Travelling through India is an experience. You learn along the way, no matter how much research and preparation you do beforehand. Although a few up to date tips from recent travellers certainly helps. Having done my two weeks, I have a few. Let’s start at the beginning of the trip, shall we?
Did you know you can download map areas onto your mobile phone for offline use? Instructions for iOS and Android – click here. It comes in mightily useful. Besides being an invaluable aid when you get lost, you can also work out distances between places. So, given that taxis and tuk tuks have set rates per kilometre, you can work out how much you should be paying before you start the process of haggling. Because no, the meters never seem to work when a foreigner hops aboard…
The e-Visa Queue
When you land in Delhi, you’ll head off to Immigration in order to enter the country. The first section is for Indian nationals. The second section is for Foreign visa holders. You will likely queue here. But if you are one of the lucky ones who can now apply for an e-visa, your wait will be in vain. And you’ll be sent further along to the e-visa section. Which had by far the longest queues. Just because you’ve already given half your life story over the internet when applying for the visa, don’t think for a moment that it’ll be a quick process. Everyone is photographed, fingerprinted and examined with great care.
Indian SIM card
My biggest mistake in India was not buying an Indian SIM card. It’s pretty simple and as cheap as chips in curry sauce. Once you’ve cleared immigration and customs, you’ll find a mobile phone stand. Just have a passport sized photo or two at the ready, and a couple of photocopies of your passport. You’ll part with, I think, about 300 rupees (about £4) and will have a shiny new SIM card to pop in your phone.
Why would you want to do this? Two reasons. Firstly, when you’re out and about and want to log on to the free wifi offered in coffee shops and tourist sites, you’ll need to be able to receive their OTP code by text message. Secondly, you will be able to download and activate the OLA taxi app. I can’t even begin to tell you how much time, aggravation and cost you’ll save yourself. We did use Uber via Google Maps (choose to pay by cash for the ride) which was useful, but we could only do that from our hotels where we had a wifi connection.
I confess – I’m not a clean freak. Far from it. I’m a great believer in building up one’s immunity by letting a few germs in. I have even been known to fail to wash my hands on the way out of a bathroom, providing it was just a number one. But there’s only so much bacteria that you’d want to be inviting in at any given moment. And India has germs and diseases on every touchable surface that are just itching for the chance to kill you in a manner than would make John Hurt’s exit from the Alien movie seem painless and peaceful.
Bank notes around the world are famous for being dirty, but in India they are a biologists dream. Who needs a petri dish when you have a few rupees to hand? And no need to run any tests. Most of them have enough life on them to be able to strike up a coherent conversation to discuss exactly what sort of plague it is. Mrs P bought me a little bottle of strawberry hand sanitiser. I used it after I touched anything. I am still alive as a result, and I also smell pleasantly fruity to boot.
Another top tip on how not to die in India is to become a vegetarian. If you think along similar lines to myself, this may at first sound like a recipe for disaster. Vegetarianism is, after all, a disease in the same bracket as cholera and dysentry. But it turns out that you can dine well in India without consuming meat products. What really swung it for me was walking past a couple of stalls that pass themselves off as butchers. I couldn’t possibly tell you from what animals the bits of hanging carcasses had originally belonged to. I just called it Jesus Meat. Stuff that has been killed, but has subsequently come back to life, and will walk off down the street if not securely tied down.
We ate well in India. We enjoyed home made meals in our Delhi homestay, dined at hotel restaurants and sometimes ventured out to popular restaurants nearby. We gave street food the elbow. Some will say that we missed out on the real Indian culinary experience. That may be so, but we also avoided a holiday wrecking bout of food poisoning. Suffering a tummy upset is one thing. A life and death battle with e-coli is another.
One could write an encyclopedia on the Indian Railway system. It is perhaps India’s true man made wonder of the world, ranking above even the Taj Mahal. But I will make just three points on this subject. Firstly, I’ve updated my rambling post about how to buy a train ticket online, since the procedure changed (much for the better) just a couple of weeks after I wrote it. Secondly, First Class and Coach Class are perfectly comfortable ways to travel. We didn’t try out the sleepers.
Thirdly, trains do not always tend to run on time. Indeed, some lines are so regularly late, that it could be said that they do run on time, just not in accordance with the published timetable. Help is at hand. Before you leave your hotel, check on how your chosen train is getting along using this website. You may well have enough time to be able to have another Kingfisher beer by the pool. Possibly even a whole crate of Kingfishers. You might even just decide to catch a taxi, which we did on two occasions. Reckon on spending roughly £10 per hour for your journey if you go down that route.