First trip to India
June 7, 2011 8:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to India on business. It'll be my first time in the country. I'm looking for general advice and have a couple specific logistical questions.

I've travelled around North America for work, and been to Europe several times on vacations. I'll be travelling with a coworker but he's never been there either. I'll be there in early July (yes, it will be HOT), in 3 days in Delhi, a mostly-free weekend, and 1 day in Pune. I prefer to pack and travel light, but need business-acceptable clothes.

General questions:
- What must I bring? What should I leave at home?
- For the most part, I'll rely on the businesses I'm visiting to recommend lodging and drivers. Any concerns there?
- I'd love to pick up something unique for my kids (3 and 1) and wife. Maybe something related to the cricket team?
- Really, any other advice? Travel can make me anxious so I love to over-prepare.

My specific logistics: After our 3 days of meetings around Delhi, we've got Saturday and Sunday free, and need to get from Delhi to Maharashtra. I was thinking of going to the Taj Mahal on Saturday and catching a train or flight on Sunday. Is this a good plan? (If it were just me, I might try something more out-of-the-way with my one free day, but as my coworker said, "You can't go to India and not see the Taj!") Cost is not our chief concern.

I know about IndiaMike and Flyertalk. Any other forums I should read, books I should buy, or iPad/iPod apps I should download?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed to Travel & Transportation around India (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
a) Bring Peptol Bismol.

b) Get your vaccinations

c) Have an open mind.

Enjoy! India is beautiful. I was in Hyderabad in 2007.
posted by jchaw at 8:29 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd love to pick up something unique for my kids (3 and 1) and wife. Maybe something related to the cricket team?

Right near Connaught Place (on Janpath, I think) are a bunch of fixed-price official state emporiums, showcasing handicrafts from all over the country. For somebody not used to haggling culture where prices are never marked, these are a good bet for buying things (probably not cricket-related though).

I was thinking of going to the Taj Mahal on Saturday and catching a train or flight on Sunday. Is this a good plan?

Delhi to Agra is only around 4 hours (plus or minus, but usually plus) by train. Book a seat beforehand; you really don't want to be travelling unreserved. Tickets are usually sold months in advance to locals, but there's a quota set aside for tourists. It used to be that you could only get the tourist quota by going to a special booking office upstairs at New Delhi railway station. Things may have changed now that ticket sales have gone online, but you may not be able to access the tourist quota that way. Maybe see if somebody from the businesses you'll be dealing with can advise you better...?

Pune is a few hours past Mumbai. If I were you I wouldn't want to take a train from Agra-Mumbai, then another, all in one day. Indian trains almost always run late. I think it's at least 16-18 hours from Agra-Mumbai, and then you have to worry about your connection, and what happens if you miss it. Take a plane instead.

Books to buy: William Dalrymple is a historian cum travel writer who has a love for India & has written a number of books worth reading. Perhaps City of Djinns for Delhi?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:33 PM on June 7, 2011

As far as I can tell from this page, you'll need to front up in person to get a seat on the tourist quota. Seems there's an office you can do that at Indira Gandhi International Airport as well.

Note what they say "payment in US dollars, Pounds, Sterling and in Rupees against Encashment Certificate". Encashment Certificates are a hangover from when there used to be a black market in currency exchange - they were a means of forcing people to change money at official rates (eg at banks). There isn't really a black market anymore, but remember that when you change money for Rupees, hang onto your receipt (it should be marked "Encashment Certificate") to take to the booking office. And welcome to Indian bureaucracy! They won't sell you a ticket without one.

(or if you prefer, it might just be easier to hire a driver. I'd recommend the train - it's a nice slice of life. That, and the roads can be hair-raising - truck & bus drivers just love playing chicken, overtaking at speed into incoming traffic)
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:52 PM on June 7, 2011

Best answer: 1. Travel adapter. India runs on a different voltage/frequency and hence the pins are different.

2. If the businesses you are visiting can book the hotels and cars for you, that should be fine. Just request that the same car and driver are available for the 3 days you are there.

