Indian Subcontinent FAQ thread
Replies: 201 - Last Post: May 1, 2013 9:59 PM Last Post By: edwardseco
Feb 9, 2004 9:39 AM
Indian Subcontinent FAQ threadWelcome to the Indian Subcontinent branch, please read this thread first!
If you have any general tips about travelling in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh or Bhutan, suitable for a FAQ list, feel free to post them in here
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Recommendations for drivers, guides, hotels, etc. While we welcome trip reports, please do not post unsolicited recommendations on the forum, as they will be removed.
To get the latest updates to any of our guidebooks - or to add your own - visit the Guidebook Feedback branch of the Thorn Tree. See below for links to all the guides relating to the Indian Subcontinent.
B Bangladesh 6, Bhutan 3 G Goa 4 I India 12 M Maldives 6 N Nepal 7, Northeast India 1 P Pakistan & the Karakorum Highway 7 R Rajasthan, Delhi & Agra 1 S Sri Lanka 10, South India 4
Bangladesh 5, India 11, Pakistan & the Karakorum Highway 6
Edited by: geekgal
Feb 9, 2004 9:40 AM
1Tips for getting more replies to your questions:
1- Use the Thorn Tree search engine. See if someone has already asked your question by pressing the "Search" button and typing the keywords. Some questions are done often, like "Is India safe for a solo female traveler", so they don't get many replies because people would answer the same thing again.
2- Read a few pages of posts. The most frequently asked questions are covered at least every week. I recently traveled for several months in the Middle East without having had the need to post a single question on the TT. All replies to my questions had already been answered on previous pages for each branch.
3- Update your profile. When you are logged in, click on "Profile" at the top of your page and mention anything about you that would be helpful to know under "Bio". An 18 year old Brit on his/her first trip abroad usually wants different advice from a Russian family with an infant, or a couple in their 80s from Arizona... the more you write about yourself, the better your answer will be. Don't forget to check "Profile Visibility" after that, and click on "Update Profile" afterwards.
4- Tell us what your main interests are. You will get different answers depending on whether you want to visit museums and shrines, spend your time shopping, attend festivals in the countryside, go scuba diving in the Maldives or go hiking in the Himalayas. If someone asks to have an itinerary designed for them and doesn't even mention whether they prefer big cities or nature, five-star resorts or hostels, I generally go to the next question on the theory that either they are not seriously looking for an answer or will not find my opinion useful as I travel differently than they do.
5- Avoid asking general questions like "What is there to do in Nepal?" People who know the answers are probably tired of typing that much stuff for people they don't know and may not answer. Do some of your own research first to ask informed questions about specific things. If you've already done some research and got part of the answer, please tell us, so that we don't write on things you already know.
6- What's cheap for you? When using words like "cheap, reasonable, nice, fun, interesting, etc" give some idea of what such words mean to you. Some people's idea of expensive might mean moderately priced to me. Please don't use slang; most TT users are non-English speakers and sometimes it's inconvenient to need to look up in the dictionary in order to understand a question.
7- If you post and don't get many responses or have additional questions, try adding a more specific reply to your original post to move the original thread up the board. This is far preferably to starting a new thread, which annoys everyone who has responded to your post and doesn't let new people have the benefit of what has already been written.
8- Thank people for the answers, either in the thread or with a PM. And don't abuse people for not giving you the answer you wanted. Perhaps you got the wrong answer because you didn't ask the right question, or you didn't ask it in the right way.
9- For the first time traveler I would suggest to take a look at Art of Travel
10. Visa information. There is currently a travel warning for certain parts of the Indian Subcontinent, including: Pakistan and Afghanistan, affecting most Western travellers. Please check the latest updates from your Foreign Affairs Office, here's a quick list of links about visas and travel:
We do not endorse the use of any non-government service offering visa assistance. Any member who is perceived to be touting about a non-government visa service will receive a warning and could be banned.
Please read the Community Guidelines for more info on the rules of conduct.
Edited by: frankie_flowers
Feb 9, 2004 9:49 AM
2Hints for India (I've posted quite a few times):
- Booking tickets online and collecting from the station in Delhi is fine. The ticket collection place is NOT in the station though. Head to New Delhi station. Stand across the road and look at it. Then walk to your right about 10mins and you'll see the "ticket office" on the same side as the road as the station. Don't be confused by the fact that there is a "foreigner" ticket registration counter in NDLS, you have booked online, and are therefore going to where the Indian's reserve and pick up their tickets.
- Take lots and lots and lots and lots of wet wipes with you. They are perfect for wiping down the dirt that clings to you.
- Take a full medical kit bag (Paracetamal, Immodium, Rennies are a MUST)
- Often (in the north) if an Indian is giving you vague directions it's because he doesn't know or the answer is NO. Indian's HATE saying no and go out of their way to avoid saying it. Vagueness generally means no but they are trying to avoid uttering that word. "Can I use this ticket to travel on this train ?", "You must see the station master" means NO, NOT "you must see the station master".
- Touts should be dealt with with lots of smiles, shaking hands, "thank you my friend"s and general back slapping best friendiness. Get aggressive or shouting results in them reciprocating and you never know how far they are prepared to take it.
