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Holi festival, Pushkar, Rajasthan
'What to do?' in India
Since I feel like passing some useful information to my friends and
most travel guides have mutated to a list of tourism commerce, I
started writing this lines. I traveled for about three years in India
now, so these are my personal experiences, which of course are
subjective from the perspective of a western guy. If you are from
India please don't feel offended if I expose something, it's to point
out the differences in a funny way. For some statements I make, I
have to excuse myself since I am human, make mistakes and I am still
learning, but I am progressing. Don’t worry too much about my
‚warnings‘, They shouldn’t scare you, it’s just good to know…
India is a very great place for traveling or long term stay since most
people are very friendly and helpful, the food is tasty and healthy, it
has a extraordinary diverse and interesting culture, you can get a
longer visa than in most countries, you can find places with good
weather conditions all around the year, it has a very rich and diverse
nature and comes with a very affordable price tag. I love India!
But where there is a lot of light there is a lot of dark too. Women are
suppressed, there is a big problem with trash and noise and
superstition is still bigger than you think. The poor people have a
really hard life and suffer without notice.
In contrast to what you think as a western, people are happier than
you think, there is much more tolerance and less trouble than you
might think from the news, there is much more nature and animals
than you expect, but pollution and traffic in cities is much worse than
you could imagine.
There is a lot westerners can learn from the Indian culture, for
example that money doesn't make you happy, amazing hospitality,
the importance of awareness and the relevance of personal relation
over the individual.
The troubles India is still facing are a result of political misguidance,
bad management, corruption, poor conditions, historical troubles
and exploration from the west. Sure the efficiency, competitive ways
and strict regulations made the west economicly stronger, but
unhappy, selfish and empty inside.
Most people are very friendly and helpful. It can be overwhelming
getting invited by poor people you don’t even know. What a contrast
to the stingy wealthy westerners. But don't expect everybody to be
like that. In many areas nobody speaks English and they don't know
how to handle tourists. So you are suspicious to them. May be you
could be one of these crazy guys from the Hollywood movies. Or they
assume you are just a rich, arrogant prick. Others treat you like a rock
star and you are being ask for selfies all the time, which can get a bit
annoying. Others offer you food or anything to make you happy.
Usually they are very helpful, if you have any problem or ask for the
way. But avoid 'yes' or 'no' questions, because their englisch might
not be good enough, so you get either 'no' which means they don't
speak English or 'yes' which means they like you to be happy no
matter what the question was. If it's important ask different people
and evaluate it depending on their english skills and personal
In the so called North which I would say is between the South and the
Himalayas further north, there are a lot of people on a small place, so
people can be more rude and swear a lot.
In big cities people are busy and the traffic is terrible. You are really
at risk, if you are not careful or insist on your right of way, which you
don't have. Furthermore there is a constant blowing of horns, dirt
and plastic everywhere and many small fires were they burn the
plastic which releases poison sweet smoke. The smog can be the
worst in the world especially in the north during the harvest time and
winter. For all these reasons I recommend to stay away from any city.
Look for quite places where the road ends, or holy places which are
villages. Sure, to see many of the most famous places you have to go
through cities, but don't plan to stay there for a long time or you
probably will hate India.
Privacy is not that respected in India, so it can happen that there is a
crowd just staring at you. Saying 'namaste' helps. If you sit
somewhere with your smartphone people might just lean curiously
over your shoulder to see what you are looking at. Even when you
are at an ATM, there might be people on both sides of you, trying to
help in case you are stuck. Don’t get mad at them. Just stay friendly
and explain why you want to be left alone or simply look for a more
The (upper) middle class is quite different though. They usually are
educated, speak proper English, are modern and might have cool jobs
Respect the culture and religion since it can be seen as the center of
life in India. It has probably the most diverse culture in the world.
There are 23 official languages and about 320 in total. Given that,
they predominantly live in peace and tolerance together. So life can
get complicated, but don't worry too much about breaking a rule,
nobody expects you to know everything about their culture. They are
very tolerant towards westerners. Excuse and try to do better. Some
western point of view might unmask your own ignorance and
arrogance, so better think twice before you critize something.
Complaining in an angry way to support your argument doesn’t work
in India as in whole Asia. They would just think you are a prick and
you don’t achieve anything, besides losing your face and destroy any
chance of further relation. Just stay friendly and explain with a smile
what‘s the case. Usually they say sorry and go for it. If not, explain it
in more detail, but always stay friendly. Say if they please could do
this or that. In general people would say sorry and help where they
can. If it happens again, stay patient and repeat it. If you get ripped
off, you have to accept your bad commen sense. Don't start a fight,
they have their friends, you will lose. Instead tell everybody that it's a
ripe off. See it that way: In the west you get ripped off so many times
without any notice at all.
Politics is not really the subject to start a conversation, it’s more
about family and culture. Politics can be a sensible thing to talk
about. In the west I think people talk to much about it, like if it would
be up to them to rule the world, instead of trying to improve
themselves first and create a healthy relationship with others.
