First things first- I’d like you to be aware that my experience is limited only to Northern India, I am aware that it’s a huge country, full of different cultures, peoples and beliefs, so I do not expect all of it to look the same. Also, even though the post may seem very negative, it was not my desire to do so, the aim of this post is mostly informative.
There is plenty of blogs, guides, books, TV programmes, documents and God knows what else, describing the beauty of India, its colours, a wealth of cultures and beliefs, but I feel none of them prepares the visitors for the shock they experience when they enter the country.
India is not a country that you just visit, in your spare time or for fun, India is one of those countries you have to have a desire to visit. And I feel everybody will experience it differently, everybody will be hit by something, may have a little hard time to adjust, and for different people it may be different things- for some, children running and begging on the street with no pants; for others (like me) thin, stray dogs asking for food and love; for others noise and amount of people around.
India is an adventure. No matter if you seek it or not, no matter what your definition of adventure is. India will kidnap you into its noisy and busy vibe and won’t spit you out until you get back on the plane, or not even until you’re safe and calm in your bed, surprised by that silence around you. The country has for sure a lot to offer, you just gotta have guts to take it.
In this post, I would like to touch some of the struggles travellers may experience while visiting New Delhi, Agra, Varanasi and which may, or may not, apply to other parts of India.
Haggling is a part of daily life of tourists (I believe) all around India, Nepal and probably some other Asian countries as well. Since many markets and stores have no fixed prices, unaware of local prices tourists are a good target for people who want to make some extra money. It is often annoying, when you don’t know f you’re paying a fair price It took me a while to start haggling with people, since I had no idea, when, where and how to haggle or even start to haggle. Until one time, when under the emotions and the stress of being late for our bus, we tried to catch a cab for 2 km ride and the driver wanted from us almost the same amount we paid for the ride from the airport, I was just like “I ain’t paying that”, and got surprised how easy it was to haggle with the taxi drivers (in Nepal, at least). From then it just got easier.
The main advise I’d have for you, one I believed is true and many people mentioned on the forums and blogs, is to think of a price you’d be able to pay for the item, but don’t be too rude, but also not too nice. Most people say start at 50-60% of the price, but for sure lower than you are willing to pay. There were items I haggled down to half of the price, and some when the vendors agreed only for 100 rupees less. Not everything is worth huggling though. The kid running around with bottles of water, an old lady selling purses for 100 rupees, some things are just worth buying.
These are examples of prices we paid for some items:
-small khukuri (Nepal) 400 NPR (first price – 800)
-pashmina (Nepal), one 1000 NPR, the other one 500 NPR
-tea 100 INR (first price 150)
-fake Iphone headphones 150 INR (first price 600)
-a small statuette of Budda 200 INR (first price 250)
There are quite a few websites on the internet that provide average prices for taxi and tuc-tuc fares in India, which are worth checking out before you go.
What follows, or more precedes haggling is being mobbed by people who want to sell you stuff, or offer you services like taxi ride or a room. When going to India, first thing you need to understand that for them you’re not a traveller, urged to explore, thirsty to see the world. For them, you are a rich, white tourist, who comes from the rich west with money and that is all you’re there for, to spend money. After a while we realised that it doesn’t matter if we look lost or not, or if we look like we know what we’re doing or not, everybody would try to sell as a room, offer a tuc-tuc or a taxi ride, often right after we left one. To them, we always look for something, something to eat, something to see, somewhere to go. You are not allowed to explore or hang out, that is not what you can do there…
In my opinion, railway stations or bus stops are the worst. They are much less strict than the airports, so you’ll have people waiting for you right by the train/bus, attacking you from every side, until you have nowhere to go, and nothing else to do just to push them away, while they’ll just keep repeating “taxi sir?”; “taxi, ma’am?”, and you can keep repeating “no, thank you” over and over. It doesn’t help. There is no “no” in the mouth of the white person.
The struggle connected to mobbing that hurt us the most was the idea that you can’t trust anyone. You can’t ask for directions, because someone can try to send you over to places where they have a commission of, you can’t talk to anybody, cause some eventually will try to sell you stuff. We even had a situation when a tuc-tuc driver offered us a ride for 20 rupees and after we left said it was 100. The saddest thing is, that there are actually people who are curious about you, who actually want to know where you’re from, or where you are going. But they usually show up after you already had a couple adventures, and you just can’t trust them anymore. Something inside you just know they’re gonna screw you over.
