It’s been over a month now, since Dave and I returned from our 29 days in India. I’ve written 12 blog posts about our trip and have spent countless hours going through photos and videos. I filled a journal with anecdotes and airplane tickets and have reminisced a great deal about our time in that crazy country. So now, before my memory gets too fuzzy on the details, is the perfect time to dole out some advice for my fellow travelers. Is India worth the trip? Let’s take a look at the facts (according to my own experiences anyway!)
Golden Triangle Tours
The Golden Triangle is THE tourist circuit in India. Tours typically begin in New Delhi, then head to Agra and finish in Jaipur. These 3 stops can be done in a short amount of time (3 days is easily doable), making them popular for foreigners who don’t have a long stay in India. And, because the Golden Triangle covers so many of India’s ‘must-sees’ (The Taj Mahal, The Pink City, etc…), you will not have difficulty finding tour operators or drivers for a trip around India’s most popular tourist circuit.
Let’s break it down…
Beginning in New Delhi, you will experience the country’s capital, for better or for worse. There is a great deal of history there, which is great if you’re interested in India’s past (both modern and ancient).
In addition to the historical sights in Delhi, the Zoo was surprisingly impressive. The animals seemed to be well cared-for and the park where the Zoo is located is a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Agra has a great deal to offer tourists as well. The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort alone are enough reason to make the 4 hour drive from New Delhi. Best of all, if you leave New Delhi early enough and are okay with a long day, you can see Agra’s most famous sights and then head onto Jaipur for dinner.
Jaipur is the final stop in the Golden Triangle, and it’s a nice little introduction to the state of Rajasthan. Dubbed ‘The Pink City’, Jaipur is full of markets, historical sites and, of course, several forts. It’s a lovely place to spend a day or two, especially if you’re tight on time and want to see Rajesthan, but can’t make it to one of the other cities I’ll be writing about later on this list.
New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur can surely offer you some insight into the rest of the country and are a great place to start if you have limited time to spend in India. I can see what attracts people to these 3 places, but if I’m going to be honest, there were a lot more drawbacks than selling-points for me during my time in the Golden Triangle…
I’ll begin with the most trivial problem on my list, though it IS the most relevant for the average traveler. If you are traveling to New Delhi, prepare yourself for scammers! There are an unbelievable number of people out on the streets at any given time trying to get into your pockets and take you for as much as they can. Some of my favourites:
- Taxi drivers who tell you that your hotel is closed/full/doesn’t exist, who offer to take you to a hotel that their cousin/brother/friend owns. The hotel they bring you to is invariably be cheap and dirty but the prices for the room will be jacked up, because the taxi driver is making commission. You will face this type of scam right at the airport, so beware!
- Travel agents who claim to be ‘government owned’. They might give you a tour, but I estimate we paid about 30%-40% more than we should have when we signed up for our tour. That’s nothing compared to what some people face…
- Tuk Tuk drivers who charge 5, 10 or 50X the price they should for taking you places.
- Tuk Tuk drivers who say they’ve met you…and then try to make you feel bad for not remembering them. These guys will guilt you into letting them take you to an ’emporium’, where everything is massively over priced and where they are given a commission.
- Counterfeit everything! Don’t buy scarves, or anything for that matter, from any emporium. Once you get out of Delhi, the ‘hand painted post cards’ that the nice painter made in the Emporium go from 350 rupees to 35 rupees…you also discover pretty quickly that they aren’t hand painted…Silk is another big one…most people can’t tell the difference between Cashmere, silk and polyester, so do yourself a favour and skip buying any expensive scarves.
- You will be told all sorts of things about how you can tell that a person’s scarves are ‘the real deal’….the one I fell for was the ‘burning hair’ routine. They will tell you that burning cashmere smells like burning hair…it does…but so does any silk (low-grade or high-grade), which is a MUCH cheaper material
These are just some of the scams Dave and I experienced (and in most cases…evaded) while in Delhi. It’s honestly an exhausting experience being in Delhi, because you feel as though you can’t ever trust anyone; a feeling I really dislike. Furthermore, Delhi isn’t the only place where you’ll experience these scams. India’s tourism industry is filled with dishonesty, and you’ll deal with this in all of the big tourist destinations (Delhi, Agra, Mumbai and Varanasi are the worst)
The next problem on my list: the pollution!! New Delhi holds the record for being the most polluted city in the world. While everyone talks about Beijing’s pollution problems, China’s capital got to about 500 points on the Air Quality Index this winter (making big news!), whereas in New Delhi, this has been happening for years. They had to actually expand their AQI scale because the city was so often blowing past the highest number ON the scale! New Delhi’s pollution is estimated to cause 1.5 million deaths every year and is causing massive issues for the country’s healthcare system.
From a tourist’s perspective, the pollution is little more than an inconvenience. Staying in New Delhi for a few days isn’t going to kill you, but it WILL make you appreciate the clean air back home!
In addition to the air pollution, New Delhi is also very dirty. You’re told by everyone who’s ever been to India to expect it…but there’s really no way to prepare for some of the things you see. The garbage bins that exist hardly seem to be in use, and people mostly just throw their trash onto the ground. Later on, a cow or dog will come along and eat anything edible…everything else gets burned at the end of the day. Sadly, from what I saw, burning garbage isn’t solely done to eliminate trash…it’s also done for warmth…
To say that Delhi is poor is a gross understatement. More than 50% of the population lives in the slums. For those of you who have had the fortune of being born in a 1st world country, where slums of this degree don’t exist, I will paint a picture…
Slums are basically groups of makeshift houses, built in areas that can’t technically hold buildings (near rivers that are prone to flooding, for example). The poorest of the poor live here, where there is often no electricity or running wate, and therefore, no toilets. People mostly defecate in the streets, creating sanitary issues. Without clean water, children and adults both die of parasites and something as common as a bad case of diarrhea is a death sentence for many of these people.
It sickens me to say that you can actually pay people to go on tours of these slums, in both Delhi and Mumbai. The idea of gawking at the poor, who already live with so little dignity, bothers me a lot. There are many organizations out there that are trying to help these people, but it’s too big of a problem to be going away any time soon…
So…if I’m going to sum it up…I wouldn’t visit the Golden Triangle again. The Taj Mahal was VERY cool and I highly recommend a visit, but if I were planning our trip again, I would be spending as little time in New Delhi as possible. There are plenty of other places in India that ARE worth a visit, and next I’ll be outlining the pros and cons of travel in Rajasthan. Thanks for checking in!