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India Travel Tips: Getting a Rickshaw (“Tuk-tuk”)

An auto-rickshaw (sometimes referred to just as “auto”) is a kind of three wheeled taxi with no doors. It’s the cheapest form of transport for tourists (and locals) in India. Here are some tips for when you need a rickshaw:

  1. Ask your guest house/hotel receptionist what a fair price is for the journey you are about to take, before going to negotiate with a driver.
  2. Always agree the price of a  rickshaw at the start of a journey. Hopefully you won’t get into an “Honest Con” situation.
  3. Avoid going on the “meter”. They can take a long route without you knowing and charge you double what the journey should have cost.
  4. If there is a change of plans/direction during the journey, agree the new price before starting the detour. The last thing you want is a stand off.
  5. If you think someone is quoting too high, just look for another rickshaw nearby. Quite often they will call you back and cut the price to prevent the risk of losing you to another driver. It’s a very competitive game.
  6. Always haggle. As I mentioned in “Haggling tips for India“, try going in at 50% of the asking price as a starting point.
  7. Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. These rickshaws get pretty close to other road users… not to mention wandering street cows, camels and so on.
  8. Hold on tight! They certainly don’t like to take things slow.
  9. Have your camera at the ready (ideally have it strapped to your wrist though!). Some of the best snapping opportunities are when riding a rickshaw.
  10. Chat to your driver. It’s a good way to find yourself a local tour guide. If you like him (yes, it will always be a him), take his number and use him for day trips and city tours. It will be much cheaper than using a “proper” taxi.
  11. Don’t use a rickshaw for a “long” journey (i.e. more than 30 minutes). It might save money, but it will cost you time and a give you a sore bum.
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India Travel Tips: Haggling

Below is a blog post I wrote soon after travelling around India (almost 15 years ago, where has the time gone?!) I wrote it with idea that I could help other backpackers on their own journey through the motherland. So please read it through the eyes of a young backpacker who had to save every penny (rupee) possible – and try not to judge me on my often ruthless approach…!

Haggling is a big part of travelling in India. It is almost like an art form. Personally for me, it was a steep learning curve. The first few days in India, I was fleeced by locals left, right and centre (I paid over £100 for souvenirs which probably should have cost me 10% of that). By about day 7, the locals feared me (not literally, but hopefully you know what I mean). Below are some pointers on haggling in India:

  1. Haggle for clothes, hotel rooms, souvenirs/gifts, trips/excursions and rickshaws (“tuk-tuks”) mainly. But there’s no harm in trying to haggle for EVERYTHING.
  2. A good place to start is 50% of the asking price.
  3. Judge their tone. Sometimes they will genuinely be giving the bottom line price, in which case there is no point trying to haggle. Through experience you will learn when there’s an opportunity to save you some rupees!
  4. Before you start to haggle, decide in your own mind what you think is reasonable to pay (by using your own judgment, but also shopping around). Go in lower than this price so that you have room for negotiation
  5. Keep it light hearted. There is no need for the situation to get heated. If it stops being fun, then you’ve gone too far.
  6. Be prepared to walk. Sometimes, the most effective way to get your price is by leaving. You’ll be surprised how many times they will (reluctantly) call you back and agree to your price.
  7. If they agree to your price, buy it. Nothing will anger a shop keeper more than you wasting precious time bartering a price down, and then changing your mind. This is their livelihood so it’s important to respect them.
  8. Always smile and be friendly. They are much more likely to be flexible if they like you as a person.
  9. Play good cop bad cop. IF there are 2 of you, one person should be the one who really wants the room/item etc, and the other one (if a couple, usually the male) should be the stingy one.
  10. Make a game of it. See who can get the biggest % discount on a specific item. Great to play at markets.
  11. If you are a backpacker, explain this to the seller. They assume all westerners have lots of money, but once you explain that you are travelling and have no income for a certain period of time, they can be more understanding and generous with discounts.
  12. Put it in perspective. If you’ve spent 30 minutes haggling for something, sometimes it’s worth taking that hit to just save time. Especially with rickshaws. (More often than not, you’ll find that you’ve been negotiating over the equivalent of about 10p).
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Menu of the Month!

