INDIA TRAVEL TIPS

Recently there was some disturbing news from Assam. I thought this is an opportunity for me to update the information I have. The last post was simply based upon my perceptions and hence may have been quite inaccurate. So I decided to go with the GPI 2012 data this time. GPI stands for Global Peace Index and unfortunately India stands a lowly 142 out of 158 countries . Here is the link for complete information http://www.visionofhumanity.org/gpi-data/. What makes it so bad ?

According to GPI there are 23 major indicators of peace in a country. A ranking has been done [1 to 5] where 5 stands for the worst case of peace and 1 stand for most peaceful.
The factors are viz
1> Perceived Criminality in Society - 5
2> Security Officers and Police - 1
3> Homicides - 2
4> Jailed Populations - 1
5> Access to weapons - 4
6> Organized Conflict (Internal) - 3
7> Violent Demonstrations - 3
8> Violent Crime - 3
9> Political Instability -  1.3
10> Political terror - 4
11> Weapons imports - 1
12> Terrorist acts - 4
13> Deaths from conflicts(internal) - 3
14> Military expenditure - 1.5
15> Armed Services Personnel -  1
16> UN peacekeeping funding - 1
17> Heavy weapons - 1
18> Weapons exports -1
19> Military capability - 4
20> Displaced people - 1
21> Neighboring Country relations -3
22> Conflicts fought - 5
23> Deaths from conflicts(external) - 2


I picked out some of the worst cases in order to find out whom to blame and whether there is anything travelers should worry about

1> Perceived Criminality in Society - 5           [ Traveler - WARNING]
5> Access to weapons - 4
6> Organized Conflict (Internal) - 3                [Traveler - WARNING]           
7> Violent Demonstrations - 3                        [Traveler - WARNING]
8> Violent Crime - 3                                      [Traveler - NOTE]


10> Political terror - 4                                    [Traveler - NOTE]
12> Terrorist acts - 4                                     [Traveler - WARNING]
13> Deaths from conflicts(internal) - 3
19> Military capability - 4
21> Neighboring Country relations -3
22> Conflicts fought - 5


If we do some clustering with our neighbors we can see
Bhutan -> Most Peaceful
Nepal,China, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka -> Moderate to Bad
India, Myanmar and Pakistan -> Horrible state of peace

While it will require a complete statistical analysis to find the factors amiss between India and Bhutan, I must make a few guesses. Since India is a large country and different regions have different quality of life and peacefulness , can we identify those regions of problems?

 So I decided to run a comparison with Bhutan, one of the most peaceful countries in the region. These are the points where Bhutan scores much better than India. ( A significant difference I have assumed to be more than one point difference in the scale 1-5. So Jailed population where India scores 1 and Bhutan scores 1.5 is not significant)
Perceived Criminality in Society - Bhutan 2, India 5
Access to Weapons                  - Bhutan 2, India 4
Violent Crime                           - Bhutan 1, India 3
Political Terror                          - Bhutan 2, India 4
Terrorist Acts                           - Bhutan 1, India 4
Deaths from conflicts(internal)   - Bhutan 1, India 3
Military capability                     - Bhutan 1, India 4
Displaced People                     - Bhutan 4, India 1  [ NOTE: Its surprising Bhutan scoring so badly here]
Conflicts fount                          - Bhutan 1, India 5


Based upon these studies I am updating some details about the states of India. It is quite impractical to come to India with a single ranking in mind. I feel most of the places in India are still pretty safe for travelers, with the usual precautions.


India is geographically very vast and culturally very vibrant with an incredible variety.


NOTE
1. Foreigners require special permission before visiting some areas of India
2. Tariffs are different for foreigners in hotels , entrances to National Parks, Camera Fees etc.
These views are personal nature based upon author's experience and study and may not necessarily agree with the views expressed by others.

