Chaotic, bamboozling, intoxicating, crazy, exasperating, wonderful, squalid, beautiful, daunting, overwhelming, and fantastic.
Are you travelling to India for the first time and are worried about what to expect and what not to? Or are you an Indian planning to take your first trip across your own country? Honestly, a trip through India is indeed incredible and being slightly worried is quite normal too. But you need not stress too much. Sometimes guidebooks give too much information which confounds a traveler. Here are 10 simple tips that you must keep in mind for your trip through India, and it’ll be a memorable one.
#1. Choose Its Itinerary In India
India packs a lot into a massive space, and you’ll never have time to see it all on one trip. Think about what interests you, what you like doing and how much time you have, and tailor your trip accordingly. Be realistic about how much you can fit in. Rather than trying to see the whole country, you may get more out of your trip if you concentrate on the south of the country, or on the north. However, internal flights are plentiful and inexpensive so you can hop from north to south if you want a taste of both worlds. The itineraries section at the front of Lonely Planet’s guidebooks to India can be a great help, but here are some possible itineraries to get the ball rolling.
The classics: The most popular India tour is the all-time classic Golden Triangle. If time is short this is a fantastic introduction to three of India’s top destinations, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and you can squeeze it into a week if you don’t mind moving every couple of days. Start in Delhi, with sights such as Humayun’s Tomb and the Red Fort, before hitting Agra and touring the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. Then it’s on to Jaipur to explore the Pink City and the fort at Amber, before returning to Delhi’s wonderful bazaars for a final shopping spree before you fly home.
Religious sites: If it’s temples you’re after, you’ll find them everywhere, but in north and central India, you’ll be truly spoiled for choice. There’s the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the erotically carved edifices of Khajuraho, Konark’s rock-carved Sun Temple, and cohorts of exquisitely hewn milk-white-marble Jain temples in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Temples in the south are something else again, with towering, statue-covered gopuram towers; there are stunning examples at Hampi, Madurai, Tiruchirappalli and Tiruvannamalai, and exquisitely decorated temple caves at Ajanta and Ellora, and Elephanta Island near Mumbai.
Mughal magic: Fans of Islamic architecture will find some spectacular monuments in Delhi, home to the Red Fort, the mosques and minarets of the Qutb Minar complex and Humuyan’s Tomb. Nearby you can revel in more graceful Mughal splendour at Fatehpur Sikri and Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, before exploring Rajasthan’s captivating collection of Mughal forts, including Jaisalmer, the very vision of an Arabian Nights desert fortress.
Beaches & waterways: Head south to enjoy India’s finest beaches. Munch bhelpuri (puffed rice, noodles, green mango and a tangy sauce) on Mumbai’s Girgaum Chowpatty beach before drifting south to the sand and sun in Goa. Take your pick of the Goan beaches – Arambol, Vagator, and Palolem are top spots – or try the black sand beaches of Kovalam and Varkala in Kerala, as well as lesser-known, golden sand in the north of the state. Kerala is also famous for its meandering backwaters, where you can hire a houseboat or a canoe and let the world glide gently by. Similarly serene is beautiful Dal lake in Srinagar in Kashmir, where – depending on the security situation –you can watch the mountains rise out of the mist from the walnut windowframe of a traditional wooden houseboat.
Wildlife encounters: Your best chances of spotting a tiger are in the national parks of Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan, but there are national reserves all over India where you can track down wildlife as exotic as lions (Sasan Gir, Gujarat), wild asses (Little Rann, Gujarat), one-horned rhinos (Assam) and wild elephants (Wayanad, Kerala), as well as abundant birdlife (Bharatpur, Rajasthan). Not quite wildlife, but certainly wild, are camel treks through the desert from Jaisalmer or Bikaner in Rajasthan.
Spiritual India: For religious fervour, Varanasi reigns supreme, with its ancient funeral ghats where Hindus pay their last respects to the dead beside the sacred River Ganges. But you’ll encounter India’s spiritual side all over the country, particularly at pilgrimage towns such as Ajmer and Pushkar in Rajasthan, or the Sikh holy city of Amritsar in the Punjab. If you want to get more involved, you’ll find classes in meditation and yoga almost everywhere, from the Delhi suburbs to the ashrams of Rishikesh. For Buddhist encounters, aim for Tibetan-Buddhist centres such as Leh in Ladakh and McLeod Ganj (Dharamsala), home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile.
Purchases – Delhi
Beaches – Goa
Hiking – Himachal Pradesh
Yoga – Rishikesh
Food – everywhere!
Tigers – Madhya Pradesh
Search for thrills – Manali
Religious fervor – Varanasi
Relaxation – Kerala
#2 – Go slow and be patient
This is my main and biggest tip for your first time in India – take your time, India is not a place to be rushed. Trying to cram in too much in and travelling too quickly will only result in being tired, stressed and frustrated and missing out on the surprises and local connections that make exploring India so incredible.
India is so diverse, everywhere is so different, even just a walk down the street can shock, surprise and awe and getting around, or getting anything done, always takes longer than you think. Be patient and get used to waiting around.
For your first time in India, if you only have a short time focus on seeing one state or region in detail rather than trying to rush around the whole country in a few weeks. I did this on my first time in India – never again!
#3 – Be cautious about who you trust
I hate the amount of negative publicity regarding travel in India but admittedly you do need to be on your guard to avoid the scams and hassles, especially in the North and especially on your first time in India.
The hassle is worst around airports, bus and train stations and popular tourist monuments but even though people will try their best to get you to part with your money in some way, they are usually not trying to hurt you and I have never felt physically threatened in India.
However, the majority of Indian people are some of the most open, friendly, wonderful and amazingly hospitable people I’ve ever met, after a while you will be able to tell who is genuine and who isn’t, always trust your gut instinct, just don’t be naive.
#4. Stay healthy
When one travels to another country, there are more chances of falling ill, as it takes time for your body to adjust to the change. But as the adage goes, prevention is better than cure. Visit a doctor before commencing your journey, take necessary vaccines and medicines that you might need. Also, avoid tap water and places that look unhygienic.
Many travellers go veggie whilst in India, and it’s not a bad idea, as a dodgy bit of meat will do you a lot more harm than undercooked vegetables. Plus, many Indians are vegetarian, so the country offers perhaps the world’s most fabulous choice of vegetarian food. If you do eat meat, make sure it’s well cooked, and stick to stalls and restaurants that are packed with locals (the best barometer for hygiene standards).
When you’re on the road, you may well find you have to use some less than sanitary toilet stops, but these don’t have to be health hazards. Toilet paper is rarely provided, but the left-hand-and-water-jug method preferred by many locals can be fine if you carry soap with you so you can wash your hands properly afterwards. Anti-bacterial wipes and anti-bacterial gel are also handy to keep in your day bag for a last minute clean up before eating with your fingers.
#5. Avoid PDA in public places
While metropolitans in India are more modern, it is better if you avoid PDA in public places. It will not only garner unwanted attention but could also lead to serious issues in some places. Not everyone in India freaks out coz of PDA, but many Indians are conservative.
Now go out, and claim your piece of the subcontinent!