You may have seen or heard already, but as of February 2021 we have changed our offering to a “Menu of the Month”, as well as an A La Carte menu.

 

Why?

 

For a couple of reasons:

 

  1. Because it will push us to add new dishes every month. This is something we always try to do, but as you can imagine, things get very busy and it ends up being delayed. By committing to a menu of the month with exclusive dishes, we have put the pressure on ourselves to keep things fresh, new and exciting!
  2. To make our lives a little easier. Previous we were offering a set menu, which gave you (the customer) a discounted price. However, for us it was just as much work as an A La Carte menu – packing 100+ completely different orders was a challenge to say the least, resulting in errors and comprising the quality of what we do.

 

We always strive to offer exciting and unique dishes, and with the previous structure it was too easy for us to go a bit “stagnant”. Now however, the Menu of the Month will keep us on our toes 🙂 

 

Another thing – at the end of each month, based on the feedback on the new dishes, we will move them over to the A La Carte menu, replacing an existing dish. So our customers really do have a say in how our menu looks each month! 

 

Lastly, our menu will always consist of just 5 or 6 starters and mains each. We are passionate about maintaining a high standard and wouldn’t want to compromise this by having a long, extensive menu.

 

Thanks for reading!

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India: The Weird & The Wonderful

Having travelled a fair bit across India, I tend to get asked to describe the country quite often. Especially by those who haven’t been there but it’s on their “bucket list”. Clearly, I have nothing but good things to say about the country. I rave about the generosity and kindness of the people, the culture, the landscape, the diversity, the mountains, the beaches… and then I always find myself adding “but it’s completely crazy”. There’s no other word to describe it.

What I meant was that India is a place where everything is contrary to what we Westerners would find typical.  Every day I would experience something big or small, which would make me think “Wow, did that really just happen??”

Here are a couple of short examples:

1) Sweet Change-

Everywhere in India, you’ll find little makeshift “shops” at the side of the road. Basically a wooden shack with enough space to display some items and have a “shopkeeper” behind the “counter”. Naturally, I pondered over to one of these “shops” in Munnar looking for some mundane item (I think it was matches). I handed over a note of some denomination and held out my hand to receive the change. I was handed a few sweets in colourful wrapping. I began to question it…. and was basically told with a shrug and smile “wouldn’t you prefer sweets to carrying lots of coins?” Fair enough. And I was on my way. It’s important to note that I was only owed small change, maybe 5 rupees which is the equivalent to approximately 4 pence. But still, can you imagine being given sweets instead of coins for change the next time you buy something from your local newsagent?! Over time, this became such a regular occurrence that when I was given actual change, I gave a funny look and stomped off with a bitter taste in my mouth (literally due to the lack of sweets).

2) Honest Con-

We got off the train in Hampi (in South India) after an 18 hour journey, and the usual chaos of being swarmed by tuk-tuk drivers ensued. I was pretty used to this by now and the key is to just get off the train, head down, ignore all the flapping hands and cries of “YOU NEED RICKSHAW SIR?! I HAVE BEST RICKSHAW, CHEAP PRICE”, put down your bag and wait for a bit. It’s too much to try and listen to every driver who is promising to take you for the lowest rate to the best hotel. After getting my breath back (and making it known that I’m in charge here), the youngest looking driver quotes a price which undercuts everyone by about 50%. For arguments sake, let’s say he charged 50 rupees instead of 100 rupees. Obviously, I said yes (I’m Indian too remember). Once we got to the guest house, I gave him 50 rupees, as agreed. He looked at me with wide eyes and said “but sir, give me 100 rupees”. I said “but you said it was 50!?”. The next response was one of my favourite moments in India. The kid was probably around 16 at most. He put on his biggest cheesy smile, held out his hand and with a little head wobble said “CHEATING, SIR”. Basically translates to “yeah, but that was a lie just to get your business, common mate don’t you know anything?!” Just for the sheer cheek (and honesty), I paid him full price.