There is hardly anything like a normal friendship between the sexes
in India. As a male I only had a few private chats with an indian
woman and these ones were absolutely not typical indians. To have
an Indian girlfriend as a westerner is not so common. But with the
rise of social media it's changing fast. The other way round is very
common, since for most indian lads it is the only way to get layed and
they are the nicest guys at least till it gets serious. changing very fast.
A common way of communication in India is the wobbling of the
head. Basically a fast continuous wobbling means 'I understand',a
quick wobble means 'yes' and slow wobble with a smile means 'nice
to meet you'. It's highly contagious and you will soon find yourself
doing it as well.
There are so many festivals in India. Make sure to check the calendar,
because it might be very hard to find a room during that time. Room
prices might multiply and most restaurants are closed. Often you get
an inventation from the guesthouse owner. Check:
Traveling in India is really quite easy since there are plenty of busses
going pretty much everywhere. State buses are easy, because you
don’t need to pre-book them. On short distance busses you can get
on and off wherever you want, for the price that they are quite slow.
For longer distance buses you have to pay for the whole distance, but
they stop less and are faster. Expect an average speed of 30 km per
hour. (about 1 to 1.5 rp per km). In travel agencies you can book
private long distance buses. The prices vary depending on the
number of seats and if aircon is available. If you go with aircon, have
some warm clothing with you, since they overdo it quite often. 'Free
WiFi' means 'free of WiFi' ;)
Medium distances are often done in a shared taxi. Make clear that
you ‚no charter‘. They wait till they are full. A Mahindra jeep takes
ten people or more, two by the driver and four each in the middle
and back row. If you are tall avoid the back row, because you cannot
see outside and might bump your head on the sealing. (about 3 rp
Rickshaws are very common and faster than taxis, since there are
more ways of creative driving in a traffic jam. Avoid everybody
approaching you, just ignore them and go further till you see some
bored looking rickshaw driver. Often they line up in a row. In some
places they agreed on special high prices, so they won't bargain as
long as somebody is watching. If it seems too much, start walking and
try a bit further. Stopping a rickshaw with somebody already inside
can be a good deal. (between 5 and 75 rp per km)
Hitchhiking outside of cities is pretty easy. To sign that you wave your
arm stretched horizontal up and down with a flat hand. The same you
use for a bus. The thumb is often not understood and means
'everything okay'. The deal 'entertain for transport' does only work if
they are rich or tourists. Otherwise a contribution is expected, which
will be the same as for a shared taxi.
Trains are the cheapest form of transportation, but much less
frequent, hours late depending on where they started and
sometimes quite full. I recommend to take '3rd class sleeper', since
the 'sleeper' is usually dirty. The platform number is announced but
may be hard to understand, but there is a digital board which usually
works, but best keep on asking or you might miss your train. On long
distance you should get a seat reservation a long enough ahead of
time. Normal tickets are very often sold out for weeks and months.
There is a waiting list, if you are number 50 or less your chances
should be quite high. If you want to book online you need a
registration to IRCTC, which I found impossible to do. So the easiest
way is to go to a travel agency. There are some reserved seats, but
it’s kind of complicated, read it for yourself. If you don't get the seat,
you can still get on the train, look for the ticket collector and try to
and try to get free seat. They can be easily convinced. Since I don’t
like to plan ahead of time and it's hard to say if you still get the
connection train, I usually prefer buses.
If you have to go across the whole country and you don't want to sit
in buses and trains for days with swollen feet and a back getting
worse, a flight might be the last option. (about 50$ per takeoff)
Given that there is a big variety and big number of vehicles and
animals on the road and that most Indian think they are the best
drivers combined with a not existing security enforcement it's
probably the worst traffic in the world with the highest amount of
The right of way depends pretty much on the size of the vehicle
starting with buses and trucks and ending with bicycles and
pedestrians. Therefore never insist on the right of way resulting from
road sign, rather use your breaks. If you are foreigner you will always
be made responsible in case of an accident by the locals, but the
police will be on your side.
Motorbikes speeding at no distance to pedestrians are considered
normal. Buses overtaking other vehicles even there is no sight are
normal. Using the other side of the road to avoid a detour is normal
too. Bus drivers often use drugs to stay awake. Often drivers drive
drunk. If you want to be on the save side, use state buses, because
they know every bump on the route and drive in a defense way.
There are pretty good chargeable highways. In any bigger city there
will be traffic jam. The number of cars in the street grows much faster
than roads can be built.
In the mountains the roads have to be maintained permanently, so
temporary blocked roads are normal. These road construction can be
a real trouble for motorbikes and cars with small tires and low
ground clearance. Proper mud and rock driving skills are required.
Beware of cows which can just be anywhere around the corner. The
small ones easily get scared, so the jump around in an unforeseeable
matter. Goats are also hard to predict in their moving. Dogs don't
watch the traffic if they are in a fight.
If it rains heavy in Ladakh or Spiti, which happens may be twice a
year, all the loose stuff comes down resulting in all roads blocked. In
this case better stay where you are. It typically takes two days to get
them fixed. Excavator drivers are the heros of the road and do their
work without any doubt.
