Travel Tips For India
by Max Lent. © 2003 Max Lent
Handling money in India is a unique experience. It takes a
little getting used to, but once you learn the rules it works fine.
Here's some basic facts about Indian money transactions:
- Merchants in India do not like to make change.
- Merchants prefer that you pay the exact amount.
- Merchants will not accept damaged or worn bills
- You will likely carry very large quantities of small bills with
you when you shop.
- Cashing traveler's checks in excess of $100 U.S. will require a
brief case to carry the amount of Indian currency you will receive.
A $500 U.S. exchange requires a duffle bag or backpack to carry the
- Banks staple money together with a type of staple that is nearly
impossible to remove without damaging the money. Have the bank
remove the staples from money bundles before leaving the bank.
- Beware of leaving a bank with large quantities of Rupees.
Thugs know where tourists go to exchange money. When tourists
leave money exchange centers with large full bags, everyone knows what
is in those bags. Having a taxi waiting for you is a good way to
be rushed out of the area and to a safer place.
When traveling in India use Indian travel agents. Traveling from
place to place in India and Nepal cannot be easily arranged in advance
with certainty from the U.S. by most U.S. travel agents. My wife called
a local travel agency to get a quote on a trip to India and ended up in
a comedic word game where she would say India and the travel agent would
say Indiana. Imagine if my wife asked for a quote on transportation
between Delhi and Agra. Not all U.S. travel agents are so inept. Some
may even do a great job of getting you into India into a first class
hotel at a reasonable cost. Even if you use your regular travel agent to
get to India, sign up with an Indian travel agent on your arrival.
The relationship between Indian travel agents and their
clients is unlike anything you may have experienced in the U.S. Americans
have few servants and nearly everything possible is self-serve. Traditional
travel agencies are being challenged by self-serve Web-based travel Web
sites. In contrast, customer service is elevated to an art by better Indian
travel agents. The reason for this is that Indians are very demanding of
customer service. Living in a country where there is an oversupply of low
paid workers, middle and upper class Indians are used to being cared for by
servants and businesses. When it comes to travel agencies they expect
After a great deal of Web surfing and telephone calls to local and national
travel agencies we responded to an advertisement in the travel section of
the New York Times. The agency with the best ticket prices was an Indian
travel agency. We were very cautious and untrusting about our purchase,
which is not a bad behavior to exercise when making purchases by phone. The
travel agency raised our concern when they requested payment by money order
through the mail. We also had to fax our order to them. When we received our
tickets we called the airline to confirm that our tickets and our
reservations were real. Everything was as the travel agent promised. We had
no idea where we were going to travel in India when we got there, so we
didnít ask about any additional services. In retrospect, we did the right
We discovered that we were traveling to India during the high season,
December, when the weather is cool. Indians from all over the world return
home during the winter months to visit relatives. We were a part of that
Our situation was unique because we were staying with relatives in New
Delhi. We didnít require hotel reservations or ground transportation. After
only a couple of days in New Delhi we decided we wanted to go to Nepal to
see Mount Everest. What was not unique for us was that we wanted to travel
within India and to Nepal and competition for transport was fierce. Our
relative recommended a travel agency, Inter Sky Links, to us. At this point
we discovered the first difference between an Indian and an U.S. travel
Indian travel agencies, we discovered, like to meet with their clients
in-person, so we made an appointment to discuss our travel plans. The agents
we met at Inter-Sky Links spoke perfect English, most wore western style
clothing, and they were very solicitous. The agent who was assigned to us
questioned us carefully about our needs and preferences. We were informed
that obtaining flight reservations to India would be difficult and that they
could make no promises. With the needs assessment completed we were told
that we would hear from them later that day with an itinerary. The agent
called us when he said he would and told us that he had arranged tickets for
us for the dates and times we requested. The speed and quality of our
service could have been influenced by the fact that our relative used the
agency routinely for business travel. However, we later discovered that the
kind of service we received was typical.
Indian and Nepalese travel agents are networked with each other, not in the
computer sense, but in the business-to-business sense. When customers are
sent from one city to another a different travel agency in the destination
town takes over serving customers. For example, when we made arrangements to
travel from New Delhi to Agra to Rathambore to Jaipur, and back to New Delhi
we were handed off to different agents in Agra and Jaipur. Each new agent
treated us though we were the most important clients they ever had. It was
Arriving in Agra, we were greeted by our new agent, a chauffer, and English
speaking guide who took care of our every need. We didnít have to touch our
luggage or make any arrangements. We were transported to our hotel and the
chauffer and guide waited patiently while we checked in, cleaned up from the
train trip, and ate breakfast. When we were ready to sightsee they were
ready for us. The guide was excellent and very helpful.
To get to our next destination, the tiger preserve at Rathambore, required
that our driver drive us for most of the day through the rural countryside.
The driver was a bit reckless and drove too fast, but the travel agent
wasnít there to see what was going on.
Getting from Rathambore to Jaipur required another day-long journey by car.
The travel agent in Jaipur sent a driver to pick us up and drive us back to
Jaipur. The driver knew and anticipated our needs. When it was time for us
to take a break he knew which roadside restaurants had western style
bathrooms and which ones had food that might be suitable to westerners.
The travel agent in Jaipur arranged a chauffer and guide for us. The Jaipur
guide was even better than the guide from Agra. The hotel arrangements made
for us through Inter-Sky Links throughout this trip were regal.
At the end of our stay in Jaipur our Jaipur travel agent came to our hotel
with the chauffer to take us to the train station to see us off. Our train
was hours late, so the travel agent took us to the lobby of a nearby
Sheraton hotel to wait. He left us at the hotel and returned to the train
station to wait on word about the trainís arrival. While at the Sheraton we
ate and sat in the lobby reading. The moment the trainís arrival seemed
immanent, our travel agent returned to fetch us. We still spent another hour
at the station. During our wait, our travel agent did his best to make small
talk with us and to ensure that we were comfortable. The train finally
arrived and it was time for us to board. Our travel agent saw us onto the
train and heft our luggage into the overhead racks. When he discovered that
our reserved seats were not together he talked with about have a dozen
people to request that they move so that we could sit together. Imagine your
local travel agent sitting with you for several hours at an Amtrak station
to ensure your comfort. Now you can imagine the difference between Indian
and U.S. travel agents.
What Indian travel agents cannot do is work against their own travel
culture. For example, we were stranded for several days in Nepal because
India Air refused to recognize our confirmed reservations back to New Delhi,
India. There was nothing the travel agent could do to help us. To respond to
the problem we talked with our agency in Nepal and arranged for a fabulous
stay at the Chitwan tiger preserve. The
trip was planned meticulously and carried out with perfection. We were
coddled every moment of the trip.
Another amazing fact about traveling in India is that it was incredibly
inexpensive. The chauffeurs and guides cost us about as much as we might pay
for a rental car in a large American city. The posh hotels we stayed in cost
us about as much as a small town Ramada hotel in the U.S. Food was always
very inexpensive except at the nicest of hotels.
In summary, we found the least expensive airfares to India by reading the
travel ads in the New York Times. On the ground in India, using Indian
travel agents smoothed out any problems we might have encountered on our
own. Our stay in India and Nepal was greatly enhanced by the exceptional
service provided by Indian and Nepalese travel agents.
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