That’s India… you gotta love it.

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My Journey into Veganism: Part 1

When I started The Indian Guy with my wife in July 2018, I was a full on meat eater. As I’ve said many times before, our food has always been vegetarian (and then vegan) not because of personal beliefs, but because that’s how the best street food dishes are born in India, due to the climate.

 

However, by coincidence I personally went vegan in the summer of 2019. Nothing to do with the business at all. During lockdown 1.0, I had some time on my hands so wrote about my journey into veganism…

 

It was around 11pm, maybe a Tuesday. I don’t know if it was raining outside. It doesn’t matter. 

 

I was in bed with my wife fast asleep beside me while I allowed my mind to cause havoc, preventing me from sleeping. I did what I usually do in this situation – I put on some clothes, went downstairs, made a cup of green tea and went for a walk around the block. Just kidding, I obviously did what most normal people do: I reached for my phone and started scrolling through Facebook.

 

The usual nonsense flickered in front of my half-open eyes: someone showing off the fact they were on holiday (hashtag no filter – so cool), some other guy making a bold political statement on subjects I don’t understand and, my favourite, an abundance of memes. Further down my feed I spotted a link to a video clip:

 

“2015 Expose – the dark side of dairy”. I clicked it.

 

Over the next 4 minutes, I learnt very quickly that I knew nothing about where my milk, cheese and butter comes from. As in, I knew it came from cows, but I didn’t quite understand the process. Not even close. I won’t go into detail, that’s not relevant right now. It’s impact on me was the following:

 

I saw the face of my dog in one of the calves that was being beaten over the head shortly after being born. There’s no propaganda here, I’m just saying what I saw. Clearly the baby calf wasn’t enjoying this process and obviously it was disturbing to see. We have a Staffie-cross (a breed of dog for you non-doggers) and, for some reason, the facial structure, facial expression, the eyes…whatever you want to call it, reminded me of our dog who was sleeping in the next room – its own bloody room, might I add. In a few seconds, I had this crazy realisation that I was a moral hypocrite. 

 

Why was I literally giving my money, time and love to one animal and eating the carcass and drinking the secretions of others? It didn’t make sense. This baby calf was being battered to death so that we humans can drink milk and eat cheese. Admittedly, this slaughterhouse was particularly brutal and messed up, but male calves being killed within 24-48 hours of birth in the dairy industry is standard practise. They’re a waste product unless reared for veal, so what else they gonna do with them? Surely, this is completely messed up?! I’d made up my mind there and then – no more dairy. I went to sleep at peace with my decision and mentally disturbed by the images I’d just seen. 

 

The next morning I told my wife that I didn’t want to eat dairy anymore. I explained the story of the video and the connection I made with Kodi, our dog. At this point, I wasn’t really thinking about meat. I’ve eaten everything since I was about 13. My family are “Jain” (a branch of Hinduism…ish. Closer to Buddhism I think – look it up), and although I wasn’t religious I was still brought up in a vegetarian environment. Even the meat-eating Indians I knew wouldn’t eat the “Holy Cow”. It’s sacred to Hindus. It’s a massive Hin-don’t. But I ate it all. How else was I gonna enjoy a (large) Big Mac Meal?

 

I couldn’t stop eating dairy and carry on eating animals, though, could I? That would be ridiculous. The definition of moral hypocrisy would be “I don’t want to drink or eat cow secretions (milk, cheese, butter), but I’ll eat any dead animal put in front of me.”  Nah. That’s even more messed up. So there it was – I had to become a vegan. I WANTED to become a vegan. 

 

As a result, my wife and I decided to become vegans. We were never massive meat eaters anyway, but it was still going to be a big change.

