Overwhelming and often so much at once, travelling in India can be off putting. In a country where the unexpected is always around the corner and anything can happen (from pickpockets to wedding parades), India is a country where a little advice can help make a huge difference.
1. Be Mindful of How Your Dress With the hot weather and restrictive dress code, what to wear in India can seem daunting. I already posted a packing list for girls here. While men can wear nearly anything and mainly have to be mindful about heat, in the majority of the country women cannot display anything above the knee, shoulders or cleavage. Loose, flowing clothes are ideal. Scarves are good for men and women, to protect your face from dirt and bad smells. Head scarves have to be worn when visiting mosques as well.
2. Know Where To Sit On Delhi’s metro, there are female only carriages that I would recommend, although you should not take the metro at night. For train rides, this site details what each class is like. For shorter journeys I would sit in AC Chair, while longer journeys I sat in AC 3 Tier.
3. Be Respectful Clothing ties into this as well. In cities like Varanasi and Rishikesh, which are along the Ganges, be sure to abstain from meat and alcohol. If you stay at an ashram (which is really worthwhile) be sure to follow all the rules. Research always helps!
4. Be Practical But Don’t Let Fear Take Over I was living with an Indian family while doing volunteer work outside of Delhi, and my curfew was actually 7pm, in general. While I felt perfectly safe alone at night in Kerala (Southern India), in general it’s best to travel in groups at night and be careful when alone, day or night.
5. H2O Bottled water is cheap and the majority of people I know drank that in India, instead of filtering. In restaurants, make sure not to have ice, since I got sick this way. When buying bottled water, make sure it’s sealed. When you throw out your bottles, I would rip the labels off, so that people can’t find them, fill them with unfiltered water and sell them to unsuspecting tourists.
6. What To Do When Homesickness Kicks In Skyping home is always a good call, but a lot of my favourite things to do involve food. I love Indian McDonalds. Passionately. There is no beef (so no Big Mac), but the menu is pretty amazing. I’ve also been to the Starbucks in Delhi’s Connaught Place, as wells as the Dunkin Doughnuts. I’ve been to restaurants in India I would never go to at home, but I just love the Indian take on American fast food.
7. What’s The Deal With Toilets? There are squat toilets in India, but Western toilets are available at hotels, malls and movie theatres. When out and about, bring toilet paper with you since it won’t be provided. If you ask, your hotel should provide you with toilet paper without charge.
8. What To Keep In Mind When Booking Your Dates March is Festival season, and while busy, it’s a great month for travel with Holi, the Festival of Colours, and the hot weather. April is ridiculously hot, while May brings the rainy season. The best times for tourists are September through March.
9. Go See a Bollywood Film! Do it, do it, do it! Watch trailers before you go to pick a good one. While they might use some English in the film, the majority is in Hindi. However, the plots are usually simple and it’s best to read the wikipedia page before watching to help with the plot. You buy your specific seats like you would at a concert, and there’s an intermission for samosas at the snack bar (as well as popcorn).
10. Be Ware of Tuk Tuk Well, not really. Your auto rickshaw or bicycle rickshaw might try and take advantage of you at times. Haggle for prices (ask other tourists, locals and hotel staff for how much they think x to x should cost), and don’t pay more than agreed upon. Drivers often get a cut from shops and will try to take you there, and its best to be stubborn and and refuse to go. I’ve told drivers I wouldn’t pay them unless they took me straight to where I wanted to go.
11. Drink Thums Up It’s the Indian version of Coca Cola, but stronger and results in way more of a sugar high. I had a mild addiction to it and have tried really hard to find some in Canada. No luck yet.
12. Eat, Eat, Eat Your stomach might take a while to get used to the food, and it could take a while before you can eat street food, which is a must eventually. A good rule is to eat places where lots of locals are.
13. Giving Back On my first day in India, I was told by a local that it can be difficult to distinguish from right and wrong in India. The example he used was in terms of whether or not to give to people begging. Most people think that it’s a better option to give to charities. When it comes to children begging for money, the money likely isn’t going to them anyways. If you want to donate items to schools, don’t bother bringing them from home; you’ll find everything in India, cheaper (also, any school books will be catering towards Indian children and referencing things they know.) Sometimes when travelling in rural areas, children will come and ask for pens or candy. Whether you want to give is up to you, but I personally bought a lot of little candies for them.