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India Travel Safety & Advice plus the Best of Incredible India

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Foreign Woman Beheaded in India

Liga Skromane Missing Poster

Kerala Police have finally caught the two men who drugged, raped and beheaded a tourist – Liga Skromane from Latvia.

Liga had been missing since February when she went to visit a beach in Kovalam. She had come to India in search of ancient Indian Ayurvedic (natural Indian healing) treatment for depression.

The suspects are drug sellers, and one has previously abused both men and women in the same remote area in the post.

What went wrong?

Simply put, Liga trusted the wrong people. In tourist areas in India, it’s hard to know who you can trust. Most of the time, if someone is approaching you and starting a conversation, there’s something they want from you. It might just be a selfie or to sell you something, but it could be something else too.

As a man in India the risk is less, but as a lone woman being approached and going anywhere with local men is risky. They might come up to you and start with innocent questions like, “Where are you from?” Then once they’ve built a quick friendship with you, they’ll say, “Let me show you somewhere special that tourists never go.” Who wants to miss out on seeing a local sight off the beaten track?

Another thought I had which is pure hypothetical is that she may have been buying drugs. In places like Goa and Kerala, I was offered drugs from men on the street as I walked down the road or near a beach. I don’t do drugs or drink, so I never experienced what that process is like. But I imagine they’d have their lines to lure you to a quiet place to take drugs. Just like back home, you can’t trust drug dealers (but that should go without saying right?)

A final problem in India is that foreign women are seen as “easy” and thought to be more open to having sex than Indian women. So if you come across a man who has this mentality, he’ll take advantage of you all the while thinking to himself, “She asked for it, she’s out here talking to men!”

How to stay safe with strangers

Before trusting and going anywhere with people in India, there are a few things you can do to help protect yourself:

  1. As a lone female, never go places with strangers. But if you are going to then follow the next to steps.
  2. Verify their identity. Before going somewhere, add them as a friend on Facebook or take their phone number and call their phone so you know it’s the right number. If they don’t give you any personal information, then they don’t want to be identified, and that’s a big red flag.
  3. Then send their identity to whoever you’re travelling with and tell them where you’re going with these strangers.
  4. Use the share your location feature on your phone with someone, so your movements can be tracked.
Towads the Pakistan border. Photo © Karl Rock.

The Differences Between India & Pakistan

Everyone I met in Pakistan was very curious about India. Their top question was, “What’s the difference between India and Pakistan? Are they similar?” The answer is, yes, there is a familiarity between India and Pakistan. After all, they used to be the same country. But at the same time, there are a few differences.

Here’s what I noticed from a traveller’s perspective.

Food: Pakistan = non-veg, India = veg

I love to eat. So the first thing I noticed upon arriving in Lahore was the fantastic meat dishes. The meat is always freshly killed and cooked, and I think that has something to with why Pakistani meat dishes are always juicy. Try a seekh kebab in Pakistan and India, and you’ll see the difference straight away, the Pakistani ones are juicier.

Pakistanis are massive meat eaters, they consume 3 times more meat than all of India. So it makes sense that they’re experts in cooking it.

India, on the other hand, knows how to cook vegetables like nobody else in the world. You’ll struggle to find vegetable dishes at restaurants in Pakistan unless it’s breakfast. India’s variety of veg dishes is absolutely endless. Even a meat eater like me has become far less reliant on meat and consumer a lot more vegetables in India.

Language: Urdu & Devanagari Script

Hindi and Urdu are nearly identical languages except they have different scripts. In Pakistan, all you see is Urdu script everywhere whereas India is dominated by Devanagari.

Just looking at a photo from each country you can immediately tell which street is in India and which is in Pakistan.

Difference between Devanagari in India and Urdu script in Pakistan

Difference between Devanagari (top) and Urdu script in Pakistan. Photos by Wasif Malik andrajkumar1220.

City Design

Walking around Lahore and Islamabad, I found them similar to big Mughal influenced cities in North India like Delhi, Ajmer, and Lucknow. Clearly, South Indian design is nothing like Pakistani, but North India and Pakistan are similar. After all, both areas at one time were ruled by the same rulers. For example, Jama Masjid in Delhi and Badshahi Mosque in Lahore are nearly identical and built by the same emperor.

