magical with their prices!
My List of Travelling Essentials
Just to end off here’s a quick list of stuff that you might not have thought of while packing for your trip. You’ll have to excuse the honesty.
1.) Citro Soda. Dehydration makes for an unhappy vaginal system. Take it with. Seriously. You’ll be grateful you have it with you and don’t have to mime to a pharmacist that your ladybits are on fire.
2.) Immodium. You can’t go sightseeing when you have dribble bum.
3.) Fibre or a laxative. Just in case you get the opposite of dribble bum.
4.) A hydration product. I use Herbalife’s CR7 and I couldn’t live without it. Touristing is hard on the body. Hydration is super important. Sometimes you need help.
5.) Mosquito stuff. Most hotels seem to have those mosquito plugins, but the mozzies just laugh at those things.
6.) Anti-nausea stuff. Boats. Cars winding up mountains. Planes. *vomit*
7.) Vitamins! Cal-C-Vita helps to keep you healthy and capable of trekking around in a fashion that you might not usually be accustomed to. There’s no time for a run down body when you’re on holiday.
8.) Sweets. Sometimes there a lot of children who are begging. It’s not always viable to hand out cash but having a bag of suckers can prove to be quite handy.
9.) Water tablets. I swell up like crazy whenever I get onto a plane. Trying to get a pharmacist to understand that I needed water tablets and not anti-inflammatories proved to be quite impossible.
If you’re going to India, I hope you have as wonderful a time as I did. They say that you can’t go to India without feeling like you’ve had a spiritual experience. I suppose that is true (if not only because there must be a god out there if so few people die in that impossible traffic!). From one traveller to another: Lose your expectations. Wherever you are, just be there. Experience it all for what it is and never fall into a trap of being disappointed with what it isn’t.
And of course: Namaste.