- Can I book tickets as I go? The general consensus seems that, baring any festivals, as long as you book tickets for a train the day before then you are fine. Leaving the same day is problematic as is booking tickets to VERY popular desinations (Mumbai to Goa for example)
- Can I buy beer? Bangalore yes, north of India it's harder but available. You generally have to go to a restaurant but some places have kind of "pubs"
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Feb 9, 2004 12:59 PM
3Ferries between India and Sri Lanka
If you are interested in ferry service between India and Sri Lanka, note that there are plans to have it running between Trivandrum and Colombo. There is demand for such service from Tuticorin and Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu (where it operated 20 years ago), but politics have stalled those initiatives. At the moment, the only way to get from India to Sri Lanka is by air. Check Sri Lankan Airlines and India's domestic carriers (Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, and Sahara) for rates.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Feb 9, 2004 12:59 PM
4Information for Sri Lanka:
I would say..
The best thing about Sri Lanka is that you can be by a beach one day and in the mountains the next. Whatever you do don't try to do everything. Take your time through the places that appeal to you the most and be flexible with your plans.
If you hire a driver ALWAYS ask how long journeys will take. The map is very deceptive for journey times, and good drivers will do whatever you ask if they can - even if it means 8 hours straight journey. It's always worth asking them what THEY think about your plans. You don't have to change anything, but there's no harm in knowing. The same goes for the number of 'sites' you plan to see in one day.
If you spend the first couple of days in Negombo (near airport so many people do) nip into the hotel bars and see if you can chat to some of the older bar staff. Because it's often a first and last stop when people go to SL endless numbers of travellers come back with stories about there trips. They're a mine of useful info on what people tended to enjoy.
Hiring a driver in SL is really easy and they act as a guide as well. Even if you're going to use public transport, it can be worth doing a short trip with a driver as well for the chance to ask about the country. If you do hire a driver make sure he's well recomended. If someone approaches you and asks if you want a car - don't be put off, just take their name and check it out in the hotels (not so much reception as they have their own drivers, but the hotel takes a hefty cut).
In general when people approach you remember there is little access to leaflets for many small businesses. How else can they tell you they own the catamaran and do trips? Treat it as an advert be clear but polite if you're not interested, and if you are find out more. I found being 'stubbornly polite' is as effective as those I saw who were 'stubbornly rude'. The only difference is you haven't risked offending those who are honest.
If you want to see or do something unusual - ASK. Talk to people and tell them your interests, if they know someone who can help they'll pass you on. I think being curious is seen as a good quality, for drivers it's nice to use their own ingenuity to help you get off the trail, for barstaff etc it just makes a more interesting conversation.
For anything you do or buy arrange the price first. Sometimes you get what you pay for so don't be too keen just for the cheapest.
While bargaining don't feel it's a battle. Think of it as 2 people discussing the worth of something, if you can't agree - leave on good terms. If you can agree remember you did, you were half of the discussion that decided the price, unlike the west where prices are decided for you.
If you see something, or something happens that you believe is wrong try to understand it first. Maybe you will still think it's wrong - but maybe not. If you find yourself in a situation you not happy with keep your feet on the ground, weigh up risk logically, are you alone? Could someone else help?
Turn being foriegn to your advantage rather than pretending to be experienced or local. If a tuc tuc driver KEEPS asking if you want a tour - ask him what you should say in Sinhala to make it clear you don't. Wherever you can keep good manners and treat people with respect. If you're being given hassle that will make others around you more confident to come to your defence.
The land of smiles!
If you go to the same shop more than twice try to remember to 'pass the time of day'. Learning a little of the language is good fun and a levelling experience. As you get to know people even a little, ask about family - then do your best to remember. Many people in tourist areas are working away from home and like to describe a little of their life 'at home'.
If your a single female remember you get chatted up at home as well. OK the style may be different, and even not to your liking. You must be clear when you're not interested but as long as you are somewhere public try to keep the rejection firm and polite. Saying that, at home or abroad sometimes being plain angry is fine.
Never - Not Ever
NEVER allow yourself to be drawn in negative conversations about the country or people while you're 2 foot away from a SL barman, waiteress, driver, shopkeeper. BUT you can go and talk to them if there is something you don't understand or find hard. I think it helps to ask advice sooner rather than later if something worries you, SL'ans that have had to learn to work with us often have a great understanding of cultural differences. They had to learn too, so can be very patient if you've made mistakes. Discussing things respectfully with them is more functional than off loading your conclusions without noticing they are there. Also remember for many there's no college course on our culture just as we make mistakes that can offend so can SL'ans, be as forgiving as you would like them to be with you. Yes there is a line - but never forget how much you can offend by mistake as well.
If all else fails
Lastly this is just what I found the worked. If it doesn't work for you, look around you and see if there's someone who appears to be having a good time, ask them if they can give you advice. Don't take advice from those who have nothing but problems - it's obvious they themselves haven't figured it out yet either.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Feb 9, 2004 1:04 PM
5I'm arriving in Mumbai late and need a hotel...
