India - My view from very recent travel...
A few days ago I just completed travel Delhi - Varanasi - Agra - Jaipur and am now on visit to Sweden. On return to Asia again mid next week, I will again visit India for my good Indian friend's traditional wedding near Vishakhapatnam. For some clear reasons I dread going back through India...
Having been to now 37 countries and lived in 9 I do have some impression of travel from different countries. This includes travels and living in countries both rich and very poor, and indeed worse off countries than India. On this basis my view is that India is THE prime country where people constantly have tried rip me off and had me pay too much. This happens all the time. It frank feels tiring and insulting and requires constant being on alert to reduce such cheating.
When first arriving to Delhi at late at night I was fortunate that I walked out of the right exit to prepayed taxis. Those are fixed priced taxis. Of course, since I was foreigner the driver when dropping me off gave the face of expecting tip. I gave him 100 rupee which was smallest I had but way too much since the drive cost 300 something. If you get same type of driver in such minivan, do be cautious not to keep your head near roof in van since you will hit it hard when he bounce over speed bump or similar.
Stay away from Suncity Hotel in Delhi. It was over 50 USD and way too much for the standard they provided. It was a cold room and I used bed cover and blankets from two beds to keep me warm. Bathroom was colder. A look at www.tripadvisor.com
will show reviews of hotels in Delhi that frank for none under 100 USD seem much good at all. Luxury hotels in Delhi charge around 200 USD to 500 USD. It beats me why they ask so much for such hotels in Delhi, because frank the city seem worse dump than even Cairo was and I paid 80 USD at Ramses Hilton in Cairo!, although that was a few years ago. Fact is that they ask for higher prices at hotels in Delhi than in Hong Kong and Shanghai, which far beats me.
I would advise against taking trains in India. Because my prepaid reservation had failed to reach the hotel in Delhi I was late to train station. Being directed wrongly to a "place around the corner" to exchange my e-ticket to a boarding ticket, by someone at gate to train station claiming he was officer, I found myself at travel agent about 10 minutes away and missed my train to Varanasi. Obvious I was not pleased and rather upset; asking them blunt "what the h*** I was doing there". Seems they work this way to rip off tourists and in getting business. Obvious "their man" at train station had made a silly misstake send me there. In fact I later heard there was warning also in Varanasi newpaper of similar frauds in Varanasi. Not only foreigners are subjects. My good Indian friend tells me that them themselves also frequent get ripped off and cheated as well.
In Varanasi it is worth staying at the guest houses at the gaths, or you will waste time going back and fourth. The guest houses also seem cheaper. I stayed at Ajays Guest House since others were full. Obvious I was made to pay too much there also, around 60 USD, whereas one website showed their rate as 12-30 USD, see here http://www.hostelz.com/hotel/65599-Ajay-Guest-House
. My Indian friend helped me book it on phone. Be cautious when they ask of what is your budget. Also do not book boats from hotel. I was charged 500 rupee by the hotel for boat two hours, while speaking to boat owners after I found out they normally charge 100 rupee per hour. It is frank difficult to catch all ways they try cheat, rip off and ask for too high prices, because they do so constant and at all times, and frank it is also difficult to know when indeed they offer a real and genuine deal. Do bear in mind that I am a person who have travel many places, nevertheless I clearly state this of India.
I did get a cool room at Ajays, perhaps because I paid more than others staying there.... It was the Mahujaray room at top in one tower with cupola and balcony around the tower. Definently not luxury, but cool. View from roof top of Ajay's were excellent for photography both in evening and morning. I would also advise trying photograph genuine spirutual people early mornings, while at day it seem there are people dressed up as spirutual and to cheat tourists of money with not only letting them take their photo, but even as "priests" showing the rituals with prayers in Hind at water... also praying for dontaions. Frank I never seen such lowness in all my travels global.
I frequent point out cheat because they also ask too much. Paying 100 rupee for someone in India to get to take their photo is way too much and is western price levels. This is India. It is a developing country, not rich. Why should we pay so much for taking their photo? 100 rupee is around 2.5 USD. If we pay so much they will keep that up as their job rather than proper respected work, which perhaps is what has happened in the tourist places I visited. Instead I tried always carry a stack of 10 rupee bills in my wallet, and to give them one or two, or when they pushed for more maybe one or two more. They are cheating us, just treat them same in return when that happens and be firm, but polite, just repeat your words... It is better we encourage them to do proper jobs in poor countries rather, because that will enable help themselves out from poverty. Donations will only make them more dependent.
Sure enough, when I stayed in Agra also cheated, I had made pre-reservation at hotel. Check in was no problem. But arriving late I sat in resturant with a beer and reception called me saying "Sir, we wish to confirm your rate of 3000 rupees for the room". I had learnt some of Indians at this point of my travels and replied that "I will check my emails in computer in morning of our agreed rate, and we will speak of rate at that time". Obvious they tried make me agree of 3000 on phone but I insisted check it in my computer. Honest though, although I had failed to get rate in emails, I did have a print from their website with their published rates starting at 2000 rupees. When checking out next morning I let them add up my bills and tell me the full amount. I then used my very surprice look straight into their face and said "what is this???". They said "Sir rate is 3000 for the room". I said "what?" "I was told 2000". Then I showed my print out (which actually was hotel contact info and room rates copied from their website), and it was taken to manager. Sure enough, I paid 2000 rupees for that room and they were very polite after "their misstake"...
