Recently one of my American Friends visited India and booked a taxi from Delhi to Agra to see Taj Mahal. When he came back in evening, he proudly showed a marble elephant which he bought from one of the shops outside Taj Mahal. And shared that he bargained hard to buy the marble elephant for $300. I had my doubts about the cost of this marble elephant. I was little disturbed and tried to search similar elephant on Amazon.com and I found similar pieces of same size for 4500 Rs. My friend spent 18000 for the same piece. This incident lead me to write this post, so that I can share this post with foreigner friends before they land in India to explore my country.
Disclaimer - There are plenty of good people in this country, so when I am laying out the points below I do not mean that everyone you encounter will fall in one of these categories. But it's better to be cautious.
Be ready for the following experiences and prepare yourself -
Learn to wait - Most of the times, things don't happen on time. Timelines are tentative. I am not saying that you don't reach bus stand, railway station on time but keep your expectations low when a taxi driver says that he is reaching in 5 minutes to pick you from hotel. So be on time from your side, but don't expect others to be on time. It's not that every Indian is like that. So if you are lucky you find punctual people as well. That's bonus :).
Appropriate Clothing is important - Different skin makes you stand out and hence almost everyone notice you. It's recommended to wear Indian cloths and ensure that your body is properly covered. This may sound weird but very practical, especially if you are a woman.
"Namaste" brings smile - Language is usually not a problem in India as you would find people around you who know English but learning few Hindi words can help you in big way. 'Namaste' is used to say hello in India and if you fold your hands while saying 'Namaste', it will make people smile and reciprocate with respect. Following words can also be helpful -
Thank you - 'Dhanyawad'
OK - 'achha'
OK - 'Theek hai'
How much - 'Kitne ka hai?'
Beware of drivers/touts around tourist places - Around tourist places you may encounter various touts who would ask you to avail some services or would try to sell stuff. Be aware what you are going to do. If you have hired a taxi, your driver may take you to a factory or shop where you may end up buying extra expensive stuff. These drivers and touts get a cut. It's ok if you want to buy and get reasonable rates. As a practice, if you end up in any of such shop, emporium or factory do check online shopping websites for same stuff and ensure that you are not paying more than the real rate.
Expect a different world - Be ready for a very different experience in the country of diverse cultures and geographies. Traffic Jams are common in most of the parts of India and you would experience a sea of human population. It's impossible for me to list down things which would be new for you. So welcome to India and new explorations every day.
Beggars - You will be main target of beggars because Indian don't really entertain many of them. You may also feel sympathetic towards beggars, as are brilliant actors as well. But please don't encourage them to approach you. If you try to give them something, they may ask more and the whole conversation may end with a bitter dialogue.
Keep some distance (Don't get too attached to things) - Without knowing anyone properly, it's advisable to keep a distance and have balanced conversations. It's applicable to people you meet on your way or the street dogs. Take some time to know about the place and it's people.
Be careful in choosing a place to eat - I know it's unfair to avoid Indian street food, but choose right places to enjoy Indian street food. Try avoiding open areas and use packages water to drink. These things vary from one person to another, which depends upon your style of travel and immunity system. I have friends who love eating in the streets of Old Delhi, but at the same time I know folks who can't handle spicy food even in good restaurants. So be careful and try things according to digestive capabilities.
Choose your service providers wisely - Go for organized service providers as compared to the random options. E.g. - if you are booking hotels, go for known brands or choose well rated home-stays. Similarly for taxis, you can choose Uber or Ola. Pre-paid taxis from Airports and Railway stations are also decent options. In Rural India, there are various NGO operating in eco-tourism space and that can be a good option for stay. You can find some of the interesting options to stay on our blog.
For brand freaks - If you are a brand freak and need some specific brands of cigarette, liquor, drinks or anything else then this section is important for you to read. Metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai will have various options available but don't expect to find specific brands in relatively smaller towns. So do buy stuff from Duty free if you plan to visit smaller towns of the country. Even in big cities, you need to locate specific stores to buy international brands.
Bargain - Bargaining happens at bigger scale in India and it's important to have this skill. It's applicable to most of the places. So do some practice. You can try it at most of the places - hiring a taxi, shopping, booking hotel and getting breakfast dinner included etc.
Special treatment for different skin - It happens both ways. At times, people would treat you respectfully. In Metro train or buses, people may offer seats to you. At the same time, restaurants or taxis may charge more from you. Being informed is the key here.
Take off your shoes before entering Temples - India has lot of Temples and taking out shoes outside Temples is must do thing. So if you plan to visit a temple, ensure that you know the religious rules first.
As of now, these few things are coming to my mind. If you want to add anything here, please drop a comment below. Let's make it a very useful post for folks who plan a trip to India first time. Being prepared mentally is extremely important and that makes your experience better.