India is a country rich with spirituality, diverse cultures, a goldmine of attractions and a travellers dream. A visit to this jewel in Asia has to be part of every traveller’s bucket list.
There can however, only be a single outcome from your visit – you either fall in love with it or you hate it. The outcome solely depends on how well prepared you are for what you are about to experience; noisy over crowded bustle of cities, sweaty traffic jams, simple villages and a diverse range of cultures.
After having visited a few times throughout my life so far I am here to help you stop yourself from concluding that India is a nightmare to visit by sharing with you a few tips.
Pick the right season to travel
The seasons are more of an extreme within India as opposed to what we experience here in the UK therefore make sure you pick the right season to travel!
You do not want to end up stuck indoors due to monsoon rainfall which starts late in July and ends late September – this can be very messy especially around dirt road regions. Baking in the heat is also not an ideal travel plan so the Indian summer should be avoided.
The temperature usually starts to rise as early as mid-April and May. The ideal time to travel has to be during Autumn or Winter; the daytime heat is bearable and the evenings are cool making it comfortable to travel.
What you wear is very important
While packing to go away to a tropical climate you wouldn’t normally think twice before throwing your bikini and summer dresses into your suitcase. India however, is different. The culture values modesty and so covering up as much as possible is usually the best option; this shows respect for the culture and helps you avoid unwanted attention.
I’m not saying a full body suit is required, simply make sure cleavage and legs are not on show. It would be best to pack light and buy some Indian clothes when you get there; they’re not very pricey and they will probably keep you cooler in the heat so making your travels more comfortable.
You can switch back to dresses and shorts in bigger cities, such as Mumbai, which are more modernised and open to western culture. It’s a bit simpler for guys; long shorts and a t-shirt should be sufficient!
Keep your travel plans flexible
It doesn’t matter how well organised your plans are they don’t always go accordingly. You have to allow for more time than you expect and always stay patient! The transport system isn’t as precise as we have here and so you can expect delays. My over-night coach journey back from Mumbai which was supposed to reach Porbandar at 8am ended up reaching there at 3pm due to a tyre puncture and long pit stop; this leads me on to the next tip.
Plan your transport in advance
India does not have the most reliable transport system in the world; with trains and coaches often delayed with or without an explanation and tickets getting easily booked up. You need to make sure you book your transport well in advance! I encountered this problem as I tried to book train tickets last minute back to Porbandar to make it back to my family in time for Diwali. Everything was fully booked as it was during their holiday season and so I ended up having to travel on a local sleeper coach just two days before the festival; making it back just in the nick of time.
Prepare yourself for a spiritual journey
India is a home to spirituality. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam and Christianity all co-exist here together in an almost perfect state of harmony. Their influences can be found everywhere with temples, churches, mosques, ashrams or monasteries everywhere you go. It is such a calming and unworldly experience to visit these places of worship which promotes the oneness of humanity.
However, be aware of fake holy men that linger around these places lying in wait of gullible travellers to con; I found plenty of these in Haridwar on the banks of the river Ganga. The best thing to do is ignore anybody that asks you for money regarding religious places and they should leave you alone.
Carry toilet paper or tissues everywhere without fail
This is self-explanatory. Once you leave the top end hotels toilet paper is non-existent in most places. It is best to always have some on your person as most public toilets will not provide any. You should also be prepared for the lack of “English” toilets and showers.
An Indian toilet consists of a hole in the ground and the substitute for a shower is a bucket of luke warm water with a smaller bucket to wash with. As terrible as this seems washing with a bucket was a very different and enjoyable experience.
Embrace the culture; don’t be afraid of new experiences
Be it the cuisine or the people, there are so many diverse cultures to experience while you’re travelling through India. The way I see it, if you try to live the way you live at home then there is no chance of you being able to enjoy your trip. Food is a major part of the culture. You will notice that tastes and dishes are different in every state you visit. I encourage you to be adventurous and try new delicacies however make sure you eat in safe hygienic places.
Don’t be tempted by street food as it isn’t very hygienic and will most likely disagree with your digestive system. Don’t be afraid to speak to the locals; they are more than often not very friendly. During my trip I asked a local where I can find a quiet beach and he told us about a beach behind an old Hindu temple. We soon arrived at a beautiful ancient temple and as we were told, a short walk behind the temple, lo and behold… an empty beach!
I’ve experienced so much in India. Camel rides, travelling on the back of an open truck, braving a local train, climbing a 10,000 step mountain, touring ancient forts and palaces, slumming it in Mumbai to dipping in an unbelievably cold Ganges. I still feel like India has so much more to offer.
By using these tips I was able to have a much more enjoyable experience. Remember, the most important tip of all is to travel with an open mind!
Feel free to comment with any other questions I may have left unanswered.