A random collection of tips.
When should I visit?
Winter: humid mediterranean
Summer: generally on time
Winter: always delayed due to fog unless you’re on the swanky Rajdhani Express, to which all other trains yield. My train arrivals were delayed 9 and 12 hours respectively, with travel times approximately doubled
Winner: Summer, because you can afford the A/C cabins, which are additionally useless in the winter. Also, sitting on a platform in the middle of the night for 8 hours and then marbling your muscles on a top bunk for 20 hours is a special kind of hell. Don’t take a train in the winter unless you don’t have a job and can afford spending entire days on trains.
Summer: each district has their own special mango which is not necessarily available in your home country
Winter: imported from Pakistan
Winner: Draw. You and your weak stomach are supposed to stay away from raw ingredients, unless you’ve got your own knife and bleach water.
How can I get the best pictures of myself, and of only myself without other annoying tourists, with the Taj Mahal?
- Purchase your Taj Mahal ticket online and print it out. We had trouble using our credit cards on the Payu site, but a Visa debit card worked.
- Get to the East gate 30-60 minutes before sunrise, passport and ticket in tow.
- Have a man who claims to have been a gatekeeper for 40 years rush you through security and through a shortcut and begin taking pictures of you before handing you off to his teenage son, who is supposedly a photographer, and who takes a bunch of interesting photos of your mug + Taj and then asks for a bigger tip than the one you are already giving him. #noregrets
PROTIP: Don’t be a disrespectful dumbass and start hamming for the camera with yoga poses because you WILL get called out by a guard, and people like me will laugh to themselves quietly in schadenfreude.
I’m halfway into my trip and beginning to realize the full purchasing power of 500 INR. Can I cheap out on Fatehpur Sikri?
Yes, my fellow cheapass. You should still visit though. You can skip out on the 10-20 INR bus by walking for a short distance. The mosque, which is probably the prettiest part anyway, is free. Ignore the touts hassling you for a “ticket” because you never need a ticket to visit a mosque. Carry your shoes in a plastic bag so that the other set of touts don’t hassle you to “watch” your shoes for a fee. Walk around the side to the elephant tower, which is also free, and then past it to see the back area of Fatehpur Sikri. You’ll see young women and children hard at work in fields, a tempting trail to a slummy city, and crumbling ruins. I wish I’d set aside more time to explore here.
PROTIP: If you find yourself so flustered by the incessant touts that you find yourself telling a child to fuck off, instead start very obviously taking pictures of the people who are harassing you. This is much more effective, and you don’t have to have the shame of telling a child to fuck off hanging over you.
I’m templed and touted out. What should I do with these extra stacks of cash I have?
Visit the Oberoi. After having visited the sights and sites in Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra, you’ll have a good sense of the palaces the maharajahs got to enjoy. But to see the Oberoi is to turn those relics into proper backdrops in which to imagine living as they were meant to be lived in. First of all, all the noise and stress of the streets fall away once you step inside, faded by distance from the street, the sound of fountains, and calming music. The staff are incredibly kind. My sister and I did not have enough stacks of cash lying around to stay, but to anyone who does, I would suggest finishing off a Golden Triangle Tour with a final night here by checking in as early in the day as possible and then not leaving until checkout. Spend the entire day and night regally walking around the grounds pretending to be a maharajah. I saved the best tip for last. This is a really good tip. Do it.
PROTIP: If you can only afford to eat there, balk at the price of internet (500 INR for 30-60 minutes) and then baldly order the two cheapest main courses on the menu. The good-hearted restaurant manager may feel some sort of pity for you and recommend that the portions are huge so you should just split one dish, and comp you amuses bouches, side dishes, garlic naan, and dessert.
One last general protip that is not unique to India: count your money. My sister and I each broke 2000 INR bills buying Agra Fort tickets and the ticket counter official tried to scam us. He first gave me back change in 100 INR and then I realized he only gave me 10 when I should have gotten 15, so I angrily demanded the rest; he forked over 4 more hundred bills, and I angrily demanded the rest; then he gave me the last one. Then he gave my sister her change in 100’s and we walked away… and then we realized he only gave her 10. We ran back and angrily demanded the rest. No one else actually tried to rip us off this way, and this was one of the interactions I would have trusted most, so don’t let your guard down just because things look “official.”