When hiring a taxi in Kolkata- make ABSOLUTELY sure that the driver is going to take you to the correct destination. When asked if they know where to go- they ALL say "yes yes"without hesitation, and the trusting passenger then ends up on the other side of town. This happened a few times to us, and believe me, its VERY frustrating. The traffic is shambolic- the taxis are NOT air-conditioned, and its purgatory being stuck in one of Kolkatas many traffic jams.
I am not sure if these "misunderstandings" are intentional-( the taxis are metered, so the fare goes up), but I will give the benefit of doubt.
We eventually resorted to grabbing someone nearby who could understand English (they are there!) and then getting them to explain in Bengali to the taxi-driver where we needed to be taken to. It was much easier that way.
When walking in the older areas of Kolkata- beware the dreaded potholes! I turned my ankle really badly in one interesting little lane. There is not one square foot of pavement without cracks and potholes. We even saw uncovered manholes. A torch at night helps.- there are no streetlights in many older areas.
I hate to say this for the city I love so much. Kolkata is full of pickpockets and travellers need to be cautious about their precious things, belongings and purses. Even as a citizen here myself, I have had the bad experience twice, and I hate to say again, both times, it was in a metro, the rarest thing one would hear here. So be cautious, on the roads, transports, stations, markets etc.
The reason I put Beggars under warnings or dangers is because of some specific experiences with a particular category of beggars. Generally they are harmless and you do not need to be worried about them, however, from time to time, there are some beggars begging on the streets in the name of 'some' god with a very small wooden box in hand and if you don't pay them they open the box to show the very little (about 5 inches long) snake in it. Well those snakes are also harmless and look very feeble, so nothing to worry at all. But I guess there might be people like me who are dead afraid at the look of a snake (even of 5 inches length).
this has happened with me a couple of times and I have screamed but now, on looking back, I feel that there was no need at all. It was such a small little creature. If this happens to you, just walk away.
Kolkata is mostly full of beggars. You'll find every designs and patterns of beggar in Kolkata. You'll see them when you are in traffic, hanging out with friends, eating, walking on the roads. Mostly they are attracted to the foreigners. Please avoid them as much as you can so else they can spoil your peaceful visit to Kolkata. If you give money to one of them, the whole flock will come and chase you.
Citywide strikes happen frequently in Kolkata. In fact, there was one on my second day which both caused me a problem and helped me at the same time. The strikes are generally called by the Communist Party of India which has dominated politics in the city since independence and they affect everything - closure of shops and businesses and trains, taxi's buses and trams not to run. Basically just about everything that should be running or open, doesn't. I was warned about the strike the day before it happened by a guy in a hotel in Sudder St as I was walking around to find the best one to stay in as I was staying near Howrah station and the hotel was beyond being poor. He said that I probably wouldn't be able to find anywhere available on strike day as people would be staying in them as there all the transportation was on strike. He was right. On the morning of the strike I left my hotel and walked around and it was devoid of cars, buses or taxi's. Nothing was moving apart from people. I decided that I had no choice but to stick it out a further day. I had to walk all the way from Howrah station to BBD Bagh (the city centre) by crossing over on the Howrah Bridge which was eerily quiet (see photos). I then walked down main streets that only had guys playing cricket on them and people washing themselves. It was a bizzare sight but it helped me to see the city centre whilst it was quiet and relatively peaceful.
They all leer. ALL of them & they are not subtle in their approach either. I won't say that you get used to it, but somewhere along the way, you start to not think too much about it. It would be one thing if they were somewhat inconspicuous or 'covert' in their attempts to sneak in a quick glance, but alas! they make absolutely no bones about it... & stare directly at your breasts (or wherever) with no qualms whatsoever. it's not as if I'm venturing out in a bikini or form-fitting t-shirt. But what are you going to do? I just give them "that look" (!) though it doesn't seem to phase them.
decided to visit the local water-park, 'Aquatica' & should have known prior to going in, what to expect. But I guess that being in-the-know doesn't prepare you for the reaction that wearing a bikini brings. We were told there would be Indian women in swimming costumes/bathing suits. A big, fat lie. These women/girls go swimming in FULL salwar kameezes!! (long tunic-style top and long pants) Can you imagine?! No tan for you today! & the men are all jutting around in rented swim-shorts (I mean, renting your swimshorts?? after the guy who didn't take full advantage of the little plastic jug, just stepped out of them!) These shorts were white in colour & really rather transparent when wet... needless to say, left very little to the imagination. Now, I probably don't need to tell you that there were no Raoul Bova look-a-likes milling around this water park! But we girls were determined to get a tan & having paid our 200Rps entry fee (US$5) we busted out the bikinis! it was much the same as if we were fully dressed (if one can believe that) There was one idiot with camera, trying to take photographs but I put him straight. You also had a big group of teenage boys, who insisted on occupying EVERY sun-lounger beside us (sometimes with 2/3 per chair) but it wasn't all that bad. we were successful in getting that tan! It was so nice to feel that sun on your skin! On the parts that are forever covered up...