3. Fab India is a pan-Indian handicrafts shop that is worth visiting to pickup souvenirs for family and friends. Hand-woven shawls/hand bags/tops are some of the things you can look at. Cricket related souvenirs for kids may be an issue from a Baggage perspective. Indian clothes maybe?

Indian sweets are a good option - you can ask your hosts to recommend a good shop and good varieties (Laddu and cashew based sweets are yummy!).

4. Relax. India can be overwhelming, so just accept what you see without becoming judgmental. A good hotel is the most important, as it will help you pack less and give you a place to recharge. A lot of places also provide a lavish continental spread for breakfast, so make sure you have a heavy one!

With just two days, you can try a flight from Delhi to Agra on Friday night, stay there, visit the Taj and then fly back on Saturday night. Fly to Pune on Sunday afternoon. Trains are a wonderful way, but can stress you out easily (lot of people and personal space is not a concept there)

Mefi mail me if you need more details about where to stay or where to go. I have been there quite a few times now.
posted by theobserver at 10:07 PM on June 7, 2011

If you want to get a train out of Delhi, you go to the special visitor reservations office upstairs at the train station to book the seats. Taxis or tuk tuks will try to take you to "their own" travel office (saying the train station is closed, for example) for a ticket scam, but insist on the train station!
Wear light clothes and take a hat as sunshade - no hats to be had in Delhi, strangely. It may be very hot.
posted by anadem at 10:32 PM on June 7, 2011

Best answer: Things to bring:
- Sunscreen (the higher the better). Limited brands available in the country
- Cotton/natural fibre clothes
- Travel adaptor (should support 220/240V, 50Hz)
- A good travel umbrella. You're going in pretty close to the monsoon (it's started in the South)
- Good bug repellant (with DEET). Esp. if you're planning to do the Taj early morning/evening

Things to leave:
- All nylon/polyester/manmade fibres
- Preconceived notions :)

Things to take:
- UbuRoivas has made a good recommendation on State Emporiums. Better than Fab India in tmers of price as well. They require atleast a full day to cover properly though. Would suggest that you skip the state ones if crunched for time and head straight to the Central Cottage Emporium. It's run by the federal government and showcases textiles/handicrafts from all over the country
- For kids, there are some very nice handmade, traditional toys you should find in the emporium. They are usually made from natural dyes and lac but please do ask if they use paint/lead-free

Things to do:
- You're in Delhi. Do visit one or two of the restaurants there. Places like Dum Pukth and Bukhara are famous on the tourist circuit but are pricey. The food will be unlike anything you get in the States, even if its called Indian
- Likewise, Delhi is littered with a ridiculous number of monuments, museums and galleries. If Agra doesn't work out, you can still spend the time in Delhi productively

posted by epiphinite at 11:09 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bring a carom board back if you can handle it.
Otherwise lots of ludo.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:32 PM on June 7, 2011

Best answer: - Delhi-Agra road is fine now (so says a friend who did this a few months ago). Get your hotel to organize a car+driver for the day trip to Agra. Come back to Delhi and take a direct flight to Pune because I doubt if Agra-Pune is a direct flight. You could probably fly Agra-Mumbai and then catch another short flight to Pune.

- Nthing what UbuRoivas said about state emporiums.

- There are Cricket team t-shirts. You can buy cheap knock-offs or the genuine merchandise - both should be available at Connaught Place and Janpath stores (buy the one with No. 10 at the back - that's for Sachin Tendulkar, the best ever batsman to have ever played the game). Miniature bats should also be easily available.

- Loads of monuments to explore in Delhi. AskMe threads with the India tag will help you.