A fun page https://qz.com/india/582180/never-mind-the-cows-andthe-traffic-lights-everything-you-need-to-know-about-driving-inindia/
Bargaining and Shopping
Bargaining is common for accommodation, rental and shopping. If
you don't fix the price in advance, it is like a blanco check and can get
you in an uncomfortable position. The first price mostly is pretty
much what would make them very happy and they might swirl
around you with a big smile. They might try to offer some more stuff
to their favorite client. If your budget is more tight, you bargain. If
you say you want to buy it or want to stay, how could you bargain
then? So first you have to say that you are thinking about getting it
somewhere else. Or if you simply leave, the price can drop drastically.
If there are other clients or you are at a guesthouse be careful that
no others can hear you, because these other guests might pay a
higher price already and would get pissed or would try to get the
lower price as well, so they can't agree on that low price in front of
the others. So for example let them show you the room, where
nobody can here you or speak quietly. They won't sell you anything
for no margin, so don't worry too much. If you pay the high price you
also increase the general price expectation and it might result in an
unhealthy fast development like in Goa. So I think it's okay to
bargain, but it's not okay to tell the low price achieved to everybody
around. That's why you hear 'only for you, don't tell anybody' quite
often. If you walk in a shopping zone and don't want to be bothered,
just ignore everybody approaching or addressing you. Don't look,
cause every second you look might take you one minute to get out of
the situation. Don't feel that it's unpolite, because it wasn't polite to
approach you in first place. It's just business, you can't buy everything
on the road.
In groceries the price is written on the cover as MRP (maximum retail
price), so no bargain is necessary. If you are a regular client you might
get a small discount. Local markets sell there products for about half
of the price of regular shops, if you bargain and know the price.
If you buy clothing you should know that most cheap stuff falls apart
after a few months. Brand clothing is mostly fake. They make them
look like original. The real brands you only get in rare quality shops
and are usually more expensive than in Europe!
Don't buy cheap low quality electronics, it might break during the
first use. You cannot return it. If you buy quality stuff which is made
in India it's still quite affordable.
Scams are big in India. Common sense helps! Don’t go with a person
you don’t trust.
There is the common saying 'never trust a rickshaw driver'. Often
they get commission when they bring you to a hotel, which is on top
of the normal price. Tell them that you already booked the hotel or
just let them drop you close by, but not too close.
In Goa there still is the gold scam, where you should send some gold,
which of course never arrives. They tell you that they want to avoid
taxes sending it privately. Then they arrange a fake phone call that
they gonna arrest you, if you do not immediately fly home and even
buy the flight ticket.
In New Delhi young unexpierenced travelers are ripped off telling
them they need to buy a complete tour through India and that there
are no trains for foreigners. If you leave there is a fake police guy
which just guides you to the next scam travel agency and so on. Don't
go for the houseboat scam for Kashmir. In Jaipur they try to sell you
Beware of the the ear cleaning doctors on the street. First they get
some chunks out of your ears to prove their good work. Later the put
something itchy like sheep shit in your ear and refuse to take it out
until you pay for some over-priced ear drops.
There is a astonishing creativity involved in scamming, but it won't
bother you, if you have been for a while in India. You will
immediately recognize it.
Besides what I mentioned for women, India is a quite save place, but
you have to careful and use your common sense. So far I never got
anything stolen or other serious problems. But don’t show your
wealth. Compare the price of your camera to an average loan and
you get the idea. Respect their tradition, even they are very tolerant
to foreigners. Wear proper clothing and don’t show too much skin in
holy places. Stay away from demonstrations, you are just a guest.
Don’t photograph police, military or sensible objects like damns.
Never start a fight with locals, they will call five friends and beat you
up, you will lose. Don‘t behave in an aggressive way. Stay away from
If the police stops you they can easily be convinced. Locals are
expected to pay about 500 rp, foreigners mostly more. It depends on
your cool. Stay friendly but unimpressed. If they catch you with
drugs, you might lose all your cash. If you have your own vehicle it
could happen that you have to pay everytime you stop for the police.
Since I am male I can give only second hand advice. In non tourist
areas, don’t travel alone. People are just not used to that. Go with a
male or a group. In tourist areas, it’s usually no problem. Don’t show
much skin. A bikini on the beach is not appropriate, despite a few
places like Goa. Wear a cheap wedding ring helps. If somebody asks
you if you have a boyfriend, it is actually like crossing three red lines.
Don’t stick to western politeness and answer with a smile. That can
easily be misunderstood. The normal reaction of an Indian woman
would be: no more contact and leave. In the middle class it is
different and women are respected, but in general it’s like the biggest
drawback in India. This doesn’t mean you cannot travel alone, but
you should be tough and experienced. Behave like a queen, not like a
victim. Ask female travelers for advice. (I hope I got that right, this is
not victim blaming, it won't change anytime soon)
Eating local food is the best choice, since it is tasty, healthy and not
expensive. The food can be quite spicy, so better get used to it. Since
I am in India, I feel much healthier, because of the good food.
A thali, which means a plate of food, usually comes with an all you
can eat refill. You don’t get a refill for the expensive stuff like meat. In
the North people are mostly vegan and you get your proteins with
dal and beans. In the south, they often have a bit of chicken or fish.
