Hi, This is for all my foreign friends who plan to travel to India alone. Independent travel may sound fun but an UNPLANNED trip can be life threatening. You may be cheated, looted or worst.
This comes from a recent experience of mine that I had at Gorakhpur while on the way back from Nepal. I was having lunch with a friend of mine at one of the dhabas opposite to the rail station, when this young foreign tourist sitting next to us, said ‘Namastey’ to me. I asked him where he was from. He said, China. So I responded to his Namastey with a ‘Ni Hao’ (Chinese term for greeting). He was happily surprised. I then shared with him experiences of my visit to China and during the conversation he told me that he was stuck in Gorakhpur as he could not manage to get a train ticket to travel to the next city. There were no tickets available at the station counter and he had no clue that reservations for Indian Rail can also be made online. All he could manage was a ticket to Varanasi for the ‘General’ compartment. I told him that we as locals don’t dare to enter that overcrowded coach, forget about you travelling in that! He later went on to tell us that he was in India for a week and had plans to cover 5 cities by doing rail travel including cities like Delhi & Bombay, which were very far from where he was. To my shock, he had no rail reservations, no hotels bookings and nothing at all to execute his plans to reality. He was clueless about what he was doing. I told him, what he was doing was not realistic and he was only making a fool of himself.
I decided to bail him out of his critical situation. I was more than willing to help him because in the past I have found myself in similar situations at various places that I have been to, including his country, China. And every time it was the locals, who were my saviors. Now it was my chance to return the favour. I told him that I was travelling to Delhi and had a reservation in the AC Coach of one of the trains, and that he can share the berth with me and can comfortably reach Delhi. I also promised him that upon reaching Delhi, I will make all his rail bookings and hotel reservations for all the cities he wanted to travel to. After a long thought, he refused to my help. He probably would have thought that asking for help from a stranger in a foreign nation might land him in deeper trouble. He rather asked for my e-mail and phone number and said that he would contact me if gets into any trouble. While departing, he told me that I was the first nice guy that he met in India. He also asked my friend to take a picture of us with his camera. So far, I have not heard from him. I can only pray that he reaches home safely.
In my opinion, the best way to travel to a new country is to explore the place with locals. But if you don’t have that luxury, then the next best option is to travel in a group, especially for female tourists. Else you may take the services of a tour operator who would put you in a group with other tourists and you can then travel happily with them. But if you are one of those people like me, who believe that travelling in a group can ruin all the fun and that tour operators are for the faint hearted; then remember, PLANNING and RESEARCH is the key. Without proper planning, you are destined to come back home with poor memories of the people and the place.
But keep travelling, don’t let excuses stop you. Because when we travel, we realize how wrong we were of people and places.