Planning a trip to India? You won’t find anywhere else like it! India is a kaleidoscope of colour and chaos, prepare for the adventure of a lifetime.
Welcome to India
If you’re planning a trip to India for the very first time, you’re probably bursting with excitement at the very thought of all those new sights, sounds and exotic flavours that await you. But you may also feel a tad overwhelmed (let’s face it, you’re only human after all). Anyone who has visited India will have their own unique stories and tips to share. Oh yes, India is unlike any place you’ll have ever seen, so it’s wise to be mentally prepared for your journey.
Not to worry though. Our stress-free India travel guide will talk you through all the important stuff. So, as long as you remember these pearls of wisdom and travel with an open heart, you’re sure to have a really meaningful holiday.
Rickshaw Tip: The journeys are long, so bring a book or some kind of entertainment. Keep your camera close to hand if you’re a keen photographer, as there’ll be opportune moments to take amazing shots on route.
Preparation and research
The best way to plan a trip to India is not to make too many plans! If you try to cover too much ground with tight itineraries there will inevitably be obstacles and hold ups. India has its own sweet pace and sometimes nothing makes sense. Once you’re there, the trick is not to get frustrated, but to take a deep breath and go with the flow.
Being prepared, however, is different. Do your research; buy a good guidebook (Lonely Planet or Footprint), chat to your Travel Specialist (remember, our India gurus are always on hand to help) and immerse yourself in the history of the different regions, religions and culture. From its sacred reverence of cows to a nationwide passion for cricket, India has many fascinating customs and traditions.
Indian Culture – What to expect?
India has a population of a billion people and is one of the most chaotic, colourful and emotionally uplifting countries in the world. The country is so diverse it will amuse, delight and distress you; you will experience complete sensory overload.
You will encounter widespread poverty, crazy traffic, deafening noise and plenty of litter. All of this is difficult to avoid and can be daunting at times. However, your attitude will influence your experience; if you visit India with an open heart, you’ll appreciate its beauty and warmth of human spirit.
- Be positive and confident – It helps to look like you know what you’re doing! Say ‘no’ with a smile and pay close attention to your instincts.
- Be prepared for a lack of privacy – Understand that a curious Indian who sits too close, stares and asks you lots of personal questions genuinely believes he is being polite and hospitable. It may be a little different to what you’re used to, but in India this behaviour isn’t considered rude. Take a few photos of your family and friends to show people, it will help break the language barrier.
- Rushing doesn’t work in India – Try to adjust to India-time and leisurely explore a small area. Mix a few tourist sites with downtime in the less hectic places such as wildlife reserves, jungles, beaches and tranquil hill stations.
- Be aware of the cultural etiquette – Eating with your left hand, for example, is considered dirty, so stick to your right hand. This also applies when meeting people, always use your right hand. Also, revealing the soles of your feet is considered very rude so keep them covered, especially around holy sites.
Wildlife tourism – Thanks to India’s varied climate and terrain it is home to some of Asia’s most distinctive and exotic animals such as tigers and elephants. Unfortunately, these creatures are often seen as lucrative tourist entertainment.
Please don’t support irresponsible wildlife tourist attractions; avoid riding, hugging or having selfies with wild animals. If you’re looking for a genuine tiger experience, Rickshaw offers a handful of National Park safaris where you can get the chance to see tigers in the wild, where they belong. You can read more about animal welfare abroad at World Animal Protection.
Dress code – Much of India is still fairly conservative compared to the West so it is wise to respect local dress. Last year, India’s tourism minister, Mahesh Sharma, sparked controversy when he asked women not to wear skirts ‘for their own safety’. Though this may not be the solution to misogyny, if you prefer to blend in it is worth avoiding wearing skimpy or revealing outfits and to dress appropriately to the culture you are in. Shorts are fine (not mini-shorts), but keep your upper half covered (Pashmina’s are great for this!).
Rickshaw Tip: When haggling, start at 50% of the asking price and haggle until you reach a happy medium. But remember to keep smiling and keep it friendly!
What to pack
Ah the essentials. You can buy most things you need in India at a bargain price so it’s worth trying to travel light, packing a comfortable backpack to travel around easily.
Mosquitoes in India can be fierce little blighters, so make sure you bring along insect repellent containing DEET, as well as coils to ward off any pesky evening visitors.
Wet wipes and antibacterial hand wash
Just trust us on this one!
Talk about a multi-purpose item! As well as being used as clothing, a sarong can also serve as a blanket, towel or even a makeshift curtain for privacy when you travel. There’s nothing sarong with that!
Padlock and chain
Always handy to secure baggage when you’re travelling by train.
