Travelling in India comes with a few challenges – like, for example, trying to work out where the hell you are when you wake up at 04:30 on a night train somewhere in the middle of Uttar Pradesh. But before this you need to buy the actual train ticket; do you chance it at the station or book online? Well, read on to find out the answer – not only to this little quandary, but to eight others that pretty much every traveller in India faces.
9. Don’t use hotel transfers
When you book your first night in India your hotel will almost certainly offer to pick you up from the airport. Super convenient this may be, but you’ll end up paying way more than you need to. Use one of the prepaid taxi booths instead and pay a fare that’s, well, fairer (you may also travel in a way cooler car). If you’re arriving in Delhi then you can save even more by using the Metro’s Airport Express Line, which heads straight to New Delhi station – handy if you’re staying in Paharganj.
8. Turn your analogue watch upside-down
You glance at your watch after landing in India, only to realise that it’s still on UK time and that you have no idea what the local time is. No fear – because India is five-and-a-half hours ahead all you need to do is turn your analogue watch upside down and, hey presto, the correct time is displayed. This is exactly what Prime Minister Narendra Modi does when he arrives in London.
7. Use Bimuno Travelaid
We stock up on these little magic pastilles every time we head to India. Get into the habit of chewing three every morning, after breakfast, seven days before you leave, and continue doing so for every day that you’re away. They’re designed to encourage friendly bacteria – particularly bifidobacteria – in your gut, which makes you less likely to suffer from an unwelcome bout of Delhi Belly. Take these, and be careful of what you eat, and look forward to an illness-free trip.
6. Pack a small chain
If you’re taking an overnight train, it’s worth chaining your backpack to the supports below your seat/bed. It’s highly unlikely that it would get taken anyway, but you’ll sleep that bit sounder if you know that your belongings are secured.
5. Get an Indian SIM card
Getting an Indian SIM card can make your trip go a lot more smoothly. From calling your taxi driver after deciding to change tomorrow’s plans to using India’s decent 2G and 3G coverage for next to nothing, you’ll never feel disconnected (if you want to completely switch off, which we completely get, then this hack’s not for you). Applying for a local SIM card can be a bit laborious; get in touch and we’ll arrange for a trusted local travel company to do it on your behalf. Oh, and remember to keep roaming on if you’re travelling to other states.
4. Book train tickets in advance on IRCTC’s website
Trains often get booked up weeks in advance, so planning ahead is an absolute must. Reservations on long-distance services can be made up to 120 days before departure, with the most popular trains having a handy – albeit modest – foreign tourist quota. Since May 2016 overseas-based passengers have been able to pay for train tickets using their debit or credit card on the (forever clunky) Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) website; simply select International cards when you’re ready to pay.
3. Agree prices for everything in advance
Day one in India, and after breakfast you step out of your Delhi hotel and flag down a rickshaw. “Good morning! Humayun’s Tomb, please.” On arrival you ask how much the fare is, and you reel in horror when you’re told it’s ₹750. Your mistake is a simple one: you didn’t agree the fare in advance, and therefore you must pay the over-inflated price. Not sure how much to negotiate? Ask a local – perhaps someone from your hotel or guesthouse – beforehand.
2. Learn to ask “How much?”
Price negotiations begin with this obligatory question. If you ask it in English then the seller will inflate their starting price accordingly, so do yourself a favour by learning how to ask “How much?” in the local language. If that language happens to be Hindi, then here’s the phrase – and 19 others that may come in handy – you’ll need.
1. Use Google Maps
If you’re travelling solo then Google Maps can be a bit of a lifesaver. Consider the following scenario: you’re on a long-distance night train and travelling in the windowless upper berth. There aren’t any PA announcements, nor any information screens, and the other passengers have drawn their curtains and pulled their blinds down. How are you supposed to keep track of where you are? And when you’re supposed to get off? Via the magic of Google Maps (or the excellent RailRadar), of course – just make sure you get hold of an Indian SIM card beforehand.