The mention of India takes one on a Bollywood fantasy: festivals of song and dance, sarees in bursting colours and impressive forts and palaces. It’s also chaotic, puzzling and exasperating. Planning a trip to India can be daunting but here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Time for some research!
Every region in India boasts a different experience: from chilling on a houseboat in the Kerala to camping underneath the stars in the Thar Desert. Get some ideas of what to do and where to go. Books, travel blogs, movies and documentaries are great sources of inspiration!
2. Visit each region at the right time
India is very seasonal, so know when to go. For example, avoid heading to the mountains during the year-end – some routes will be closed and difficult to travel. Take note of the dates of festivals such as Holi or Diwali. Locals are usually inviting, and want you to join in the fun!
3. Go slow
Rookie mistake: trying to cram everything in one trip. Don’t underestimate the distance between places and anticipate delays with transportation. To truly enjoy India, concentrate on a few places rather than rushing yourself to tick off as many as possible.
4. There’s an app/website for that!
Make My Trip is a one-stop solution to help you figure out how to get between places, complete with options for car, bus, rail, or air travel and the estimated duration and price. IRCTC Connect is an app that keeps all your train bookings and gives you alerts on your journey. Ola Cab is somewhat the equivalent of Uber in India – you can even book an autorickshaw for your journey! The only downside is that you’ll require a local phone number.
5. A little Hindi goes a long way!
Most Indians you’ll meet will know English, but some may not be able to converse fluently. Hindi is spoken almost everywhere. It’s especially useful when you want to haggle or to engage in conversation. Shalu Sharma is a good source for beginners.
6. “Happy journey!”
The Indian railways are one of the most extensive in the world. Each train has different classes to cater to every budget. Tickets can get sold out with popular destinations, so book in advance! You can purchase them online at the official website. Also, The Man in Seat 61 is my go-to for all that I need to know on train travel.
Credit: Backpacking Travel Pages
7. Get organized!
Keep copies of important documentation – identification, visa, bookings and passport photos. As a precaution, email them to yourself too. They’ll be of use when authorities ask for your travel itinerary and also to apply for a local number.
8. Choose a reliable accommodation
Confused on where to stay? Location, helpful staff and accessibility are important, so use online reviews and ratings as your guide. Get in touch with them if you have any inquiries or requests!
9. Safety first, always!
Be wary of the common scams and update yourself with the local news. Plan your travels so that you can arrive before dark. If that’s unavoidable, arrange for a pick-up with your accommodation upon your arrival. Ask the person meeting you to call you by your name, and have a safe question (eg: Where am I from?)
10. Stay healthy!
Oh boy, travelling when you’re sick is a ball of fun. Get the required vaccinations, bring along some basic medications, and drink water from a sealed bottle. You can try the street food but use your judgment when it comes to cleanliness. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer are essentials for obvious reasons.
A flavourful treat for the palate!
India is incredibly unique and everybody has an opinion to offer. One thing’s for sure: it will be transformative. Embrace the differences and don’t let a few negative impressions cloud you. All the best!