Picture this. It’s our first day in India, and our senses have been completely overloaded. It’s noisy, crowded, dusty, noisy, intimidating, and did I mention noisy? I’ll be honest. Four hours in, and I was questioning my decision to spend my precious Annual Leave hours on a trip to a country where I was unquestionably an outcast.
Despite the initial shock to the senses and the brain that was New Delhi, we decided to bite the bullet and venture down into the hotel lobby. (Ooh, big move, so brave.) Once you’re done laughing, please keep reading. Anyway, hotel lobby. Our tour wasn’t starting until the following evening, so we asked the man at reception about a sign behind him advertising ‘Delhi Drivers’. We wanted to see a bit of the city a day early, so we were introduced to a driver called Rajesh and off we went. We headed out into the city with Rajesh and saw some of the sites: India Gate, Humayan’s Tomb (which I would thoroughly recommend), some of the government buildings, the Lotus Temple… The list goes on. It was a massive day!
Interspersed with the visiting of these monuments, however, was when Rajesh dropped us off to some different vendors’ stores. The first one, Sean and I didn’t really have a problem with, because it was a textiles store, and we each picked up a traditional Indian top, and a stitched print too (even though it probably cost more than it was worth; we’d only been in the country for a day and had nothing to compare it to.) The second vendor, however, was the problematic one. Rajesh told us that we were visiting a ‘gem factory’ – which would’ve been cool – but we ended up in some back-alley in Delhi and were hoarded into a carpet store. A carpet store. I don’t know how well you know me, readers, but I didn’t head to Delhi to spend $450 AUD on a carpet. We were sat down and made to drink this tea (don’t worry, it was harmless) while these guys showed us more carpets than I think I’ve ever seen, and it took a lot of us pressing to leave, before we were actually allowed to leave without having purchased anything.
After the carpet saga, Rajesh became noticeably distant for the rest of the afternoon. It took us a moment before we joined the dots; drivers like Rajesh have contracts with these vendors, and make a commission on whatever his guests purchase. Because we hadn’t purchased anything at the carpet store, he hadn’t made any money off us, and we weren’t worth anything to him anymore. (Brutal, right!?) But unfortunately, it had kind of tainted the day for us by this point; we felt more like dollars than people to our driver.
It’s important, though, to understand how different India is to home. The average wage is way less than it is here in Australia, and while they may seem pushy or in-your-face, the majority of them are just trying to make a living for themselves, and their children. Example: the day with Rajesh cost 750 rupees each (about $30 AUD total). We tipped him 500 rupees, and gave him a 2,000 rupee note for the day. His initial response was, “Was I not good enough for you today?” We were taken aback by the comment and, as it was our first day in India, we felt awful, and gave him another 200 rupees on top of that. Lesson? We were duped.
We got totally duped! Rajesh knew it was our first day in the country, and unfortunately, preyed on that. We tipped him the equivalent of $15 AUD, which is a lot in India. Here’s a handy guide for any future tipping you do in India (and any tipping you do in any countries similar!):
Hotels/bellboys: most hotels will have a ‘tip box’ at reception, which can sometimes be better than tipping a bellboy, just because it can become quite competitive between the staff! However, if you feel inclined, 10-20 rupees for a bellboy after small tasks (ie. bags to room, meal delivery etc) is sufficient.
Private drivers: this is where we could’ve learned from this article! 10% of the total day cost is more than enough, and that is if they didn’t try to take you to tourist-trap shops, just as Rajesh did. (Note: we fell into the trap of tipping him almost 50%!)
Restaurants: anywhere between 7-10% of the total bill, unless a ‘service charge’ has been levied on the bill, in which case a tip is not required.
Tour guides: as a standard rate, between 100-300 rupees (as a maximum) if it was a private tour. If you’re in a group with others, use 50 rupees each as an approximate.
Hopefully this will come in handy for any travel you’re planning on doing to India in the near future. If you have any other useful hints to add to this guide, please don’t hesitate to send them to me!