If you are arriving into Mumbai late and need a hotel, you can go to the Hotel Bookings Desk just outside customs and choose a hotel based on price and location. The guys at the desk will book your room by phone and arrange transportation (often free). The service is safe and reliable. Andheri is the closest place to the airport with a selection of decent, reasonably priced hotels (around 1,200 rupees), if you don't want to take a long cab ride in the wee hours of the morning. The Colaba section, downtown Mumbai, is where most visitors end up. You can book a hotel in Colaba from the Bookings Desk, too.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Feb 10, 2004 2:12 AM
Not too bad actually... It might be wise for people with an interest in malaria treatment to look on the health branch first to get some idea of the risks and trade-offs involved. It seems to me that it sums up to a matter of informed judgement with no one treatment or even the idea of treatments suiting everyone..
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Feb 10, 2004 4:46 AM
7Answers to commonly asked questions about Touts and Staring:
A thousand people have asked this simple question and a thousand people have answered it also. But still it is not explained or understood fully. The charm of India experience lies there in the ambiguity. Had it been possible to explain and convey the truth, it would be like going to a movie or theater knowing the full story including the climax.
The main trouble lies in the cultural conflict even when you do the preparation itself. The west looks at India culture through their customs and yardsticks. Then imagine how much it is out from yours. And figure out the probable counter strategies. This is a sure way to failure.
Pestering by salesmen (err..touts) is how that is in India. A housewife here faces the same ‘problem’ when she shops at the vegetable or clothe bazaar. A tout is not her enemy to be avoided but a vendor to deal with. She knows how to buy from them and how to deny them at her own wish. I’m not talking about a macho lady but any ordinary girl at an Indian home. This is business as usual. Nobody wants a change.
In the west people are programmed to react and to be explicit. In India it is not. No deals are closed forever. Indians accept ambiguity easily than a bad deal. Probably the western businessmen (should) know this concept more than a tourist in dealing with India.
I know a foreign tourist who used to get the fare in writing (on his notebook!) from the taxi drivers at the street! It was indeed a bizarre thing as far as the Indian way of dealing with a taxi driver is concerned. He was a businessman (yes, you guessed it) and fed up with the ‘changing’ rates at the beginning and end of the taxi ride. But this was no solution as there could be argument about the ‘exact’ destination agreed upon! Indians know how to deal with this vagueness instinctively.
It’s not an everyday battle for the local people. No Indian comeback home ‘triumphant’ or ‘defeated’ from the bazaar. No local newspapers or forums discuss column after column of ‘How to negotiate and buy vegetables successfully!’
The Indian female also faces the same ‘stare’ at a public setup. But she knows how to deal with it. Learn to ignore it without even you knowing it!. It is the flip side of the Indian male. People say it is because of the ‘sex starved’ society. I could not find out the real reason. I do not subscribe to the above theory. The society would have found a way long back to this menace.
The genesis lies somewhere else. Father is the ‘in-charge’ of boys and mother for girls in an Indian family. Is this the reason? May be the TV, Cinema etc I do not know.
The problem at a tourist spot is a slightly scaled up version of the explained situations. A tout’s intention is to hard sell rather than loot. He tries to exploit the ignorance of the tourist, whether Indian or foreign. It’s rare news that robbers attacked a foreign tourist. Nevertheless it’s not a security paradise. You need to be prudent as any alien cities in the world.
It is not a question of what you have to sacrifice to experience the charm. There is nothing to be sacrificed .All you need is to know is how to react and more importantly not to react. Please remember in India not reacting is also a reaction. Not taking a decision is also a decision!
It would go a long way in knowing the ‘physiology and anatomy’ of the Indian society before you start the ‘operation’. It is a family centric system in contrast to the society centric system of the west. I’ve explained this in my article ‘The India Confusion’ earlier. That is why the Indian homes are spotless and the streets are dusty. That is why a man and woman (read as husband and wife) attract no trouble in comparison to a female traveler. The society sees a ‘grammar mistake’ in the later case. A husband-wife-child trio attracts almost infinite respect.
Understand the India elephant to the possible level and leave your reactions to your natural instinct. You’ll be fine in India.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Feb 11, 2004 2:46 AM
8Weather and Climate in India:
Generally speaking, the best time to visit India is from October to mid-April. Summer season is from March to June, Monsoon from July to September, October is again a warm month and Winter lasts from November to February.
Hill stations are best enjoyed from mid-September to mid-December and then from March to mid-July.
Ladakh is best visited from June to September, when most other parts of the country are in the grip of the monsoon.
Strictly speaking, the places to avoid are :
1. North and South Indian plains from April to July.
2. Coastal areas from May to September.
3. Hill-stations from mid-December to February and mid-July to mid-September.
4. Ladakh from October to May.
Happy travels !
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Feb 13, 2004 12:40 AM
Feb 13, 2004 8:19 AM
10Avoiding Scams in Agra and Delhi:
Hello, India is beautiful and you will have a great time, but, to avoid being scammed or tricked, this is a short list of tips.
*Agra Tips:- Try to use the pre paid taxi booth at the exit of the train station, they have a price list for 4 hours service and other options. 4 hours is USD $ 10 (feb/04). Includes a taxi driver and the taxi for 4 hours. You could use this to go to the hotel, leave your bags and go to sikrit, red fort and then to the Taj.
- If you get the pre paid, check the taxi number on the receipt.
