WARNING: The 9 most common tourist traps in India
For me, just the mention of the word India conjures up many different images, smells, tastes, and just like the country itself, overwhelms my senses. From the Holi festivals to the spice markets, colorful saris to the piping hot vegetarian curry—there’s just so many things to see, do, experience, and love, and every time I visit, I fall more and more into complete obsession.
But for me, discovering the best parts of India was a lot of trial and error; between reading up on popular blogs to scoping out the best off the beaten tracks, there was certainly a lot of hit and miss for me along my journeys in the Land of Prayer. So if you’re a traveller on a budget, on a specific time frame, or encumbered by any other restraints, don’t fall into the traps and check out my list of best places to visit (and intentionally miss) on your first, second, or millionth time in this beautiful country.
1. Taj Mahal
True, it’s a 7th wonder of the world, a giant testament to love, and probably going to be closed for good in a few decades or so; I cannot deny these facts. But to be honest, there are so many other amazing testaments of architecture, love, and Indian culture than just the Taj Mahal, and they’re definitely worth you taking a trip to.
For another example of Mughal innovation, and architecture built for love (except this time a wife for her husband), head for Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi. It’s not a colossal white marble monument, but you’re also not likely to be so tired from the constant pushing of tourists and frankly, kind of dirty city of Agra that you can’t enjoy your vacation. Maybe the truth hurts, and by all means, go to the Taj Mahal if you want. But check out both the amazing sites and tell me which was the better experience; I dare you.
This location gained popularity within the last few decade for one easily understandable reason—it was dubbed the “Mini Switzerland of India” and the beautiful countrysides and supreme campsite opportunities are a perfect reason why. But like all things subject to twenty years of trampling by wayward tourists, these once pristine meadows are nothing like they used to be, so take your tent and head elsewhere.
If nature be your destination, try heading to Syalsaur in Uttarakhand for its panoramic mountain views, sweeping river vistas, and definitely the kind of peace and quiet you associate with taking your vacation back to nature.
3. Exorbitant Taxi Fares
It’s when you’re not looking that they get you, so my advice is to keep your eyes on the meter at all times, and definitely to fight back when you think there’s a miscommunication somewhere. True, to you it may be a couple of dollars here and there, but if you’re taking taxis everywhere you definitely need to either speak up or get over it. I completely avoid taxis totally if it’s possible, but sometimes (like on a trip from the airport to my accommodation) it’s completely unavoidable. So keep a watch on your ticker and just refuse to overpay; it’s how the locals handle it.
Sure, riding an elephant may be on your bucket list, but face it: it’s not really politically correct. While Elefantastic is a great place and I am certainly not bashing their company in the least, my advice is to head out on a jungle safari with Chambal Safari India because they’re committed to being eco friendly and fun, and personally, that’s something I can really get behind.
Not just excelling at ecotourism, the Chamal Safari India infuses their 6 acre lodge with once-disappearing plants and the wildlife has come back, and flourished, under their care. That’s what you get when an engineer and a environmental scientist from London University try their hand at conservation. Activities on site include nature and village walks, river safaris, camel safaris, bike rides, and more, and luxury accommodation that just can’t be beat. So what are you waiting for? Have a good time and be conscious of the environment; there’s hardly anything better than that.
5. Radhangaagar Beach
Radhanagar Beach is a popular tourist spot, but with as many beautiful beaches as India has, it’s a waste to spend it at just one. If your heart is really set on Radhangaagar, hit it up, but just make sure you visit these other gems as well.
For fans of seclusion, visit Gokarna Beach. Because of the remote (and holy) town near the beach, this location is really off the map and unlikely to be visited by many visitors. But missing a chance to curl your toes in the sand here is really a mistake; developers have got their eye on this location and it’s pristine quality is unlikely to remain that way for long. For something close and equally picturesque with just a few more coconut trees, head south to Palolem for a great vibe and a cool crescent shaped location.
And for fans of snorkeling and scuba diving, definitely add Tarkarli to your agenda; outfitted with one of the best coral reefs in India, this locale is has the down to earth rustic feel while being equipped with great home stays right on the beach. Grab a bicycle and pedal around just like the locals; it’s their preferred method of transportation and you’re sure to enjoy it too!
6. Peddling Religion
There are undoubtedly versions of the religious hobos in every city, be they scorning you with the wrath of God if you do not convert, or just simple blessings angling to receive a few coins in their upturned hat. So it should come to no surprise that the peddling of religion in turn for a quick buck is a thriving business in India; a few words of mysticism, a saintly bow, a red bracelet for your wrist or ankle, and you’re in business. While I am not in any way bashing religion, or India’s religion, there is certainly people who will extort their knowledge of the Great Beyond for an extra coin or two and the best thing to do is just say no unless you don’t mind parting with a couple of dollars every time you go out in a crowd.
7. International Roaming Fees
In India, when things are so incredibly affordable for most Westerners, there’s no reason to keep your expensive global roaming plan with your regular cell provider. Why do I say this? Because the price of using a SIM card instead of your regular plan means more fresh chapati on your wanderings because there’s more change in your pocket.
My advice for all international travelers, no matter where you’re heading, is to grab a local SIM card and benefit from the better prices and even better service. To get started using it, it’s easy; just prep your phone and then get to calling. And bonus tip: get a data plan so you have internet access, it just makes getting lost so much less stressful (and trust me, you’ll get lost in the busyness of India).
8. Flea Markets
The prices are cheap, the atmosphere is to die for, and it’s helping the local economy right? Well, not exactly. While the prices are undeniably low, and the atmosphere of being in an Indian Flea Market is really fun, it’s not helping the local economy since the goods for sale are primarily imported from big labels in Western countries. And while it may look like a really great deal, remember that the likelihood that the merchandise on display is either illegal fakes or label rejects is pretty high.
So if you’re going to the flea market, treat it like an exhibition at the art museum; look but don’t touch. Carry your camera along with you for an even better souvenir and take a couple of shots on the selfie stick to send to Snapchat.
9. Random Tour Guides
Phony tour guides are certainly a thing that every major tourist destination has to deal with, and in no way are they exclusive to India alone. But many tourists seem to leave their senses and forget to do a little research before they pick a guide, and it could mean endless made-up facts about destinations, required stops you don’t want on your agenda, and sometimes misleading prices. And what’s worse is that this situation is easily avoidable; just do a little TripAdvisor research before you get head out; for something that hits all the famous destinations try Trips2India, for an all-inclusive luxury experience look into Cox & Kings or for something off the beaten path, check out what TransIndus has to offer.
Now don’t take me for a Negative Nancy; there’s plenty of beautiful, exquisite, and truly amazing things to see, do, and eat in India and I know this because I experienced all these tourist traps the first time around and made a point to not go back the second time. So branch out of the norm and head for the open road—you won’t regret it!
About the author
Hey there, I'm Claire. I've been travelling around the world since my mum farewelled me in a teary goodbye and I haven't looked back since. 3 continents, 16 countries, and 38 cities later and I'm here to share my adventures. If you like what you read, remember to leave a comment (I LOVE comments)!