Jama Masjid, Delhi. Photo by Peter Rivera.

Jama Masjid, Delhi. Photo by Peter Rivera.

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore. Photo © Karl Rock.

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore. Photo © Karl Rock.

People & Hospitality

I found people on the street in Pakistan to be helpful but wary of a foreigner. Overall I found them less warm than Indians. I think this has something to do with their distrust and dislike of America. They probably assume I’m from there.

Usually, a local’s first question to you will be, “Where are you from?” I’d love to know what their reaction would be if I told them, “America.” I’m assuming it’s going to be different from New Zealand which has a cricket team that I found many Pakistani’s complimenting me on.

I find Indians warmer to foreigners in general. There’s no hatred of America there.

When it comes to meeting local friends in Pakistan and India, I found hospitality to be the same. Both my Pakistani and Indian friends show fantastic hospitality and a passion for showing you their country and making sure you are comfortable and enjoying. It was just the common man on the streets in Pakistan I found less warm than India.

All for me. The spread put on by my friends in Peshawar, Pakistan. Photo © Karl Rock.

All for me. The spread put on by my friends in Peshawar, Pakistan. Photo © Karl Rock.

Friends & Foes: Pakistan China

Arriving in Lahore, I was greeted with the Pakistan-China Friendship Underpass and a massive reef of flowers celebrating the China and Pakistan friendship elsewhere in the city. They even have a China Chowk (street). There’s no doubt about it, Pakistan China.

In India, you’ll see the same for different countries, but I can’t pinpoint any one country they love, unlike all the tributes to China I saw in Pakistan.

Religion

This one is obvious whether you’ve visited or not. Pakistan is dominated by Islam. Multiple times a day you’ll hear the prayer ceremony broadcast out across the city. You’ll hear the same in Muslim majority areas in India too.

India, on the other hand, is more visibly diverse. In India, you’ll see Churches, Gurudwaras, Hindu temples, Jain temples, and Mosques everywhere.

A Few More Differences

  • There seemed to be less poverty in Pakistan.
  • Very few stray animals in Pakistan.
  • Driving on motorways in Pakistan is much safer because the Police are very strict with fines. If people speed, don’t stay in their lane or don’t use their indicators when changing lanes, they get a fine.
  • There are no liquor stores in Pakistan.
  • More women out and about on the streets in India.

Overall Impression

Pakistan reminds me of walking into a Muslim area of Delhi like West Nizamuddin. You’ve got Urdu, butchers, mosques, and the colour green everywhere. Coming from India, Pakistan is a familiar sight. But the above difference constantly remind you where you are.

7 Must-Have Travel Accessories for India. Photo by Matthias Ripp (https://flic.kr/p/q2dgEV).

8 Must-Have Travel Accessories for India [Exclusive Video]

I arrived in India with none of these things, but I quickly learnt their importance! Here are the stop 7 things you need to travel India comfortably.

1. Ditch the suitcase & change to a travel backpack

Suitcases are useless in India. The roads and footpaths (if there are any!) are full of holes, dirt, and dust. Good luck wheeling your case around on these streets.

Use a large 55 L backpack instead. When it’s on your back, there’s no dragging it through the mud, and you have both your hands-free.

2. A cloth to clean your shoes

Your shoes collect a ton of dust, dirt, and if you’re “lucky” (as they say in India), cow poo. Don’t let the muck build up. Bring a disposable kitchen cleaning cloth and clean your shoes each night with water. Leave it out overnight in your room to dry.

3. Baby wipes, not toilet paperCloth for shoes

Toilet paper is a weird shape to pack and ends up getting squashed and perishing. Baby wipes are easier to pack, you get more use out of an 80 pack, and they do a much better job where it matters.

4. Carry flip-flops

Crocks Flip Flops

When you get back to your hotel, you’ll want to remove your shoes, but still, you don’t want to walk barefoot on the floor. Leave your flip-flops (sandals) by the door to change into when you enter.

5. Microfibre travel towel

Microfibre travel taowelDon’t use towels provided by hotels. People commonly use them to clean the muck off their shoes, and after all the stinky towels I’ve encountered I doubt they’re washed well. You’ll frequently see them drying on a dirty fence in the middle of busy roads.