- As always, they will try to ask for more money, don?t pay attention to it, you already paid for the service, either walk away or explain that you paid.
- NEVER use the telephone from the hotel, I paid GBP 15 for 5 minutes to London.
- Taxi drivers get commission for taking you to the shops, they will try to convince you saying that the shops in agra are duty free, no taxes, better quality, etc?..is just not true. Prices in ?Emporium stores? are the same in agra and delhi. Emporium is the generic name for ?tourist shop??.
- If you decide to go to one of the emporium shops; As a rule of thumb, never pay more than 50% of what they ask. I bought a chess set for USD $ 100 (feb/04) and the initial price was more than 200, the same goes for sari?s ( good price for a 3 color, good quality sari would be Rupees 1,400 to Rupees 1,800 ( feb/04).
- Don?t let them wrap the merchandise in the back of the store, after you bargained with them for 20 minutes, they will change the product and put a different quality one ( they did that with me). Stay with your merchandise and never loose sight of it.
- Beware of Alabaster and ?Italian Marble? as they call it, is soft stone they try to sell it as proper marble and is just not worth a dime. You can scratch it with your fingers. Remember that airlines let you carry only 20Kilos, so don?t buy a coffee table that weights 40 kilos.
Tips for Delhi:
- Bring a mask, pollution is just too much, you would need something to protect your lungs while you are there, one box of disposable masks would do.
- If you arrive to the Delhi train station and some one says to you ?this ticket is not confirmed?, ignore that person, they have a very organized business and con tourist into thinking that they have to pay USD $ 90 (feb/04), don?t pay attention. Also, when accessing the waiting rooms the doorman would say the same, is just a way of getting money from you, ignore the guy and say that you know is confirmed, if the guy is too pushy ask to see his ID and as him to go to the station manager ( two doors away).
- The only taxis with meter are from the known hotels, you should use the rickshaws ( motorcycles) and always pre arrange the cost, there are plenty of rickshaws around. I always paid 30% less of what they asked, but you should bring a map and start learning the cost from one point to the other.
- Buy the news paper and you will see info about stores and sales, there are no malls per se, but you can go to the South Exchange II and I, there you will find traditional clothes, shoes, internet café and food.
And above all, NEVER USE VIVA HOLIDAYS?? you will loose your money.
Any comments or questions firstname.lastname@example.org
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Feb 13, 2004 2:28 PM
11More on Scams:
Just to put it in perspective, you will be scammed in the tourist track in India (as well as elsewhere). It is part of the rite of passage. If you spend your time in suspicion and paranoia you will have wasted the precious travel opportunity and missed what is important in the experience. The most frequent of travellers are scammed. Get over it and get on with living. I was scammed on a recent trip and broke out laughing because it was the same scam I had fallen for a quarter century ago when I was a newbie to India. Take a look at the continious post on scams at the very end of this branch of the Thorn Tree for a laugh. But, avoiding all such gives you no awards in my book. On the other hand if you think someone is going to give you a great deal for nothing in jewelry you probably deserve and require a hard education. At least in India it is a relatively cheap lesson in reality. Remain focused. You will get scammed but you will also come out of the whole travel experience transformed and energized..
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Feb 13, 2004 10:31 PM
12Train System in India:
(Originally posted by Beach elsewhere, and first copied here by username jak_da_fool):
A typical long distance Indian train has the following coach configuration:
The engine (!) in the front with the driver and his assistant. The Guard at the tail end of the train is the overall in charge of the train. Trains run Diesel or Electric depends upon the route.
Second Class (General Compartment) - 2 to 4 coaches in a train, usually 2 just behind the engine and 2 at the end of the train. You need not do any reservation for travelling in this. Just buy the ticket from the counter at railway station even when the train is standing at the platform ready for departure. This is the cheapest way to travel in India known to me. For about less than 10USD you can travel about 3000 kilometre (yes three thousand) e.g. Trivandrum to New Delhi. The catch is you will not have any seat reservation. No sleeping berth (you have to sit and sleep for 2 nights). If you managed to get a set there is no guarantee that you can hold on to it. You need to "reserve" the seat you occupied by keeping your luggage or any other personal objects on the seats when you go to toilets etc. An empty seat is open for anyone including you to occupy! The facilities are bare minimum. Food is available from the vendors. 4 toilets (squat type) with water are attached to each coach. Fans are provided. Two washbasins are also provided at both the ends. Bring a small chain and a pad lock to secure your luggage beneath a seat or over the luggage rack.
Depends on the season, route etc these may get overcrowded also. I have travelled many times in these during the overcrowded seasons. A couple of times I had to breathe through the neighbour's nose! These coaches get phenomenally overcrowded during the Indian summer season. There is a large a passenger overflow into second class from other classes due to the overbooking of reservation.