The traffic in Kolkata is chaotic and for me as a tourist it looks like the drivers disregard any traffic rules. There are no "zipper-method" when two cars want to drive at the same time. They use the horn all the time, or at least every 5 seconds. The more you use the horn, the stronger you look like. "OK, you win this time, but I shall win in the next crossroad." Forget about self-driving.
1. Learn at least Hello, Thank you, Yes, No, and Goodbye in Hindi (at least).
2. Turn your cell phones off inside churches, temples, museums, etc. If it rings and you must take the call, do it outside!
3. If there’s a running commentary (live or recorded) or you're on a guided tour, be polite and be quiet.
4. Dress appropriately and be respectful in temples, churches, mosques. ALWAYS remove your shoes (it's a good idea to carry or wear socks so you don't have to go barefoot). It's a good idea to carry a cover for your head as well.
5. If you’re traveling with children, don’t let them disrupt others around you. If they cry or throw a tantrum, take them outside.
6. If you have a complaint, do it reasonably without yelling and cursing.
7. Please use dust bins/garbage pails!
Indians adore children and you will see (and hear) children all over - at all times - of the day and night. So your children will be welcomed warmly. But if your infant/toddler is new to travelling or is not a good traveler, India may not be the best place to visit. As difficult as India may be for some first time visitors, it will be much more so for a very young child.
My daughter spent the first 11 months of her life in India. While things were diffifult then, we were able to control alot of the situations. All baby items - formula, diapers, wipes, baby food, etc. were easily available, although formula in particular, was 3 times the price as in the U.S.
When we returned to India when my daughter was 19 months old, things were different. Mostly because SHE was now much more mobile. It was a very toddler un-friendly place in that there are few or no facilities for children that age.
With the exception of 5 star hotels and Western food chains (McDonalds, Pizza Hut, etc.) you won't find high chairs. Sometimes cribs are available - although once we got a hospital crib sent over to our hotel. Car seats are almost unheard of - even if you bring your own, most taxis don't even have seat belts to hold them in. Roads and sidewalks are full of cracks, potholes, etc. - and traffic is chaotic - making using a stroller a bad adventure. Short rides in rickshaws meant breathing in the pollution coming from cars, trucks, buses, and other rickshaws. The only changing table I came across was in Mumbai's domestic airport's new "family" room, making changing diapers anywhere else generally difficult. I had to continuously watch what she touched, what she walked in, etc. On top of all that, even with eating in good establishments, she got a stomach bug twice in 2 1/2 weeks. Hardly ideal for very young children.
In addition, Western children attract alot of attention. You will have people wanting to take photos/videos, pinching cheeks, and physically trying to take the child from your arms to hold him/her. When trying to get the child's attention people will click and snap their fingers loudly
wihin a few inches of the child's face (most annoying!!). All of it can be very overwhelming for both the parents and the child. I was never comfortable about the photos and if asked would politely decline. We were not always asked though and it was annoying to turn around and have a camera in her face. I was not comfortable with anyone touching my daughter either. She was once pinched so hard, she had a mark on her cheek for an hour afterwards!
Although there are parks and some (mostly not so good) zoos, children this young are inevitably going to be bored with seeing temples, markets, and forts. Throw in heat and humidity (and any or all of the above issues) and you have all the makings for a miserable time for all.
Of course, India is likely a fascinating place and totally different experience for older children. However, if you're bringing an infant/toddler to India, I'd recommend doing the following:
Contact your child's pediatrician regarding necessary vaccinations. (You may need to contact the Center for Disease Control/whatever agency is appropriate in your country first.) In particular, find out about malaria prevention and mosquito repellent (as some are not appropriate for young children).
Bring plenty of disinfectant hand wipes and/or hand gel. Wash your child's hands frequently.
Eat safely (no street stall foods, no buffets, eat fruits/veg that can be peeled and well-cooked food, drink sealed bottled water).
Use sun screen/mosquito repellent, put a hat and sunglasses on your child.
Wear closed shoes, not sandals.
Bring a first aid kit including (at least): Band-aids, antiseptic wipes/ointment, tweezers, thermometer, age-appropriate pain/fever medicine & stomach/anti diarrhea medicine (check with your doctor for perscription meds), appropriate antibiotics for common childhood infections (such as middle ear infections), diaper rash ointment.
Bring a favorite blanket and stuffed animal.
Keep your child very close in crowded places.
Beware of stray dogs and monkeys!
Most of all realize that your child needs to take breaks - for naps, a swim - so work around your child's schedule - including possible jetlag. Avoid hours on end on public transporation (buses, trains, even taxis). There are many budget airlines in India - no charge for children under 2.
If your child does become sick, seek out a doctor immediately. Most hotels can recommend a doctor, medical clinic, or hospital.
1. Unless on the beaches of Goa, it's best to dress conservatively. No shorts, short skirts, or shirts displaying too much cleavage. You will have to endure uncomfortable stares, and sometimes comments and even "accidental" touching. (Capris & t-shrits are fine.)
2. If someone does touch you or becomes aggressive, yell LOUDLY. They will likely run away and you will attract the attention of others who will come to your rescue.
