Is it safe to travel to India ?
I have been fortunate enough to travel to almost one-third of all the countries on earth. From that experience, I can say with a high degree of confidence that the Indian people are some of the warmest, kind and most friendly people you could hope to meet. So if someone was to ask me outright, is it safe to travel to India? I would say absolutely yes, but like anywhere there are risks you will have to take into consideration.
This post aims to walk my readers through what kind of problems you are likely to face and how you can deal with them. In this two-part post, I will give a concise and coherent breakdown of all you need to know to make your trip a safe a fulfilling experience. Although I am covering a lot of ground here and seem to raise a lot of points, the truth is most trips to the sub-continent go without any significant incident. We have a lot to get through so let us jump straight in.
Common scams in India.
India has the ominous yet unfortunately well-deserved reputation for being one of the countries you are most likely to get hustled in. While the threat of physical violence is remarkably low across the subcontinent outside of Kashmir and Manipur ( the only parts the UK government advises all but essential travel to, ) the chances of you becoming a victim of one kind of scam or another are incredibly high.
I have been a victim to countess scams through the years myself, so I would like to share with my readers what to look out for to avoid falling into the same pitfalls I have. After all, it is always best to learn from some else’s mistakes, right? As a rule, I have found anyone who just stops you in the street who wants to talk about the weather or shout hey my brother tend not to have the purest of intentions. It is best to stop that conversation in its tracks to save either of you wasting your time.
Some scams you may encounter are so elaborate and well thought out its almost hard not to commend the people trying to get money out of you. Before I tell you the main things to look out for I want to start by telling you a short story on what I think is one of the best thought out tourist scams of all time.
I had not been in India long, and one day in Dehli I got in a rickshaw from Parhagange to Connaught Place in search of a book a shop called Jain bookstore I had read about. But my driver had driven me to altogether the wrong place. Upon arrival, I told the driver I would not pay until I reach my destination. The driver seemed to bate me and cause me to become annoyed deliberately.
A man came out of his shop and defused the situation, exclaiming he is just a poor man trying to make a living, and I began to feel bad about my actions. He said he would walk me to the bookshop and it is not far. Out of protest, I still paid the driver a little less than the agreed price, and he was surprisingly ok with that.
It was a hot day, and the friendly man said to come to his shop and have some water first. He gave me a map and showed me where the shop was and then asked where am I going next?
I told him I was going to Jodhpur and he was happy to help me with my tickets, and before I knew it, he was selling me all kinds of tours, packages and tickets. He was so good at talking I almost paid, but then it dawned on me that the driver had deliberately driven me to outside this mans office and wound me up so that this gentleman could get me into his shop by playing the humble negotiator. When I called him on my theory, I could see in his face that this was indeed the case. This scam was so elaborate and well thought out I was too impressed to be upset.
I nearly spend thousands of rupees on stuff I didn’t even want or need! I told this story to highlight just how good some scams are here and how they are quite unlike anything we would experience in our own culture. Now, let us take a look at what you should watch out for and the scams you are likely to encounter.
Overpricing on just about everything.
From the moment you arrive in the country, the risk of being overcharged is very high. It is hard for a traveller to understand how much things actually cost without any experience. Always negotiate a price before taking any service. While this can become tiresome, it is necessary so as not to be continuously fleeced.
When you ask how much something is, you will invariably get a price that is much higher than it actually is. Something I have found that works for me, whatever price you get offer half. While that is probably too low, eventually, you will meet in the middle somewhere. It can be awkward for some of us, to begin with as bartering is not in our culture but, remember no vendor will sell their products at a loss.
Many products you get from shops have a recommended retail price on the side. Have a look for it and don’t spend more than it states as this is the price set by the government.
Like anywhere else in the world, petty theft is a real problem, but these risks can easily be minimalised using good judgement and common sense. Now I will share some useful tips to help you avoid problems.
In many hotels, you will be given a padlock for your door, so I would advise purchasing your own lock. Some hotels are not happy with this plan. But in my opinion, if they had nothing to hide, this would not be an issue as if you lose the key you will have to have to pay for any repairs automatically. Don’t keep valuables inside the room and on display through a window to avoid any temptation to break in.
