Friday, September 9, 2011

Traveling to India - my trials and tips

I'm guessing that most of my daily readers aren't planning on trips to India, but maybe people will google and find this. I would have loved a little write up on what to do as a woman traveling alone in India.

I think when you read this, you must know that my travel style is to try everything. I'm not afraid of failure. I try different foods (assuming that they seem well cooked - I'm not risking food illness) because what is the worst? I may not like it. I go to local places, and I try to experience the culture as much as a can (which in this case wasn't always easy because I don't speak the language). I also go in with the idea that if it's a success, it's fun - if it fails, at least I have a good story! And I also usually have the option to 'fix' it. If I hated traveling on the train, I would have sprung for a taxi home. If the hotel sucked, I would have switched. I'm a pretty flexible traveler. Which I think allows me to do and try more things than the average person.

First off, the people are friendly. Maybe too friendly, as many people wanted to practice their English with me. But don't be afraid to travel alone. I think the worst thing to be afraid of is pickpockets. I walked around with confidence and kept my bag close.

Pre-paid taxi stands are your friend. At all airports and railway stations, you will find these. Most places they are right out front. At the Old Delhi train station I needed to walk a bit, but they exist. Only the guy INSIDE the booth gives you the price. You will walk through a sea of people offering you taxi rides for probably at least double if not triple what you would pay at the pre-pay booth. At one point, I was at the window talking to the guy (he told me that it was 140 rupees to go where I wanted) and another taxi guy was telling me 200 rupees. They'll pressure you until you pay the guy - it's amazing.

If there isn't a pre-paid taxi stand, insist on a meter. I actually had to tell someone to stop to let me out because he wouldn't turn on the damn meter

Be ready to barter. Everything is up for negotiation. At first, it's fun. They give you a price, you offer half of that, and then you go back and forth. Sometimes you walk away. If they chase after you, you know you can still negotiate. They won't sell it for less than it cost. By the end of the trip, I was so done with this. Usually what I would do is set a price in my mind that I thought it was worth to me. Like cool pashmina scarf - $20 seemed fair to me. As long as I hit that price I was happy, but sometimes I got significantly lower.

What to wear. Sure, it's hot. But nobody wears shorts or tank tops. I got by with t-shirts and capris. Bring your own sunscreen.

Go to Agra. Seeing the Taj Mahal was one of the top 5 experiences of my life. It's amazing and majestic. No matter why you are in India - make it to Agra. Trains are cheap, and domestic flights are reasonable. Some people gave me advice to take a personal car tour of the Taj starting in New Dehli. This would have cost me about $400. I took a train back and forth for $30, and got a pre-paid taxi cab for 8 hours around Agra for 1500 rupees ($30). You can see everything worthwhile there in less than 5 hours. If possible, get to the Taj first thing in the morning before it's crazy crowded (the buses start arriving from New Delhi at 10). If you stay until sunset, ask a taxi driver to take you to Mehtab Bagh. This is a garden - but don't actually go into the garden. If you walk down the edge of this park, towards the water, you can see the 'backside' of the Taj. It's a great, not too crowded place to watch the sunset. When I was there, I was with maybe 20 other tourists.

Take a train. The train system is a HUGE part of Indian life. And they are safe and a very reasonable way to travel. I took a 6.5 hour express train to Jaipur, first class AC, and it cost me $21. You can book in advance on Cleartrip. But if you happen to need to book it the day of - there are tourist offices IN the railway stations (the ones outside are scams) that save a few seats for tourists usually. I mostly rode in first class AC, but second class is also fine - just make sure you are in an AC carriage. DO NOT EAT THE TRAIN FOOD.

NOTE: Be aware of scams. If you have a ticket in hand, it is good. An e-ticket print out IS a valid ticket. I had a moment of freak out when someone tried to tell me that my eticket wouldn't work, and that I needed to be at the station 2 hours before the train to confirm my seat. That is bullshit. I would recommend getting there a bit early to get on the right platform and settle in - but you don't have to check in like you do for a flight.

Drink the coffee. They make is with boiled milk, not water. It's delicious.

Try a heritage hotel. I only booked one hotel for myself - in Jaipur. They did have the tried and true US chains there, but for $120 a night and no charm. I risked it and stayed at the Umiad Bhuvan guest house for $40 a night. Great place!

Get a Aruvedic Massage.

I think that's it. The most amazing trip ever. I only wished I got to share it with Aaron.


Rachel said...

Amen to avoiding the train food. You were -so- adventurous for a first time traveler in India, alone.

Carrie27 said...

You will just have to plan to visit again with Aaron some day.

I can't even imagine all that you experienced and will remember.