Indian SIM cards can be bought on arrival, we recommend going to a mobile phone shop. Make sure you bring a copy of your passport and visa, as well as some passport photos as they often ask for this to setup the account. It can take up to 24-48 hours to become activated, so it’s worth bearing that in mind.
However, it’s worthwhile as this will give you access to 3G to download travel apps, etc! SIM cards can be topped up in phone shops all over the country.
Unfortunately the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’ is no myth. In fact, diarrhoea is fairly common when travelling in India. Our advice? Pack some Imodium Instants and re-hydration sachets to ease upset stomachs and dehydration.
Guide books are always handy when you arrive at a new destination and most will include a few useful language tips and phrases to scrub up on so you can impress the locals. We recommend Lonely Planet and Footprint as particularly good ones!
Know before you go
Visa and passport
Right, let’s get into the important stuff; visas. The easiest way to apply for your India visa is through the e-Tourist visa (e-TV) process now available to British citizens in the UK. You can apply online up to four days before your arrival and must enter the country within 30 days of its issue. Your e-TV will be valid for 60 days from the date of arrival in India and costs US$60 (£39). Don’t forget to double check that your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your return date to the UK. For more information, visit Indian Visa Online.
If you want longer length and multiple entry visas, you’ll need to apply for a full tourist visa through the India Visa Information website. Postal applications take around two weeks to process.
Note: It’s a good idea to carry separate photocopies of your passport, travel visas, airline tickets and travel documents.
All tourists visiting India should get vaccinated for Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Typhoid. There’s also the risk of Malaria but health warnings in India change often so we suggest checking www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk for the latest updates and having a chat with your GP for further advice. Oh, and don’t forget to secure travel insurance before you go.
The Indian currency is the Rupee and although you won’t be able to pre-purchase it in the UK, there are plenty of ATMs in India and most accept international bankcards. You can also exchange GB sterling travellers’ cheques and US dollars at banks and authorised moneychangers on arrival at the airport.
Rickshaw Tip: Be ready to feel like a real celebrity – some locals will quite likely want to take a picture with you
It’s perfectly normal for travellers heading to India to get slightly ill during their stay; even Indians returning from abroad take time to readjust to the food, climate, bugs and sanitation conditions. Our advice is to keep an eye on the food you eat and how it’s been prepared. If you slather on the mosquito repellent and make sure you have the correct vaccinations, you should get away with just a touch of Delhi Belly.
Clean your hands – Always carry an antibacterial hand wash with you and make sure you apply it regularly.
Drink the right water & stay hydrated – Aim to drink 2 litres of water a day. If you have a headache or feel light-headed and nauseous, you may have heat exhaustion, so it’s worth carrying Dioralyte rehydration sachets with you to mix with water as a good remedy.
Tap water is a no-go in India, even when brushing your teeth or in the shower. Be sure to avoid salad that is rinsed in tap water and unfiltered ice cubes. Bottled water is your friend, but make sure it’s properly sealed first and look for the brands Kinley and Aquafina. Where bottled water is not available, the safest thing to do is drink the ubiquitous Coca Cola and Pepsi!
Careful where you swim – Taking a dip in fresh water isn’t recommended and doing so runs the risk of picking up a nasty infection, such as schisto which can cause many problems. It’s not worth it.
Be sensible with what you eat – If you do get Delhi Belly, don’t worry. Just make sure you give yourself a few days rest in a comfortable room, stick to a diet of plain rice and yoghurt and drink plenty of fluids and rehydration sachets.
The food in India is dhal-iscious (ahem) and is probably going to be a massive highlight of your holiday. Just allow yourself time to adjust when you arrive in the country and always go for freshly prepared snacks. Remember, queues are a good thing; a busy stall means food is prepped and eaten fast so less likely to be off. Avoid meat on the street and be wary of juice stalls and pre-sliced fruit that may be doused in dubious water.
Animals with risks – It might be tempting if you’re an animal lover, but you should always avoid making friends with stray animals in India. The country has the highest rate of rabies in the world and street dogs and monkeys can bite or scratch.
Cows appear quite benign but can come at you with horns down if you startle them so it’s best to give them a wide berth.
There are venomous snakes in India – In the unlikely event that you get bitten, the first thing you should do is immediately seek medical care. If you can, try to note the markings of the snake so it can be identified and the correct antidote given.
Closely monitor your own health – Pay attention to your skin when you’re travelling; if it starts to look infected, immediately cover it in some antibacterial gel to avoid further issues.
If you feel unwell for more than a few days, consult a doctor on your symptoms for further treatment.