What You Should Prepare For India
I had traveled through Central America and South East Asia for the past two years, and had encountered extreme poverty, dysfunctional cities, violence and fear. I didn’t think that anything could still shock me after the things I had already seen, from the child beggars to the limping stray dogs in Nicaragua and the in-your-face sex tourism in Cambodia.
But nothing prepares me for India.
I wasn’t prepared for the extreme smells, the chaos that occurs when a herd of cows decides to stop the middle of a busy highway, the insane traffic and the constant honking (this doesn’t bother me since I’m Deaf :D), the homeless people sleeping on sidewalks, not dozens, but hundreds of them, or the dead bodies I saw. And there are begging ladies who seem a hundred years old and look at you with those heart-brokenly sad eyes while they shyly beg you for money with their palms pleadingly open. The village kids that run around dirt roads in just underwear and without shoes because they don’t have anything.
India is a lot to take in. And India is definitely hard to take. Even though you might read this now thinking like I did ‘I feel like I know what to expect when I go there’, when you get there like I did, it will knock you off your feet. After spending 2 months in India, I’ve learned how to prepare for and adjust to the radical changes in this remarkable country. These simple India travel tips should help you arrive with the right knowledge and mindset, enabling you to experience more of the magic of India and less of the hassles. Let’s get to it!
Go With The Flow
The combination of crowds, chaos, and culture shock is both exciting and overwhelming. Take it easy on your first few days in India by resting at a nearby cafe and have a drink. Immerse yourself by doing some people watching through window.
India has a population of 1.2 billion people. It’s crowded, often very hot, and things simply don’t always run smoothly or efficiently. For example, If the train is delayed, just enjoy the moment. Look around you. Drink masala tea. Take the opportunity to relax and let the world flow by. You may see the beauty of India in these unexpected moments.
Take Care Of Yourself
India has a huge reputation of food poisoning and diarrhea. Definitely avoid drinking tap water. Avoid ice, eating fresh fruit juices, salads and street food, which can look tempting but usually isn’t worth it. It’s advisable to drink bottled water only. They come in two types – packaged drinking water and pure mineral water such as the Himalayan brand.
Even if you’re fit and healthy, you’re not a superhero. So definitely get health insurance. Pack a medical kit (include Probiotics, good for healthy gut flora, plus some general antibiotics) and bring hand sanitizer to keep your hand cleaned.
It can be unsafe for women in India. Always cover your shoulders and legs to keep a low profile. And you’ll need to prepare for being stared at lecherously by men. It’s best to avoid and don’t look at them back which can be considered flirtatious.
In big cities, it’s auto rickshaws and taxis (sometimes Uber is available) for getting around. You can organize taxi from the pre-paid counter inside most terminals at an airport or hotel. Always haggle to get lower price!
Trains are always overcrowded and disorganized. What’s challenging is that it’s not easy to book train for a foreigner. You won’t be able to book tickets online at all or via an app without an IRCTC account. IRCTC stands for India Railways Catering & Tourism Cooperation. You won’t be able to validate your account without an Indian mobile phone number, where an SMS with a one time pass code is sent. Assuming you (like most foreign travelers including myself) don’t have an India mobile number or have friends in India whose mobile numbers you can use, it’s a major hassle.
You can book a train ticket through travel agents in India. If all else fails, you can just go to any Railway Station and book trains in person (payment is by cash only). Try and go to the station to book your tickets at the earliest chance possible, as the trains sell out. Beware anyone trying to point you away from the ticket office and towards their own travel agency.
Where To Sleep
When it comes to Indian accommodation, you can spend as little or as much as you like – from $2 to $2000 a night and beyond. If you are like me on a tight budget, I personally use HostelWorld or booking.com all the way.
Do Your Research
- Use your right hand for eating and passing food, and when accepting or giving anything in a temple. It’s considered rude if you use your left hands.
- Take your shoes off to go into temples, mosques, and gurdwaras.
- Carefully watch and observe how to address people. For example, women and men don’t usually shake hands.
I did not hate India – quite on the contrary: I loved traveling there for last two months. While it was hard to digest the experience of many scenes on a daily basis – the countless stray animals (I may have germ-phobia- I get that from mom), the beggars, the crazy train rides, the visible wounds on people’s bodies, there are equally as many things that amazed me. The incredibly diverse scenery for one, which ranges from the deserts and mountains in the north to tropical beaches in Visakhapatnam and the barren moon-like scenery around Hampi. The ornate, grand and mystifying temples, the scrumptious food that bursts with flavors, the wonderfully welcoming people were all things that made me fall in love with India.
The way India changes me is how it challenged my perspective on the smallest details in my own life. For one, I just cannot complain about anything in my life anymore – no matter how hard something might seem in a specific moment, I am blessed with a great life, a passport that lets me travel anywhere in the world without any governmental hassle – the fact alone that I am able to travel!
If you ever have the opportunity to explore India, just do it! To experience something different, to open your mind more, to see reality in the flesh and to grow as a person. To do this, it’s sometimes necessary to challenge ourselves to force ourselves to experience the pains and joys of culture shock.
Because if you are willing to put up with the strenuous aspects of the country, you’ll be rewarded with the most memorable travel experience of your life.