Be careful with chicken and eggs, because they can be of low quality
especially in tourist restaurants. In the Himalayas meat from goat or
mutton is very common. These animals spend their life chewing
herbs on mountain meadows. This is much better than the typical
A dish with a medium portion of meat or fish will be double the price.
India is a perfect place to be vegetarian and easy if you are vegan.
Eat where the locals eat! A busy local restaurant means that you get
good and fresh food for a reasonable price. Where else at some
tourist restaurant with no guests, it could happen that they serve you
the rotten stuff which was waiting for guests. Be aware also when to
eat. If you order a thali for dinner, it was cooked for lunch, no good
idea. If it tastes somewhat rotten, don’t eat it. You will still have to
pay for it though. Tell all your friends that it wasn't good. I ate locally
most of the time and only once had a problem. In places along the
Ganges like Varanasi I heard it’s different and you should be very
careful, since they don’t have clean water.
In the South try idli and masala dosa for breakfast, thali for lunch,
briyani or chicken tikka masala for dinner. In the North aloo paratha
for breakfast, thali for lunch, palak paneer, paneer butter masala or
dal fry are my recommendations. There is much, much more to
explore. In the Himalayas momo and thantuk is typical. The food can
very basic there. You can also find a vast of sweets which often
contain spices like cardamom or ginger.
There are many kinds of local seasonal fruits, some of them you
might never have seen before.
Indians eat with the right hand only, but you can always ask for a
spoon. Wash your hands before eating.
If you accidentally touch your eyes after eating chilly, you might use
your long hair to get rid of the burning.
Drink plenty of water. Usually you don’t need to buy bottled water.
Water distributers don’t produce water, they produce plastic bottles.
The locals usually don’t buy bottled water. Ask the locals or rather
your guesthouse owner for the water they drink. In the mountains
tap water is usually okay, but ask. Sometimes they have a barrel of
water which gets delivered, sometimes it’s a hose outside of the
house. When you are trekking in the mountains you usually can find
water on the way. Look for some dripping water, very often the locals
put a rock or a bamboo there, so it’s easy fill up your bottle. The
water should come directly out of the earth, so it’s filtered.
I never used a filter or tablets and only once had a problem. The 'Life
Straw' water filter comes for a hefty price and is only good for 1000
liters, before you have to throw it away. In my opinion it's not a
solution, it's pollution. Water purification tablets may also kill your
good bacteria in your digestive system. Contamination of ground
water in local wells through pesticides and industrial waste might be
a problem, if you stay at a place for a longer period. If you get a
ceramic filter with black coal filter which binds some chemicals you
are on the save side. Don't forget that bottled water is also
contaminated with BPA.
In lower river areas like Varanasi there might be no clean water. In
some areas like Gokarna there is a temple where you can get free
holy water which is full of minerals needed for the heat.
Chai is the nation wide most popular beverage. In Kerala coffee is
very popular too. Otherwise coffee is more of a hip drink for a high
price. A funny ad I saw in the North goes 'try coffee, it's tea with
beans'. When you have a cold, I highly recommend ginger tea or
Alcohol is quite expensive in India, because of the high taxes. Low
taxes are in Goa, Pondicherry and Sikkim. The beer tastes like piss
(sorry, I am from Bavaria). There is good wine for a really high price.
The hard stuff is only artificial and tastes like that. It is easy to stay
away from alcohol, since you hardly see anybody drinking. If the
locals drink, usually they drink too fast and just get annoying. So India
is a good place to stay away from the most poison common drug.
Smoking in public is not allowed in India. Usually that’s not a big deal
at all though. But it’s enforced at bus and railway stations. Look for
the smoking corner, where the locals go. Avoid to smoke in the
presence of children and the youth. You don’t want to be a bad role
model. If you see police, immidiatly stop puffing or you risk a fine of
200 rp. They might take the chance and search you. Rolling tabaco
and papers you only get in tourist areas. Be aware that the police can
confiscate your tabaco and papers when it’s open or rather used. It
never happened to me though. Smoking in your room is usually okay.
Smoking weed is quite common in India. In some states like
Rajasthan there are government shops, which sell legal bhang. Bhang
is a mix of flowers and leaves and is not very strong, but may be good
enough for a laugh. You can also get bhang goli, which is bhang with
other spices as a ayuverdic medicine and comes in a funny, colorful
plastic. Power Bhola, Bhola Ka Gola, Shree Bhola Munakka, Tarang,
Lehar, Sanan, Mastana, Mahakal, Mahashakti, Mahadev or Munnaka
are some of the most popular brands of bhang goli. These are sold in
New Delhi and should cost something like 2 rp. They can be quite
enjoyable. In Pushkar you can get bhang lassi or chocolate balls for 40
till 100 rp.
