India is both an incredible and challenging place to travel. Luckily, the incredible blows your mind and the challenging makes you a stronger and more street-smart person. That’s why so many people find India such a rewarding place to travel. You see amazing sights, and you’re put in situations that allow you to learn and grow as a person. This is something we as humans thrive on and enjoy.

Below are 5 of the common problems/challenges you’ll learn to overcome in India.

Bargaining

Always bargain when shopping in India. Photo by Ramnath Bhat.
Always bargain when shopping in India. Photo by Ramnath Bhat.

In India everyone bargains. If you don’t join in and bargain too, you’ll be paying 3 or 4 times more than locals. Fixed priced shops exist but are few and far between and often overpriced. Instead of price tags locals also simply know how much things costs. For example, I paid 100 INR for a kilogram of mangoes and after talking to a friend found out the going rate is 70 INR. The fruit seller expected me to bargain or know the going rate.

While I was in Amritsar recently, a rickshaw driver approached two local friends and m and asked us where we wanted to go. We were just going 1 km away and we knew that such a short distance should only be around 30 INR. He quoted us 150 INR! 5 times the actual amount. We laughed and didn’t even bother to try bargain with him because often these guys are just targeting unprepared tourists and won’t bargain. We walked a few more metres down the road to the rickshaw stand where the drivers quoted less crazy prices and we bargained them down near enough to the local rate.

Lesson learned: Know how much things cost so you can bargain accordingly. Ask the price of something from a local or hotel staff before going shopping.

Food

The king of Delhi street food, the Raj Kachori. Photo by Sonal.
The king of Delhi street food, the Raj Kachori. Photo by Sonal.

Eating food from the street stalls is like playing Russian roulette. It tastes amazing, but eventually, it lands you with a stomach infection. If you want to eat street food, and you should because it’s a highlight of Indian cuisine, then head over to one of the very clean Bikanervala or Halidrams restaurants that serve it. You can find all of the best Indian food in clean and economical (or not) restaurants. Don’t take risks.

There are some easy to follow rules to avoid contaminated food in India, here are 3 of the less common ones you should know:

  1. Don’t drink drinks you suspect are made with tap water. Avoid Indian tap water like the plague. Always ask if the restaurant uses filtered water.
  2. Check the eating utensils you’re using are clean and if not ask for different ones or clean with a serviette.
  3. India mainly serves meat with bones in. Be very careful to not swallow the bones as the larger and sharper ones will scrape your throat as happened to me with a fish curry in Kolkata. A scraped throat feels like a bone is still stuck in it – not very pleasant.

Hygiene & Pollution

A bad day at the Taj Mahal. Photo by Kathleen.
A bad day at the Taj Mahal. Photo by Kathleen.

When you visit India, you’ll discover there’s a very different hygiene level here. Streets and dirty and you’re overall going to be exposed to a lot more nasties than back home. Here are three things I do everyday to stay clean:

  1. Wash my face every night. You’ll be surprised at what it’s collected that day.
  2. Clean my shoes with a paper towel to stop the dust from building up.
  3. Always sanitize or wash my hands before eating and after getting off public transport or touching items that aren’t clean.

If the pollution levels are high while you’re in a big Indian city, pick up a filter mask. I only use mine if there are warning that levels are going to be bad.

Touts & Scam Artists

Usually what touts look like. Somewhat smartly dressed. Photo by Connie.
Usually what touts look like: smartly dressed young local looking men. Photo by Connie.

Touts are probably the biggest annoyance in India. Coming to India we’re a bit naive and happy to talk to anyone who approaches us. Afterall, it’s nice to talk to inquisitive locals. That’s what touts and scam artists use as their strategy. They open up a conversation with you by saying “Where are you from?” Then eventually after a little chit-chat, they get to their sales pitch, “My friend has a great sari shop/travel agency/taxi/restaurant nearby. I will take you there.” They’re not really inquisitive locals, they’re undercover touts trying to “help you.” Wherever he takes you to will rip you off and he’ll earn a commission. Touts even get paid just for bringing you to a store sometimes.

Lesson learned: As soon as a friendly stranger starts bringing something to do with money into the conversation, they’re a tout or scammer. Say “No thank you,” and walk away. After encountering a few touts you’ll know how to spot them.

Language Barrier

This isn’t a common problem anymore, but I still get asked. I’ve never had a problem using English in India. You’ll always be able to find an English speaker nearby. In fact, I faced more issues with finding English speakers in Europe than I ever have in India.

If you want to find out the secrets of bargaining, all the tips on how to avoid contaminated food in India, how to avoid all different types of scams in India, and much more about staying safe while travelling in India then check out my full but to the point India Quick-Start Safety Guide.

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