The second most popular question is ‘ tell me what I should know when planning a trip to India’. If you are thinking of visiting this captivating country for the first time, then let me share my top tips.
What are your interests, how much time do you have, and what time of the year are you visiting? India is a big country (7th largest in the world by area), overpopulated to the extreme in the major towns with over 1.2 billion residents, and remember there is a monsoon season. The number one tourist tour is the classic visit to the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur) a great option. But don’t limit yourself, consider some other locations such as Pondicherry for its rich French history and good beaches, Jaipur and Udaipur located in Rajasthan for the artistic traditions, Himachal Pradesh for the trekking, and of course my home base, Mumbai, for its Bollywood connection, Colonial history, and bustling streets.
You cannot see everywhere on one trip, unless you are planning on visiting for a few months and like spending a lot of time in trains, planes and automobiles. Speak to friends that have visited to get their recommendations and/or find a reputable travel agent that specializes in this part of the world. Look at what direct flight options are available to you. There are many regional airports within India, some more sophisticated than others. Look at what Indian domestic airlines offer code shares with the major US/European carriers so that you can earn/use your loyalty flyer miles.
To make the most out of your trip you should research your preferred locations as much as possible before your visit. There are many great guidebooks and online forums with valuable information. I favour the Dorling Kindersley guide books as they are full of visuals, very easy to navigate, and usually come with fold out maps. Think about what you are going to be doing and base yourself in a hotel in the most appropriate location. Traffic moves a little differently in a country where cows roam along the main roads. Restaurants in Mumbai are empty at 8pm but full to overflowing by 11pm. There are many festivals spread throughout the year that will shut down roads and close shops and businesses.
Check that you are up to date with all your basic vaccinations. If in doubt ask your doctor what the current recommendations are as they do tend to change. ‘Delhi belly’ is no fun and can ruin a vacation. Sanitation and hygiene standards in India are a little different from the US/UK so take a few extra safety measures: take hand sanitiser, avoid tap water, eat at the larger hotels/restaurants frequented by other tourists, do not take ice in your drinks, eat fruit that you can peel. Additionally, be selective with meat choices: many Indians are vegetarian so experiment with veggies rather than risk a dubious, poorly cooked piece of mystery meat. Take a small first aid kit with the basic supplies so that you have them to hand. In the major cities you will find many pharmacies that are well stocked with low priced medications. Don’t be paralyzed with fear over health concerns, remember that most tourists return home unscathed.
Life in India can be frenetic, and frustrations can boil over quite easily. If you have done your homework then you will be less susceptible to the touts and scammers that like to prey on tourists. I know it sounds obvious, but be aware that there can be a language and cultural barrier. Count to ten or take a deep breath when obstacles seem insurmountable, the aim is to enjoy your vacation. Sometimes you will need to be ‘rude’ (said the British lady). What I really mean is be firm and clear when someone is not listening to what you are saying or not understanding you. Women in particular will need to be forceful in their communication style to be heard, and understood. I recommend having information written down so that you can show someone the name of the road, hotel, or place you would like to visit. However, my experience in Mumbai has been that even the locals don’t really know where they are going and road signs, while there, are useless. Using a GPS system is the best way to find a place so check out what international plan you can put on your phone to take advantage of that feature.
A visit to India can be polarizing, some people fall in love with the country while others are more than happy to say goodbye. But you cannot fail to be impacted by what you witness and experience in a country with so much to offer.