India

India : precautions and warnings

While everything is still very fresh I want to write down some of the scams you will meet in India, some annoying, some amusing and some downright troublesome. I will list them in no particular order than what occurs to me. Also I have included some precautions and take home messages about safety and security.
A Taxi driver or tuk tuk driver picks you up from the airport, you are tired, this transport was pre-booked so you assume it will be plain sailing into a comfortable bed in your booked hotel. The driver tells you the hotel is closed/burnt down/terrible/surrounded by a demonstration or whatever. He rings ” the Hotel” to confirm this and then takes you to a hotel where he gets a commission. These hotels are uniformly rubbish, they won’t let you contact your booked hotel and it can get very heated trying to extract yourself from this scam. Taxis booked by Intrepid were fine.

2. You leave your hotel in the morning ready for adventure. An overanxious to please man approaches you about a tuk tuk. You say where you want to go. Your query price as there are no working meters, ever. He says, whatever you want. You have got to insist on a definite price and get it down, as foreigners pay vastly more than do locals. Your own hotel can give you an idea of what is reasonable. You are on your way, and the driver stops his vehicle outside an emporium. Only five minutes he says. More like an hour. You are shown expensive goods in one section, then another and another if you don’t just walk out. We bought a beautiful carpet and organised for it to be shipped back. But when we were hand passed to the jewellery section, we baulked. Got up and left. Unfortunately, you have to be rude to these people as they will waste your time extravagantly hoping to wear you down into purchasing something. And whatever you do look reluctant to purchase, and the price comes down, big time. If you driver pulls up, and pressures you to go in, just say I want to go to my hotel now. I am not getting out till I am at my hotel. Or whatever your destination is. Indians abhors people who waste their time, if you are not going to play ball, they cut their losses and drive you away from the emporium.
3. Temples. Holy men are called fakirs, giving us the term fake. There are some sincere ones but they are not in tourist traps botting off tourists. A holy men in a temple asks for a donation. There is a tray with a 100 rupee note and incense burning. Every tray in that temple has a 100 rupee note, to allay your suspicions. Most temples that would like donations have a clearly marked donation box and warnings about giving money to ” holy” men.
4. Varanasi. This place needs a section to itself. Holy men grab your hands or thrust flowers into your hands then demand money for the blessing they have given. Children too thrust flowers into your hands and then ask you to pay. 
5 . Beggars. Beggars will grab your arms, push their babies in your face, and just obstruct you. Beggars are uniformly rural villagers who were convinced by a city businessman to come into a city promising them well paid jobs. In fact they are marooned, they have to beg and a percentage of the take goes to the businessman who seduced them here. The children and babies may not actually be theirs, there is a huge problem of abduction of young children at railway stations, these children are abused, often mutilated to make them more effective beggars. This actually does happen.
6. Monuments and forts. The big expense in an India trip is paying entrance fees 50 times greater than locals. Adding to this cost, some enterprising ticket sellers, offical ones in the booth, will shortchange you. Always count your change, and if it’s not right, confront them. If you block up the works, and get confrontational, they will cough up the money. Don’t leave the counter till you have checked your change.

