Here goes the context: Vish was asked by someone he knows to provide a few travel tips for a trip in February to India, Chennai specifically. This person is an American and this was his first expedition ever to India.
So when we got down to putting some tips together we decided to omit the most common ones that Google would throw up or any other site on India would provide.
I thought of sharing the tips here. We based most, in fact all of these, on what we have observed during our conversations with people from other countries and what we have personally experienced when travelling back and forth.
- If this is your first trip to India, be warned - you shall be stared at with no particular intention to harm you or make you uncomfortable. Most Indians can get very inquisitive of "foreigners". So take all the attention with a pinch of salt. As far as regional security goes, it is extremely safe, so no worries on that front.
- Mentally brace yourself for crowds. The population within the metro area of Chennai is over 6.5 million people (No. 32 in the world in terms of population in metro areas). So, you'll know exactly what I am talking about when you get out of the airport - people, people, and more people. Embrace yourself for a "noisy" welcome - most places, and more so the airport and outside are exceptionally noisy when compared to most American states. No solution for this one :). It might be a bit draining at first but you will get used to it.
- Be careful with the food. Spicy means really spicy - Ensure that when you place the order, you specify your tolerance level for spice and chilies and any food allergies that you might have.
- Most American brands, when it comes to daily food, clothes etc., are available here in the malls, so don't bother too much with stacking up too many stand by options from home.
- If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing and traveling (which ideally you must if you have the time - there are some great historic and culturally significant places around and Feb is a reasonably okay time to explore the city), it would be a good idea to keep a mosquito repellent cream and disinfectant cleansing solution handy at all times. You can buy them locally in India if you are not too particular about a specific brand. I recommend Mahabalipuram, Dakshinchitra and Pondicherry if you get the time.
- You have to take advantage of the numerous beach side resorts on the East Coast Road (ECR) if you get the time. Suggested resorts are Fisherman's Cove, GRT. Secluded beaches and a lot of amenities provided. The beaches in the city are way too crowded.
- As with most developing economies, infrastructure is always the slowest to keep pace with the development, hence you will see construction everywhere - houses, roads, flyovers and metro rail. Therefore, the dust and pollution level in India in general and in Chennai, in particular, are very high - ensure you travel in a closed vehicle. You might experience watering and reddening of the eyes - It would be good to keep eye-irritation relief solution in hand all the time in addition to any anti-allergens that you take. Also traffic jams everywhere so you will have a lot of time to observe all the mayhem around you. ;)
- Traffic rules are non-existent so watch it when you are walking around the streets. (Welcome to the civilized world!)
- Sadly, the huge rich-poor divide ensures that there are always people out there to waiting to make a fast buck off tourists; the general impression being that anybody white has a lot of money to spare! Ensure that you know the general rates of autos (3- wheeled rides not advisable to take), taxis (call taxi service is readily available) before hand so that you can negotiate fares before the ride - it's good to go to fixed-rate shops, or take a local along for shopping when going to touristy small markets. Gratuity is NOT a must but if you feel you got good service its fine. Most people expect to be tipped from foreigners but you are under no obligation to pay.
- The best places to get a drink are the numerous hotels in the city which have their own lounge bars. I recommend The Park, Zaras Tapas Bar, and Taj Connemara for a few. The Park especially is in the heart of the city (located close to the US consulate) and is the watering hole for a lot of expats.
- Thankfully, in Chennai most people do understand English but not so much the American accent - It would be a good idea to speak slowly and loudly to get your point across.
That was our rather exhaustive list! Let me know your take. What would you add? What would you let go?