Illegal is stronger weed. Further there is charas, which is made from
living plants through rubbing with the hands. Therefore it can be
spoiled with dirt, fat or worse stuff like glue. Furthermore there is
hash which often comes from Nepal. Be very careful what you smoke,
because nowadays most offered stuff is mixed with shit. I don’t know,
but it can be incense, shoe cream, wax or glue. It will make you cough
and is very bad for your health. The turn is said to be weird, it’s
usually kind of stronger, but with a side effects like numbness in your
mouth and headache later. Don’t smoke it. Throw it away and look
for the good stuff, if you are into it. Very often they offer you the bad
stuff first and have some better stuff, if you don’t go for it. Weed can
be chemical too. It can be kind of dark green and has a kind of metal
like smell. I heard they put chemicals to prevent it from from getting
moldy. The further away you are from the source, the higher the
price and the more likely it is mixed. If you get caught and can’t bribe
you get an official case. You can end up in prison if you have more
than a tholar, which is about 10 grams. For amounts I heard you go
temporarily to prison and get a lawyer. They manage to agree on a
certain fine. It can happen that you never get a visa again. But most
people don’t run into problems. Funnily very often a place to smoke
has a ‚no smoking‘ sign. Where there are a lot of Israelis, it’s a
smoking place. Don’t roll on the street, because of the police might
drive by. Better be careful.
In India you can find a good climate all around the year. Though for
my taste the south is too hot from March till October. In the flat land
of the North March and October is still okay. Overwise I recommend
to stay on a proper altitude in the Himalayas. July and August are
perfect for Spiti and Ladakh, since it’s mountain desert, so it’s not too
cold and hardly any rain. Check out http://climate-data.org
Animals and the Creepy ones
Most animals are considered as holy in India. So they are in general
respected and often threatened right. So that's why it's India where
there are most of the tigers in the world, even so there are so many
people. Just think about the jungle book, people and animals live
together in harmony, may be more than in any other place in the
Cows are the most holy ones. But don't try to pet them. Usually they
don't like it and wave the horns up and down very fast. Sometimes
they are in bad mood. If you are in the way, you will get hurt. If you
see a bull being excited, get away. In a situation, stay calm or try to
hide behind a tree. If it’s already too close and has a nose ring,
grabbing it hard could help.
Don't try to pet any horned animal. The locals don't do it, so you
shouldn't do it. Keep a distance of at least 25 m to yaks. They are very
strong, run uphill at 4500m and watch you.
In many places you can find monkeys like the Rhesus Macaques with
there red asses. This type can be quite aggressive. Don't look in there
eyes, because they see it as a threat, don't corner them and stay
away. You don't want to get bitten by a monkey, because they spread
all kinds of diseases, since they are so similar to us. But they can be
quite cheerful to watch, for example close to Laxman Jhuli I saw them
doing backflips into the water. Quite common is also the grey langar,
which is very peaceful.
You can see many kinds of birds in India, it would be too much to tell
you. For example I saw peacocks so many times.
Beware that there could be crocodiles in swamps lakes and rivers and
if they are bigger than you they like to have you for dinner. In the
South there might be leopards in the jungle.
Especially in the South there are all kinds of poison snakes. I saw
many, but you don't need to be too scared, since you don't
encounter them everyday. It's still quite a rare occasion. But you
should be aware of them especially at night in the woods or rocky
areas, where they can hide. Very dangerous is the saw-scaled viper
since it is supposed to be aggressive and lives even close to urban
areas. Google for 'the big four' and remember how they look. The
king cobra, which is the biggest poison snake, can get up to 5m long,
but shouldn't be aggressive. If you sense something step hard on the
ground so they take notice of you.
Even so snakes are potentially deadly, you are more likely to get in
trouble with dogs. Usually they are quite friendly and just lie around.
But they protect their terrain, so don't enter it or call for the owner.
Be more careful at night. Dogs in India get beaten a lot, so waving a
stick is usually enough to scare them away. Otherwise get a rock, but
don't throw it at them. If you get bitten, you should get rabie shots.
Geckos, who crawl around the wall and ceiling are your friends, they
hunt the bugs. If you get ants in your room, there might be a reason
like small pieces of crackers you better eat outside. Cockroaches are
not so common anymore. They don't spread desease and are always
on the run, so don't smash them or the ants will come.
Mosquitos can give you malaria and dengue fever. Usually that is the
case in the rainy season when there are many of them and there is an
local epidemic outbreak. You will probably hear about it. So usually
you don't have to be scared or take prophylactic medicine. In the hot
wet regions there can be many mosquitoes as soon as the sun is
weak. There is Odomos a cheap local mosquito repellent. No need for
DEET. Mosquitos usually fly low, so putting it on the lower part of the
legs is enough. A hammock with mosquito net makes sense. Most
rooms have a mosquito grid at the window. You don't need your own
mosquito net, since it's too much work to install it properly. Taking a
shower before going to bed makes you less attractive to them. There
is a cheap device for the socket with a specific poison, if nothing else
helps. In the Himalayas above 2000m there are no mosquitos.
Spiders help to get your room bug free. The big poison ones are rare
and not fetal. If you are out in nature, check your shoes for poison
frogs and scorpions. Around Hampi there are many of the creepy.
Check out: https://hubpages.com/travel/Poisonous-and-venomoussnakes-and-spiders-in-India
To keep the enviroment clean is normal for most westerners, but in
Asia there are unfortunately not many aware about it. It‘s sad to see
that even teachers throw their plastic out of the window of the bus.