Category 1.
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SAFE STATES:
-> Andhra Pradesh -> Naxalite Violence in some districts(must avoid those areas). Recently there were some issues related to diving the state to two parts. Widespread demonstrations and strikes happened. But so far it has cooled down and pretty safe to travel.
-> Bihar -> Naxalite Violence. This state has improved a bit after a bit of political stability. Safe to travel.
-> Chattisgarh -> Naxalite violence. Few isolated incidents but mostly safe to travel.
-> Goa -> Safe. Do not indulge in drugs.
-> Gujarat -> Safe. The ghosts of riots have died down and with some political stability its safe.
-> Haryana -> Safe. Few cases of drugs peddling and illegal activities.
-> Himachal Pradesh -> Safe. Few cases of drugs peddling and illegal activities
-> Jharkhand -> Some incidents of Naxalite violence ( very few areas - just be careful where you go )
-> Karnataka -> Safe. There were some rumors due to which there was a mass exodus of people from the North Eastern part of India. But state assures everything is under control. No real incident reported so far.
-> Kerala -> Safe.
-> Madhya Pradesh -> Some incidents of Naxalite violence ( very few areas - just be careful where you go )
-> Maharashtra -> Very isolated incidents of Naxalite violence in some areas. Mumbai ( the Economic capital of India) has been a terrorist target frequently. There is a new problem of political nature of which travelers can just check before traveling. Somehow the political party managed to stage some violent demonstrations against some settlers from northern parts of India.
-> Orissa -> Few incidents of Naxalite violence. Several incidents of attacks on Christians ( foreigners ref - Graham Stuart Steins) and caste/religion related issues. Although the incident is very old but it reflects the sensitivity of the state.
-> Punjab -> Safe
-> Rajasthan -> Safe. Not much in the news lately.
-> Sikkim -> Safe
-> Tamil Nadu -> Safe. Some political issue was there regarding a Dam , but otherwise rest of the regions are safe.
-> Uttar Pradesh -> Safe. Isolated incidents of political turbulence and caste problems. New government has come to power and things are safer than before.
-> Uttarkhand -> Safe
-> West Bengal -> Safe. Problems with Gorkhaland issues have subsided. Strikes and demonstrations continue to happen which is also a spectacle to behold.


SAFE UNION TERRITORIES(ALL):

-> Andaman & Nicobar Islands
-> Chandigarh
-> Dadra & Nagar Haveli
-> Daman & Diu
-> Lakshwadeep
-> Delhi
-> Pondicherry


CATEGORY 2.
-----------
STUDY BEFORE YOU GO: These states are large affected by extremist activities and political turmoil.Check before you go.

-> Arunachal Pradesh -> Very beautiful state but has border disputes with China.
-> Meghalaya -> Extremist activities
-> Mizoram -> Extremist activities
-> Tripura -> Extremist activities
-> Manipur -> Extremist activities


CATEGORY 3.
-----------
STUDY BEFORE YOU GO:
-> Assam -> Largely affected by extremist groups. Check before you go
- large number of civilians and security forces killed here over the last few decades. Has become an extremely sensitive place after some riots in 2012. Natural calamities and riots have wreaked havoc.
-> Nagaland -> Largely affected by extremism . Check before you go
- Violent Extremism in last few decades. ( Read 'These Hills called Home' by Temsula Ao to get a beautiful picture of the land)
-> Jammu and Kashmir -> Very affected by extremism , border disputes with Pakistan and China.
- Thousands of security forces killed. Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits and other civilians killed. It hangs on a balance of mistrust between India and Pakistan. The Shimla agreement, Nehru's plebiscite factor at UN are some important turning points in history.
Leh/Ladakh falls in Jammu and Kashmir and is considerably safe to travel than the areas bordering Pakistan.


CATEGORY 4:
Autonomous Areas of India
-------------------------
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomous_regions_of_India



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IMPORTANT LINKS

1. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=349028

2. http://www.heartspace.org/travel/TravelTips.html

3. http://zine375.eserver.org/india.html

4. http://www.indiamike.com/
5. http://traveller.outlookindia.com/travelogue.aspx
Outlook traveler excellent and genrally goes into more details.




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OTHER TIPS
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1. [FOREIGNERS] Carry traveler's cheques. Do not carry dollars/pounds/euro etc in bulk. Exchange money only at registered outlets and do not fall into traps of agents and unscrupulous men ( esp just outside international airports, popular tourist destinations).

2. [FOREIGNERS] Carry enough cash in Indian Rupees at different bags and different pockets of your dress. Credit cards are hardly accepted except in major cities like Mumbai,Delhi,Bangalore,Kolkata,Chennai etc and that too only at very selective outlets. Even then they may charge 2% extra for not paying in cash.

3. ATMs are found in all major towns and cities. Note: It may not be wise to withdraw money from strange ATMs as than can attract extra charges and also keep your card secured else a misplaced card can be misused very well within a few hours. Keep all those numbers at a safe place with someone so that you can login imediately and block the cards.

