5 Things I Learned On My First Trip To India

I do quite a bit of traveling for work but this week I took my first trip to India, to attend the opening of a new security operations centre by Symantec. I spent a few days at the southern city of Chennai. On the trip in and out, and while I was visiting Chennai, a number of things stood out. Here's what I learned.

#1 Paper Matters

I have a real aversion to printing and avoid it whenever I can. But I was told to bring printed copies of my itinerary, visa documentation, hotel reservations and several other documents.

I'm glad I took that advice.

On arrival at Chennai airport, I was asked to show my itinerary as proof that I had a flight booking to leave so I wouldn't overstay my visa.

When I was leaving Chennai, the security at the airport entrance checked my itinerary to ensure I was entering the airport to catch a flight.

#2 Have Local Currency In Small Denominations On Arrival

There is a lot of poverty in Chennai, at least in the parts I saw, and that means there are lots of people either begging or offering their assistance. When I was walking from the airport terminal to my ride to the hotel, a man wanted to help me by wheeling my bag for me. I didn't let him (I don't let anyone I don't know handle my luggage when I travel) but if I had, I would have had to tip him

Other service staff expect to be tipped so it's handy to have small notes when you arrive.

#3 The Roads Look Chaotic But Aren't

When I arrived at Chennai it was 2:00AM. I was expecting it to be quiet but it wasn't. The roads were busy and everyone, whether in a car, tuk-tuk or on a motorbike toots their horn while driving.

This isn't done in anger but as a way of ensuring other motorists know where you are.

If you're planning to drive (I didn't) be aware that the lines on the road are decorative rather than functional. There were many times when five or six vehicles ran in parallel on a road marked with three lanes even when going around corners.

Despite the noise and apparent chaos, it's clear everyone is looking out for everyone else.

#4 Business Cards Are A Big Deal

As well as being useful for exchanging contact details with business contacts, I needed to provide a business card with my visa application and on arrival at my hotel I was asked for one as well by the staff.

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#5 The Streets Of Chennai Aren't Great For A Walk

You've probably seen pictures of dingy buildings, exposed wiring and other things that aren't common in Australia. I saw plenty of that but it wasn't uncommon to see piles of rubble, broken pavements, raised paving and other impediments while walking through a shopping district.

And, to be frank, it was pretty smelly in some places as well.


    I would add:

    #6 - Be prepared to stand your ground at Arrival and Departure Customs and Immigration. If they start demanding import duties because you have a laptop and an iPad or two laptops on the way in or if they indicate your not eligible to exit the country via this Airport based on the details listed in your Visa.

    #7 - Be wary of a person inviting you to some 'Hindu festival'. I thought it would be a good way to experience the local atmosphere. Let's just say, being taken to the local open pyre crematorium wasn't on my list of things to do...

    #8 - Be prepared to get out of a TukTuk if they push for you to visit a Tourist Shop. I once went in the shop believing the old "you don't have to buy anything" line but they locked the door and wouldn't let me leave until I bought something. AU$50 worth of garbage fridge magnets later they let me leave. The next TukTuk that took me back to the same place, I had an argument with the driver and got out and found another TukTuk.

    #9 Be prepared for the possibility of getting very very sick and the world falling from your bottom. I won slimmer of the year loosing 20KG is a very short time.
    #10 When offered a free cup of chai on a train, I suggest you don't accept. 99% you are likely to be fine but then.....I had datura put in my tea which left me hallucinating, thinking I was going blind as my eyes were paralysed, and having to spend an unpleasant few hours in the Jhansi police station. Think of a fusion of the darker elements of Midnight Express an Apocalypse Now and you get the picture.
    #11 Park your preconceptions and enjoy India.

      Yep, #9.

      I lost the equivalent of 1kg per day on my first trip. I was sick from pretty much day 1 through until I left.

      Unfortunately subsequent trips have not been at all useful as part of a weight loss plan.

    re #1 as a frequent traveller to India - although it's a good idea to have a paper copy of the documents listed a digital version on your phone or tablet with the details will suffice as long as they can see your name, passport number and or flight details.

    I would also add when passing through customs / airport they are also especially finicky for electronics and batteries more so than other countries (yet very lax on things like bottled water). Its also important to get a security stamp for each carry on item scanned and that it remains attached. I have had instances where they only tagged one item when there were multiple or the tag came off and I was refused boarding and promptly frog marched back to security to get the item scanned again and retagged.

    Despite the noise and apparent chaos, it's clear everyone is looking out for everyone else.
    1,46,377 people died on the roads in 2017 and that was a 3% drop from '16

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