As I said above, I have been to lots of places; remote and big cities in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, even Egypt where I lived more than one year. I also lived in Shanghai one year and have been to remote places in China that before my visit had never seen a foreigner. Sure, people have ripped me off and cheated me on travels before, but never as bad as the Indians. I find this experience of India very horrible.
Now, lets not pull all of them over one edge. I have an Indian that is a very good friend. As another example, a taxi driver in Delhi was very honest and regained my business for a second long drive there because he was so. Another one was asking me for 450 rupee to take me from domestic terminal to Radisson. He said it was 12km Sir. This sounded too expensive to me. Thus I called my Indian friend when we were driving in the car. He lives in Delhi, and told me normal rate for government taxis (such as I was in) is 6-7 rupee per km. I told this to driver, who was chess mate but still tried argue. At Radisson I told him here is 100 rupee which is already too much and not to rip people off in this shitty way. Then I was off for my tea that cost around 300 rupee. That is life. I honest feel wrong to be ripped off by such people, no matter if price is small or big.
Anyone who pays too much in countries such as India should be aware of that they also do harm to other travelers who come later, and who will have to pay western prices for much less qualities than we get in western countries. In my opinion that is clear wrong and not fair.
Ok, Taj Mahal. They do not permit triods and made me place it in locked storage. Even that did not help. They did not accept me carry my camera backpack into Taj. In fact I later heard they do not even permit ladies purses and that you are not permitted to walk close to the buildings to shoot close ups. I usually travel with short time on my hand, so I only had one morning there. Of course I do not trust putting my camera gear in their lockers, even when they give me the key. I started walk towards riksha to bring me to hotel when a gentleman approached me and said he could take me to river for 800 rupee for some very good views for photograph. I said no. Then in riksha I changed my mind and returned because sunrise was happening and I would have lost the light going back. I said to him, I accept pay 400 rupee. He said ok. His name was Don. Ask for him, and away from guards at entrance. But do pay the entrance fee to Taj first, or perhaps else they will put him out of business. He was really great. He knew exactly what me as a photographer was looking for. He took me to great views of Taj from river. The sunrise had some fog and excellent light. He said it is that way each morning. I do not know, but that morning felt like spectacular. He had a small boat with boatman standby for me to cross the river. I was the only person photographing or sightseeing there. On return he asked me to pay the boatman 200 rupee, I did not even bargain. Don delivered excellent and well worth the cost for the photos I took. He suggested where I should stand for best views and clearly knew this for best reflections of Taj Mahal in water etc. A boy showed up with camel, I paid extra, only one USD for three photos (the boy with camel was outside his arrangements). There was also a neighbouring government building which he said cost 500 rupee to get into,because had to pay off the people living there, yet like it would give very good view of Taj and the river. He was right. Up in that tower he asked for that money to give to them. He propably kept some. I did not mind, because what he gave me was truly excellent. I think in total I paid around 30 USD to him and his friends for all. That is way too much in India, but I did so for what he provided; it indeed was truly excellent. Please ask for him if you visit. He will deliver. No, I after back to hotel I never returned to see Taj Mahal on inside. I would not bother with such restrictions so as to make proper photography impossible, and there were lots of tourists entering which I did not want in photos either.
Driver with car Delhi - Agra cost me 4500, driver with car Jaipur - Delhi cost me 4000 rupee. Local tourist bus between Agra - Jaipur cost 180 rupee or something. Contrasts? Different means of travel, different classes of transport in India.... I do much recommend this place to stay in Jaipur http://www.umaidbhawan.com
, a very nice and not too much $. I found this place rather awesome. There are numerous fortresses to see in Jaipur, but they all seem to open at around 9am. I only entered one, a tad late for sunset, but the building I wanted shoot it from was restricted anyways. I did capture early sunrise at Jal Mahal which was nice. Hawa Mahal was on otherhand a disappointment since the color of the building at current does not look as nice as some of photos I have seen. It seemed in Rajasthan though that people cheated less, while of course they asked for too high price when I went to shop local artifacts.
As far as to visiting India again after my return to Asia, I do not think so. Why? I do not like being cheated or ripped off. I can find better photographic opportunities in remote areas of China, in Vietnam and so many other places where people treat me much nicer and with respect and kindness beyond what I found in India. I have been to Angkor Wat twice, very lovely, much thanks to the English run Peave of Angkor Villa and Dave there being a photographer himself. Of course, I expect where my friend is from near Vishakapatnam to be different from Delhi, Varanasi, Agra etc, because propably not yet so much torn by tourist dollars.
Now for my return I need find a hotel in Delhi that do not charge too much and is clean and decent and good place to hang around at during one day (no plan for me to visit places in Delhi for me due the treatment I received in Delhi already). I prefer a hotel for less than 100 USD... any recommendatons??? Heck if I can find luxury one for less than 200 USD I may pick that... in a way to simply just avoid hasstles of people in Delhi. Near airport is my preferrence since I fly in early one morning and out very early next.
Hope Helps + Thanks.