4. [FOREIGNERS] Carry identity cards and important phone numbers etc in case of an emergency.
-> Check that you are properly insured
-> Check that you have all medical vaccinations

5. [FOREIGNERS/ALL] Do not give any alms to beggars ( Begging in India is a big business and you will help someone else. I came to know begging is also a crime, hence please discourage beggars )

6. [FOREIGNERS/ALL] Be careful about agents. See tariff charts properly . Things in India are usually quite cheap. Taking out money in large amounts may lure thugs and pickpockets ,so be careful.

7. [FOREIGNERS/ALL] Must book hotels before you travel to a place. Or else you must have someone like a friend or a colleague reliable enough to find you one at a reasonable rate.

8. [FOREIGNERS/ALL] Must book train/bus tickets if possible except on short travels or local trains and buses. Use the hotel/driver or any local person's help in case of very remote areas.

9. [FOREIGNERS/ALL] Travel as much possible during the day. Can travel by bus/train at night , public transport is very safe , but may not be very hygienic. Night travel is also very popular as India is quite big so try to check out the best means to travel to a place.

10.[FOREIGNERS/ALL] Carry biscuits/chocolates , packaged drinking water before traveling. Eat only branded food packaged properly. For meals eat the local cuisine to get a Taste of India and stick to popular dishes to avoid previous days leftovers. Also eat at popular joints or places where lots of people are eating to avoid a stomach ache.
Buy food items from hawkers very cautiously and eat only if it is definitely safe. Mobile hawkers have been known to add sedatives to food and later rob away everything leaving passengers half dead and unconscious.
Never, never accept food from any fellow passenger whom you have befriended just on that journey. 90% times it will be a person who is excited to talk to you and know about your country , but the rest can sedate you on a pretext and take away everything you possess. Refuse food politely from fellow passengers even children.
Sometimes you will meet with people who will ask you if you can understand English , Hindi etc. If you stop to listen they will cook up a story that they lost everything while traveling and God would help if you can just buy them some food for the baby or ticket to travel to a particular place. You must avoid these, they will be there even if you come back after a month.
NEVER buy tickets from persons other than authorized rail counters , shopkeepers ,travel agents etc. People on the move wanting to sell loose tickets means its a bad ticket and if caught traveling on those you will be in big trouble.
NEVER offer to watch over someone else's luggage anywhere whether its a bus stand or rail station or airport. He may have just left a bomb for you.
Similarly be careful not to touch luggage without a owner. Inform the authorities immediately.

11. [FOREIGNERS/ALL] Transsexuals/Hijras are a menace in all major Indian towns and cities. If you are a young male traveler they will extract money. Keep Rs 5 or Rs 10 change enough in your pockets to ward them off.

12. [FOREIGNERS/ALL] Women travelers are subject to various types of problems
a. There are hardly any urinals and so make use of one whenever you find it.
b. Keep change of coins to ward of child beggars.
NOTE: Be very careful that sometimes beggars throw dirt to divert attention and then run away with your belongings
c. European and American travelers who are generally fair skinned attract a lot of curiosity. That is why try to wear local dresses like salwar-kameez which will keep ogling eyes away. Also it will prevent unwelcome body touches especially in tourist spots and crowded places.
d. Many Indians like to take photos with young beautiful and fair skinned girls , generally to show off. If you oblige be careful that they do not stalk you.
e. Prying eyes and cameras can be looking out for beautiful girls. So it is necessary to dress in Indian clothes like salwaars that are loose and generally covers most of the legs and arms. Adequate dress and choosing company will avoid anything.
f. Travel with information
      - Do not take photographs where mentioned. Especially in places like temples or bathing places
      - Leave your shoes outside before entering active religious places. May not be necessary for ruins
      - People usually offer the right hand to give something. giving with left hand is sometimes taken badly. For example while buying something pay with the right hand.


13.[FOREIGNERS/ALL] Elderly people are generally respected in India. So similarly they will expect you to respect elders
a. Keep medicines ready and all first aid stuff. Hospitals and ambulances in India can be very unpredictable.
b. Insist on new needles and syringes , labelled drugs with prescriptions and bills to avoid any unscrupulous activity

14.[FOREIGNERS/ALL] Children can fall sick very easily
a. Study the climate and weather of a place before you travel very closely
b. Carry everything for an infant and for children above 5 years be careful as to what they eat and touch
c. Children thief are a huge menace. Keep them safe.
d. Indians love children so they may want to fondle them. Be careful and do not let them out to anyone.

