escape - useful tips & travel information for India

Most visits to India are hassle free but this page has a few tips to help save you time, money, grief and embarrassment….

  • Never touch food with your left hand this is reserved for bathroom duties. Its also impolite to pass things with your left hand. For example, when paying for something the money should be passed with the right.
  • Unless you can master the local technique, involving your left hand and a jug of water, you’ll probably want to carry a small supply of toilet tissue when you go out. This shouldn’t be flushed so use the wastebasket if one is supplied.
  • Wearing appropriate modest clothing will help you blend in and gain respect from locals. Men should always wear a shirt however hot it is. Women should avoid wearing shorts/short skirts and showing their shoulders and cleavage. You can get away with a more relaxed attitude to clothing near touristy beaches but topless or nude sunbathing is never acceptable.
  • When you arrive somewhere new don’t stand in the middle of the street, with a guide book, looking confused, unless you want to attract every scam artist and tout in sight. If you need to refer to books and maps sit in a chai (tea) stall or restaurant out of sight, then when you’ve relaxed and got your bearings head out into the street.
  • If you want to photograph someone make sure you get their permission first. Never offer money to take someone’s picture. You’ll probably find in a social situation that you benefit by leaving your camera in it’s bag. It can form a barrier between you and your hosts, making them feel like an attraction and confirming you as an outsider.
  • To avoid getting lost take your hotel business card with you when you go out. If it doesn’t have the address written on it in both the local script and English ask the reception to write on the back. Also, establish if there are any famous landmarks that will help you give directions to the hotel.
  • Local SIM cards can save you a lot of money if you’re intending to use your mobile phone while in India. Make sure your handset isn’t restricted to a network before you leave home.
  • If you need to ask directions a police officer may help, or look for female students in western looking clothes. They are likely to speak English and be more trustworthy than their male counterparts.
  • Never ask leading questions as Indians don’t like to say ‘no’ or admit they don’t know something. For example, pointing and saying ‘is this the way to…’ will normally solicit a ‘yes’ response - unless the person is absolutely sure the answer is no. Far better to ask, ‘Which way is the…’ instead. You should also ask more than one person the same question for verification.
  • The Indian head wobble (a side to side movement rather than a nodding one) normally means yes, or OK. If given in response to a leading question it may also mean, ‘I haven’t got a clue’ or, if you haven’t established that verbal communication is possible, it could mean, ‘I don’t understand’.
  • When entering a private home, temple, mosque, or other place of religious significance you should remove your shoes. Observe and do as others do. If in doubt take them off. You can always put them on again and you won’t have caused offence.
  • Don’t smoke in or near religious places or you will cause offence. Don’t smoke in railway stations, airports, bus terminals, shops, and other public places as you could be fined. Officially this includes restaurants and bars but despite ‘no smoking’ signs many have ash trays on all the tables. If in doubt ask.
  • When dealing with officials from government, state banks, post offices etc. you may find their attitude rude, dismissive, and unhelpful. Raising your voice and getting upset is the effect this behaviour is designed to provoke and gives them an excuse to be obstructive. Be firm and patient but polite. Let them know that you’re not going away and that they’re going to have to help eventually. If all else fails ask to see a superior and if that fails ask for the complaints book.
  • Organising things by telephone is risky unless you know the person that you’re talking to is reliable. Most people either won’t understand you or will forget what you asked them to do the minute they hang up. Its better to go in person, or send someone dependable, to get things done.
  • Always agree a price before getting into a taxi or rickshaw. If possible find out the correct rate for your journey before bargaining, then be prepared to pay slightly more because you’re a foreigner. You could try asking to use the meter. You may get lucky but this can lead to complications, like having the correct conversion chart to bring the fare shown on the meter up to date. At airports and larger train and bus stations there are often ‘Government Approved Pre-Paid Taxi’ offices. If there’s one available use it and keep the receipt until the end of your journey.
  • Never ask a taxi or auto-rickshaw driver to go quickly unless you want an adrenaline rush or have suicidal tendencies.
  • When shopping in markets, or shops without fixed prices, always bargain. The chances of being given a fair price the first time of asking are very slim indeed. To get an idea of what you should pay check the price in a few places first. Then, when you find something you like, start bargaining but never show too much enthusiasm for the item. Try saying that you’ve seen one you also like cheaper elsewhere. Don’t take it too seriously and try to maintain a good humoured atmosphere between you and the vendor. Then, if you still can’t get a ‘last price’ that you’re happy with, say goodbye and head for the door. That usually does the trick.