Complex, chaotic, cacophonous, confusing: India is many things. It is a multi-layered society with many belief systems, languages, governments, religions, and people. This country will make your heart pound a bit faster, challenge your patience, peak your curiosity, and leave you pondering the essence of life long after you visit. Anything is possible in this country, and there are many things you should know before you go. In this article, I’ll discuss how to get the most out of your trip to India.
You can’t tell just how much there is to see in India by simply looking at a map. Even after longing to visit the country for years, I thought that a month would be plenty of time for exploration. I was very wrong. After two weeks in Kerala and a week in Jaipur, I still wanted to see more of Rajasthan. But with a 30-day visa and just seven days to fit in Agra, the Taj Mahal, and New Delhi, it wouldn’t be possible.
My biggest regret about India is that I didn’t give myself enough time there. You must have your visa done prior to arrival, so research where you’d like to visit and give yourself plenty of time. Visas are available for 30 days, 180 days, and 10 years. Since you can’t get an extension while you’re in the country, get the six-month visa if you have any doubts. Normally, I find getting visas to be a hassle, but you can have your India visa arranged within hours with an e-visa.* The process is straightforward and it wonderful not to have to wait days for approval.
One of the worst ways to spend your vacation is sick in bed or in the hospital. Visit a travel doctor and get your vaccinations ahead of time. Ensure that your tetanus, diphtheria, and polio shots have been done within the last 10 years. Since Delhi belly is very real, it’s always a good idea to have a water filtering system with you. Personally, I used the LifeStraw throughout my trip and never got sick. While I don’t eat animal products, you may want to stay away from meat while in India, since the levels of sanitation and refrigeration are dubious. Vegetarian food is plentiful throughout India and tends to be the safer choice.
Eat Your Veggies
As I’ve written about before in Wendy, The Nomadic Vegan’s book, Veggie Planet, India is an excellent destination for vegan travelers. A large portion of the country is vegetarian, and many dishes are cooked with lentils, potatoes, cauliflower, and other fresh veggies. The thing to watch out for is the yogurt, cheese, and butter that are widely used- even in rice and naan. Just be sure to ask your waiter to leave out the dairy and egg, as many people don’t understand the concept of veganism. While the food varies greatly throughout the country, some of my favorite plates that are dosas, dahl, aloo gobi, and chana masala. Oftentimes, I’d skip on the rice and opt for rotti or another vegan chapatti.
What to Wear
Unless you are heading to the very north of India, chances are that you will experience more heat than you’re used to. Temperatures can be stifling even in the early spring, so be prepared. I thought that yoga pants and tank tops would be sufficient, as I’d read beforehand that you can wear whatever you want. However, most people throughout India dress very modestly. Especially if you are a woman, you should be respectful of the culture and cover up your shoulders, arms, and legs as much as possible. Showing your stomach is socially acceptable. The best option is to go for long, flowy linens that are breathable and not too form-fitting. The sun is intense, so lighter colors work the best. If you don’t have any clothes on hand, you can usually find clothes at the tourist markets for $10-15 USD a piece.
Avoid the Crowds (and the Heat)
Well, avoiding crowds may never be possible in India, especially if you are visiting the cities. Nonetheless, it’s better to avert even more people on the streets. Try to go in the low season, which is from May to September. In addition, be aware that temperatures can get as high as 125 degrees Fahrenheit in certain places, so going during the summer can be miserable if you plan on spending any time outdoors. Also pay heed to monsoon season, which usually occurs from July to September. As you can see from the damage from recent flooding in Kerala, heavy rains are not something to regard flippantly.
Keep an Open Mind
Only one thing is guaranteed in India: uncertainty. More than likely, each day will leave you surprised and completely fascinated. Some of your preconceived notions may be true, but most of the time, India is much more than you could imagine. Anything can happen in this country, and while it is magical and life-changing, there will also be challenges throughout your trip.
Depending on the extent of your traveling experience, you may be taken aback by the poverty and pandemonium you encounter. There will be human and animal rights issues that may sadden or frustrate you, as they did me. However, it’s best to leave your opinions at home, keep an open mind, and take every experience as it comes. As a tourist, there’s not much you can do to change this ages-old culture. Its complexity goes far beyond what you could ever absorb after a few weeks or months.
Take Your Time
India is not a place that you want to rush through. Forget about the rumors that you’ll either love it or hate it. It’s an intense country, but the reason that you’re visiting shouldn’t be to just spend a couple days and tick it off your bucket list. It might take you a bit of getting used to, but this country is a traveler’s paradise. With its cuisine, music, art, sacred sites, shopping, incredible nature, and history, every single place you visit will leave you wanting more.
Don’t try to cram four cities into seven days. Even though domestic flights and trains are affordable, you’ll want to allow extra time for travel days. Delays and other unforeseen incidents are common. If you don’t have that much time away, pick a couple of spots and get to know them well. Take your time, get to know people, and let every aspect of Indian culture soak in. This is certainly a destination you’ll be meditating on long after your trip.
Have you been to India? What are some of the things that you wish you would have known before you went? Are there any other travel tips I should add to this list?
*If you have any more questions regarding the visa process, you can visit E-visums.co.uk.