Taj Mahal by Dennis Jarvis

Travelling to India? Here’s a checklist

Despite the negative rhetoric about safety, cleanliness and ease of getting around in India, the country attracts tourists by the hordes. Is it the chaos that enchants the foreigners or the colours? Is it the curious rural faces or the endless expanses of untouched green (dwindling but still there)? Whatever the reason, the travellers aren’t deterred by the disorderly potpourri that is India. Here are a few travel tips to make your sojourn through India easier and more magical.

  1. Book in advance.

Be it flights, hotels, trains or buses, advance booking will always hold you in good stead. In the world’s second most populous country, empty seats are hard to come by at the last moment. Even if you prefer luxury travel, don’t be scared of public transport in India. They are often reliable and fast, and you don’t have to worry about taxi drivers quoting astronomical rates.

  1. Don’t draw attention with your clothes.
Indian farm women
Indian women working (and posing) in a farm

If you’re in a metropolitan city, feel free to wear what you like but if you’re venturing into smaller towns or villages, stick to kurtas and tunics with pants. Even in the metros, be mindful of wearing really short skirts or shorts – these are appropriate only at the beach or while clubbing. If you stick out in a crowd, you’re bound to attract unwanted stares and attention. Avoid bikinis unless you’re at a five star resort’s pool.

  1. Choose European/continental cuisine if you have a delicate stomach.
Indian food
Delicious Indian food

Indian cuisine is among the tastiest in the world but you need to be able to stomach it. In most cities, you can find restaurants catering to every cuisine in the world. But if you’re in the rural areas, have simply prepared vegetarian food. Learn the phrase ‘theekha kam’, which means ‘make it less spicy’. You can also ask restaurants to reduce the oil in your dishes. Be very selective while trying street fare and go for small quantities – get a guide to show you the popular haunts.

  1. Be careful whom you ask for directions.

The good thing about technology is that it eliminates the need to ask for directions to a large extent. Still, there are tiny roads off the map in the less explored parts of the country. Indians are helpful and friendly; but follow your instincts when asking for directions. You want to avoid thugs on the lookout for unsuspecting tourists. Asking people with families or children in tow or college-going youngsters is a safe idea.

  1. Carry insect repellent if travelling to forests.
Silent Valley National Park by Nihal Jabin
Silent Valley National Park by Nihal Jabin

Mosquitos and flies are ubiquitous in India so make sure you have insect repellent with you, especially if you’re planning to rough it out or try budget travelling.

  1. Get lots of sunblock.

You are bound to encounter a lot of sun while travelling through India. It is a tropical country after all. And your skin might not be accustomed to so much of UV exposure. Avoid sunstroke and sunburn by carrying copious amounts of sunblock and staying hydrated. Also always keep a scarf or stole and sunglasses in your bag to cover up with.

  1. Don’t try to see the entire country at once.

Perhaps this one should have been first in this list. India is a vast country with many treasures flung across its four corners. Choose your itinerary wisely and leave the rest for another day. You could either do North India for its mountains and Punjab’s farms and gurudwaras, West India for Goa and Maharashtra’s historical and seaside treasures, Central India for the wildlife sanctuaries and Khajuraho temples, South India for the mountains, beaches and forests or North-east India for untouched forests, mountains and culture.

  1. Beware of pickpocketers in crowded places.
A crowded bathing ghat on the Ganges during Kumbh Mela
A crowded bathing ghat on the Ganges during Kumbh Mela

Travel tips to India nearly always include a note on financial safety, given that tourists are prime targets for pickpocketers and worse. Be most careful while visiting crowded attractions like famous temples, fairs and shopping markets and while boarding and alighting from trains and buses. Hold your wallet close where you can always see it.

  1. Learn the local prices to avoid getting short-changed.

India is one of the cheapest countries for shopping, though not as cheap as some of the Far Eastern countries. Also, walking through markets and street stalls here is an irresistible delight for the sheer variety and uniqueness of objects on sale. But get a guide or helpful locals to tell you about the prices and bargain for them accordingly. As a foreigner, you have to be willing to pay slightly higher prices than the others but there’s a limit, right?

  1. Smile!

Smiling Indian child

And now, stop worrying so much and start planning! India’s a great country to visit as long as you keep your wits about you.

Featured image courtesy: Dennis Jarvis

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