Should I use auto and bicycle rickshaws?
For travelling within a city, the auto rickshaws are a very cheap way to go, and bicycle rickshaws are even cheaper. One major drawback for auto rickshaws, however, is the the pollution - these little two-cycle engines spew enormous amounts of particulate pollution that often ends up right in your face, in addition to the toxic emissions of all the other vehicles on the road.
The air quality can be so awful that I would recommend bringing with you dust mask that are used at construction sites, or a good bandana to wrap around your face.
Should I take busses?
Avoid busses if you can, unless you're on a tight budget.
Should I use the train system?
Absolutely. You should take trains between cities at least a couple of times during your time in India. The Indian rail system is an amazing feat of organization, employing something like two million people, the largest single employer in the world.
Taking the train gives you quality time with the locals like no other venue. You can make some wonderful connections with the folks, gain valuable information that you can't get elsewhere, and open the door for some interesting opportunities and adventures.
What class should I travel on in trains?
The most 'luxurious' class is called 'air-con' or 'chair' class, and this can come in handy during long rides through the hot Indian climate. Most trains seems circa 1960 with windows that are yellowed.
But you should try first and or second class at least once to really get the feel of India. They have fans on the ceiling which actually work sometimes. But you can go between cars or try to get near a window if you want to cool yourself down with a blast of hot Indian air.
On all classes of trains, you can watch the train track go by through the bottom of the toilet, so watch wear you step if you're ever walking the line in India!
Note: Keep alert if you are getting off at a particular stop - sometimes trains can take off quite abruptly. Be prepared for your stop.
How should I travel between cities?
For a few inter-city journeys take the train, just to get the experience of the Indian countryside, meeting the locals on the train. I made several good connections on the train. This can, however, get old very quickly, and if your money to time ratio is in favor of money, go for flights between cities. Indian Airlines reliable and on schedule, but others have differing opinions and experience. The pleasure of being in a clean, western style airport is sometimes alone is worth the trip!
How clean are the hotels?
The 5 and 4 star hotels are pretty much like any high quality western hotel, and many of them are western chains. But then the quality drops dramatically to 1/2 stars - anything considered 3 stars or less in India is basically a crap shoot. After a while, I started to rate hotels based on the number of insect and blood stains on the wall near the bed.
It's good to start your stay in India with a higher class hotel, just to break yourself in slowly. The four star hotel that I first stayed in, despite the mints on the pillow, had a slightly run-down quality that seems to be ubiquitous in India.
How should I carry my money around?
In a money belt or in a passport pouch that is carried around the neck. This way it is always in front of you, in your sight. Carry all my valuables in this pouch (rupees, dollars, passport, travelers checks, etc.) under your shirt at all times out and about. Any travel store has these passport pouches.
What kind of camera film should I bring?
India is so polluted in many areas that daylight is reduced significantly. There are also many small alleyways, streets and areas which do not get much sunlight. Consider bringing ISO 200 and ISO 400 film to handle reduced sun, shadowy and indoor shots.
What camera(s) should I bring?
Do not miss opportunities, a 35 MM SLR camera, and a point and shoot camera carried in a waist pack for quick access.
What are some of the unusual items to bring along?
Two very important items are candy and pens for child beggars. Sandwich bags for various reasons, a sleeping bag pouch for dirty hotels, lots of Pepto-Bismol tablets.
How should I handle adult beggars?
Give only to the neediest: the cripple (which are ubiquitous to the point of near overwhelm) and to the very old. Even then, in the big cities, some of the most need beggars are heroin addicts (particularly Bombay/Mumbai), hooked on 'brown sugar' from the nearby Golden Triangle of SE Asia.
The lack of a social security or welfare system in India leaves many extremely vulnerable.
How should I handle child beggars?
Candy for children in the cities. Children are often sent out to rake in money for their elders and are part of a larger beggar industry. Giving children candy breaks their whole act, they can't resist getting candy, and often forget about their duty to bring back the rupees. Children in villages invariably ask for pens, there's no shortage of paper, but shortages of ink in Indian villages. Buy a package of Bic pen before you set off to India.
