Travel to India has long been a favorite for all kinds of travelers, from young budget backpackers and yoga enthusiasts who are seeking to find themselves to history buffs, foodies and even those looking for opulence at one of the country’s many luxury resorts. India is a delightful country to visit for many reasons. It is a place of outstanding historical importance with a number of fantastic sights to visit, such as the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Red Fort in Delhi, Gwalior Fort in Madhya Pradesh, and Jaipur City Palace. Those who are interested in culinary travel will not be disappointed – India is known for having some of the best food in the entire world. It is also a place where you can find the most incredible landscapes, including impressive mountains, gorgeous beaches, and plains that stretch for miles.
Despite all the amazing reasons to travel to India, some travelers are still hesitant to make the trip there. Why? Because for all its richness and wonder, there are a number of things which a lot of people think make India not the best option for a vacation. The country has a reputation for being extremely chaotic, the approach to timekeeping and schedules is vastly different from that of western countries, scams are prevalent, and food hygiene has been known to be an issue for a number of travelers. But these things should not put off anyone who plans to travel to India – it is just a case of researching and being prepared. To help you have the best vacation possible, here is a list of secrets to know before you travel to India.
Transportation in India
Traveling by plane is by far the most luxurious option
If you can afford it, the plane is an excellent option if you are traveling extremely long distances across India. It is faster than other forms of transportation, it is largely more convenient and way more comfortable. The only thing that makes it more difficult is the security at the airports; Indian airports are well-known for their strictness on luggage weight – they weigh both your main luggage and your hand baggage, and it must be underweight or you are subject to high fees – and the process can take a long time as there are so many people. But it is still the fastest way of getting around the country.
Keep in mind to give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport, especially if you are flying from a major city, as traffic jams are extremely common.
Traveling by train is a really great experience – just expect delays
India is famous for its train journeys and it certainly is an experience that any tourist who plans to travel to India should put on their itinerary. The most comfortable classes are 2AC and first-class, which are still really affordable. As the train is one of the most popular ways of getting around the country, it is highly recommended you book your tickets as far in advance as possible as they get booked up really quickly.
The only real downside of traveling by train in India is the delays. Then again, these delays can occur on any form of transportation, so it is not that much of an issue. Just be prepared that your train is not going to set off on time and you will not be disappointed!
Avoid long journeys by road if you can
Buses can be a fantastic option for getting around as they are so cheap – but only for short journeys. Roads in India can be very bumpy, there are many drivers using them and there can be a lot of zigging and zagging. If you are prone to travel sickness, traveling by road may not be the best option.
However, it is a fun experience in itself, just as long as you are not traveling any significant distance.
Consider taking a tour
While it may seem like more of an adventure to travel to India independently, the fact of the matter is that for some travelers, the stress of dealing with the transport system and getting around can be a little bit too much. A great way of getting around this is by joining a tour like the ones provided by the best local tour providers listed on TripsPoint.com. This way, your transportation is included as part of the tour price and organized for you, plus you will be accompanied by your local guide who knows the system extremely well.
This means you are able to enjoy your Indian vacation with the minimum of hassle.
You will need to carry cash with you
India is still primarily a cash-based society. Unless you are only staying at top-end hotels and eating at the smartest restaurants, not many places will have the capacity to accept card payments. It is especially important to carry cash on you to pay for things like taxis, rickshaws, and tips.
Do not change your money at the airport
Like in pretty much every other country in the world, airport exchange bureaus in India offer the worst rates. Unfortunately, India has restrictions on bringing Indian rupees into the country; no visitors of any kind are allowed to bring Indian currency with them. Obviously, this causes issues as you will need cash to get out of the airport. If you can, withdraw your cash from an ATM once you get through security. If this is somehow not possible, the best thing to do is exchange just a small amount of money at the airport and then exchange the rest when you properly arrive at your destination.
Try and carry some small notes with you at all times
Carrying wads of 10 rupee notes is an excellent idea. Firstly, they are useful for tipping. Secondly, as it is one of the smaller denominations, they are extremely handy for making everyday purchases, such as bottled water. If you have taken cash out of an ATM and have received only larger notes, you can head into a bank and ask for them to be exchanged for the smaller denominations.
Food and Drink
Never, ever drink the tap water
It goes without saying that the water in India is not suitable for drinking. Visitors who travel to India should make sure that they only consume bottled water or water which they have purified. In addition to this, you should also be wary of buying bottled water from roadside stands; it is possible that they have used old bottles and refilled them with tap water. Always check the seal on any bottle to make sure it has not already been broken. It is better to buy any bottled water from official grocery stores, supermarkets, and hotels where you know it will be the real deal.
This rule also applies to ice cubes in drinks. For the most part, ice cubes are made with tap water, so it is better to avoid them altogether. If you are dining or drinking at a 5-star restaurant or high-end bar, the chances are they do not use tap water for their ice cubes, but if you are still unsure, it is better not to risk it.
Water is not the only thing that can hydrate you when you travel to India
Lots of travelers tend to stick water when they are traveling in hot countries. This is a mistake. Dehydration is caused not only by a lack of water, but also by a lack of minerals, sugars, and salts. So it is important to mix up what you are drinking. Coca Cola is a great thing to drink while you are in India; apart from being tasty, it is also believed to be able to kill off bacteria in the stomach due to its acidity. There is no direct proof about this, but it gives you a good excuse to drink it!
Chai is a popular drink in India. It is also a good option for travelers. Chai contains ginger and cardamom which are known to be good for the digestive system. It is also safe to drink as the water is boiled, although you may want to watch them boil it in front of you, just to make sure.
