To properly travel India and really get to the heart of it would take years. In the three weeks we were there we barely scratched the surface, but what we did do was visit some of the most prestigious sights India has to offer, travel thousands of miles on rail, eat Indian food for the majority of meals, stay in local accommodation, use local transport and do it all for approximately £13 per day (though our rail was already booked and not including our last minute flight)
Even though I have had a few weeks to try and come to terms with what Delhi threw at us I still am glad to be thousands of miles away from the city. Believe me I’ve been in some arse end places in my life, but Delhi was your worst nightmare all rolled up in one and then spat out in Northern India, every dishonest person on the earth was then moved there. I cannot recommend Delhi for those travelling with kids, or anyone for that matter. In fact every foreign person I spoke to except one hated Delhi. Every Indian I told I hated Delhi just laughed in a sort of ‘we understand why’ way.
The following is what we picked up during our stay, it’s not exhaustive but just general tips. I have not included the days in Hyderabad and RDF in the following as they contradicted the norm.
Throughout the three weeks we stayed in budget accommodation and some of it was shocking. We have seen cockroaches the size of mice, rats the size of cats and loads of beetles and mosquitoes. In the whole three weeks (not including Vanditas house which was awesome) here are the hotel stats:
Times we have had a cover = 2
Times we have had a secure lock on our room door = 4
Times I’ve had to use the padlock I bought = The Rest
Times we’ve had hot water = Never
Times we’ve had toilet paper = 2
Times we have had to shower using a bucket = about 50%
Money spent paying Charlie to move the cockroach outside = 300 Rupees
But we managed, most our rooms didn’t have air con and only a fan (and some were so noisy I wish id brought some WD40) so we were fine without a cover (though it took some getting used to) and although we realised that Indian mattresses are all rock solid we got used to it. When we turned up in Mumbai late without a hotel I managed to squeeze the three of us into a single room the size of a double bed. You have to realise that our average hotel cost was about £6 per night for the three of us and so we just had to manage. The reality is the days were so hot and we filled them doing so much that by the time we got in bed we were exhausted and could have slept anywhere.
A final note on toilets, about 70% are squat toilets and none have toilet roll. There is a jug to wash yourself usually hung on a tap. We bought toilet roll and carried it in our day sack. Additionally there are few public toilets and what there is are simply disgusting. The smell alone will almost make you sick.
I knew that in order to keep costs down we would have to eat local Indian food. Having heard bad things about Indian food we took about 3 days to introduce our selves to the cuisine, then we were pretty much for 90% of the meals eating local food. Food in India was ridiculously cheap, the three of us could eat a big meal with drinks for a few pound, even less from a street vendor.
Typical costs: (£1 = 70 Rupees)
1litre bottle of water – 15 Rupees
600ml Bottle of Sprite – 23 Rupees
Packet of biscuits – 15 Rupees
Packet of crisps – 10 Rupees
Plate of Noodles – 40 Rupees
Indian dish (veg) – 60 Rupees
Chapattis (Roti) – 5 Rupees each
Thali – 40 Rupees
Those costs are pretty consistent throughout India. If you buy from a shop look where the MFD date is and usually there is a maximum price. Never pay more than that though you will always be told you must, just refuse and watch the price fall.
Most restaurants in India will do less spicy for kids, but you have to ask them. Indian kids are like ninjas and could eat fire, they assume every kid can. The best meals for kids seemed to be Veg Noodles, Biryani and Thali. Thali, is the more spicy but you get about 5 different mini dishes of curry with a few chapattis, chances are there will be at least one meal you’ll like.
In terms of water adjust accordingly to the heat. I was checking the kids urine, obviously the more it looks like water the more hydrated they are. Also I made myself aware of dehydration symptoms which are headaches, dizziness and nausea.
We ate in some dodgy looking places and only Charlie ended up getting ill though I don’t think this was the food because we all ate.
The cheapest way to get around locally is by bus. Always insist on ‘half’ for kids, otherwise you will be charged full. Get on the bus and technically the rear few rows are reserved for women but we sat on them and no one said anything. The conductor will come round and give you your ticket. We never had to worry about when we were at our destination as someone would always tell us, or the conductor would come and boot us off at our stop. Few conductors spoke English and we didn’t see a single bus throughout the whole of India with the destination in English.