You can see the poorest people of India in these compartments. If you want to get a feel the raw India travelling by one of these is the best bet. People are generally accommodative. People are more than happy to talk to strangers. A foreigner surely generates a lot of curiosity. You take the first step in winning the co passenger's confidence. Use your commonsense to judge the situation. The indication of their interest in you is that you will bombard with a lot of curious questions. Be prepared to answer a lot personal questions. The first would invariably about from where you are coming? What is your profession? Then it could be how much you earn a month. Your answers can lead to sub questions! This is how they socialize. Surprisingly they may not ask your name. They think this is too personal a question to be asked! A poor Indian thinks that all the western tourists are infinitely rich!! They have loads of money that they don't know what to do with it. Otherwise why should they travel around and waste a lot of money? It is surprising even the well to do class in the Indian society also at times think in this line. An average Indian is an infinitely inquisitive question bank. Don't get offended. This is how that culture is. Asking such questions is not considered impolite. Go with it rather than fighting or get upset about it.
Sleeper Class (SL) - This class is the main chunk of a typical express train. About 72 passengers are accommodated in each coach. There are about 10 to 15 coaches attached per train. You need a prior reservation to get into these coaches. Reservations can be made at the most 60 days prior to the travel date. Seats and made into berths in the night. The seats are grouped into sort of semi private sections of 6 seats, 3+3 facing each other. Upper berth (UB), Middle berth (MB) and the Lower Berth (LB). The lower berth is the seat for the all the three during daytime. Upper berth is undisturbed and can be used for sleeping even the daytime also. Lower berth passenger gets the window seat during the daytime. Generally you can see a lot of co-operation among the "6 member berth family" in berth swapping, setting the middle berth etc during the travel. Then on the other side of the walkway there is a row of "Side Berths". They are twin seats facing each other. If you are a tall person say more than 5.5 feet, these side berths are slightly short of sleeping. But both of these are window seats and you will offer little trouble for the other passengers when getting out and go for a small walk (remember the trouble you created for the mid and aisle passengers sitting in your row during your flight!). Don't get offended if an old passenger asks you if you can exchange your lower berth with his upper berth. Generally the younger people consent to this as a curtsy to the senior passenger. Try to avoid if possible first and last 16 seats of the 72 seats in each coach. These are close to the doors and toilets. You may be annoyed by the traffic near the door and toilets especially in the night due to the light at this point. Just like the last row passenger's trouble in an airplane. Chains are provided to secure your baggage (bring your padlock). Your luggage can be pushed under the seat. For about 14USD you can travel about 3000 kilometre e.g. Trivandrum to New Delhi.
These coaches are provided with 4 toilets (1 western style. Carry your toilet paper). The squat type is more hygienic in a train. Using them in a running train needs some experience. This is a stainless steel basin with footrest installed on the floor. Be careful with small articles like spectacles, purse, toiletries etc, as this can be easily lost down the drain if accidentally dropped on to the toilet floor. Once I have lost a key bunch accidentally fallen from my pocket. Don't forget to collect it back if you leave such articles over the small shelf fitted inside the toilet near the mirror. Unlike in the west you can use the toilet even when the train is at the stations also! No one locks up them at stations. There are two latches for the toilet. One is a twin latch that can be opened and closed from both inside and outside. The other can be operated only from inside the toilet. Lock this one when you are inside and leave the other one open. This gives the indication from outside that it is occupied. Try to occupy only the toilets with the twin latch in the closed position, meaning no one is inside. Early mornings are a bit crowded at the toilets. You use the washbasin located outside the toilet for brushing, face wash etc. The toilets are more or less similar for all the classes.
Your name is listed on the chart stuck next to your coach's door outside. A copy of the same is displayed at the departing station "Reservation Chart" notice board also about and hour before the departure. These coaches are indexed as S1,S2,-S10. Lookout for a square white paper label stuck on the side of the door with the coach number marked on it. The same is printed on your ticket also. Most of the stations have a notice board indicating the position of the coaches from the engine. If this is not displayed ask any staff you see on the station for your location. If you could find out the location of your coach prior to the arrival of the train you can avoid those mad running up and down along the length of the train with your huge backpack. Bring your own bedroll for the II class sleeper travel. A thick blanket and an air pillow is not a bad idea.
The middleclass mass of India travel by this class. Next to your seat will be a newly married Tamil couple (who can speak reasonably good English), an old lady (who is not very happy with you in the beginning), her middle-aged daughter (who speak only Hindi) and her inquisitive young boy (who wants to know where are you from). For a budget traveller Second Class sleeper is THE most suitable mode of transport.
AC 3-Tier Sleeper (3A) - This is the AC version of the Second Class Sleeper. Most of the express trains have about 2 to 3 coaches of this type. More comfortable than Second Class Sleeper and also a bit more spacious. The windows are covered with the non-open able tinted glass. You may not be able to enjoy the sights outside like in the Second Class Sleeper.. For approx. 34USD you can travel about 3000 kilometre e.g. Trivandrum to New Delhi in this class. This is recommended if you need to travel in a bit comfortable way especially during the summer. Bedroll available inside the coach free of cost. Most of the facilities are comparable with the Sleeper Class.
Here again you will find the Indian middle class as your co passengers. Don't get upset if someone requests to share the magazine you have been reading. This is a very common practice in Indian trains. After reading a magazine if you have kept it beside you some one will just take it to have a look. And from him this goes to a third person without anybody's permission. The magazine will enjoy a mini reading tour within the compartment and return to you through the same trail. For a newspaper the story is still more dramatic. If you are reading the news headline, someone will hold the middle papers are pull it gently! You are expected to release the tight hold so that he can pull out the middle section of the newspapers easily. This is treated as absolutely courteous! Here again the newspaper travel in loose sections and comeback to you after a well read tour. Generally people won't request your books for reading. If you are a "selfish" person keep your magazine inside your bag immediately after you read it.