7. Indians expect a tip, but if service is really shoddy they can do without it. 10 rupees for carrying a bag in a hotel, a porter at a railway station, about 5% is a good tip at a restaurant but check the bill if there is a service charge, this means a tip is already included – no need to tip twice.
8. Photography. Don’t pay for photos, ask politely for permission but your are an amateur who will never make money from your photos. Another common scam at monuments like the Taj Mahal, is a scammer will say here is a good place for a photo, and here, and here and then they demand a tip. I have had security guards do this scam. 
9. Don’t forget personal security. Keep your passport in a RFID WALLET / SLEEVE. Keep one debit or travel card with the passport. This is back up cash if you lose your other cards. Your wallet should be secure, preferably a zip up wallet and a chain to attach it to your belt. Your camera strap should be sturdy. I was told that motor bike riders can use a sharp knife to cut off your camera strap, but as most motorbikes travelled at little more than walking pace and a fast getaway is impossible due to the traffic. 
Have a debit card as well as a traveller cashcard, it’s worth having a variety as ATMs may not take all cards and having no local currency is not an option. 
A small LED TORCH attached to a chain with your keys to your luggage or pack can prove very handy in temples, crypts, power failure or poorly lit streets. 
Keep bag numbers low, you will often be tired, distracted, and it’s just too easy to forget that fourth bag on a seat or taxi. Do a bag count often and especially when alighting from trains or taxis or tuk tuks.
10, Hawkers. These are rarely a big nuisance, if you say no politely and move on, they won’t hang around. Occasionally, a hawker can be really persistent, repeatedly say no. But if it’s getting a problem, say no like you really mean it. Sometimes some judicious aggression is needed. Also Indian sellers, snake charmers, hawkers, believe that touching and looking are the same thing. Don’t look at their products.
11. Guides. Every time you walk around, people will ask where do you come from? Where are you going? About two thirds of the time, it’s part of a scam. Touting for a business. Expecting a tip for pointing out that a shop you want is two doors away. The trouble is you start to view most possible interactions as opportunities for trying to rip you off. Now they are all small amounts, but let’s face it, white tourists and even more so Japanese tourists, are viewed as walking cash machines. These local people earn just about nothing, they don’t get any social security if old, sick or unemployed, they just starve. If I have sounded critical of Indians in the above text, I must temper that now by saying, their daily struggles to get enough to eat are not those even the poorest person has to face in Australia. They need to make money any way they can and they cannot afford to be squeamish about how they do it. There is a true desperation to many of them in their lives which we cannot understand. That fifty rupees can be a meal for a family. So don’t get too upset, don’t be too defensive, sometimes it works out for the best. 
12 Trains. It’s well worth having a chain and reliable lock to secure your bags ( also locked) to the attachment points beneath the seats. Also pack your bags to make them flat not fat – this enables the bags to fit easily under the benches. Always have your own role of toilet paper in a snap lock bag as train loos don’t have paper. A good time for a bag snatch is just when your train has arrived. Your carry pack is resting on a bunk, you are tired and inattentive.

13. Toilets and hygiene. It’s impossible to avoid exposure to E. coli. You can minimise it, and it’s worth doing as the lower the exposure then the milder the upset will be. Use anti bacterial gel often and always before meals and after the bathroom. Wash your teeth and rinse toothbrush in bottled water. Bottled water should have a definite click when you open it otherwise suspect it’s been refilled. Any cold foods such as sliced pineapple, apple and so on may have been washed in contaminated water. 
If you do get diarrhoea promptly take 800mg statim ( that means take it straight away ) norfloxacin and two loperamide. This is very effective. Icthammol and zinc cream in a tube protects sore skin. Extra fluids especially with hydralyte for electrolytes. And if no vomiting then eat, even if you don’t feel like it.

14. Basic medical kit. Saline for SMOKE and insect debris in eyes. Bactrim DS for skin, chest and urine infections. Panadol for headache. Sunblock applied each morning before walking out. A 12 cm wide heavy minimal stretch bandage for sprains. Some betadine liquid/ wash for any animal bites.  

15. Buses. If you cannot get your bags on a rack or under the bus, then quickly buy a seat for it. It’s a long long trip with luggage on your knees. 
16. Offical guides at heritage areas. More often than not they cannot be understood. They will rush you through and out the exit before you realise you are back at the parking area. They want to push you through quickly to get another job. Avoid them. If you can get an audio guide they are usually quite good. If you cannot, many travel books like Lonely Planet have adequate descriptions of the site. 
17. Air travel. The main problem is the often small amounts of foreign currency which require a time wasting declaration at the exit. Check before you leave home. India has major limits on American dollars for example.
E visas do not save time. You will wait two hours in a queue of less than a dozen people. Indian bureaucracy is hamstrung by antiquated technology and a lackadaisical attitude to customer service. In short, never have a short connection time , less than three hours, between an international arrival and a domestic departure.

18. Alcohol. Never, never, never get drunk. Never take a drink from a stranger. Always see your drink mixed. It’s too common to have drinks spiked and lose PIN numbers, credit cards or worse. This does happen, in fact to one of our group when in Bali. Have fun but be wary and careful.

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