3. Avoid walking in deserted areas at night or odd hours.
4. Avoid drinking alcohol in excess.
5. Never accept food or drinks from strangers.
6. Carry tissue/toilet paper. You never know when you'll need it!
7. Where available, use women's only areas/compartments on public transportation. NEVER ride in the general men's compartment.
8. If you do go out to clubs/bars, NEVER leave your drink unattended and always make sure you have transportation back to your hotel pre-arranged.
9. If travelling alone on the train, request to be accommodated near other women travelers.
10. Never accept a ride if there's someone accompanying the driver in a taxi or rickshaw.
11. Chain-lock your door when inside your hotel room.
12. If you happen to come across a street party or a festive procession, it is best not to take part. Crowds such as those will likely have agressive and/or drunk men. You can watch from a distance and move on when it has passed you.
13. If travelling with a boyfriend/husband it's best to avoid public displays of affection, which can attract lewd remarks and gestures.
14. Use common sense and trust your instincts.
1. If there are signs saying “No photos”, don’t take pictures! (Some airports & bridges, Military Bases, etc. are off-limits!)
2. Learn how to use your camera before the trip. If there are signs saying “No flash”, make sure you know how to use the camera without it.
3. If you see a couple or family where one person taking pictures of the other(s), offer to take a picture of both/all of them. Maybe they’ll reciprocate.
4. Don't take pictures of worshippers.
5. Ask BEFORE you take a photo of someone. (It's easy to gesture with your camera if someone doesn't understand English.) Most people will say yes. I've rarely come across anyone that doesn't want to have his/her photo taken. Share the photo in your playback screen - children especially love this and it's a good way to make new friends! I've had alot of fun with people and their reactions to being photographed and then seeing themselves.
6. You'll be visiting a lot of caves, forts, temples, etc. that may be hard to identify when you return home. Before entering, take a photo of a sign with the name of the place (each! cave, etc.).
7. Keep an eye on your camera equipment all the time!
8. Bring more digital photo cards/film than you think you will need. Bring an extra battery.
9. Charge your camera batteries every night.
1. Drink bottled water (check to confirm seal has not been broken). Do NOT drink tap water or any water served in a restaurant in a glass unless you saw it being poured from a sealed bottle.
2. Mind what you eat. One of my great joys while travelling in India is eating street foods. If you're not used to the food or have a sensitive stomach, eat only food that is cooked (and hot), fruit that can be peeled, etc.
3. Bring stomach medications from home that you know work, just in case.
4. Contact the health center in your home country for information on vaccinations and medications. This should be done several weeks before your trip as some medications need to be started weeks before your trip.
5. Avoid eating at buffets, even at 5-star hotels.
6. Wash your hands before eating, after using the bathroom, and other times as necessary.
7. Carry wet ones or hand sanitizers.
8. Be careful of "duplicate" liquor.
9. Don't eat in an empty restaurant. Food may not be fresh. Follow the locals to the good (and usually inexpensive) restaurants.
10. Avoid ice.
You will come across monkeys in many places in India - everywhere from temples to forts to jungles. The monkeys in the jungles are not used to interaction with humans and there is less chance they will bother you.
The monkeys that have been fed by humans are more likely to become aggressive - especially when they want more food. While the monkeys may look really cute, you have to remember that even though they'll take food right from your hand, they are still WILD animals.
You usually can purchase bananas, etc. near wherever there are monkeys. We've never had a problem feeding monkeys when there was a group of people around who were also feeding the monkeys. But we've had a few unpleasant encounters with monkeys when no one else was around.
Keep track of all the monkeys around you. If you get distracted with one monkey, another may run up to you and try to grab the food.
Don't carry food in the open and don't carry any plastic bags.
If you're walking through a wooded area/forest you may want to carry some kind of walking stick. Be vigilant about the monkeys overhead in trees.
Hold tightly onto your purse, camera, etc. because they are very mischievous - and fast - and
will grab your belongings and run.
Monkey bites are very serious and diseases can be passed through their saliva. If you do get bitten, clean the wound and see a doctor immediately!!
whist shopping (within one of the typical souvenier shops, i hasten to add) & making a very long story short, one young salesman asks me if I smoke? I tell him yes, at which point he pulls out this big hunk of hashish - and asks me if I want some!! (this is following our having discussed that I was a Police Officer!!) He tells me that it is "really good stuff" becase of the fact that Kolkata is on the border of Bangladesh, and though he pays about 900Rps (just over US$20) for it, he can sell it to Westerners for as much as US$100!! (though he is not a 'dealer' - according to himself) I kindly declined, but was curious as to the consequences of being caught with it in one's possession. according too him, it entails a journey to the Police Station, where you call a family member or friend, who then bails you out (at a fee) which goes directly into the pocket of the arresting Officer. There is no record of the arrest and everyone walks away happy, assuming that you, the arrestee, don't get lumped-up in the process. I was informed that Police beatings are frequent here in India - and the Police do not, generally, have a very good name. Actually, that's an understatement... i got the distinct impression that they are loathed... & seen as terribly corrupt.
it goes without saying... use your noggin... stay away from obvious trouble... and you'll be fine!