Friday, April 25, 2014

Tips for traveling safe in India

We've finished our 1.5 months India trip. We've done a lot but it went really fast now that we are looking back. We are happy to report that everything went fine - no food poisoning, no theft, no accident!

But we were very careful everywhere we went in India as we've heard a lot about various types of scams including overpricing, theft, touts, commission agent, transport scams....... our motto in India was safety first!

So here are some things we did in order to avoid problems.

1. Money

We tried to carry small change as most rickshaw guys like to pretend they don't have small change.

We only transferred money we want to withdraw the day before into our 'transaction' account. And leave the rest in the online account which are not accessible by ATM cards, in case our cards get skimmed or stolen. We also never used our credit cards in India, only for booking hotels via international hotel booking sites.

2. Food & Drinks

We avoided street vendor food completely in India. Restaurants were cheap in India anyway so why risk our health? We did try some not-so-foreigner friendly looking places (just because we couldn't find any other) but we were fine.. I think it helped that we were both vegetarian the whole time we were in India.

Restaurant in Gorakhpur - Moo!
Drinks - we tried not to have any ice. We may have one or two drinks with ice but only at nice hotels. We always checked mineral water bottles to make sure they have not been tampered with. We always opened the bottle ourselves to make sure they were properly sealed and we smelled the water before we drank.... we did this to almost to a paranoid level, but better to be safe than sorry. For alcohol, we avoided cocktails altogether and stuck with wine.

Oh, another thing we did was we tried to eat different food.. so that if one person gets sick, the other can look after and take care of things... instead of two people down.

3. Transport

Train: We did a LOT of trains across India.... but we always made sure to get at least 2AC... We really wanted to try 1AC (the best train class) but they were always sold out... so we stuck with the second best class which was 2AC. We always requested for upper & lower berth that are together. There was one train (Gorakhpur to Varanasi) where we were not in the same cabin but a Nepalese guy swapped berth with Frode.. so it's always good to ask. We also carried around locks for our bags and attached them all together and onto a berth pole or something so they are secure.

Tuk Tuk in Jaipur
Auto Rickshaw (& non-auto): We tried not to go with the guys who came to us but instead we went with guys who WE approached & negotiated. We always picked smaller / skinnier guys so if anything happens, we can take them! Also we never allowed drivers' 'friends' on board with us  (his 'son' 'father' 'friend' or whoever that suddenly appears from nowhere), they might be harmless but whatever.
And as with anything, we always negotiated the amount before we got on. We made sure to check the details when negotiating the price (like making sure that the total amount includes two people with all our bags.... or making sure the fee is to the front entrance of the station rather than back!!), even if it was annoying or they thought we were being too paranoid, who cares what they think? Better to be annoying than getting ripped off later.

4. Theft

We carried with us about 5~6 various locks. When we were leaving the valuables in the hotel, we used the Pac Safe which was great. We were glad we purchased this.

Backpack locked to a chair & a table
Folds into a compact size

...And it was definitely easier traveling as a couple as we can watch out for our bags in turn.

5. Overpricing

Just negotiate for everything. I think I am quite used to this as I've spent some time in China... but more negotiation in India ... and it can get very tiring. Some touts can be quite persistent and aggressive (especially places like Agra or Varanasi). So Frode and I played good cop /bad cop, somehow I almost always played the bad. One of the touts in Agra was mumbling to Frode 'you are a good man, I don't like your wife' (after the guy kept following us and I told him to piss off - in (what I thought was) a nice way)
I wanted to punch him but no... no point, just walk away.. Grrrr.

6. Other things

Arriving into Mumbai station
In general, we tried to avoid REALLY cheap hotels. We tried not to arrive at new places in the evening, if we can't avoid it, then we organized pick up from the hotel etc... just to be sure.

While in India, I tried to dress more conservatively (cover my shoulders, legs etc). It got really annoying, as India is super frigging hot. Still, we got stared at a LOT. Some were just plain curiosity - I am sure, while others were kind of uncomfortable staring... and VERY creepy at times.


All in all, we were definitely more on edge in India than in Thailand or Myanmar, I know that most
people in India are very nice and helpful. But like China, India is a big country with so many people, so many languages, so many religions, you are bound to meet many different kinds, the good and the bad.

It is almost impossible to describe India or Indians in a short sentence... except maybe India is... HUGE!
Random people asking us to take photos with them.... :-)

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