1. The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is free on special dates, such as certain religious holidays. Check locally, as the monument doesn’t advertise this fact openly. However, the free tickets are issued only after 7.30am. If, like us, you get up before dawn to catch it in the best light, you’ll have to wait at least an hour to waive the substantial 750Rs fee… and you’re very unlikely to hang around to do that. The difference in crowd levels is insignificant between dawn and 7.30am so have your extra hour in bed and save yourself a few quid.
2. At Railway stations
At train stations, platform numbers for your departing train are subject to change all the time, sometimes at the very last minute. Keep checking at the enquiry window or strain to listen to the announcements.
3. MIS-Guide books
Certain top name guidebooks, whilst extremely helpful, should not to be followed to the letter. The “Tourist Window” directions they list for train and bus stations can change regularly; accommodation can very quickly go downhill, especially if it changes hands, and remember that food recommendations are as subjective as the author’s favorite color. What’s more, just because the guidebook says one particular cafe’s banana pancakes are to die for doesn’t mean you won’t catch a tummy bug to die for when you try them.
4. Get at least three opinions about a destination
Get at least three opinions about everywhere you want to go: one from a local and two from other travelers. India is a place of extremes – people either love it or hate it – and people rarely agree. Try to get a majority opinion, since the distances you must travel between so-called hotspots are longer than they look on the map.
Every time you stop to eat, nab a few extra napkins for loo stops. Toilet paper is practically non-existent outside of the better hotels and westernized hostels.
6. Keep Delhi belly at bay
To keep Delhi belly at bay, try to eat in busy places that appear clean. These can be hard to find in many Indian tourist spots, so it’s worth walking around. Brush your teeth with bottled water, keep your mouth closed in the shower, avoid salads and stick to vegetarian food if you have any doubts. Listen to your instinct as much as your hunger pangs.
7. Best Season
We travelled to India in early September and we got soaked several times. Had we waited a few more weeks, the rainy season would have dried up in most of our destinations. Bear in mind that if you’re seeking the buzz of the crowd at Goa, Kerala and many other destinations in India, nothing really kicks off until mid-October.
8. The Locals
The majority of locals you’ll meet are polite and well-meaning, but very few are in the habit of striking up random chats with tourists. Remember this when you find yourself chatted up by anyone with something to sell. By all means enjoy the exchange, but remember their goal is to get you to buy and it’s much harder to say no after you’ve swapped names and listened to a sob story.
9. Tips are expected sometimes
Tipping is recommended and in some places, expected. In shops, try to pay with your large notes to keep a constant supply of tens and twenties for drivers, waiters, bellboys and, if you’re so inclined, beggars.
10. Booking Trains
Trains fill up quickly, so book well in advance. There is a waitlist system for full trains, where tickets are confirmed on a first-come-first-served basis as cancellations occur. As a general rule, if the waitlist number given is below 30, you have a good chance of getting a confirmed ticket for a train that’s departing within a day or two, so it’s worth chancing it. If the waitlist number is higher than this, you may not get a confirmed seat and will have to go through the refund procedure, which can be complex.