India is a country of festivals and colors and millions of visitors come to India from around the world every year. Although visiting a country with such a different culture can be quite daunting, India is a very worthwhile and accessible country that is well worth the effort. Here are some tips for first time travelers visiting India.
Be prepared for Summer:
In India, the months of May and June are very hot, particularly in northern India where the temperature can reach an oppressive 48°C. This kind of temperature is difficult even for the locals to bear but will feel extremely uncomfortable for visitors coming from colder climates. The temperature of cities on the coast is much more reasonable, averaging between 20°C and 25°C although they tend to have higher humidity. The rest of the year the weather is generally more pleasant and a more enjoyable time to visit India, however, it is always worth checking local weather conditions before you travel.
Patience is of course a virtue but in India it is also a necessity as most Indian cities are crowded, have a lot of traffic congestion and plans do not always work out as per your best intentions. Apart from the problem of traffic, there are numerous other ways in which the Indian way of life will conspire to make you late reaching your destination. Take a deep breath, think pleasant thoughts and as a precaution, make your schedule flexible and give yourself more of a margin when making arrangements.
Enjoy the food:
Although Indian street food is very tasty it can also be very spicy which can be hard to take for the untrained palate. It can also be tough on the stomach and the digestive system if you are not used to it. Try to avoid too much fried food too as it is often made of recycled oil that contains a high amount of cholesterol and trans fats. Some Indian cuisine can be very sweet and contains a lot of sugar so you should probably try to eat the sweeter fayre in moderation to save your waistline! All in all, everything in moderation is the key as India has such a huge range of tasty delicacies that you will want to try.
Women should wear full length clothes in all areas other than when on the beach. Clothes should cover the arms to the hands and the legs should remain covered. Aside from cultural sensibilities, it also helps to protect from dust, pollution and the strong Indian sunlight. It will also help ladies to avoid any unwanted attention by locals who may not be used to seeing western women let alone women with exposed skin. Another option for women looking to fit in is to wear the two piece Salwar Kamee, Kurti or trousers.
Take off your shoes:
If you are visiting any sacred places such as temples or churches, you
should make sure to remove your shoes before entry to avoid causing any offense to worshipers or locals alike. The same applies to any other places where visitors are taking off their shoes – the rule of thumb is follow the locals – if they leave their shoes outside, so should you. If you are used to wearing heavy boots, it is recommended to keep a pair of sandals with you. Some temples (or other places where you might need to take off your shoes) provide facilities to store your shoes to keep them safe. Charges for this are minimal – for example you will pay just 10 rupees in most places and many others such as the Lotus temple are free of charge.
If you want to purchase something from a local market (pretty much anywhere other than the shopping malls) then you will find a lot of bargains on offer. The vendors will almost certainly try to charge tourists more than locals so be aware of the price that others are paying before you begin haggling. No one will sell you anything at a loss so be prepared to walk away and let them come down in price and remember that it is only a bargain if it is worth the price to you. If you can not reach agreement, move on, there are plenty of others willing to sell to you!
Ride the train:
If you want to
cover long distances in India and are not taking a flight, the train is probably the best, quickest, cheapest and most comfortable form of transport. If you can, avoid the overpriced sleeper cabins and opt for the ones with air-conditioning although they do cost a little more. It is, however, safe and comfortable and as long as you book your tickets at least 15 days in advance, you should be able to reserve a place at a reasonable price – this is particularly important when booking overnight trains.
Women – do not travel alone:
Although India is a relatively safe place to visit (for example, a recent study from the London school of Economics says that Delhi is a safer place then New York in terms of crime rate), it is nonetheless recommended that women should travel in groups or with friends or relatives particularly if traveling at night. Always carry a mobile phone, don’t talk to strangers, don’t keep too much cash on you and avoid very crowded areas as there can be pickpockets. As with any country, sensible precautions at all times are the key to a stress and trouble free visit.
Keep an emergency number on your speed dial:
When arriving in any city, take some time to find out the numbers for the local emergency services. Remember that throughout India you can dial 100 for any emergency (fire, police or ambulance), but there are some special helplines set up for women travelers as well as a train helpline if you are traveling by rail.
Get an auto rickshaw:
For a different and fun way to travel, try getting a rickshaw. As you disembark from any train, you will find plenty of rickshaws available although the drivers will try to charge foreigners more. Many hotels provide free rickshaw pick ups – simply call them and ask them to collect you. If you are hiring an auto rickshaw don’t pay more than your meter reading. Be wary of any friend or the driver’s asking to come and sit with you. If they do, ask them to leave. If they refuse, get out of the rickshaw and try another one.