India is a beautiful, culturally rich, diverse and mysterious land that has drawn tourists for generations. The geographical and cultural experience in India is very different to what one may expect back home and not being prepared for it could spoil the fun. That being said here are some pointers to help you get off to a good start.
India is HOT!
We mean this in terms of both temperature and the food. With summer temperatures reaching in some parts of the country reaching as high as 40°C (104°F) make sure you are prepared for the heat. Always carry a water bottle (20 rupees maximum, easily found everywhere, make sure the cap is untapped), sun screen (prices vary but it can be found in chemist shop) and wear loose light coloured clothes (girls, you should have a shawl with you to cover your shoulder and head if you walk in a temple, or when you go through a dodgy place).
When it comes to the food it’s a good idea to always ask for it to be less spicy (the best way is the easiest: “Spice No” or say it in Hindi: “Kum theeka”) because dealing with the aftermath isn’t going to be easy (although we recommend lassi to counter the heat in your mouth).
Most of the buildings will either have air conditioning and/or fans if the heat gets unbearable. Please note that restaurants will charge you extra if you seat in an AC zone.
With its fair mix of both pristine and polluted lands the environment takes some getting used to, especially for a first time visitor. So it’s advisable to visit your doctor before your trip and get prescriptions for some preventive medicines (you doctor should prescribe some antibiotics, malaria pills, stomach ache medicine, diarrhea medicine, packs containing minerals and vitamins to counter loss due to dehydration and anti mosquito solution).
Getting vaccinated is mandatory, check with your doctor and the national Tropical disease government agency to see what needs to be done.
Make sure you always have clean drinking water (20 rupees si not much), either buy packaged water or boil your own.
Finally watch what you eat, the street food in India is amazing and available at almost every corner, however they do not stand up the hygiene standards found in Europe or US. So make sure the place looks legit and the food is properly cooked, avoid trying dishes that haven’t been deep-fried or boiled as they could make you sick. Also go where the locals go, if there is a crowd the chances are that the place is good.
THE HAGGLING CULTURE
Haggling is as much a part of Indian culture as Bollywood so do not be afraid or feel shy to bargain on prices. This is all the more important as prices tend to multiply when you are noticed as a foreigner, you will be surprised at the discounts you could get with a little bit of effort.
And if you feel the price is still to high don’t be shy to walk away, you’ll find the product you want on another stall.
Also don’t be afraid to ask other buyers/users how much you should pay. This goes for everything: food, rickshaws, items, etc. They will tell you an estimate and most probably help you with bargaining.
One word can sum up the transportation in India, Overcrowded. Yes India has a large population and that is never more evident than when you are travelling. Personal space is a luxury in means of transportation and sometimes one that even a first class ticket won’t buy you. Most local form of transportation will have special carriages for women, it is strongly advised for women as it more convenient for them. Buses and local trains are the cheapest way to travel locally so they will be very crowded.
Rickshaws and taxi are more expensive, although still moderate for a European or American.
For long distances you have multiple choice of transportation:
- The plane the most comfortable but the most expensive. The train the cheapest, the comfort will depend on your class.
- Trains are social places so you will end up talking to your neighbours and sharing food with them. Do not be afraid to chat them up. For long distance trains you will have to book your ticket prior departure. All major station will have a booking office with a special counter for tourists where you will be able to get seats. You might want to avoid food on the train as it might be unhygienic. Don’t be afraid to bring you own food. Train stations also have luggage room. It is ideal to leave them there and explore the city if you stay on a one day trip or a few hour stop. To use the luggage room you would need a valid train ticket.
- The buses are also a common form of transportation. The prices are closer to train fares and the comfort varies from the sort of bus you take.
Almost all the tourists’ sites you’ll visit will be crowded. Getting to your destination early is a good to avoid the hordes of people and the heat. If you plan on taking a cab or a rickshaw make sure the meter starts at the lowest value or just decide on a fixed price with the driver before you set out.
Entre fees are higher for tourist than for locals. The price is easily multiplied by 10. It is still very cheap and it is fixed by the local government
A few other tips would be to travel light, always keep an eye on your luggage and always have your papers with you, pretty basic stuff that applies whenever you travel. A trip to India is one journey everyone must make, just plan in advance, keep a few things in mind and you will definitely enjoy your experience.