GUIDE TO INDIA
DANGERS & ANNOYANCES
Although in this section we provide warnings about current scams and other potential dangers, which you should certainly take seriously, there’s no need to be suspicious to the point of absolute paranoia.
In India, like anywhere else, common sense and reasonable caution are your best weapons against theft or worse. The tips we offer are intended to alert you to possible risks, most of which are based on travelers’ reports. During your trip, it’s worth taking the time to chat with other travelers, hotel staff and tour operators in order to stay abreast of the latest potential hazards.
Theft & Druggings
Never leave important valuables (passport, tickets, money) in your room (see Security under Money earlier in this chapter) and keep luggage securely locked at all times. On trains, keep your gear near you; padlocking a bag to a luggage rack can be useful, and some of the newer trains have loops under the seats that you can chain things to. Take extra care on crowded public transport.
Thieves tend to target popular tourist train routes, such as the Delhi to Agra Shatabdi Express service. Train departure time, when the confusion and crowds are at their worst, is the time to be most careful. Airports are another place to be careful, as after a long flight you are unlikely to be at your most alert.
Occasionally tourists (especially those traveling solo) are drugged and robbed – Bihar, Jharkhand and Siliguri ( West Bengal ) can be particularly notorious for this. The usual scenario seems to be that after striking up a conversation, the traveler is offered a drink that has been doused with sleeping pills or the like. Be cautious about accepting any drinks or food from relative strangers, particularly if you are on your own.
Beware, also, of your fellow travelers, some of whom make their money go further by helping themselves to other people’s.
A good travel-insurance policy is essential. If you do have something stolen, you’re going to have to report it to the police. You’ll also need a statement proving you have done so if you want to make an insurance claim. Insurance companies, despite their rosy promises of full protection and speedy settlement of claims, are ultimately just as disbelieving as the Indian police and will often try to avoid paying out on a baggage claim. Note that some policies specify that you must report an item stolen to the police within a certain amount of time after you observe that it is missing.
Travellers Cheques If you’re unlucky enough to have things stolen, some precautions can ease the agony. All travelers cheques are replaceable, although this does you little immediate good if you have to go home and apply to your bank. What you want is instant replacement. Furthermore, what do you do if you lose your cheques and money and have a day or more to travel to the replacement office? The answer is to keep an emergency cash stash in a totally separate place. In that same place you should keep a record of the cheque’s serial numbers, proof of purchase slips, encashment vouchers and your passport number. If you don’t have the receipt you were given when you bought the cheques, rapid replacement will be difficult. Obviously the receipt should be kept separate from the cheques, and a photocopy in yet another location doesn’t hurt either.
To replace lost travellers cheques you need the proof-of-purchase slip and the numbers of the missing cheques (some places also require a photocopy of the police report and a passport photo). If you don’t have the numbers of your missing cheques, American Express (or whichever company has issued them) will contact the place where you bought them. In India, for lost or stolen cheques, go to the AmEx or Thomas Cook office (if there’s one locally) or call their offices in Delhi: American Express (Tel: 011-23719506) or Thomas Cook cheques (Tel: 011-23747404 9.30am-7.30pm Mon-Sat, Tel: 1939 after hours).
The Hindu festival of isn’t dubbed the ‘Festival of Colours’ for nothing. Merrymakers stock up on water and coloured gulal (powder) and proceed to douse anything that moves (pedestrians, buses, rickshaws.., good God, even the holy cow gets walloped!). This is your golden opportunity to wear that putrid shirt grandma gave you last Christmas and watch it blossom into a psychedelic fashion statement with every successful gulal missile.
Although it’s mostly good fun, unfortunately some revellers can carry the fun way too far. Travellers have been hit with toxic substances mixed in water, leaving them with painful and disfiguring scars. There is also an unwritten tradition of guzzling alcohol and consuming cannabis-derived bhang in the form of lassis, pakoras and cookies during Holi. An increasing number of female travellers have reported being groped by spaced-out blokes – particularly in the tourist traps such as Rajasthan. We would advise that it’s highly advisable for women to avoid venturing onto the streets alone.
Contaminated Food & Drink
In recent years, some private medical clinics have provided more treatment than is necessary for stomach upsets in order to procure larger medical insurance claims – -et several opinions where possible. Worse still, a serious food scare erupted in northern India in 1998, principally in Agra and Varanasi, when numerous travellers became sick and two died after eating at local establishmcnts. In 2002 one case of food poisoning was officially registered.
Water can also be a potential problem. Always ensure the seal is intact on bought mineral water and also check that the bottom of the bottle has not been tampered with. Crush plastic bottles after use to eradicate the possibility of them being resold with contaminated water. Better still, bring along water-purification tablets to avoid adding to India’s alarming waste plastic problem.
In the Kullu region of Himachal Pradesh travellers have allegedly been the victims of drug-related set-ups, while others have vanished or even been murdered in allegedly drug-related incidents. You’re strongly advised to trek in an organised group and steer clear of drugs. Trekkers should also make a point of telling people where they are going and when they will be back. Other areas where foreigners have gone missing include Rishikesh (Uttaranchal) and Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh).
Sensitive border areas, such as Jammu and Kashmir, are subject to sporadic bouts of terrorist activities. Although smoothtalking touts (especially in Delhi ) may try to get you to visit these areas, it’s wise to seek the latest advice from your embassy.
In 2002 Karnataka was rife with protests surrounding the release of Cauvery River water to neighbouring Tamil Nadu; the result was that certain areas were virtually off limits (eg, no bus services to or through Mandya District). These sorts of upheavals occasionally occur in this region (and indeed in other parts of India-check current situations locally) and can result in anything from minor protests to the attempted sabotage of public transport. Although aggression is not generally aimed at foreigners, it’s advisable to stay put during times of local tension and avoid political gatherings of any sort.
At the time of our research, there were insurgency problems in the northeastern regions of western Assam, northern Tripura, Nagaland and Manipur – if you do travel here, check the current situation locally and avoid travelling at night.
Other Important Warnings
Several women have reported being molested by masseurs and other therapists in Varanasi and McLeod Ganj. No matter where you are, it’s always wise to check the reputation of any teacher or therapist before going along to a solo session. If at any time you feel uneasy, simply leave.
In all parts of India (as elsewhere in the world) women should avoid walking alone in the streets late at night.
Indian beaches can have dangerous rips and currents and there are drowning deaths each year. Some of the more popular beach destinations may have lifeguards or signs warning of dangers, but many do not. Exercise caution and always check locally before swimming anywhere in the sea. Note that the Ganges is also reported to have strong currents.
Increasing numbers of travellers have been hoodwinked by pseudo gurus, sometimes resulting in theft, injury or worse.
Throughout most parts of India, local emergency numbers are as listed below. However, if you are in a major predicament contact your country’s embassy.
Ambulance Tel: 102, Fire Tel:101, Police Tel:100