Let me preface my remarks by saying I am neither unmindful nor ungrateful for the wonderful courtesy and generosity of Indians or of the numerous museums, sites and monuments in India that are completely free.
In October of 2000 the Indian Government increased entrance fees for foreigners to see India's most popular monuments. Foreigners will pay 50 times the rate paid by a citizen of India. These new rates add up quickly if you are visiting historical and World Heritage Sites. Adjust your budget accordingly.
There have been many objections to this rate increase. I object because the funds do not go for salaries for the guards at the sites; neither do they seem to go towards preservation and restoration. My information is that the Tourist Department is collecting the funds to entice large hotel and resort corporations to invest in India. The end result of this policy will be the destitution of many family hotel operators as well as the dismemberment of the local tourist industry as it now exists in India.
THE LAW: Gazette Notification No 537 DT. 18-10-2000 of the Dept of Culture and Director General A.S.I. New Delhi Order No F9/1/99 MPT 17-10-2000 Revised
Unique Suggestions: The admission agent does not set policy and does not benefit from the increased charge. There is nothing to be gained by criticizing the policy which can only leave a poor impression of you and your country. It is better to communicate your opinion in writing to "responsible authorities".
You can pay in dollars or rupees which will be accepted at the standard bank rate of exchange. Always try to have exact change.
See my other travel tips for exchanging money and obtaining small bills.
Fun Alternatives: I believe the tourist commission should suggest a rate of higher admission as a donation. Foreigners would probably be willing to subsidize salaries and restoration and such a policy would be far less distasteful and discriminatory towards tourists.
Frequently, at tourist sites and even while aboard trains, many passengers will ask you to take their photo. In India (and throughout East Asia I am told) taking pictures is a special event marking importance and significance. An outright refusal will cause hurt feelings.
Usually, a copy of the photo is neither requested nor expected. Just having the photo taken satisfies the request.
Unique Suggestions: Ask for an email address to send the photo to.
Many Indians do not use postal services and do not have a mailing address. Or they only know it in a non-English script.
Fun Alternatives: Below is a proper address. Reserve a section of your notebook for addresses. If you do write letters to people you meet it is extremely important to get the address properly formated.
Street: (or nearby prominent landmark- a temple or school for example)
Pin Code: (6 digits)
Note: PIN CODE is essential.
When I came to India in January 2012, I had a hand carry luggage of 7kg, hand bag and laptop (that's 3 pieces) and didnt have any problem. As per passenger is allowed 1 hand carry luggage and laptop OR hand bag. You will be advised at the check- in counter which you could carry or not. You better keep both laptops in the hand carry not in the checked in bags ( luggages are usually thrown in the conveyers that will damage your lappy). I visited again in June, before I came out of the exit there were some security personnel asking me the value of my laptop ( It was obviously seen in a laptop bag) and if I had any digital camera inside the other bags. He said I have to declare the value and must pay some fees. I was amazed I told him excuse me Ive been in India more than 6 times and this is the first time I heard of such declaration. He was being serious but his co workers were all laughing at him. They shouted at him to let me go. I was almost furious as he insisted I pay him some money. Other passengers were staring and an Indian couple spoke to him in Hindi. I moved out and ignored him as looks so cunning. Later outside the couple told me he just wanted to make some money coz Im a foreigner. So better you keep your electronics inside the hand carry bag to avoid such situation. Go check with your airlines for more details about carrying electric devices. Good luck!
A common scam in Varanasi was for a tout to surprise you by suddenly appearing from the front with a big smile extending his hand as if to shake hands in a greeting. The ingrained response is to shake the proffered hand - only for the tout to then vigorously massage your hand and demand money in return for this service. I saw quite a few tourists desperately trying to extricate their hands from the iron grip of a tout.
Unique Suggestions: Needless to say, I pushed both my hands into my pockets and ignored the many entreaties from touts to "shake my hand".