3. No one knows anything
I know it may sound weird but it often felt bizarre to me how little the people around India know about their surroundings. India, especially Delhi is a very chaotic and disorganised place. They were an English colony less than hundred years ago, but barely anyone understands you speaking English; taxi drivers don’t know directions, Uber drivers don’t know the area; we literally had a driver who took us to the Elephant Sanctuary not knowing where it is, made 4 calls during the ride, asking for directions and turned around 2 times to get to the stores and asked for directions again (not caring about us trying to show him a Google Maps route); or another one who was surprised about traffic in Delhi and decided to turn into a walking only street, and kept going even though the street clearly was getting too narrow for a car…
4. You’re the attraction
Ever dreamt of being a celebrity? Then India is a place for you. Constant selfies with people were a norm for us. Especially when my sister stopped caring about “cover it all” rule and started running around in shorts and her belly-button sticking out… Man… She had queues waiting for a selfie. And it never was a single selfie. Be ready for at least 3 rounds. First with the whole group or the whole family, then just with one or two people, then the other two, then just the children, then the youngest child. There were people handing us crying and scared babies, just to take a picture.
5. Noise and dirt
So here comes the fame of the country. There is plenty of people, plenty of people have cars, the drivers are allowed to, honk, and they use that privilege A LOT, so basically, there is plenty of people constantly honking, yelling, talking, haggling, selling, and what follows, it is always loud. ALWAYS. I feel like I often couldn’t run away from the noise, from the busy and loud streets. Which, connected with all the mobbing, resulted in a huge busy bubble that swallowed me and did not want to spit out.
Dirt is a huge side effect of such amount of people. People create trash, animals poop. So the country is literally covered in it, huge piles of trash lying around, poop covering the streets. BUT it is surprisingly not that stinky as I would think.
6. Homeless and beggars
India is an extremely poor country. Starting with people, who lock themselves behind gates in their little neighbourhoods and drive their AC’ed Mercedes’, ending on those sleeping on the streets, or living in “tents” on the island of the highway. When going to Northern India you have to be ready for people knocking at the windows of your car, or for mothers with children, or children themselves following you, begging for money. We saw people, who, when seeing us in the car, forced their children to dance and then run to the car for money; or those who’d run to us, showing us their naked or half-naked babies.
7. Stray dogs
Everybody can laugh at me as much as they want, but I will admit that me and my sister were those crazy ladies, running from store to store, buying dog food, doggy sticks, treats and then feeding them to almost every met dog; buying burgers at street food trucks or samosas on the railway station, as soon as they saw a dog searching around for food.
So, here is my warning, especially to other sentimental ladies out there, if you have a hard time thinking about the cruelty of the world towards children and animals, you may have a hard time in India. You may find yourself crying in a pillow at night when you are supposed to be excited for another day; you may find yourself turning your sight away, feeling just hopeless, even though you’re trying to help; you may find yourself not wanting to leave the house, even though you want to explore so much. It’s not just guessing. It all happened to me. To my sister, my mum.
That was my struggle. And everybody I talk to has one of them, as well. India is an adventure. India is an experience. One could even say it changes you, affects who you are; shapes your point of view on things.
It definitely shaped my point of view in one particular way.
I think we all at the back of our heads are aware of one of the bigger world’s problems, which is women not being equal to men. Western European and North American countries are fighting it, and even the rest of the countries seem to be moving forward, like e.g. Saudi Arabia by finally giving women a right to drive.
I was growing up raised, and surrounded by strong and independent females and promised myself to never become anyone’s possession, and I have never so far had trouble with that.
On this trip, by travelling in a company of a man, the first time I experienced the treatment many, many women still get today. Even though, I worked really hard to make this trip happen, I worked hard to be able to afford it, I felt like a dog by the owner’s leg, when men in India while answering my question answered it to my boyfriend; I felt like a baby machine, when my boyfriend was asked how can we not have children after being together for over 1,5 year; or like a backpack when my boyfriend, while sitting right next to me, was asked who am I; OR like empty space when the boat tour was given just to him, like I had no interest in finding out about the city.
As a European, I always put that problem aside, like it didn’t relate to me. But now I know it relates to all of us. I don’t want this part of the post to sound like a feminist crying. I just want to finish by making us all aware of that problem, and remember that we all are really strong and are capable of great things, as long as we believe in it.
Thank you for your attention.
And don’t let me scare you, India is a great adventure and I will go back one day!