A trip to India is an assault on the senses. From the moment you step off the plane, you'll find yourself surrounded by sights, smells and sounds light years from your daily experiences in Australia. Whilst these differences are what makes India such a huge draw, it's worth remembering the following tips to stay safe, healthy and in the locals' good books during your stay in this magnificent country.
Be respectful of the culture
For culture lovers, India is an unrivalled holiday destination. From busy markets to elaborate temples, it's impossible to see everything in just one trip.
However, it can be easy when staring wide-eyed at the Taj Mahal to forget that India is a living culture, with societal norms and expectations just like anywhere else. To avoid accidentally offending anyone during your trip it's important to remember these things…
With temperatures in summer that regularly reach the high 30s and even 40s, it can be tempting for tourists to dress down, but when it comes to fashion India errs on the conservative side. Tops that reveal your shoulders, open shirts and short skirts are guaranteed to go down badly, so try to find something loose-fitting that still covers you well. After all, where else in the world should you buy elephant pants, if not India?
Your clothing choices become even more important if you plan to visit temples or other sacred sites. In some places you won't be allowed entry without appropriate clothing, so packing a sarong to cover any exposed areas is always a good idea.
Top tip: Follow the example of locals by removing your shoes upon entering a religious building.
How to interact with people
Don't be surprised if people simply strike up a conversation with you. Prepare for questions that would seem bizarre, or even intrusive, coming from a stranger in the Western world. For example, “what is your qualification?” is common, but bear in mind that these enquiries are perfectly natural in a country which places great emphasis on social strata. Feel free to ask the same questions back, you've found yourself a great opportunity to learn about life in India!
Eating and drinking
Indian cuisine has become a staple around the world, so you're bound to want to try some in the place where it was born. Remember that Indians eat with their fingers, and the number one rule when dining in the company of locals is to avoid using your left hand. In India the left hand is used for wiping your bottom, as well as a variety of other unhygienic tasks, so passing food or eating with this hand is a big taboo.
It's also imperative that you don't let your lips touch someone else's food or drink. Tear bread and pass it on, but don't take a bite and pass it on. If drinking from a friend's glass, pour the liquid straight into your mouth.
Perhaps the biggest concern when it comes to food is a dose of gastro. There are a number of precautions you can take to help you avoid nasty stomach bugs.
- Don't drink tap water - Bringing your own filter water bottle is a great way to help protect yourself from waterborne parasites, without the environmentally damaging impacts of buying plastic.
- Avoid salads and juices - Be wary of anything that isn't cooked but eating salads and drinking fruit juice in particular could be asking for trouble.
- Carry probiotics and charcoal - Probiotics help with your natural immunity, while charcoal is effective at stopping dysentery and diarrhoea.
- Don't overeat - Eating too much hinders your digestive system's response if it's faced with a parasite attack, so opt for moderation.
If you do start to feel ill during your time in India, don't be afraid to visit local pharmacies. They're very reasonably priced and well stocked, and the helpful staff can show you what you need to get back on the road to recovery.
Travelling safely in India is a real worry for many, but it doesn't have to be. A few common-sense rules can drastically reduce the chance of running into difficulties.
- Don't walk alone at night - India's bars and restaurants make for a vibrant and fascinating nightlife but be sure to enjoy them with at least one other person.
- Research the neighbourhoods - Just like in Australia, there are some areas in some cities you're advised to avoid altogether. Researching where you're going to stay before arriving is your best bet.
- Keep your mobile charged - As local taxi drivers may take you down unfamiliar shortcuts, being able to check your GPS, and contact people if necessary, is vital.
For women, it's a good idea to make use of designated female spaces if travelling alone. Some major hotel chains and public transport options now have female only floors or compartments. Even if not for safety reasons, using these spaces can often be a lot more comfortable.
Rush hour in Indian cities must be seen to be believed. The noise, and the sheer number of people on the go at one time, will be like nothing you'll have seen before. Witnessing the madness is very much part of your Indian education, but the crowds can quickly become frustrating when you need to get somewhere. The good news is that transport on the whole in India is cheap - here are the pros and cons of some of the most common options.
Pros - When travelling long distances trains are a great way to see beautiful India's countryside, and they're often very cheap.
Cons - Inner city trains during busy times are like sardine tins, so be strategic about when you use them.
Pros - Buzzing round the streets in a rickshaw is a truly Indian experience.
Cons - Be prepared to haggle over costs and be wary of drivers who offer to take you to a specific hotel - there's often a commission involved. If you want to ride in comfort and style, this might not be the option for you.
Hiring a car and driver
Pros - This is very cheap by Australian standards and can be handy if you're staying in one area for a few days.
Cons - Indian roads are very busy, so this isn't always the quickest way of getting around. If you're thinking of hiring a car and driving yourself, be prepared for a very different highway code.
With these tips in mind, you're well on your way to a great Indian vacation. The only thing left to do is book the trip! Pop in to see your local Travellers Choice agent and find out how they can help.