Fun Alternatives: Alternatively, I carried my camera in my one hand and the tripod in my other hand, which discouraged them from approaching me, seeking out easier targets.
It is very difficult to ignore all the beggars as some of them are professional and also some families force there children to beg. Many are organised by criminals who control certain areas of the city and must hand over all their money to those that control them. Hard to tell the genuine ones from the fake ones.
It's not a trap but more a usefull tip. When you go to the Amber fort i.e. on the back of an elephant, husslers are walking with you above to the main entrance, trying to sell you all kinds of souvenirs. They are not allowed to go in the Amber Fort it self. So if you want to buy something, wait untill you are allmost upstairs. Prices decreasing drammatically the closer you get to the main entrance. The best price you get just before you enter the Fort
Unique Suggestions: Just laugh at it...
Fun Alternatives: If you don't want to buy and the husslers won't leave you alone...don't talk to them. Just waive them away. We were with a group and husslers constantly kept asking us " were u from, whats ur name, good price for u, only 500 rupees" and the people who talked back to them by saying "no thank you, I already bought them" did not get rid of the husslers. But the ones who said nothing and only waived them away, were not bothered anymore...
Maharaja is the name for a "great king" or a "high king". It is a good reason to be sceptical when a hotel, restaurant, etc.) has the name "Maharaja" in its name. Simply because it can be more expensive than similar places. During my trip in India I saw several places with the name "Maharaja". Common for most of them was a higher price that it was worth.
I like to think of myself as quite an astute traveller and I'd heard that Mumbai was the place to procure spectacles and designer frames. Armed with a specs prescription I went to a Opticians outlet on Colaba Causeway and ordered two pairs of spectacles - one as a pair of sunglasses in a Gucci frame. Both were perefctlt made and the designer tested sunglasses cam in its own Gucci case. Two months later, the "Gucci" label peeled off!
Unique Suggestions: There's no doubt that Mumbai is especially cheap when it comes to spectacles and their frames. Stick to the non-designer frames and they will be worth the money spent but avoid buying anything touted as original designer.
Fun Alternatives: Buy the cheap imitation if necessary but make sure that you pay for an imitation rather than an imitation being passed off as the real thing!
Diwali is one of the biggest festival of Hindus, celebrated with great enthusiasm and happiness in India.
Different colorful varieties of fireworks are always associated with this festival.On this auspicious day, people light up diyas and candles all around their house.
This festival falls in October and is good time to watch the lights on the streets, houses decorated with lights in the evening, colourful sky with the fire works ;)
Unique Suggestions: Its fun to watch and burn the crakers ;)
Fun Alternatives: You need to be very very safe while burning the crakers ( fire work)
To be honest, riksha drivers were not the big problem I expected them to be in South India. The best way to avoid being ripped off by them is asking your hosts beforehand what a realistic price for an inner-city-ride would be, so you get a feel for the price level. You should then either insist on using the meter or - if the riksha doesn`t have one - agree on a fixed price beforehand. Mostly you can`t go wrong if you deduct 10 Rs. from the sum he initially charges (15 rs. being the basic fee for any inner-city travel). The only place where riksha drivers were a serious problem was in Bangalore, where no driver was willing to use a meter and every driver tried to lure you in some shop instead of just taking you from A to B. If a driver offered you a sensible rate there, you could be sure that at some point he would pull out a business card and insist that he take you to his favourite shop ("just looking"). Most would also claim that they only can offer the good rate because it is a "company car" and belongs to the store owner - nonsense. Insist on being taken directly to your destination and reject every attempt to take you to some store. There were other places were the drivers were perfectly honest, especially in Kerala, Mysore, Pondicherry, Thanjavur, I had no problems with them at all.
Some guides are excellent, and when you have the possibility to hire one (a justified rate would be between 150 and 200 rupies for 1 hour, maybe plus 50 rupies tip if he`s good), take one. The official guides (they usually show some sort of legitimation) are usually good if not very good and speak decent English. I have made good experiences in the Synagogue in Cochi, the Mysore Palace and at the Somnathpur, Chidambaram and Thanjavur temples. Fake guides though can be a nuisance. They have no qualification, speak barely intelligible English and demand outrageous sums for their "services". Always try to talk a little with the guide to get an impression of his qualification and knowledge of English, and agree on a fixed price beforehand.
