Over the years I have produced a few of these posts on "things you should know before" visiting countries... This post is all about visiting India as I was lucky enough to spend 5 weeks there in early spring 2019.
Here are my thoughts on things you should know and prepare for before you visit this incredible, vibrant country.
Take your time
India is huge, there are so many different parts to see. But unpredictable things can happen, don't plan everything down to every hour. Transport in India can be seriously delayed, especially the train and sometimes (like we found out the hard way) the buses don't turn up at all.
You cannot possibly see all of it in a month. The north and south vary hugely, not just geographically but also by language, culture and religion. DO your research.
So, take it in your stride and enjoy the ride.
Certain parts of India can be ultra conservative. Women should cover up and avoid tight fitting and revealing clothing. I always travel with a long scarf that I can wrap around my shoulders.
You do not want to attract unwanted attention and it is best to wear loose and baggy clothing made from cotton.
Remember if you are at a religious site to dress respectfully.
Be scam aware
Be aware of scams and tourist touts. Especially in Delhi, it was overwhelming at one point. Our hotel owner had warned us prior to our first day, but at every corner there was an individual trying to scam us. It is important to be aware of these scams before hand, so you don't fall for them.
Tourist Information Scam (Delhi especially)
In Delhi a particularly common scam was the "government tourist information centres" which they (the scammers) would happily direct you to. It seemed there were hundreds of official tourism offices, when in fact they are all travel agents who want you to book an obscenely priced tour or travel ticket. If a deal sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Just avoid and be firm with them.
This was one that I had seen coming, however my travel partner didn't and he got scammed.
We were visiting Pushkar, a holy lake town where many "holy men" will assist you down to the lake to be blessed. They will place a red dot on your forehead and wrap a red piece of string around your wrist so fast you won't know it's happened until they ask you for money... Most visitors feel pressured, they don't want to come across as being disrespectful. If the price being asked sounds ludicrous and they are angry when you provide a small donation - chances are he is not a really holy man. These blessings are common around religious sites and I knew straight away it was a scam by the speed and enthusiasm they came up to us.
The taxi scam
We encountered this scam in Jaipur. The taxi driver will pretend not to have have heard of your hotel, and at their insistence they will suggest it has even closed down. They will then suggest taking you to a new hotel, where they will receive a commission for bringing them business.
I was well aware of this scam as we had experienced in it Mexico. I had been in communication with our Airbnb host that morning and had screenshot the image of the outside of the building, the google street map location and had their contact number ready. The driver was fairly irate when I insisted that indeed our accommodation did actually exist. If you have a gut feeling about something, go with it.
Just ignore the staring
People will stare at you for a long time and make you feel slightly uncomfortable. Just get used to it. In the majority of cases it is just local people who are curious, it is not considered rude in India and in some cases they may even ask to have your photograph taken with you. I remember in Jaipur a group of teenage boys asked my partner for his permission to take my picture with them. It is harmless and you might end up feeling like a celebrity!
Many religious sites and temples will ask you to take off your shoes. This is a traditional practice, some shops and home-stays will request the same.
The Taj Mahal for example will provide you with shoe covers to protect the marble flooring. However, it is a good idea to wear shoes that can easily be taken off. Some sites will have a locker system to store your shoes if you are worried about them being stolen.
Otherwise, leave the Yeezy's at home.
Try the food
Some people are wary when eating food in India, but the food is amazing. It will top any Indian takeaway you have tried back in the U.K and I loved trying the different varieties of curries and Thalis on offer. I loved the regional differences, from north to south.
One of the best things we did in India was a food tour of Delhi, you are taken around the street vendors and introduced to a huge variety of food options.
Learn to eat with your hands
In many parts of India it is common to eat the food with your hands, eating curry is done by folding over naan bread and using it as scoop. Western travellers, including myself struggle to begin with. It takes some practice. I should also mention, never eat with your left hand - it is seen as rude and unclean, traditionally this is the hand used to clean your self after using the bathroom.
Which leads me onto my next topic...
Bring Diarrhea Tablets
Unfortunately this can be a common experience for travellers, however there are some precautions to take to avoid the infamous "Delhi Belly".
- Don't drink the tap water. Packaged water is fine, just make sure the cap is sealed. Remember to use bottled water when you brush your teeth.
- If you are nervous about eating the local food, then don't eat meat. The great thing about India is they cater to vegetarians.
- Avoid fruit that is not peel-able. If you are washing uncooked fruit and vegetables, always remember to wash in packaged water.
- This isn't a precaution, just common sense. Pack toilet paper.
- Obviously wash and sanitize your hands regularly. I always had hand sanitizer and tissues in my backpack. Sometimes when you wash your hands in a public bathroom, the hand towel itself can be a health hazard. Just to be safe, dry your hands with tissues.
Get a SIM Card
Generally if you are travelling in the same country for a while it is best to get a local SIM card. It was imperative we got one in India, especially for using Google & maps. We had heard stories that getting a SIM card was tricky business, but in our experience it was a pretty painless experience.
We opted for a prepaid card, and you can top it up we went along. When you are purchasing your card, don't be surprised if you have to hand over documents such as:
A photocopy of your passport, a copy of your Indian Visa, a photograph of yourself and your home address. These document are required by the SIM card provider.
You should note that validity of a tourist SIM card lasts for 90 days. Thereafter it will automatically be disabled. We purchased our card in Delhi, but some larger Indian airports will also offer you a SIM card deal.
For more detailed information on SIM cards, click here
If you are an avid souvenir collector like myself, then you will relish India. It has so many beautiful textiles, spices, crafts, jewellery and home wares. You will regret over packing trust me!
Be wary on the streets
When you first arrive in an Indian city or big town you will be met with crazy loud traffic, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, car horns, cows walking down the street, a goat family, stray dogs fighting. It is chaotic and there is no real way to prepare for it. Just watch your step and stay calm...
I hope some of these tips can prepare you for your visit to India. It is an incredible country, if you are visiting for the first time you will likely experience some form of culture shock. Just embrace it and it will soon pass, this country deserves to be seen.