The longer you stay in India, the better you get at India. What am I talking about, you might ask? Well, I found myself thinking today, after being extremely insistent on a tuk tuk fare, “I’m getting pretty good at this whole India thing.” There are a lot of things that just get easier the longer you’re here. Here are the ones I feel like I’ve gotten better at.
Price bargaining is a big part of being in India. You should always bargain for your ride, whether it’s an auto rickshaw (tuk tuk), taxi, motorbike, or bike rickshaw (unless they agree to use the meter, which they NEVER do, but it’s sometimes worth asking, especially for longer distances). Knowing the approximate cost of something goes hand in hand with the bargaining. Many times, when asked how much a ride/item is, the driver/vendor will reply with, “How much you want to pay?” Of course they’re expecting you to have no idea how much it costs and offer them “western” pricing. So, if you ever offer a price and the person immediately accepts your offer, you can be sure that you’ve offered more than you should. I’ve also learned that paying the “pre-paid” taxi rate at the airport is always a terrible idea. Just walk out of the airport/train station and bargain a price with a driver. This tactic has saved me at least $10 in the past couple weeks. A lot of times, knowing the price of a ride involves knowing the approximate distance. In my experience, a distance of 10km should cost about 100-150 rupees (between $1.40-2.20 USD). But there are many other factors such as where you are (small towns often have set prices that all the drivers agree to and there’s very little room for negotiating), how many drivers are available (more competition=better price), where you’re going (to/from the airport/train station with all your belongings? Higher price), the time of day (nighttime is almost twice as expensive), how many people you’re with, etc.
Another negotiable thing that I wasn’t prepared to bargain for in my first month in India is hotel (guest house) rooms. Maren and I undoubtedly overpaid at a few places early on in the trip. Generally, if you’re paying for a basic room with one bed and an attached bathroom, you shouldn’t have to pay more than about 500-600 (about $8-10 USD) rupees/night. But if you want amenities like air con, TV, breakfast included, be prepared to pay more. Most places offer wifi, but whether or not it works is always questionable. Either way, you will often be able to bargain down the originally quoted price if you just say you can’t afford it and start to walk out the door.
Even though I’m much better at bartering now than I was 7 weeks ago, I’m not saying that I’m not getting ripped off. It is for certain that if you are white, you will pay more for negotiable items and services than a local. You can count on that.
That’s enough about India’s bartering system. Onto a new topic: street crossing. Crossing a busy Indian street is another thing I’ve gotten good at. This only took a few days of observing locals because I naturally do not have a fear of cars (except when I’m driving them). Here’s the street-crossing process: stand in the street, wait for a small gap between vehicles (this might only be about 10 feet), stick out your hand like a traffic cop, say a little prayer, and go for it. If there are cars coming from both directions, you’ll have to stop in the middle of the street and repeat the above steps to get all the way across. I always give myself a mental pat on the back every time I make it across, proud to be crossing the street like a local.
A few other things I’m now better at are:
1. Ignoring people (everyone wants to get your attention for something here)
2. Remembering to carry my own toilet paper everywhere (as it’s not supplied anywhere, even in hotel rooms)
3. Understanding the Indian accent
4. Being really aggressive if necessary/Standing my ground (especially in crowds or queues)
5. Watching where I step (between uneven pavement, random holes in the cement/earth, and poop all over the streets, one must always be looking down when walking)