The worst place considering fake guides is Kanchipuram - I did not meet one legitimate guide, and the ones that offered their services had no clue and mostly demanded "10 Dollars" for a start. In Kanchipuram, reject their services right away, it is not worth it.
At MG road in Bangalore, lots of people try to make use of the gullibility of western tourists. One example: An old guy falls into step with me, asks where I come from, where I`m goint to etc. In all other places in South India this can be a genuine friendly approach, but in Bangalore this is probably something that ends with some business proposal. He also mentions that the runs a n orphanage (alarm bells ringing!!!). The old guy asks where I`m going, I say "Cubbon Park". He says he knows a shortcut, and accidentaly his shop is just around the corner ("just looking"). Of course, the way he pointed out was in the wrong direction (I can read a map), and I declined and told him to get lost. Just ignore anyone that tries to approach you on MG road in Bangalore, they will take a no for a no if you`re answer is not too friendly.
In Madurai, I was on my way to the Sri Menakshi temple. A guy falls into step with me ("welcome to Madurai"), talks to me and as I reveal my nationality, claims that his father once worked as a tailor in Germany (showing me the business card of some obscure German company). He never ever mentions business or shopping, but shortly before the temple he informs me that the temple is open all day, but the museum will close in 15 minutes, so I should have a look. I follow him reluctantly, knowing what will come next. The so-called "museum" is the "Museum Shop Company", just another local crafts-shop around the temple. I decline to visit and return to the temple.
Mahabalipuram has some real cultural treasures, but don`t come here fore the beach. There is not one square inch of clean beach, people litter where they stand, and you share the beach with cows and crows that are attracted by the garbage. Not really a place to unwind and relax.
Unique Suggestions: At the souvenir stands on the way to the beach, you get some really nice artwork at the best prices (much cheaper than in the town shops of the tourist center). The initial prices the shopowners demanded here were sometimes so ridiculously low that I didn`t even bother to haggle.
India is an incredible country for sightseeing, but some destinations marketed as "sights" are not really that exciting. I´ve made my personal top ten - ranking of Indian non-sights, but this is only my subjective opinion:
1. Mahaballipuram Beach
No square inch of the beach is clean, and swimming is not allowed. What is the point in having a beach then ?
2. Kurisumula Cow Farm
The Indians are obsessed with sucessful cow breeding projects, it seems, but we have cows in Europe, too (maybe not on the roads), so it is not that spectacular.
3. Indo Swiss Cow Project (Munnar area)
see tip 2!
4. Tata Tea Museum Munnar
The guide spoke barely intelligible English and the only thing I understood was that you have to boil tea leaves before drinking - that was not new to me. One of the smallest museums I have ever been to.
5. Matupetty Lake (Munnar area)
A stopover on the way from Munnar to Top Station, crowded with souvenir stands and not really a quiet romantic spot.
6. Echo Point (Munnar area)
Another stopover on the way to Top Station, plenty of tour groups shouting and trying to produce an echo. Quite a dirty spot, much littering and rubbish.
7. Pondicherry Museum
BORING ! BORING ! BORING ! But you can see the bed in which Gouverneur Dupleix once slept. Very exciting.
8. Pondicherry Botanical Garden
Damaged by a cyclone and neglected by its workers who went on strike for some months, this is not the green oasis marketed by the guide books, but rather the opposite.
9. Bangalore Palace
A rip-off at the price, and not many interesting rooms, a kitschy art gallery, but the exterior is worth a photo.
10. Ventakappa Art Gallery Bangalore
For the most part, boring, with some interesting, surreal paintings thrown in. Maybe an option to escape the heat if you have nothing else to do in Bangalore.
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