What are the expectations regarding tipping?
20 rupees is good for carrying bags, 50 in an upsale place. Lonely Planet a section on tipping. Many restaurant bills contain a service charge, which includes the tip, so check it out. Ordinarily, it's 10% for restaurants.
Where should I buy souvenirs?
Ask around, avoid taxi driver situations, they're paid commission to bring you to places. Purchase souvenirs, especially heavier ones, in the last few days of your trip and purchase an extra suitcase.
Stay away from the most common areas, the tourists traps. Ask the locals, they always know the best places. Almost always avoid someone who has come up to you on the street. They are getting a commission by some souvenir shop.
One excellent way is to find a taxi driver that can be an informal guide. They can help you with shopping (while keeping the meter running, which is very cheap, relatively speaking).
Should I bargain with vendors?
Always! Be willing to walk away. In fact, try walking away, and notice how quickly the price comes down! Be firm, even though things seem incredibly cheap, you have to get into the mode of the local economy. Paying too much for items simply will make it more difficult for visitors who come after you.
In what form should I carry my money around?
Mostly cash, just a few travelers checks for emergency backup
When should I exchange my money?
Definitely take the time to exchange the money at the airport when you arrive. It will accustom you to how things work in India, standing in long lines, etc., and prepare you for stepping out into the real world of India, cash in hand.
Are ATMs available in India?
Yes, found and used them in Delhi, Bombay and Madras. Also found several American bank branches in these cities.
What do I do if I get sick?
Hotels will have doctors on call. The quality of heathcare is for the most part substandard relative to western care, and it is not unusual to be sent to SE Asia, such as Malaysia, for more serious problems. There are several hospital chains that are apparently reputable in Delhi and other large cities.
Note that there is very little regulation regarding prescription drugs in India, so if you want to self-prescribe, you can get just about anything over the counter in India.
It is a good idea to check various websites to determine if there are any outbreaks of diseases in the areas to which you plan to travel.
What about 'charas', 'ganja', hashish?
It's readily available, but don't buy it from a stranger on the street, it may be a scam to get you busted. It can be purchased in stores in some locations. But be warned it is illegal, and possession can get you time, and you don't want to spend time in an Indian jail.
Should I drink the water?
No! The quality of water is substandard, and though you will ultimately drink the local water, in the form of tea or in your food, it's best to avoid as much as possible unless you've been there for several months
How should I prepare for weather?
The driest weather seems to be October through January, and if you go through the non-monsoon season, which is the dead of 'winter' (India is slightly in the northern hemisphere), be prepared for weather that is much hotter and humid than you could ever imagine. Even if it rains, it doesn't cool down that much. Unless you're trekking in the Himalayas, a sweatshirt or windbreaker is about all you'll need for warmth. You will be uncomfortably hot much more than uncomfortably cold most of the time, except for the higher elevations. The exception is Bangalore, which has a mysterious and wonderfully mild climate, even though it is located in south central India. I found Bombay and Kochin to be akin to steam baths, even though it was November/December. Varanasi, in the Ganges river valley of Uttar Pradesh, can reach temperatures of 117 degrees Fahrenheit.
Generally speaking, when is the best time to travel in India?
October through December. Time the travel from North India to South India accordingly.
What travel books should I bring along?
Lonely Planet and The Rough Guide.
Two weeks holiday in Nepal with Mission Eco-Trek
My wife and I took a 2 week tour in Nepal with Mission Eco-Trek in Feb 2011 and had a fantastic time. Mission Eco-Trek provided the very highest caliber guides and Ram Kumar (the proprietor) personally made sure that everything went smoothly. When storms caused our original flights to be cancelled and then cancelled for a second time, he graciously accommodated our changes at no extra cost. The cost was reasonable and the services provided were exceptional -even beyond what we had expected from the contract....
Kevin & Jacque
New York, USA