 

Psychologically, it was easy, as I knew I wanted my actions to align with my morals. But practically, my wife took on the task like a trooper and immediately started researching recipes etc. And this is where it all began. A 4-minute video led to a dramatic overnight change. What are my carnivorous mates (with their enormous canines) going to say? People hate vegans – how am I going to cope with being ridiculed more so than usual? I wasn’t sure how I’d cope. But I just knew I couldn’t continue my current eating habits. Something felt deeply wrong about it. If that’s what an animal has to endure to satisfy my taste pleasures, it had to stop. There will be a few bumps in the road, but each bump made me even more determined about what I had to do. However tasty said bump was. 

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India Travel Tips: Driving

1. Horn 2. Brakes 3. Luck

These are the three rules of driving in India, according to a tour guide I met in Agra (home of the Taj Mahal). At first I thought he was joking and laughed out loud. He gave me a look with a little head wobble to say “This is no joke my friend. Do I look like some kind of clown to you?”

This was at the start of my first India experience and it took no time at all to realise the seriousness of these three rules. Horn, brakes and luck (HBL). Little did I know at the time that I would be swearing by these golden rules every time I jumped on a moped in the crazy world of India. The way it works over there is that it’s up to every individual to just focus on what’s in front of them. Whatever is immediately in front of you, or slightly to the side, it’s up to you to make sure you don’t crash. In theory, as long as everyone focuses on what’s in front of them, everyone should be fine right?!

Here’s a brief explanation of “HBL”.

Horn – believe it or not, Indians mostly use a horn for the correct purpose: to warn others of your presence. The problem is, there are so many people to warn, from other cars, rickshaws, buses, trucks, cyclists, pedestrians, beggars, dogs, cows, camels…. That you are having to constantly honk your horn. Constantly. Admittedly, there is a fair bit of aggression beeping too.

Brakes – traffic in India is chaos. There are rules, similar to those of a western country, but they are wholeheartedly ignored (other than HBL). Two lanes can turn into four lanes. In fact, any gap wide enough for a motorbike is another lane. Therefore, it’s very important to be quick on the brakes. You never know when a motorbike or rickshaw is going to cut into your “lane”, or when a cow is going to suddenly decide it prefers the view on the other side of the road. Oh and occasionally people like to drive against traffic in the wrong lane (much easier than going all the way to the end and turning around to get on the right side of the road).

Luck – Even if you follow of all the above, you still need that element of luck. With that many people, vehicles and animals on the road, it’s inevitable that there will be accidents. I saw numerous during my time spent in India, from slow moving minor incidents to fatalities.

Don’t let any of the above put you off renting a moped or motorbike in India. Just avoid doing it in the bigger cities because it’s complete mayhem. And when you are in a taxi, rickshaw, bus etc, try your best to enjoy the ride rather than worrying. It may seem reckless at times, but this is genuinely the way they were taught to drive… and once you get over the initial shock, it’s as fun as being on a roller coaster ride. If you find roller coaster rides fun that is. Just remember to keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times…

One more thing – on Indian roads, size DOES matter. If you’re on a bicycle, stick to quiet roads unless you’re a local or have eyes in the back of your head. If you’re a truck driver…. you probably won’t be reading this.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.

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The Indian Head Wobble

Whenever I talk about India (quite a lot, incidentally), one of the things I find myself repeating is the huge diversity across the country. Moving from one state to another is like going to a different country. I’m talking about language (over 200 dialects in India), cuisine (it’s not just about curry, people), landscape, economy, education, literacy levels, dress sense… the list goes on. But there are a few constants. Wherever you go in India, people WILL have darker than white skin. People WILL drive like lunatics. And most importantly, people will constantly do the Indian “head wobble”.

So what is this head wobble I speak of? 