Cycle Rickshaws are the next cheapest, I personally don’t like using them for 2 reasons. Firstly they are slow and for the small amount less you pay it takes much longer to get to where you are going and secondly I feel sorry the skinny guy having to haul my ass up a hill using peddle power.
Auto Rickshaws are the most convenient way of getting round town. Sadly most will not take you using the meter and you will invariably pay much more than the locals. A guide is that for every 1.5km pay 10 Rupees. Locals pay even less. But always barter and never settle for the first price. It helps to ask at your hotel what the price should be so you have an idea. Pre Paid booths always charge more and there is usually a 1 Rupee service charge. If you get any trouble then all Rickshaw drivers are held accountable and can be fined 500 Rupees by the police if you have major complaints. I am told that tourists are usually believed over the drivers. So any problems get the number of the driver which is painted on the rickshaw and tell the police. Most will try it on, but if you are confident it is very easy to take the upper hand.
Trains are also very cheap and great for getting between Indian cities. We tried to get night trains so we could sleep for large portions of the journey and also save on a nights hotel. We used AC3 and AC2 and both were fine and usually full of Middle Class Indians. I always secured our belongings using a padlock and also by tying straps. We had no problems but I did hear of one girl who had her back untied while she slept and stolen, though this was in sleeper class which is where most lower class Indians travel.
Air travel in India is taking a beating recently, with crashes and news of near misses and blatant safety breaches by airlines keen to keep costs down. Only this morning in the paper it told of heightened security due to intelligence pointing to a hijack threat. We flew with Kingfisher and they were amazing and then we flew Jet Lite who were also fantastic, I write this now on an Air Asia flight somewhere over the Indian ocean and have to comment on Trivandrum Airport. It took 90 minutes to get through security and immigration. Checks are obviously very thorough and we had our passports/boarding passes checked at least 6 times and our baggage scanned twice.
We found that wifi was not common at all, I think only 2 hotels had it and it was expensive. Internet cafes are common and the price is usually 30 Rupees per hour, but we did find one place that was only 20 Rupees for the hour.
Manners/feeling toward tourists/kids
Indian people do not have manners, don’t expect a thank you or recognition for the fact you stood up for them on a bus. Most won’t even acknowledge the gesture. However I was told that this is because when someone says thank you it means the favour will never be returned. If you are not thanked apparently they are grateful but will wait for the day they can repay you. Sounds odd I know.
Feeling towards tourists is that you are easy and fair game. Indians who provide a service assume you don’t have a brain and that their 50 year old scam is certain to work on you, though as someone said to me – If it didn’t work they wouldn’t try it, so someone must be falling for them. We were tried to ripped off many times daily, most often not even little rip offs but huge scams and lies. It is difficult to trust anyone in India in a service roll, I even found the police dodgy and don’t expect them to intervene if they hear you trying to be conned. They just watch in bemusement.
The problem was that it breeds mistrust and so when genuine people tried to speak to us, often I would just say no thanks and walk away which really was a shame.
Indians love kids, seriously, we had hundreds of photographs taken and the kids were constantly grabbing attention. Special concession is given for those with kids. Abi was particularly loved, many of the people we spoke to had never seen a little white girl and people were touching her then kissing their fingers. They get in free pretty much most places and will even get you to the front of some queues though I always declined.
We loved India, though i am not sure if I’d ever return to anywhere other than the South. It at times was exhausting and the kids and I are looking forward to really toning things down a little. Kerala was excellent and I could certainly holiday there for a while, it is said that people go for 2 weeks and stay for 6 months and I can genuinely understand why.
I have made my intentions clear that I also hope to return to RDF in the coming years, it is a project that really touched us and one which we hope to be involved with for the long term.
I guess my tips for anyone coming to India with kids is to do the main tourist things and then head south. Avoid Delhi completely and if you can, try and organise some sort of rural excursion so you can get a feel for real India. It was the highlight of our trip and my only regret is that we didn’t have longer.
A visit to India apparently lives with you long after you have left and I can believe that, sadly I feel that most of the memories are bad ones, though the good ones are ones which will stay with us for the rest of our lives.