If you are planning on a trip to India anytime soon, let me share with you my thoughts on what you should pack; clothes that will work best for this part of the world while making you feel comfortable. There are two main areas that will impact what you pack– Culture and Weather. Don’t look for inspiration from the ladies of Bollywood in their skimpy outfits with a lot of flesh on display; this is not the norm on the streets!
India is a vast county, about a third the size of the United States but with 3 times the population. The geography is quite varied, with deserts in the northwest, the Himalayan mountain range in the north, and the lush tropical lowlands of the southwest. Therefore, your packing will be greatly impacted by what region you visit. For this guide I will focus on the city of Mumbai (my home for 22+ months so far) although all the major cities will have very similar constrains to consider.
Mumbai is classified as a tropical wet and dry climate, but let me translate, that means hot and humid. Being located on the water means that temperatures really don’t fluctuate that much throughout the year (although that does make me think of the people I see in wooly scarves and thick sweaters in the winter when I am still shedding as many layers as possible to keep cool).
June through September is monsoon season when you will witness some pretty impressive thunderstorms over the city. Rainstorms do sometimes last for a few days but oftentimes are heavy showers that you can dodge if you pay attention to the weather forecasts.
India has over 1.2 billion residents and 22 official languages (but at least 150 unofficial other popular spoken languages; can you imagine?). Different regions have their own distinct cultures that are exhibited in food and religious choices. While Delhi is the political capital of India, Mumbai is the commercial capital. I smile at that last comment, as when I heard I was going to be living in the financial capital I thought of London and New York, but I have never seen cows walking down the streets of Manhattan or goats and chickens roaming the shops in Knightsbridge.
Previously known as Bombay, and actually still called that by the majority of people I meet, Mumbai is the fourth most populous city in the world and considered India’s most cosmopolitan. Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that the Bollywood industry and its stars call this city home. While Indian customs might have changed quite a bit over the years, to the Westerners eyes there are still many differences that visitors should be aware of to avoid causing offense (a post for another day for sure).
The main religion of India is Hinduism and as such the tradition of the caste system has impacted the culture. Indians are very conscious of social standing and how this relates to other people. There are distinct hierarchies in play, both in the workforce and the family unit. I find this a fascinating subject and could pontificate forever, so I will spare you as this blog is meant to be about packing!
Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing is the best way to go. As mentioned above, it is hot and humid plus mosquitos are quite prevalent. Be aware that anything form fitting on a women will attract very obvious and unwanted stares that will make you feel uncomfortable.
Look at what the local ladies wear. If not a sari, then a long tunic over leggings is the norm. There are many places where you can buy fairly cheap clothing so you could use the opportunity to shop once you arrive and have fun with the ethnic fashions.
In cities like Mumbai, you will see a lot of western style clothing being worn such as jeans and t-shirts.
As a general rule, cover your shoulders and knees, and do not show any cleavage.
If you choose to wear a tank style top then have a pashmina or scarf with you that you can drape around your shoulders.
Mumbai, and India in general, is very polluted so dirt and grim seem to cling to your clothes. Dark colors or busy prints will hide the dirt better than light colored outfits.
Swimwear is a tricky one and will depend on how brave you are to bear a little bit of flesh. Sitting around the pool at a 5star hotel in Mumbai you will get unwelcomed stares (even if you wear a one piece). I once had a family ask to take my picture while I was sunbathing as the lady had been swimming in some kind of t-shirt and leggings outfit and was most fascinated by my lack of clothing in public. I also had friends that went to a public swimming center in Mumbai and after disrobing (in the changing room) they attracted horrified cries from the other ladies present and were only allowed to swim once they had put their dresses back on!
I offer you a few things to take into consideration.
When you enter temples and even when you go to someone’s home, you will need to remove your shoes so if you do not want to go barefoot take socks.
In the rainy season you will have to step in puddles that will contain all manner of things so while Crocs are very popular, many people prefer closed toe shoes during this season.
The terrain is very uneven. I go for long walks in Bandra but am constantly avoiding holes, climbing over piles of rubble, and have to walk in the pot-holed roads so heels really are not that practical for day-to-day use.
Sandals and flat shoes are incredibly cheap to purchase (about $5, and that’s the westerners price) and are available on market stalls all over the city so it might be worth buying a few that can be thrown away after your trip is over.
Here are a few other items that I would highly recommend you pack
While this list is not exhaustive, it does offer you ideas on what to pack when visiting India to make the most of your luggage space and to make you feel comfortable once you arrive. I hope you find this information useful and as always I welcome your thoughts and comments.