If you can survive in India you can survive anywhere in the world
India, the simple evocation of this country is enough to boil the blood of all the travelers in the world. Chaotic, captivating and intimidating… India is the promise of an unforgettable journey, unlike any other. India never leaves anyone indifferent, whether they love or hate it, it is an overwhelming country with many facets that are not easy to grasp. But for many travelers, India is on top of their bucket list as its one of the cheap Asian countries but that also means that it comes with its share of challenges. So here are some steps to follow that will help you when traveling to India for the first time plus tips on how to survive in India.
Planning a trip to India
It seems obvious but good preparation will remove a large part of worries and the hassles that the trip generates and allow you to enjoy your time in India to the maximum. Here is a quick checklist for traveling to India.
When to travel to India
India is so vast that it is difficult to define an ideal period, but the most pleasant season for travelers is from November to February. In winter, temperatures are pleasant and bearable (unlike in summer when it can reach up to 50° in some parts of the country) and also avoid the monsoon (from May to September) which often leads to complications in transportation.
Where to go in India
Where to go in India entirely depends on the type of traveler you are but there are two choices are available to you – the mythical and eternal Northern India, full of contrasts with the Hindu temples, the large megalopolis with traffic jam and its colorful festivals, it is there that the greatest cultural shock awaits you. Or southern India, softer and more pleasant, less poor and often recommended for a first trip to India with its tropical climate and beautiful beaches.
Prepare your itinerary:
If you are backpacking without a tour operator, it is advisable to prepare your itinerary before you leave. In India, the train and the bus network is very well developed, and although it is sometimes (very) uncomfortable, you can go anywhere with it! It is also an opportunity to make unforgettable encounters! However, one golden rule must be followed: take your time! Late arrivals are the rule and it is better to be flexible in your schedules to travel peacefully.
Obtain a visa:
Visa for India is usually easy to obtain, at least for occidental countries. You can use this handy website to know the visa requirements, estimate fee and much more. E-visa is the way to go for India, the procedure is generally fast and barrier-free.
Learn about the culture:
It may sound silly, but it’s the best way to avoid unintentional mistakes and misunderstandings. Travel guides like the Lonely planet offer helpful tips such as never eating with your left hand, nodding your head “yes” can actually mean “no” and taking appropriate clothing that covers your body to visit religious places.
Okay, you’re there! Now here are some tips to survival in India…
Tips on how to survive in India: India survival guide
1. Forget about your personal space!
In India, it is difficult to relax and stroll along the sidewalks. The country is overcrowded and the concept of personal space is very different from the Western countries. You will need to push your way through the crowds. Forget the queues, Indians push, overtake and jostle to be the first to the counter. On trains or buses, it will not be uncommon to find yourself with a person on each knee and a chicken between your legs. It’s puzzling but in the end very amusing. The only thing to do is to embrace the culture and do the same!
2. Be prepared to be “harassed” and accept it.
Especially if you are white and western, and even more if you are a blonde woman with blue eyes, be prepared for constant harassment. Whether it is to sell you something, ask you to visit a shop or to take a picture, you will be continually approached by the locals. Fortunately, the vast majority of interactions are very friendly, and even if it is still difficult to refuse with a smile after 1000 requests, try to keep your cool! Don’t forget that here it is YOU who is the “tourist attraction”, it’s as if you were a “celebrity”! The locals will stare at you, point at you and make comments, all of this is genuine and without any aggressiveness.
3. Indians are something else
Indians are incredibly kind and friendly, especially to strangers. “Guest is a god” is a proverb you will often hear! It is very easy to meet with the local people, curious about everything and open to the world. The hardest part is to ignore our natural mistrust of foreigners and open up to them! There is a good chance that someone will invite you to have a drink or even to sleep at their home. Even if they don’t have much money, they’ re often the most generous people and you’ll leave with lots of little presents in your pocket. Religion and spirituality take an important place in their lives, try to learn a little more and respect the traditions!
4. Forget about hygiene and cleanliness as you know it
Have you ever heard the expression “clean for India”? The notion of hygiene is very different from the occidental one. Overcrowded city streets are very dirty and smell awful, imagine an accumulation of exhaust fumes, rotting garbage on the sidewalk, animal dejection (human too…), street food cooking and you will get a little taste of what it feels like to be out there. Your 5 senses will take a heavy hit! So it’s time to stop being such a wimp and go out and discover an incredible country. Feel free to carry a paper roll with you, it is a rare commodity in India, where people prefer to clean themselves with water and their hands. Seated toilets are also rarely available.