There are rubbish dumps at most villages even in the mountains.
Plastic need a very long time to decay and usually just gets into
smaller and smaller particles, which spoil the food chain. Cows also
eat it, so it can stay in their stomach and cause them pain and severe
problems. Especially batteries and electronics contains poison. Also
washing a car in a river really sucks.
What can you do? I am so sorry to say, not much really, since there is
no rubbish collection at many places. At least do not spread it
everywhere, put your waste in a bag and try to put it somewhere
where it is collected. Try to create awareness about it. Tell them no
tourists will come in future if the landscape is spoiled. It will make
them sick. It‘s much easier not to throw, than to pick it up later. It
won’t just vanish, may be you don’t see it anymore. Burning plastic is
even worse. Lots of very poisening stuff is going to pollute the air like
formaldehyde, dioxins and so many others.
Don’t tell your message as a smart-ass westerner, because the locals
might have bigger problems like what to eat or their parents die
because they can’t afford a doctor. So they think it’s just a luxury
problem for westerners, which have no real problem. So just try in a
sensible way. Leave every place like it was before. Put your cigarette
butts back in your package, put your trash into your waste bag, which
you carry with you. Even fruit shells can have a negative effect,
especially in high mountains or when they are not from the area. It
might attract rats. But mostly you can give it to the next cow around.
Dogs are happy to eat even spicy cooked food.
Get used to using water instead of toilet paper like most people in
the world. If there is no bum gun, use the small bucket and make left
hand wet before going on. You will figure it out. It's much cleaner,
faster, better for the environment, it's free of charge and you don't
need to waste resources on your shit. If you can't do it, throw it in
the bucket, not in the toilet, because it might get stuck in there.
Avoid using aircon. It's power consumption is huge. Switch of fan and
lights when you don't need it. In India lights often stay on the whole
day through. Create awareness about it. Lights in the night also kill
insects, which do the most work on our planet.
Get a bicycle instead of a motorbike. It helps you to stay in shape and
keeps the environment free of smoke and noise.
Avoid unnecessary trash. Have a small backpack to avoid the need for
plastic bags. You can get a shaver with permasharp stainless blades
(25 rp). Use soap instead of liquid soap or shampoo. The later is not
only bad for the environment, it's also bad for your skin and causes
most skin problems in the west. Clean your glasses with a little bit of
soap under running water. Use water instead of hand sanitizer. You
don't need a electric tooth brush.
Laundry is not common and therefore expensive in India. Nobody
wants to get in touch with your dirty underpants. So you have to
wash it yourself. If there is still foam after washing, it means you
could have used less washing powder.
Get rid of your western habits and expand your comfort zone, which
means feel okay with less luxury.
Finally like everybody knows flying produces about 5 times more CO2
than public transport. Avoid it if you can. I have to blame the Indian
government here for issuing only 90 days of continues stay visas,
which in the end puts a lot of Co2 in air. Also the Indian railway does
not supply enough transport capacity. That is especially sad, because
of climate change will have an heavy impact on India in the near
future and has it already now.
You might wanna try ayuverdic medicine for uneasiness. If you have
the shits just drink enough water and eat only a little salty snack. In
severe cases you might need minerals, which you get at the
pharmacy. Avoid antibiotics if you can. They destroy your healthy
bacterias in your gut, so you lose your defense system. If you get a
little bit of bacteria in your body, it will help your system to increase
To see a common doctor costs something like 150 rp. Medication is
very cheap compared to the West since it's generic drugs, so if you
don't need your special medicine you can get it cheaper in India.
Generic drugs come with a different name, so you can Google for the
ingridient to find the names of the corresponding generic drug.
In my opinion you don't need an health insurance as long as you have
a solid amount of cash accessible on your debit card in case of
emergency. It's a hassle to find a proper insurance for India where
you don't pay for the higher medical costs of other countries. Be
aware that there is no ambulance in remote areas and most villages.
There are very good private clinics recommended by the consolate
which come for a hefty price of 500 $ per day. Play save instead of
relying on insurances.
Currently you can get a sim for 500 rp and a package with 1.5 GB per
day for 84 days for 600 rp including nationwide phone calls and text
with airtel. So this is really cheap. The speed is sometimes fast,
sometimes slow and sometimes off. It’s varying a lot, so voice over IP
is very often lagging. WiFi is only in places where there many western
tourists or expensive hotels. You can find Internet cafes in cities and
in many villages.
In the mountains, there is not much coverage. In Spiti you are offline.
They have a special SIM there, which is not offered to foreigners. In
Ladakh you eventually can find slow WiFi.
Get maps.me on your smartphone and download the maps for the
region for offline navigation. You can also set bookmarks there and
For trekking in the mountains I recommend Oruxsmaps for Android.
It’s a bit technical, so you have to get smart first. Choose an online
map like opentopomap which shows contour lines. You can create
free offline maps for the area where are going. You can record your
treks, so you have a report about your progress. You can merge these
recordings and export it in XML to a kmz file which you can open with
In cities Google maps is a good choice, if you have internet or
downloaded the area. Tap on the map like you create a bookmark
and choose download for offline in the three dots menu.
