India travel guide & tips
What to expect in India
If you’re planning a trip to India for the first time, you’re probably bursting with excitement at the thought of all the sights, sounds, and flavours that await you. But you may also feel a tad overwhelmed – after all, India is a vast country, with endless experiences to choose from. Planning a holiday requires research. And that’s where we come in.
Our travel specialists have travelled all over India, from the cool mountains of the Himalayas to the sun-kissed backwaters of Kerala. They’ve put together this handy travel guide to help and inspire you when planning your exciting India holiday.
Top 4 India experiences:
Sunrise at the Taj Mahal – Sure sure, it’s something everyone should do when travelling to India, however, it is for good reason. The Taj Mahal is one of the wonders of the world, and you won’t believe it until you see it. We like to organise it for sunrise, so you can have a really atmospheric experience while you’re there.
Backwaters of Kerala – For a different pace altogether, cruise the backwaters of Kerala on a luxury houseboat, drifting past tropical jungle and spotting wild elephants.
Toy Train to Darjeeling – One of the highlights of any India holiday is to ride a famous Toy Train, and what location would be best to go to than Darjeeling? You can learn about tea leaf growing, and feel the Tibetan influence on the area.
Cities of Rajasthan – Rajasthan has so much going for it, including colonial history, ancient forts and vibrant cities of Jaipur and Jodhpur. You could have a whole holiday in this region alone.
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.
Although you will encounter crazy traffic, loud noise, and poverty, 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 prepared for curiosity – You might come across people who ask you lots of questions about yourself and where you’re from, or even the odd stare here and there.
- 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 areas 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.
Key Hindi phrases
Hello! / Goodbye! – Namaste!
Thank you! – Danyavaad! / Shukhriya!
Ok – Ach-ha
Yes – Jee haang
No – Jee na’heeng
Excuse me – Suni’ye
Sorry – Maaf ‘keejiye
How are you? – Aap ‘kayse hai?
My name is … – Mera nam … hai
How much is this? – ‘Kitne kaa hay?
I don’t understand – Mayng na’heeng ‘samjaa (m)/ ‘samjee (f)
Gallery & video
Preparation & 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, 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.
Good to know…
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 taking 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.
What to wear in India
When haggling, start at 50% of the asking price and haggle until you reach a happy medium. Remember to keep smiling and keep it friendly.
Much of India is still fairly conservative compared to the West so it is wise to respect local dress etiquette. 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. Longer shorts are fine, but keep your upper half covered (pashminas are great for this).
Take a peek at some of our India itineraries
India essential information
Best time to go
Due to its large size, India is a country with several climates, meaning that some regions are best visited at certain times of the year. See more detail below.
Hindi is the most widley spoken language in India, however there are countless others spoken depending on the region. These include Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati and more. A very high standard of English is spoken in towns and cities across the country.
India is the second most populous country in the world.
Tipping for good service in India is generally expected, however how much you tip is totally up to you. A 10% tip is the normal amount in restaurants and hotels when no service charge is added to the bill.
Fly direct, daily
You can fly direct from London Heathrow daily to any of the major cities in India. Indirect options are generally more affordable and there are plenty of choices of airline to take you away.
The rupee can’t be imported or exported, so you won’t be able to pre-purchase it in the UK. Instead you’ll need to get your rupees when you arrive. Currency can only be changed at banks or authorised money changers in India, including hotels.
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 take 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 take a copy of your passport and visa, as well as some passport photos as they often ask for this to set up the account. It can take up to 24-48 hours to become activated, however, it’s worthwhile as this will give you access to 3G/4G 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.
Guidebooks 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.
The journeys are long, so take a book or some kind of entertainment. Keep your camera close to hand if you’re a keen photographer, as there’ll definitely be moments to take amazing shots on the route.
Know before you go
Visa and passport
The easiest way to apply for your India visa is through the e-Tourist visa (e-TV) process 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. The durations and costs vary for the visas depending on how long you wish to travel for. 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, view our India visas and passports page.
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 bank cards. 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. Our top tips for health in India:
- 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 bottled 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. 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.
Food & drink in India
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 prepared and eaten fast so less likely to have gone off. Avoid meat on the street and be wary of juice stalls and pre-sliced fruit that may be doused in dubious water.
Some of our favourite dishes:
- Panipuri – hollow puffed balls filled with potato mixture and served with sweet and tangy pani (water)
- Bhelpuri – a savoury snack made of puffed rice, vegetables and a tangy tamarind sauce
- Stuffed paratha – layered flatbread stuffed with potatoes/vegetables/coconut shred/paneer
- Bhaji – spicy Indian snack dish, like a fritter, most popular are onion, cauliflower, paneer, but the varieties are endless
- Samosa (fried pastry with veg or meat filling – typically used spiced potatoes, lentils, lamb mince or combinations)
For dessert, try one of the many lassies (local milk-shake, which can also be served savoury), rabri (sweet milk-based dessert – super-rich in flavour so you may want to share!) or jalebi with ice-cream (deep-fried sweet pretzels which every street vendor will entice you with).
Safety in India
During your stay in India, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and use your common sense, especially in overcrowded places and when using public transport. Use pre-booked taxis when travelling at night and behave as if you know exactly where you’re going.
Women travelling alone
It’s unlikely that you will experience any serious violations as a female traveller in India, but there is a chance that you may encounter some unwanted attention. Be aware that in busy areas men may approach you and, though it is rarely threatening, it might make you feel uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to say a firm ‘no’ and move yourself on to a different spot, and always ask for help if you feel in any way threatened.
India has a very traditional society
Particularly in rural areas, the way of life can be quite different to what you’re used to. Always try to observe local customs, be respectful of dress codes and limit public displays of affection.
Theft and scams
One of the best pieces of advice we can give you when travelling in India is that it’s OK to say ‘no’. A firm and clear response to any kind of haggling or harassment is usually enough to put people off. Persistent touts and fraudsters can target places of interest, so, as with travelling in any highly populated areas, it’s best to stay alert and be sure you are clear on your surroundings. Keep an eye out for fake guides who might give you incorrect information. We advise that you only take advice from officials and know your itinerary clearly. Most of our holidays come with a private guide and driver so you can always ask them if you are unsure. Hotel lock boxes are a good idea to keep travel documents safe.
It might be tempting if you’re an animal lover, but you should always avoid contact with stray animals as street dogs and monkeys can bite or scratch and there is a risk of rabies.
In the extremely unlikely event that you get bitten by a snake, you should 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.