- Since this is a short and business trip, be a picky eater and don't eat "street food" or drink unbottled water. If it is a successful trip, you'll hopefully get more opportunities to experience India in all her glory.
posted by vidur at 12:24 AM on June 8, 2011

All excellent advice. I'll note that my experience with uninitiated Westerners on their first trip to India, the major complaints seem to be (sweeping generalizations here):

- Smells. Parts can be, shall we say, strongly aromatic, particularly if one has never been exposed to anything less hygienic than your average US city.
- Poverty. Depending on where you go, you may be exposed (even if just driving past) to some real, serious, grinding poverty on a scale most Westerners aren't used to. This can be very disturbing to some people.
- The hustle. As mentioned above, it's a haggling culture with centuries of experience fleecing Westerners. Keep an eye out for little scams (like the train ticket scam above), be wary of someone "volunteering" to be your "fixer" ("Oh...come with me, I can get you a much better deal with my friend over here..."), always be willing to walk away from a deal and keep an eye on your wallet.

So it will be different. In some ways very different. Go with the flow, keep perspective, treat it as a valuable new experience and you'll have a great time.

Oh...squat toilets. You might want to read up on those, depending on where you go. Couple of pals always carry a little quality toilet paper with them.
posted by kjs3 at 2:44 AM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

For your kids: if either of them are girls, the ever-popular Rajah and Rani puppets/dolls are great. I got a beautiful set with real silk clothes for under $5 on Paharganj, the main backpacker strip of Delhi. You can find them everywhere, though, at a variety of sizes and price ranges.

Wife: don't know what she's into, but I shopped my butt off in India and could easily go back for more. Any good guidebook will give a rundown on the usual suspects (jewelry, silk, pashmina shawls, perfumes, rugs, musical instruments, religious articles, home decor...). Delhi has this huge shopping district around Connaught Place where every Indian State has their own official shop selling local handicrafts from that part of the country at fixed prices. It's also very near the national version of same. I believe there's a Fabindia (basically a middle class Indian version of Banana Republic or J. Crew) in walking distance as well if she likes Indian clothes.
posted by Sara C. at 6:09 AM on June 8, 2011

With only one free day you might consider going to the Red Fort in Delhi rather than going to Agra. My husband did hire a driver to go to Agra but it was quite a long day driving there and back and spending time along the way. Be aware that July is in the Monsoon so it will be quite wet!
posted by leslies at 6:23 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't get a driver to Agra. Get a first-class ticket on the Shatabdi Express train, as it's more luxurious than any other form of transportation you'll take in the country, and cheap to boot. There's none of the typical overcrowding and fighting that you hear about being the norm on Indian trains. The trains are timed for tourism: out early at 6am and back at 8pm. The recommendations about getting it in person with US cash and an ATM receipt are correct. Once you're in Agra, rent a auto (rickshaw) for the day, and have him play tour guide. It won't cost you more than a few hundred Rupees.

The place to go when you're short on time on Connaught Place is the Central Cottage Industries Emporium. Easy one-stop shopping with decent, no-haggle prices and atmosphere.
posted by kcm at 6:33 AM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to all for the advice. Had a great and successful trip. Ended up getting a driver to Agra from Delhi (one of the vendors we were visiting picked up the tab). Delhi was exhausting because of the hustle, Pune and Bangalore were much calmer (and cooler weather). Avoided any GI issues. The business partners (5 different cos at 7 sites!) we visited were all extremely helpful in logistics. Biggest problem seemed to be their insistence on feeding me meat - they clearly had an impression Americans wouldn't be happy without it, even though I eat mostly veg at home.

Got a good number of gifts at the underground bazar by Connaught Place, and at a crafts emporium and the malls in Bangalore. Wasn't really able to find any IPL kid's shirts.

Now if I can get past the jet lag - been up since 3AM.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 2:09 AM on July 9, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, one more note, all internal travel was done via Kingfisher. A very well-run airline, flights were smoother in boarding and operation (if not landing...) than domestic US carriers. We did end up paying something like 5000 rps baggage fees in Pune because of my coworker's ridiculously large and heavy suitecases, but overall transpart was cheap and easy.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 2:10 AM on July 9, 2011

« Older Is there something psychologically wrong with my...   |   How open are Hasidic Jews to non-Hasidic Jews? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.