India Survival Guide

For those travellers bold enough to venture to India, the rewards are huge. But there's no denying it can be an overwhelming place for the first-time visitor. So, with this in mind, we thought we'd share our top India travel tips to help you survive your first trip through this intoxicating country!

Preparation, preparation, preparation

India isn’t really an impromptu holiday destination. To get the most out of your time in this vivacious country, you’ll need to think ahead. It’s likely you’ll need some vaccinations around 6 -8 weeks prior to travel, and then there’s the visa application process! Most nationalities require a visa to enter India; some nationalities are already able to apply for an e-visa, which is relatively simple, we are hopeful that this will soon be the case if you are British – but for now you need to allow a few weeks to get your visa. Also, if you’re hoping to encounter India’s most iconic animal, the Bengal tiger, in its wild habitat, bear in mind game drive permits need to be secured well in advance to ensure entry into the now heavily regulated parks. We recommend booking your tiger safari at least 4-5 months in advance.

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Essential packing

A basic first aid kit should feature in any traveller’s bag, but you might want to consider bolstering your usual kit of plasters, antibacterial hand gel and paracetamol with a box of rehydration sachets, antiseptic wipes, anti-diarrhoea medicine and water purification tablets. If you are susceptible to insect bites, it’s worth taking some hydrocortisone cream and antihistamine tablets, and don’t forget insect repellent, a waterproof jacket, a few warm layers and good footwear. A sun hat, sunglasses and lightweight clothes are ideal for the tropical climate, and women might want to pack a scarf. This versatile accessory will ensure you are always prepared should you need to cover up, be it to enter a temple or to protect you from the sun.

Prepare to be hustled & bustled

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There’s no denying that India can be a daunting place – it is home to one sixth of the world’s population after all, and with over 1.2 billion people comes 22 official languages and around 2000 ethnic groups. Needless to say, life in the city moves at a frenetic pace; the roads are in perpetual mayhem with everything from Bentleys and cows sharing the highways, the honking of horns a discordant soundtrack hard to escape and personal space… what’s that again?!

Stay healthy

Sounds simple enough, and with a bit of common sense it is. Be conscientious when it comes to hand washing, especially before eating, and keep some antibacterial gel handy in case you are not near any facilities Although we’d always prefer people to refill their own reusable water bottles, we understand this is easier said than done when travelling in certain parts of the world, India included. Visitors should avoid drinking any tap water, or even using it for brushing teeth, and take care not to eat salads, fruit or veg that could have been washed in tap water. And as tempting as it is to order a refreshing icy cool drink, make sure you skip the ice cubes – they will almost certainly be made from tap water. When purchasing bottled water, it is vital you check the seal is not already broken – it’s not that uncommon to find refilled bottles that have been wrapped in PVC being sold as mineral water.

Go veggie

India_food_Varanasi You’ve almost certainly heard the tales of the dreaded 'Delhi belly', so why not minimise the risk and consider going veggie for the duration of your trip? Don’t panic – you don’t need to forego all that tasty street food that India is so famous for. In fact, much of the country is vegetarian so you’ll still face an overwhelming array of mouth-watering specialities. If vegetarianism is a step to far for you, just avoiding higher risk foods like shellfish and ask your leaders advice on the best places to eat.

Use your right hand

It’s no secret that Indians prefer to eat with their fingers, and you’ll soon be following suit. Remember not to use your left hand to eat or pass objects to people – the left hand is considered unclean in India as it is used to perform matters associated with going to the bathroom!

Timing is everything

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With a bit of local knowledge (our leaders will help you out there) and flexibility, there are ways to escape the crowds at key tourist sites and avoid the worst of the heat. Making the effort to get up early is a huge advantage, especially at sites like the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Amber Fort in Jaipur. Not only will you beat the crowds but also the searing midday heat. Likewise, holding off until later in the day or evening can pay dividends.

Want to avoid the crowds?

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Even if India’s sprawling cities sound like your idea of hell on Earth, there are plenty of places to escape the rat race and experience a sense of solitude. Try heading north into the unspoilt Himalayan region of Ladakh (known as Little Tibet) or, if mountains and trekking boots aren’t your cup of chai, journey south into tropical Kerala where you can enjoy laid-back life on board a traditional houseboat. These tranquil backwaters are the perfect setting for a relaxing retreat.

Know your limits

It’s probably not the best idea to sign yourself up for a Stok Kangri summit climb if you’ve never embarked on anything more significant than a Sunday afternoon stroll along the river before. Likewise, if you have never experienced life in a tropical climate, you might not be ready to cycle across Rajasthan – India’s desert state! Our India holidays come in all shapes and sizes; from leisurely journeys of cultural discovery to challenging Himalayan treks, there’s a part of India to suit everyone. If you fancy a little extra comfort, we also offer Premium Departures on many of our India trips.

Culturally-sensitive clothing

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Scant, tight clothing can draw unwanted attention and will offend local sensibilities. The Indian people are generally conservative and you should dress accordingly. For women in particular, it is a good idea to pack (or buy locally) a long scarf and/or a tunic-style top. Always dress modestly when visiting any religious site and remember to remove your shoes before entering any temple or mosque. It's a good idea to pack a pair of socks in your daypack for when you encounter hot stone floors.

Shutterbugs be warned

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India is a very photogenic place, but when shooting portraits you should always ask permission before taking someone’s picture to avoid offending them. In the cities, don’t be surprised if you’re charged a small fee by your model though!

Don’t let the head shake fool you

Here in the UK we tend to nod up and down to signify a yes and side-to-side for a no; in India the most widely used gesture is a rotational head shake. This can be very confusing as it can mean yes, maybe or I have no idea!

Patience is a virtue!

Like in many countries, you just have to accept that things work a little differently in India. Queues are longer, roads are busier, paperwork more time consuming… a little patience will go a long way to your enjoyment of your holiday in India! Just remember when things aren’t going quite to plan, it is often the stories of travel mishaps that we recount most fondly! Don’t let all this put you off – India is an intoxicating country with beguiling lure. Once seduced by its shimmering beauty and warm welcome, you’re sure to return wondering why it took you so long to pack your bags and go! You don’t have to just take my word for it either - 97% of our passengers say they will recommend the trip to their friends, and 96% agree that we operate in a responsible manner that benefits the local communities we visit.

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