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Travel Tips

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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Travel Tips

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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Travel Tips

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.