Indians of all ages perform it and to varying degrees of “wobbliness”. It can be frantic and visible to every human within a 10 meter radius,or it can be so subtle that you might not even notice it unless you are accustomed to the way of the wobble. The confusing part is that the head wobble can mean a range of things. Here is a short list of what it can represent:

  • “Yes”
  • “No”
  • “Hello”
  • “Goodbye”
  • “Thank you”
  • “Please”
  • “You’re welcome”
  • “Sorry”
  • “I don’t know”
  • “Maybe”

When I visited the motherland for the first time, there was a lot of confusion. Asking a waiter a simple question would be met with head wobbles and grinning. To somebody who is new to this strange Indian action, your first instinct is to think “Well, that didn’t answer my question. Does he mean this dish WILL or WON’T be spicy?” As time goes on though… it will still make very little sense! But it does become funnier. Once you embrace the ambiguity of this national gesture and maybe even start rocking your own head wobble, you’ll learn that it doesn’t matter what it means. Just enjoy the madness and try to perfect your own.

I tried an experiment on a 24 hour train journey once (you can expect a whole new blog post discussing Indian trains…). I walked up and down carriages, peering into cabins and giving a little nod of the head. I received the odd smile, but largely people carried on as they were. The occasional one would obviously ask me why I looked Indian but wore western clothes and spoke with a strange accent, but that’s normal.

When I traded the slight nod with a head wobble, all hell broke loose. Stern and weary faces were instantly replaced with welcoming smiles and, of course, a reciprocated head wobble. I was offered seats, food, drinks, babies (to hold, not keep) and generally made to feel like part of the family. When I eventually had to tell people that my girlfriend at the time was waiting for me in another carriage so I had to go, it just prompted them to ask questions about why I wasn’t married! Again, that’s a whole other topic.

The moral of the story is: if you want to build instant rapport with any local Indian, all it takes is a little bit of casual head wobbling. (Practice in front of a mirror… I can assure you, you WILL look ridiculous). More importantly, if you want to keep from pulling all of your hair out and getting constantly frustrated, you need to accept as early as possible that most of your questions will be met with a wobble and more often than not, leave you more confused than before you asked the question.

Only in India…

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Indian Food Culture

I always found it strange when I went out for a curry with my “Western” friends. A starter, main, naan bread and rice EACH?! That’s crazy talk. Mixing all the curry with the rice first, then using the naan to mop it up? Madness. Let me explain…

At home, we used to eat Indian food at least 3-4 times a week when I was growing up. The format was pretty standard: 2-3 chappatis, a curry, some side vegetable dishes, pickles, rice and dal. All sounds pretty familiar right? Here’s the catch:

You always eat your shak (curry) and rotli (chappatis) first. When you’re done with that, it’s onto rice and dal. Poppadoms (or papad) are a thing, but not as you’ll know from a curry house. They are flatter in shape and have spices in. Oh and no mango chutney – I don’t think I’d still be alive if I’d been eating mango chutney 3-4 times a week as a child.

Another big difference is how in Indian culture it’s all about sharing lots of dishes. Or eating out of a thali (like a compartment tray, which a friend of mine said reminded him of prison, lovely*) with about 12 different elements to the meal, including dessert. Yes, dessert on the same plate as your starters, mains and sides. We don’t even wait until the savoury is done before moving onto sweet sometimes… the cold, sweet dish is often used as a way to “de-spice” in between mouthfuls of heat.

Variety is key. Sharing is caring. And any other cliches you can think of 🙂 

Lastly, traditionally Indians eat with their hands. I didn’t learn how to do this properly until I was laughed at by 40 children in an orphanage in Goa (more on that another time). I was not only taught how to do it without making a complete mess, but also why it’s important. It sounds obvious to me now, but cutlery creates a slightly metallic taste! We are so used to this, that we wouldn’t even consider it a thing. Next time you eat Indian, try using your hands only and you might notice the difference (and don’t worry if you get some food on your top, it’s all part of the fun!)

* He hadn’t been to prison himself, just from what he’d seen on TV. Don’t let this put you off, I’m confident that the thalis we serve up at pop ups is much better than prison food. 