Give the street food a miss
For many travelers, sampling the local street food is one of the best things about exploring and discovering a new destination. However, it has to be said that when you travel to India, you may want to give it a miss. There will always be the travelers who show off about eating the street food and not getting sick, but, due to the lack of food hygiene regulation in many parts, the risk is too high. Stick to reputable restaurants which are busy; this way you know you are going to get something great to eat which will not make you sick.
Consider going vegetarian when you travel to India
India has one of the lowest rates of meat consumption in the entire world. In fact, in some areas, certain meat, such as beef, is banned for religious reasons. Even when there is meat in dishes, there is no way of telling how it has been stored. Of course, as it has been previously mentioned, if you are eating at a five-star resort this should not be an issue. But if you want to be really careful about what you eat, then cutting out meat for the duration of your trip is a sensible thing to do.
Only eat cooked foods
This may seem contradictory to the previous point, but it is important not to eat anything raw, including vegetables, salads, and fruit. It will have inevitably been washed in contaminated water, so if you want to avoid the old ‘Delhi belly’, then just do not do it. Cooking kills off the bacteria, so make sure you are only eating cooked foods.
Health and Hygiene when you travel to India
Do not brush your teeth with the tap water – and take care when showering
Just like you should not drink the tap water, it is really important that you do not use it when brushing your teeth either. This is because your gums are an excellent place for bacteria to make their way into the bloodstream, so use bottled water. When you are showering, take care not to open your mouth and swallow any of the water for the same reason.
Antibacterial hand wash and wipes are a godsend
India can be really dusty, dirty and polluted, especially in the big, overcrowded cities. This is why it is a good idea to carry around some antibacterial hand wash and wipes in your daypack. You can get yourself cleaned up if you are feeling a little bit icky, plus you may not find soap in public toilets. On this note, toilet paper is also not a regular item found in many toilets unless you are staying at a really westernized hotel or apartment, so this is another thing you may want to carry with you.
Wear flip flops in the shower
If you are staying at a high-end hotel, you probably do not need to worry about this. However, in cheaper accommodation, you may find that it is better to wear flip flops when you are showering. Sometimes, if the accommodation is really at the budget end of the spectrum, they do not clean every day or adequately, so flip flops are a good option.
Take off your shoes when entering temples and bring offerings
Religion is an important part of life in India and it is highly likely that temples and other religious buildings are going to be high on your list of things to do. Due to this importance, you really need to respect the temple rules. This includes taking off your shoes before you enter; if you are worried that someone will take a fancy to your shoes and sneak off with them, you can either put them in your daypack or pay a temple attendant a few rupees to look after them for you. You should also bring offerings to the temple, which usually take the form of flowers, to offer to the main statue.
India is similar to a lot of Asian countries in that it is conservative and there are certain expectations when it comes to clothes. Regardless of whether you are male or female, you should at least cover your shoulders and knees and also make sure that it is loose-fitting. Tight-fitting clothing can be deemed disrespectful, especially at religious sites.
Planning your itinerary and general information
Prepare for culture shock
No amount of reading and researching can prepare travelers for the fact that India can be a very confronting and disorientating experience when you first arrive. Like with any destination, travel to India should be done with an open mind, accept that things will not work exactly as they do back home, and by not having any expectations. Culture shock may seem hard to deal with, but it usually passes in a few days once you get accustomed.
Do not try to do too much in one trip
As you probably already know, India is a huge country and it can be quite a daunting task to try and plan an itinerary. It is advisable not to try and do too much or visit too many places when you travel to India. As it is such a chaotic country, it can get pretty exhausting just getting around a city in one day. With that in mind, you should plan your trip to India so it includes lots of time for resting and relaxation. Just choose a few places and aim to spend more time on them rather than hopping from city to city every couple of days. Due to the long distances you generally need to travel, you will need the time to recover.
Bathe in the holy rivers at your own risk
It may seem like one of the quintessential things to do when you travel to India but bathing in any of the holy rivers comes with risks. After all, they are filled with water and, like with all other water in India, it is probably contaminated, no matter how holy it is. That being said, taking a dip in these holy waters can be a wonderful and magical experience, so if you do wish to indulge, take care to keep your mouth and eyes closed and to block your ears and nose to prevent any water making its way inside you.
Accept that you will need to pay more for things and that people may try and scam you
Tourist attractions and sights in India usually have two entrance fees: one for Indian citizens and one for tourists. Naturally, the fee for tourists is much higher. There is a very good reason for this; Indian citizens, in general, receive much lower wages than those in more developed countries and it is unfair to expect them to pay the same price as tourists.
Another thing to expect when you travel to India is scams. These are usually not done out of any malice, it is just the attitude is that any tourists in the country must have a lot of money and there is no reason not to get a slice of it. Common scams and ways of ripping off travelers include being offered a ‘gift’ which turns out to have a hefty price tag, shop keepers increasing prices of goods, taxi and rickshaw drivers massively inflating fares, and drivers taking you to places which you have not asked to go to. If anything like this happens to you, do not get angry and if you are not happy with a price, just walk away.
Do not just stick to the cities
While India does have some fantastic cities to visit, it is in the more rural areas where you get to see a completely different side of the country. You will find that the smaller towns and villages will have a much slower pace of life and will not be so polluted, so getting out of the cities is a great way to find peace and relaxation in India.
Some may expect a stressful time when they travel to India, but it really does not have to be. It really is a fabulous country to visit, it just requires that little extra planning and preparation. If you do this properly, you can guarantee that when you travel to India, it will be an experience that you will never forget.