I always keep my money in a money belt. I tuck that into my trousers and maintain a minimum amount in my wallet. So if I do lose it, the damage is not massive. Wrap the money in plastic airtight Sealy bags on long trips as the sweat from your body will turn your funds mouldy.
On long haul trains, I put the luggage under the seats and wrap the waist straps around the metal clips attached. When I sleep at night on the train, I keep my money belt on and take my small daypack on the bed with me hopefully on the top bunk to make it harder for people to wander off with my possessions. There have been numerous cases of solo tourists being drugged and robbed in the night. The obvious answer to that do not except anything from a friendly stranger. Its a shame this is the case but stay safe and don’t take the risk!
When travelling on busses, try and bring the bags on the bus with you and not on the luggage rack or boot as its hard to monitor what is going on when it is in motion. On overnight public busses, I tend to sit near the driver if I can as it is an extra set of eyes while I try and sleep. Since most Indian people are very kind anyway, locals tend to watch out for foreign tourists and just want to keep you safe.
I had often experienced help from local people even when I didn’t ask for it. I make a point of helping Indian tourists who ask for help while visiting London as I have been grateful for the guidance so often. There is of cause always a small minority of people who are not so lovely but, don’t let it spoil your experience.
When getting from a bus or railway station to your chosen destination, you will probably need some form of transport. Unfortunately, many drivers work with other hotels and will want you to go and see their choice of accommodation that they will of cause tell you is much better. The drivers get a good commission from these businesses, and if you chose to stay in one of these places, there is a good chance the cost of your room will increase to accommodate the commission needed to pay the driver.
It can all feel like a very high pressured sales pitch and becomes annoying quickly. To avoid this either say you have a booking or ask to get out at a landmark close to where you want to be. It will probably push the initial price up of the journey so negotiate the cost before you start and make it clear you are not interested.
Many hotels offer a free pickup so double-check with any place you book with to see if this is a service they will provide. If they have one, this will often state this on their website, and you will just have to inform them when you want to be collected. It is a good way of saving yourself the pain of negotiating the cost of transport from where ever it is you arrive too your hotel and saving your self money into the bargain.
When trying to work out what is a reasonable price for a journey, have a look at the map and see how far it is to your destination. It should never be more than 20 rupees a kilometre. If it possible use the uber or ola apps as this is a consistent and cost-effective price. But these services rarely work outside of the big cities.
When booking train tickets in India, try and use the government offices if possible as they have access to the tourist quota and won’t charge a commission for booking it for you. They will also help you plan your route.
When you get the busses and if it is possible to make sure you get a printed ticket to make sure you have paid the correct cost. If it is not, I tend to ask local people if that sounds correct.
Not all risk factors are within your control.
Some factors can be complicated to protect yourself against such a tectonic movement. Geographical statistics of India show that almost 54% of the land is vulnerable to earthquakes. But then that is an improbable outcome that you would be involved in one, given the timescale, they happen on, so there is little point worrying too much about issues like that. A much more likely outcome would be you eat a lousy curry and get an upset stomach. For information on measures, you can take to stay healthy check out my post.
Summary of my post Is it safe to travel to India?
There are certainly a lot of risks factors to consider when travelling in India, but then it is fair to say that’s true anywhere. Once you can appreciate what they are and how to protect yourself, these risks become smaller. The aim of this post is not to scare you. It is to arm you with the knowledge to prepare for the many scams and schemes that come with backpacking across this beautiful country. The fact of the matter is the upside of travel here far outweighs the bad and if you need inspiration on why to visit India just read my post Why go to India?
Make sure to check out what your government website is saying so you can see if your insurance covers you for your desired plan. It is also a good source of information regarding the current events that are happening in the country, albeit often a little exaggerated. Here ends the first half of my 2 part post on is it safe to travel in India? As always if you have any more questions or concerns on the subjects covered here or anything else, just leave them in the comments box, and I will get back to you.
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