A half-sized travel towel is small and will do the same job as a regular sized towel plus dry much faster. Most hotels have washing lines on their rooftops.

6. Sweat-wicking clothingNike Dri Fit

If you want to travel comfortably in summer what you wear will make a vast difference to how comfortable you are in 40 degrees. Use sweat-wicking clothing to achieve this. When summer comes, I’m thankful for my Dri-FIT t-shirts.

7. Padlock

Some hotels use old-school padlocks to lock their rooms. Use your own instead, that way you know no one has access.

8. Power bank & adapter

You can buy an adapter in India easily for around $1 USD but one thing to bring from home is a power bank. You never know when you’ll run out of battery on a bus or train. The higher classes on the train have power outlets, but only a few in each carriage and in weird locations.

Beware: No one accepts ripped notes in India. Photo © Karl Rock.

How To Avoid Fake Money & Ripped Notes in India [Exclusive Video]

Counterfeit cash is always in circulation in India. There are hundreds of millions of dollars of it floating around. To avoid getting stuck with it on your trip you need to know what’s real and what’s not as shopkeepers will always try to pawn off their fake currency to unsuspecting foreigners. Once it’s in your hands, no one will take it off you. All shopkeepers scrutinise cash before accepting it. You’ll see them holding notes up to the light to check authenticity. They’re not being rude, they’re just they’re trying to avoid counterfeit money too.

But never fear, here’s how to easily spot the most circulated counterfeits – the 10 rupee coin and 500 and 2000 rupee notes.

How to spot counterfeit currency in India

₹10 Rupee Coin

UPDATE: It’s been brought to my attention that the Reserve Bank of India has issued a statement saying both ₹10 coins here and in my video are real. HOWEVER, the coin on the right is considered by shopkeepers to be fake in New Delhi and surrounding areas, so it’s best that you avoid it if you don’t want to get stuck with it.

I got stuck with a bunch of these and when I tried to use them absolutely no one would take them. 10 rupee coins are the most common counterfeit floating around, especially in Delhi at the moment. They were made in the nearby state of Haryana.

Spot the difference? On the real coin, there are only 10 flower petals, it has the ₹ symbol, and the 10 crosses both the silver and gold part of the coin. Royal fail by the counterfeiters!

₹500 & ₹2000 Rupee Notes

Front of real 2000 rupee note. Photo © Karl Rock.

Front of real 2000 rupee note. Photo © Karl Rock.

There are 17 security measures on these notes but people only use 1 or 2. Get my India Survival Guide (Quick-Start Safety Guide) for all the details.

Don’t accept ripped notes

The same also applies for ripped notes: no shopkeeper will take a ripped noted from you, but they’ll sure try and give you their ripped notes. Always check every note you receive immediately in front of the person who gave it to you to make sure they’re in good condition with no tears or weird stains all over them. If there’s something wrong with it, hand it back to the cashier and ask for another – they’ll replace it for you.

If you do end up with a ripped note, take it to a bank and they will usually change it for you.

Holi in Haryana Men Throw Colour and Women Beat Them. Photo © Karl Rock.

Holi in Haryana: Men Throw Colour and Women Beat Them! [Exclusive Video]

When I went to Bahadurgarh in Haryana for Holi (better known outside of India as the festival of colour), I had no idea what I was about to experience. It turned into a great video because of that!

The rest of India celebrates Holi by throwing colours and water over each other. But in Haryana, it’s a battle of the sexes. It’s called Lathmar Holi.

As arrived at a small park, where a sound system and catering tent has been set up, my friend told me to be careful because the women are going to beat the men. I laughed it off, not believing her.

My kurta’s large top pocket was filled with 4 water balloons and I was ready for action. I burst a balloon on my friend and out came her whip made of some kind of Indian cloth. She started swinging it at me! She was a friend so she was swinging lightly. It didn’t hurt.

I grabbed the whip from her and began chasing her! After a short chase, I stumbled on an invisible pothole in the grass and came tumbling down! While I was face first in the grass an unknown auntie ran up to me and whipped me so hard it left a bruise!

Why did she hit me so hard? This was meant to be fun right? No wonder the other men I saw were running for their lives when being chased by a woman!

Haryanvi women are known for the brawn, this was the first time I saw it in action! You’ve been warned 😉

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