AC 2-Tier sleeper (2A) - Many express trains have a couple of this class coaches. Luxurious than the 2A. For cost of about 48 USD you can travel about 3000 kilometre e.g. Trivandrum to New Delhi in this class. You can find the well to do Indian class in these coaches. This is a good asylum for those who can?t join the crowd or expect luxury than economy. All the facilities available in SL are available here also. Bedroll available inside the coach free of cost. Tell that coach attendant to reduce the CHILL if you feel that you are inside a freezer with berths & wheels!
First Class AC (1A) - The highest luxury class in the regular routes. Cost comparable with economy class airfare. For about 150 USD you can travel from Trivandrum to Delhi. A number of important long distance trains have these coaches. The elite class and business executives travel by 1A. Once I met a businessman in this and he said he was afraid of flying and therefore travels only by train. You can travel in this train for days without even having eye contact with the co passenger. People tend to mind their own business (the usual stuff of newspaper reading, staring at the laptop screen, acting sleepy etc). This peculiar difference I've noticed almost in all of my train journeys. The personal interaction barrier increases with increase in luxury! Somebody tried to explain that this is due to the physical distances in the luxury classes. In a Sleeper class you are more physically close to the co passengers and this increases the drive to interact with others.
AC Chair car (CC) - Generally attached to the day running trains only. Looks more like an economy class seat in the plane. A bit wider seat but. Cost a bit less than the 3A. OK for a decent day travel. Many day running express trains have this class.
First Class (FC) - This is the legacy first class coach. Only a few meter gauge express trains have this. This is first class but non-AC! Cost between Second class AC and Third class AC. Spacious. You need to inform the station in charge prior to get inside the train for a bedroll. Cost Rs20 per bedroll.
There are a number of special trains called Rajdhani (means capital) and Shatabdi (means centenary) express. These trains have only the luxury class coaches. And they are the fastest of all trains in India. Rajdhani Expresses run between Delhi and many important cities .Shatabdi Expresses run between important cities. Shatabdi is a day running (no sleeping berth) train. Domestic airlines are their main rivals!
Break Van - These are the luggage van attached at the end of each trains. If you have any JUMBO size articles (bicycle, Motorbike, camping equipment. etc) you can carry in the same train you are travelling. Luggage need not have to be booked along with your reservation. Just come to the boarding station a bit earlier than the departure time and book the luggage in the break van. Luggage Office is located near the platform. You need to show the ticket as proof that you are travelling in the same train. Go personally to the break van to supervise the loading and unloading of your luggage. This helps you to avoid any "miss". Even if you are not having any thing to put in the luggage van and your luggage is more than the free allowance you need to pay the additional charge at this office. Typically the frees allowance are 35kg for second class, 40kg for II Sleeper & III AC sleeper, 50kg for II AC sleeper, 70kg for I AC. About 10kg more than this is OK. If you exceed above that the extra luggage charges to be paid.
Pantry Car - Most of the long distance trains have this facility. You can get meals, snacks, coffee, tea (chai), cool drinks etc in this. Staff comes to your seat with supply. Also you can go the car and order directly. You need to pay for what you buy. This is basically a vegetarian facility with egg oblate. Chicken curry + meals available at stations for about a USD per head. Prices are slightly higher for food than the local restaurants. You can get a decent food in an express train.
TTE - You have to show the ticket to the TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner) on request. He wears a dark blazer with a name badge over his white shirt and always carries a chart board with a huge clip over it. He talks the native version of English! You can see a beeline of passengers behind him at the beginning stations asking him questions about the status of their waitlist. You can ask him any questions from swapping your seat to the next coach where your friend?s berth is, arrival & departure ?timings?, which train is the best to reach Shimla. How many children he has (you will be appreciated!) etc. If you want to extend your journey in the same train he can do the same and give you the receipt. He can also upgrade your class based on availability and you can pay and get the receipt during the journey itself.
If there is a medical emergency within the train inform the TTE. He along with other key staffs are trained to administer the first aid. Also he can easily locate any doctors from the passenger list. Indian railways encourage Medical patricians to prefix their name with Dr. when booking the reservations. All the passengers are insured by the railways against accidents within the railways premises as per the rules. Typically a TTE is in charge for about 4 coaches. He travels along with you. For very long distance trains a new TTE takes charge every day. He locks the coaches from inside during the nights. Many night running trains have a few policemen as night guards. For any complaint or request during your travel approach the TTE.
Vendors - Any thing is available for sale inside a train and at stations. From safety pin to quiz books to banana to shoe polishing service to dried fruits - you name it! But all of them may not be the railways approved vendors. A train is a big bazaar on the move. They are the part and parcel of the system. When a train reaches a station the vendors cover the windows like bees on the honeycomb, everyone shouting what they sell. All the services are thoughtfully customized that it can be easily sold through the 4inch or so gap of the window grille! If you are sitting at the window seat a co passengers may request to pass their buy. Generally the train stops for two minutes at a station. At key stations this can be up to 30 minutes. Shift your huge backpack close to the exit door when trains is about to reach your destination. All frenzy activities of buying, selling, and getting in getting out takes place in two minutes time before the train slowly start with a long whistle. Carry a bunch of coins and small changes during travel.