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The Food

Following on from previous posts, it was really important to me that The Indian Guy was true to what Indian people (or at least Gujaratis, and there’s a lot of us in the UK!) eat at home around the globe. 

You won’t find the majority of our dishes in any curry house. In fact, unless you have been to India or have Indian friends, it’s unlikely that you would have even heard of some of our dishes. 

From deep fried, crispy sharers, to fun starter kits and uniquely flavoured curries, we are determined to keep to the theme of #morethanjustcurry. In fact, I didn’t even want naan bread on the menu originally… but I also know it’s important to give the people what they want 🙂 We also do theplas, which are like a spiced chapati and peas paratha, like layered flat bread. All made from scratch using fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

We don’t use a lot of oil and we don’t make anything so spicy that it blows your head off: these are two of the things which can often make people regret going out for a curry. It always surprises people when I say I’m not a fan of spicy food, but there it is. Maybe I’m the only Indian who prefers a Korma to a Vindaloo?! This reflects in our dishes – everything is mild to medium spiced, with the option to add a side pot of chillies for those who do like to get their sweat on whilst they eat 🙂 

We deliver the food in recyclable packaging, with easy to follow heating instructions on each dish. All you need is an oven. If you’re wondering why we deliver the food chilled, there is one simple reason – to reach more people. It also turned out that by delivering chilled food instead of hot, we don’t have to pay VAT, but that was an accidental bonus 🙂 

If you didn’t already know, all of our food is 100% vegan. I am myself vegan, but I was a full-blown meat eater when I started the business. The food has almost always been plant-based (it was vegetarian for the first 6 months) because that’s how the best dishes on the street of India are born, probably due to the climate. As you can imagine, meat and dairy doesn’t hold up well in the baking heat all day. Many of our customers are vegan, but almost the same number are not. Until you try it, you won’t know what I mean when I say these dishes don’t need meat. In fact, adding meat would ruin it. Trust me, I tried!

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Why I started The Indian Guy

Cast your mind back to May 2018. I had recently made a big career change, going from the world of sales management in the Finance Sector, to becoming a Support Worker for CCP, a local Cheltenham based charity who do amazing things for the community.

A few months in, I still wasn’t satisfied with my working life. As much as I enjoyed being away from a stuffy office and actually working for a good cause, something was missing. It was at this point, I decided I needed to take the plunge and start my own business. I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, so now was a good a time as any. What would I do though?

Well, I’d been saying for many years that Cheltenham was lacking real Indian food. That’s not to say we don’t have some great curry houses. But most curry houses don’t serve Indian food! It’s like the UK’s best kept secret. All the delicious dishes I grew up eating were nowhere to be seen in any restaurants. Not even just in Cheltenham, but generally apart from a few, not many “Indian restaurants” in the country seem to serve traditional, authentic Indian street food or food which Indians actually eat at home. In fact, did you know that the Chicken Tikka Masala was invented in Glasgow?!

Whenever any non-Indian friends of mine came to an Indian event, they would always bang on about how good the food was and how different it is to what they had come to expect of Indian food. I mean, did you know that Indians rarely even eat naan bread at home??*

So that was it – I wasn’t much of a cook, but I knew there was an opportunity to introduce this familiar, yet so unfamiliar cuisine to the people. I asked my mum to write up some recipes of my favourite dishes, checked with my wife that she’s happy for us to live on a shoestring budget (again), read the instructions of how to use a hob, washed my hands and got to work.

Little did I know that in less than 6 weeks, I’d be launching The Indian Guy at a popular brewery where I’d actually have to ask people for money in exchange for this “amazing food”. Let’s just say, s**t got real… fast.

* It’s important to note that I’m from Gujarat, one of about 17,000 states in India (massive exaggeration, but hopefully you get my point). So a lot of my words are coming from the perspective of a Gujarati Indian and my opinion may differ to someone from Punjab, or Mumbai for example #disclaimer