15. [FOREIGNERS/ALL] Pets can be taken to India
a. Study the environmental conditions carefully
b. India is a land of exotic animals. Do not let your pet wander.
c. Street dogs and cats and birds are common. Do not be scared and keep your pet safe from them.

16. [FOREIGNERS/ALL] When you are visiting a holy place
a. Hindus - Temple -> Leave footwear outside. wear appropriate dress to cover body.
Cow is holy to Hindus. So are several other animals.
b. Muslims - Mosque -> Footwear outside , wash properly and cover your head with a turban( Seek help from local before you go )
c. Christians - Church ->
d. Sikhs - Gurudwara -> Cover head and leave footwear outside
e. Jews - Synagogue ->
f. Parsi - ->


- Note that all holy places do not let people from other religion to enter their premises. Inquire well beforehand before you attempt to travel
- All holy places have a proper dress etiquette. Please try to follow that. Even if it is a UNESCO Heritage site , i.e. under archaeological department , please try to follow some dress sense
- All holy places generally do not welcome anyone in an inebriated state
- In all holy places even if cameras are allowed inside , use it judiciously so as not to infuriate any one.
- During festivals beware of stampedes. Sometimes thousands gather at a single place like Varanasi or Tirupati or GangaSagar ,Amarnath etc.

17. [FOREIGNERS/ALL] When visiting a National Forest
- Tariffs for safari and camera/video camera amateur/professional charges can be different
- In some forests be careful not to breakaway from your group unless you are an expert on wild animals as well as tribal especially in Sunderbans , Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Kaziranga Forest, Corbett National Park etc etc . These are really big and wild.
- Respect Indian laws and NEVER buy any animal part. Even if you are caught to possess , buy or sell any such animal part like a tiger nail or rhino horn or elephant ivory etc ( huge list - practically covers everything) it can put you in jail along with a huge fine.
(DO NOT GET INTO ANY LEGAL TUSSLE , THAT CAN BE VERY BAD> CASES FROM 1980s ARE PENDING)
- Do not in any way damage, alter or collect even as memento exotic plant species. These are all covered under law and have same punishments similar to those of collecting exotic samples of animal parts. (But , if you are a qualified personnel then you can get permission to do so. Whatever you get , make sure you get it from the correct person ,in writing.)
NOTE: You can of course buy spices , plants etc at the market. Unlike animal parts most plants products in the market are legal.
- In case of trekking/ mountaineering through forests please follow adequate details before for each and every route. Since all such routes are exquisite with a charm of their own these can be very demanding. Know well before any attempts because rescue operations and wilderness related tasks are very tricky.

18. [FOREIGNERS/ALL] When you are in trouble
- Sickness -> using your knowledge judiciously try to decide the best course of action. Generally even if hospitals are ill equipped and unhygienic , doctors and nurses are very good in their job and are highly qualified to handle any situation. Seek a qualified doctor.
- Death/Birth -> All deaths and births have to be registered in India. In case you have an unfortunate incident during travel do not fail to appear at nearest police station to register a FIR(First Information Report) if it is due to unnatural causes. If it is due to natural causes , please find a doctor , or a hospital to get proper doctors certificate for death.
- Loss of money/credit cards/traveler's cheques etc - Money lost is gone. Keep an alternative source of money.
Credit cards-> Keep the numbers and other details on separate emails encoded . Once lost , try to block them immediately. Traveler's cheques cannot be encashed by others and are safest to travel with. Get in touch with bank if you lose it.
- In every case if you do not have anything try to get in touch with
a. a police personnel -> generally the most reliable
b. a government servant -> Like a magistrate/ IPS officers/ Army personnel / Railway station Masters/ Airport staff/ etc who may help you out as best as they can.
c. If you are traveling with a vehicle try to utilize your Driver as he may be the best person around to help.
- If you are threatened by something or somebody -> If it is a disturbed area , or an extremist activity please first go to a safe area and then seek help.
(Please keep yourself updated about all recent news when you travel)

- Weather Related -> If you are stuck at remote places due to bad weather , flood , snowfall , landslide etc please bear with the terrain and act judiciously as locals advise.

19. [FOREIGNERS/ALL]
- Maps are hardly available in India. GPS facilities are also very scarce. Before going to a place user can consult these.
a. http://maps.yahoo.com/
b. http://mapsofindia.com/

20. [FOREIGNERS/ALL]
- Enjoy

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