Reservations over Internet - You can do it yourself at any of the Indian Railway reservation counters in India. There are 100s of them all around the country. Cities have such counters located at multiple places for the passenger convenience. Booking from abroad is a bit difficult affair if you are totally new to the whole scheme of things. Through Internet you can directly book most of the trains. But you have to collect the ticket manually from the office near the Delhi railway station. These tickets need not be for the trains originating from Delhi. You need to produce the proof such as the credit card used to book the ticket copy of passport etc. Your representative can also collect the ticket if you can give an authorization letter with details and a copy of your passport. Presently only at Delhi this collection facility is available. But tickets can be couriered to many important towns in India. Lists of such towns are listed in the site. They don't courier abroad. You need to provide a local address to collect these tickets (a friend, hotel (check with them beforehand), an institution etc). Also you need to allow about 2 to 3 days as delivery time. Extra service charge (1.8%) is levied on the total cost of ticket for Internet booking of tickets. You have to undergo a small registration at the side before enabling you the booking. VISA and Master Cards are accepted. Refund is made on the card if you cancel the ticket later. Note down the 10 digits PNR and the Transaction ID. You can do a maximum of 4 bookings a month. Each ticket can be for a maximum of 6 passengers.
It is possible to check the availability status of seats before you go to India over the net to get an idea about it. There is an Indiarail pass available for foreign tourists. This is available abroad. If you are not travelling so much this is not worth. Larger hotels in India have travel desk attached to it. They collect about Rs30 per seat for standing in the queue and booking it for you. This is an easy way to book tickets if you are not curious to go to the reservation counters personally and stand in queue. There are special quotas for foreign tourists. Enquire about this at the reservation enquiry counter for availability in your route. Counters are open 8.00am-8.00pm weekdays and 8.00am-2.00pm on Sundays.
When searching for the availability of a particular train you may encounter a result like WL 40/WL 10. This may look a bit confusing for a new user. If you know the Indian reservation system this is a useful bit of data. There are two kind of waiting list in Indian trains. Seats are reserved on a first come first served basis. Once this is over you are under the ?Reservation against Cancellations? category popularly known as RAC. This is nothing but a waitlist in the conventional sense. You can still get inside a train with an RAC status ticket. You are having a confirmed seat. But the berth will be allotted based on the availability due to the cancellations. After such "seat only" seats also got over booked the real waitlist (WL) come into picture. WL40/WL10 means your actual waitlist position is 40th. Due to the cancellations of tickets booked before you the current status of your waitlist is 10. In other words 30 bookings are already cancelled before your enquiry/reservation (40-10=30).
Now you may ask why you should know how many seats got cancelled? Good question. Based on the experience a regular traveller knows how many sets get cancelled in a route. A bit chancy issue. But about 200+ seats get cancelled for a Second class sleeper for train. You can take a chance accordingly. When you are searching for the seat availability if you come across with something like AVAILABLE- 0068 means 68 seats are available for the day indicated. Check the status of your ticket just before getting inside a train. You can do this through internet, reservation enquiry counter or phone (Interactive Voice Response System), you can see the telephone numbers at the reverse of the ticket. You need to use the 10 digit PNR printed on the upper left hand corner of the ticket. You will not have a seat allotted for you if the status is still under the WL. Contact the TTE for knowing your chance of getting a berth. However you can travel with this ticket in the General Compartment.
Cancellations - You can cancel a reserved ticket and get the refund across the reservation counter. Generally the cancellation charges vary from less than ¼ USD to slightly more than a USD depends on the class. If you cancel a reservation at least a day (excluding the day of travel) before the start of journey only the cancellation fee mentioned is charged. If you cancel within one day but 4 hours before the train departure 25% of ticket cost plus the abovementioned cancellation fee is deduced in the refund amount.
You can cancel the reservation even after the train has left without you! But the refund amount varies accordingly. Typically you will lose about 50% of the ticket cost. For a waitlisted ticket no the cancellation fee is charges if cancelled in advance.
A chart for this is displayed at all the reservation counters showing various refund % based on class, time of cancellation, distance etc. Tickets reserved at one station can be cancelled at another location also. If you have booked over Internet or through credit card the refund will be credited only to your card account. Lost ticket will not be refunded. You can get a duplicate for a lost or torn ticket if you know the details such as the 10 digits PNR and other details. A charge from 10% to 25% is collected based on the distance for the duplicate ticket. And if you got back the original you can claim the refund of additional money you paid for it with a 5% charge! Produce both the tickets at the reservation counter. For cancellation and reservation of tickets the same form can be used.
Tatkal Scheme - This is an emergency reservation scheme introduced in selected (about 100) trains. Such trains are indicated with a T at the end of their train number. The reservation for these seats starts just 24 hours (8am to be specific) before day of journey. These are in fact the same express trains with 2 or 3 such special reservation coaches attached to it. All the Tatkal (means immediate) tickets come with a premium of Rs50 to 200 extra depends on the class. You need to produce a photo identity card (passport, Driving license, Credit card etc) at the reservation counter. The same will be asked for in side the train also by the TTE. The ID number is noted on the ticket. This is basically to prevent the bogus booking and black-market sale of hot tickets! If you are booking the Tatkal for a group of people (max 6 per ticket) any one member?s ID is sufficient. These tickets can?t be cancelled for refund. This is really a boon for the emergency passengers.