5. Overcome your fear of public transport!
Cars, tuk-tuk, buses, taxis, carriages, cows and animals of all kinds; traffic in the big cities is one of the most apocalyptic that I have ever seen. The honking is literally endless. Buses or tuk-tuk sometimes drive very fast on roads in a catastrophic condition. Unfortunately, this is impossible to prevent and asking your driver to slow down will not work. A word of advice, if you’re too scared, don’t look at the road but rather focus on something else!
6. Wish your stomach good luck and enjoy!
Let’s be clear, In India, the food is simply EXCEPTIONAL. Incredibly diverse, rich in taste and color, it’s a delight for the taste buds. I can never repeat it enough but try the street food, you won’t be disappointed. A little advice, if the stand is surrounded by many people, it’s because it’ s good! But there is a downside to this, it is unlikely that you will escape the belly ache (also called Delhi belly)! On many travel blogs, you will be advised to avoid juices, fresh fruit… what a sacrilege! Accept to spend a little more time on the toilet in exchange for an amazing taste and sensorial journey! Go veggie, India is renowned for having the most varied vegetarian food in the world. If you like meat, make sure it is well cooked. Go “no spicy”, but keep in mind that it is Indian-style “no spicy”.
However, do not drink tap water. Water in India is extremely polluted and it is much more than just simple “colic” that you are risking. If you buy bottled water, check that it is sealed, the locals are used to refilling empty bottles and resell it.
7. Divide all prices by 3, 4 or 5…
Bargain bargain bargain! As a tourist, you are seen as a potential target for scams and high prices. Bargaining the price must become the norm for everything and anything. Some advice: always haggle with a smile and in a joking tone, it’s like a theater play you have to work on your acting skills! Keep calm and feel free to move away from the main streets to find a cheaper tuk-tuk, and turn around if your driver is asking for too much, he will be the one who comes back to you!
8. In India they speak English, it’s easy…
You’re mistaken! Indians have invented “their own” form of English, which is sometimes completely different from the one we know. Their charming accent doesn’t help either, and you’ll have to ask your interlocutor to repeat it to understand properly. In India, a misunderstanding happens quickly because of this. Don’t forget that the head nodding from top to bottom can mean yes, no, or maybe… it depends on the context and the location. Avoid asking yes or no questions, because they prefer to say “yes” rather than “I don’t know”. For example: do not ask “Does this bus go to the city center?” but rather “Does this bus go to the city center or the outskirts?”. The best advice is to be patient and take it all to a second degree!
9. Learn how to spot and avoid scams
As incredible as the country may be, India is also the land of scams of all kinds. Learn to spot them, beware of the free kindness of people and false promises. If you are told that something is free, it is most likely to be a scam! If someone asks you for money for a service, a guide, for instance, ask several people around before accepting so that you can compare and be firm on a set price. The police is usually quite helpful but can also ask for money, if this happens politely refuse and go your way. Always check where your driver is taking you, it is not uncommon for drivers to take advantage of tourists’ incredulity to take you to a travel agency that sells tickets for the museum rather than to the museum itself, for example! They will regularly tell you that the hostel you wish to go to is closed or dangerous to bring you to their hotel with commission… Do not buy train or bus tickets from a reseller. In short, always be vigilant and on guard and everything will be fine!
10. If you are a woman…
Being a woman in India is a little difficult, maybe even more if you are a visitor and you stand out from the crowd. The rate of rape and assault is high and, although quite possible, traveling alone in India for a woman is a bit risky. To avoid any problems, travel smart and follow these simple tips: check before entering bars that they accept women, in big cities, areas reserved for women and couples are generally safer, forget the boom boom shorts and cover your body from head to toe! Travel in a group and if you are alone, try to join a family or another woman. All of this can be scary but it’s only common sense, don’t hesitate to raise your voice and make a scene if a man gets too eager. And don’t forget if someone asks you, you ALWAYS have a boyfriend. You can also read this post to find out more about how you can stay safe while traveling.
But MOST IMPORTANTLY…
Relax and stay open! Don’t be formal about small issues, be tolerant with differences and forget your lifestyle to fully embrace the Indian culture and move beyond the inconveniences. Don’t forget, nothing is a big deal unless you make it a big deal! India is a magical country that will leave a permanent impression on you forever!
Lastly, this India survival guide is not meant to scare you from traveling to this incredibly amazing country but rather to prepare you and show you what to expect when traveling to India. Have you been to India before? What was your experience? Tell me about it below and don’t forget to add more tips on how to survive in India if you have any.
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