Get Wikitravel for Android as a free offline world wide travel guide
(more than 600MB).
With Google Fotos you can backup your pictures. You can organize
them in albums, which you can share with your family and friends.
(15 GB for free)
With Google Street View you can make authentic sphere panoramas
and upload them.
Skyscanner is good for finding cheaper flights.
Get an VPN app and use it, if you use WiFi.
Get an easy to use offline currency converter app.
Visa rules changed quite a lot lately. Usually I was able to get a 6
months continues stay normal visa in Nepal and Sri Lanka as a
German. Last time I got only 90 days of continuous stay, so the 1 year
eVisa with 90 days would have been the better option. For the eVisa
you must fly in on your first entry, the next entry you can go
overland. Check out the latest information for your country.
If you have to put 'Port of Entry' than put 'ALL PORTS' to avoid that
you have to exit at the same port than you entered.
Talking about Money
Room prices go from 150 rp to 800 rp per night. A local meal would
be less than a 100 rp. A booked tour in a group is like 2000 rp per
day. Motorbike from 100 rp per day for a simple motorbike in the
south till about 800 rp for an Enfield in Ladakh. Prices for a hair cut or
shaving start from 50 rp.
Camping is legal and free of charge on common grounds. For many
treks in the Himalayas you need a tent. On private ground they
charge you something like 150 rp or less. Sometimes there are set up
tents or shared tents for up to 1000 rp per night. Campsites are rare
and usually come with a tent for a higher price than a room.
Otherwise camping is not common and considered suspecious.
Indian tourist places like hillstations can be surprisingly expensive like
Shimla or Munnar. It’s because of honeymoon. Or party places like
Pondicherry. Or Bombay. During festivals prices can multiply by 10
In food shops the goods have the MRP (maximum retail price) written
on the cover, no bargain needed. Packed food is much more
expensive than fresh food. In markets you can get the lowest prices
for food, if you know the price.
You can get a heating coil to make real coffee, porridge or Maggi
yourself (100 rp). Look for a guesthouse with a shared kitchen, so you
can cook your own food.
I live quite comfortably with a total budget of 18 $ per day including
everything like flights, visa, tours and purchases. On an average lazy
day I get along with 400 rp for accommodation, 300 rp for food and
drinks and 200 rp for the rest. You can do it for half if you really want.
Double if you stick to western habits.
There are plenty of ATMs, but most of them charge an extra fee like
500 rp or don't accept VISA. SBI (State Bank India) has no extra
charges, works with VISA and is quite reliable. Often they run out of
cash or are temporarily not available, so always have cash for a week.
Often its hard to get rid of your high notes, so manage your change
Since you have to carry everything around, especially if you are going
to trek in the mountains, be very careful about the weight of your
stuff. Only bring what you really expect to need. Most people tend to
bring too much. Buy small quantities of sunscreen, touthpaste and so
on, rather than big heavy ones. The many small things add up. Be
aware of the weight of everything you bring along. It might make
sense to even cut off parts of your equipment which is unnecessary.
Bring a good quality proper sized backpack which is waterproof or
have a raincover for it.
If you travel in the South only, you could travel easily with only a
small backpack. Bring a proper rain jacket. A hammock with a
mosquito net is hard to get in India.
OtherwiseIf you travel to the Himalayas bring a proper rain jacket
which fits tight around the neck, so it acts like a wind shell too. The
hood should also fit tight. Northface has it. Get waterproof trousers
to put on. Get proper trekking shoes with a sole with good grip, but
not too stiff and not too heavy. You don't feel when you are about to
slip with a stiff sole. Neither of these are easy to get in India. Proper
trekking sticks with speedlock and a light weight tent and a quality
sleeping bag are hard to get as well.
Other stuff like mini crampons, snow gaiters, fleece and thermo
underwear as well as a cooking pot and gas stove are cheaper in
India.(all of these about 1000 rp) Headlights are cheaper, but less
bright. A small foldable waterproof backpack is useful for day hikes
on the way (500 rp).
Power shortcuts happen every day. A quality power bank with 10000
mAh, you can get for less than 2000 rp. Smartphones are usually
entry-level models for about 10000 rp. It's gonna be a hard job if you
nerd a replacement battery for your foreign phone.
If you have a smartphone and a tablet or laptop for watching movies
or reading, because a smartphone comes with a small screen, I have
this tip: Get some reading glasses (500 rp), so you can hold your
smartphone very close and therefore have a bigger screen. This
reduces the number of devices you have to take care for, saves you
money and there will be less devices spoiling the environment.
To summen it, for stuff you depend on, get quality in the west, the
rest you get cheaper in India.
It's a good idea to use thick long lasting transparent plastic bags, to
protect your clothing from water, dirt and small animals inside the
bag. It also helps to keep things sorted.
The Himalayas are a paradise especially for trekking and other
activities like rafting, bouldering or biking.
In tourist places there are many agencies you can engage in that. If
you like to do things on your own, there are many possibilities, it's
just a bit hard to get reliable infos, so take your time. Don't forget
about wild animals.
For most treks you don’t need to pay or if then it’s not expensive.