You can use the Credit cards also for booking tickets at the reservation counters. Lookout for the special Credit Card counters at the reservation office. You need to pay Rs.30 additionally as service charge. But generally the credit card queues are shorter than the pay cash queues. Use your discretion.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Feb 23, 2004 6:25 AM
13"One of those doctors wrote a book, `*Crazy about India*'. He explains how people can become really crazy here and then return to a state of absolutely normalcy upon arriving home."
Freedom beckons them
Tourism in India is not the same as in the USA, Africa or Europe. Backpackers who come here generally stay for a long time, just travelling freely. Freedom is their main motivation, says Caroline.
"I was really afraid before coming here, I thought I would have a big culture shock, even if Kerala is very rich compared with other parts of India. In fact, I saw more poor people in Zurich (Switzerland) than in Kochi,'' says a surprised Michele.
Michele, 34, is Swiss. She saw a movie called `Ayurveda' and decided to come to South India for three weeks. "Varkala is so nice. I don't know how much longer I will stay, maybe two days, maybe two weeks'', says Sally. Sally and Mitchele are what we call `backpackers'. This young Australian law student took a semester off to travel all around India, alone. Why India? ''I choose to come here because it is a fascinating country, it is safe for women, cheap and people speak English,'' she explains.
The reasons which lead tourists to come here are often similar, but the population of backpackers is very diverse. Alan, an American, and Vered, an Israeli, met in India. Since September, the young couple have been touring the country on a Royal Enfield. Paul, around 50 years old, is a French farmer. Health problems prevent him from working, which is why he has been visiting foreign countries for the past two years. He plans to stay a couple of months in India. Andreas, a German student, came here with his faculty to study Indian architecture and chose to stay five weeks more.
Of all the western tourists in India, 60 per cent are between 25 and 35 years old. Most of them are British, followed by French, German and Japanese.
Besty, the owner of Basoto Lodge in Ernakulam, is happy to meet the travellers, Dutch, Australian and Israeli. The latter often come after their military service just to rid their minds of the rigours of military life. Although they are very different in character, all the backpackers have one thing in common: their love of freedom. They never know where they will go next and when; they just move where the wind takes them.
Most of them work in their country of origin in order to save money to spend here, to benefit from all that India has to offer. They generally lead a modest life here, sleeping in small lodges and travelling by bus or train, but they surely are not deprived of anything: the average budget is between Rs 100 and Rs 500 per day. Some of them come for the second, third or maybe even seventh time! India is so big that it would take more than one lifetime to see everything, though some people are intent on trying.
What travellers like in this country are obviously landscapes, temples and cities, but above all, they love the people. "Indian people are so nice and so helpful, especially in Kerala. It is very pleasant. You cannot get lost, there is always somebody to explain the way to you, to show you the right bus,'' explain Jim and Lucy, both Australians.
Indian culture and spirituality are also very fascinating to travellers; religion and its varied symbols are everywhere. Costy, a Greek Yoga teacher, comes to the south of India every winter: "India is the original place of sprituality. Here you go directly to the essential, people are not yet too much influenced by television and Coca-Cola''.
However, this omnipresent spirituality can be uncomfortable for unseasoned travellers in India. Not infrequently, people lose touch with reality since so many come here in search of a meaning for their life, knowing India only from the various bohemian tales floating around.
The French government noticed this trend and decided to put a psychologist in each French embassy in India. One of those doctors wrote a book, `*Crazy about India*'. He explains how people can become really crazy here and then return to a state of absolutely normalcy upon arriving home.
The main problem for those tourists is the fear of poverty and death. Death is a normal part of life in India, and in fact the two go hand in hand, whereas in Western countries the perception of death is decidedly different.
A famous Swiss writer, Nicolas Bouvier, wrote about Asia: ''We think that we will do a travel, but it is the travel which does you or undoes you''. Indeed, India changes the people travelling here, but most of them will come again, perhaps to escape winter, perhaps to find themselves ... or perhaps simply to taste a freedom that they never encounter in their own country.
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Source & copyright: The Hindu, Monday, Apr 15, 2002.
"Happy Trails" !!
Feb 24, 2004 1:40 PM
14Links to Travel Resources:
The following are the resources available at DMOZ the open directory project compiled by volunteers and the biggest of its kind on the web. Its the directory used by Google and each site has been vetted by a volunteer human editor. ( I am one of them - just for the sake of declaring my interests).
1. Indian Travel Resources
2. Sri Lanka Travel Resources
3. Bangladesh Travel Resources
4. Pakistan Travel Resources
5. Nepal Travel Resources
6. Bhutan Travel Resources
8. Maldives Travel Resources
Edited by: Irene_Adler
(3 star Hotel)
From US$119.26 per night
(2 star Hotel)
From US$27.43 per night
(4 star Hotel)
From US$87.62 per night