DO's & DON'Ts


Mind Your Language

In communicating verbal instructions, it is vital that you not only insist on the recipient repeating them but also see from his face that he actually understands the meaning of the words. Indian ears are more attuned to the slurred vowels of English than to the nasal's drawl of an American. Pronounce each word slowly and phonetically to anyone unfamiliar with spoken English. Otherwise, you will get into situations where a man sent to meet "Miss Tibbits" at the station stood at the entrance calling out "Stupid Miss" while the bearer asked to serve "toast and marmalade" brought instead "toast and omelet."

If you are visiting any government office, and if spoken to in broken English by a junior clerk, it is imperative for his dignity that you pretend he is fluent. This courtesy will also speed your application. It is futile to lose your temper in bureaucratic situations. Prepare for the worst of delays and take a book of Irish jokes to see you through the ordeal.

Permission for Photography

To avoid causing neurosis when you photograph railway property it is advisable to take permission (if you have not done so at home) from Indian Railways headquarters in New Delhi. Rail Bhawan looks very formidable but the entry procedure is remarkably simple. You sign the visitor's book at the reception and ask to see the Public Relations Officer.

A pass will be given which enables you to meet him in his room. He will specify according to your nationality what can be photographed, and there are few restrictions on steam engines. The friendly reception will set right any misconception that India is neurotic over rail photography. According to the rules you do require a permit. Instead of blaming railway men for doing their duty (in asking to see your permit) you should take the precaution of arming yourself with one. Make sure the working covers all your interests and get it renewed after six months.

Standing in a Queue

It is common to find queue jumping by the well-dressed in Indian cities, which is passively witnessed by the rest of the line. The foreign visitor seethes doubly at the injustice and apathy-instead of reading the feudal equation. Most of the queue will be taken up by servants in uniform who are quite happy to stand around doing nothing the whole morning. (If they showed too much initiative, their master would only give them another job to do). Those in a hurry declare their intentions and it is understood that the line is not being broken from nastiness but from necessity. If you are genuinely frantic and barge to the front explaining to all and sundry that you have a flight to catch, there will be more kindness and consideration shown than in Western culture.


Two unpleasant brutalities need to be summoned up to make it clear that you are not a soft touch. Never respond to the genial 'hello' of a conman and never catch the eye of professional beggar. The latter has his cultural justification while the former is a parasite that thrives solely on the superior sentimentality of foreign do-gooders. By totally ignoring all their blandishments, both beggar and conman will get the message that you know the score. Your simulated brutal indifference saves you energy and them time. No one pesters a hard touch when there are other tourists around.


Haggling is an exhausting exercise for the greenhorn to India, a delectable sport for the shopkeeper who stands to make a huge killing. Remember that the first sale of the day is considered religiously auspicious, so the chances of being ripped off are somewhat less. The rule for buyers is to start at less than half of the announced price and then work towards a settlement at a price neither party considers unreasonable. Short-term visitors who lack the sporting instinct will find it much easier to stick to government emporia where the prices are fixed.


Never buy camera film except from a recognized dealer. Those bargain Kodak films on offer at tourist sites will most likely have half their exposures missing. It is better to bring batteries from abroad as the local imported variety may have been tampered with. At high altitude, the battery may pop from the cold and if your camera has no manual means of operation, it is not ideal for extreme Indian conditions. The answer is to buy a cheap manual Indian camera that will at least provide some record of your adventure until you get to lower altitudes where your more sophisticated model returns to life.


Loudspeakers are a status symbol in India and what seems like the blare of a screeching siren may only be a devotional song sung by a national legend. Film songs are basic to Indian life and their influence is more pervasive than pop. Make a practice of asking people the words and you will discover the words and you will discover an innocent world of romance and poetry totally at variance with the level of noise.


Give all dogs that cross your path a wide berth. Only make friends if you have to. If this sounds mean, remember the alternative may be two weeks of painful injections in a hospital that seems more frightening than the dog. If you square up to a growling dog (or monkey), he will back off, but if you run or show fear, they will give chase. In villages, it is wise to carry a stick or a stone to show who's the boss. A dog immediately sniffs a stranger and if you don't act promptly to shoo him off, a pack of pye-dogs will gather to make your progress even more difficult. In short, beware of the dog.


Always register a suggestion or complaint. In India, the complaint book is available everywhere and people do respond to suggestions. Avoid the unfortunate habit of only criticizing. Sometimes take the trouble to write to the editor of a newspaper praising India. You will be surprised how many other people share your feelings. Practical hints should be penned to the publishers of guidebooks. Share travel experience and you can pick up valuable hints.


If you save all the bills, tickets, receipts and miscellaneous vouchers accumulated on a tour, these will in later years bring back more vividly the memories you will cherish. Keep an envelope aside for this travel flotsam and consider nothing too menial for inclusion. If you want to be really efficient, then date the additions as they swell your collection. A lot of lingering pleasure can be found by this simple discipline of not throwing away your travel trash.