There are some treks where you need to get a guide for no reason
like the Dzongri top trek in Sikkim. At places close to a border you
need a inner line permit. In Ladakh it's like 600 rp for 10 days and a
small amount for an extention day.
If you go alone, you should be expirienced, because of altitude, sun,
river crossings, bad weather, landslides blocking a path and path
finding. Be aware of animal sounds and smell. Plan for shorter
distances, things might not work out as planned. Play save, watch
your step and always be ready to return when risk arises.
Get proper Infos on altitude! Starting from 3000 m altitude you
acclimatize about 300 m per day concerning the altitude you sleep at.
Every 1000 m stay for two nights. Trek high, sleep low. Drink much
more water, even if you have to pee all the time. If it comes yellow,
you don’t drink enough. If you stick to the rules less than 1% get a
problem. Observe yourself. Bad sleep is a typical first sign. Headache
means stop ascending. Vomit means go down. 90% of people getting
serious altitude problems go with a group, so listen to yourself and
don't push yourself!
Besides the Himalayas there are very nice mountains in Kerala, Tamil
Nadu around Munnar and Kodaikanal.
You can find beautiful beaches on the west side of India. The water
might be dirty, if there is a river with sewage close by. If there is a
village, there will be dirt. The beaches on the east side are not so
Dress accordingly to others. If there a western tourists around
showing skin, you may do it as well. If you wear a bikini on the wrong
spot you will attract all the male on the beach.
Places to Live
These are nice places for staying while, which are not expensive. Of
course there are much more places, but if you go here you will meet
people, who help you further…
Vashisht close to Manali – is a pilgrim place with a free hot spring,
several waterfalls, nice day hikes through apple plantations and
trekking possibilities around like Bhrigu lake or Hampta pass. Meet
international travel mates and enjoy jam sessions and the views. May
till October except August cause of rain
Graham, Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh
Parvati Valley – Charas is made here and at harvest time you can
pose in front of the fields. It got very busy lately, but Psy Trance can
be avoided, look for a quiet place to chill like Kalgha. Every village has
it’s own god. Malana is the place where the untouchables are. It is
surrounded by snow covered mountains with great views. Day hikes
and very adventurous long treks possible. Trek to Kheerganga or
further. May till October.
Spiti and Ladakh – Avoid the monsun at 'the end of the world‘ in July
and August. It’s tibetian culture and the landscapes are made from
colorful rocks and no trees block the awesome views. The skies are
dark blue and you can see the milky-way at night. It's a paradise for
trekking, mountain biking and motorbike tours. There are so many
options. I recommend Markha Valley trek, Zanskar trek, Spiti Valley
trek, Tso Morori and Turtuk. Trek back to the low land over Bhaba
pass, Pin Parvati or Hampta pass. There are many extraordinary
monestaries too like Tikse, Phuktal and Dhankar.
Auroville – It’s an incredible international experiment with an
outstanding reforestation project and many classes to join like yoga,
dance, performance and art. Many workshops and music events. All
kinds of volunteering possible. A quite place be creative and aware. If
you engage, you can become Aurovillian with an especial visa. Rent a
bicycle at the visitor center to go around on bicycle paths. Auroville
has a focus on non-smoking and no alcohol. Best in winter.
Laxman Jhuli close to Rishikesh – the capital of yoga, every kind of
yoga available, ask around for best classes. Chill at a beach by the
clean Ganges river during the day, go to a jam session or satsang in
the evening. Chill in nature at Simaldhandi.
It got a bit crowded over the last years. March and October,
November are the best months
Pushkar – a nice chilled place with a Rajasthani architecture and a
holy lake. Famous for holy festival and bhang. Clothing hub. Winter
Gokarna – several great beaches without roads and annoying
shopping scene. Kudle beach is famous for jam session at sunset. The
main beach is a bargain and is more remote the further you go north.
At paradise beach you can camp for free, but get cooked food.
Beware of theft and the police checks. Gokarna village is cute and has
good affordable local restaurants. Best in Winter.
Worth a Visit
Hampi – great landscape with granite boulders. It's famous for
bouldering and the hippie scene at the sunset point. You can rent
stuff. It is fun to hike through the rocks and meditate between them.
Only in Winter.
Rainbow fall close to Nongriat, Meghalaya
Nongriat close to Cherrapunji - famous for the living root bridges and
highest waterfall of India. It's a little paradise with so many beautiful
butterflies at the most rainy place in the world. Chill on boulders by
the crystal clear rivers with no rain in November.
Munnar, at the mountains of Kerala is famous for it's tea plantations
and gentle hills around, which are easy to climb. May be you can spot
the giant squirrel, but beware of wild elephants. Stay at old Munnar.
Lake Rewalsar close to Mandi is a quiet Buddhist place full of
religious centres. There is a cute way up to the hill.
Sikkim - easy monestary trek with lush green forest. Enjoy weed,
beer and organic food. You must get a free permit for 30 days at the
Siliguri bus station.
For more information I recommend http://wikitravel.org, which is
sadly a bit out of date, but has a lot of useful details. You can find
mostly older travel guides in many guesthouses.
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