So you’ve taken the plunge and booked a trip to India, or you’re at least contemplating/dreaming about it. GO YOU. You’re about to embark on nothing short of a life changing journey. The you that comes back from India will be different to the trepidatious you that gets on that outbound flight, and that’s entirely a good thing.
India is a culture shock probably unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Make no mistake, the noises are loud and constant, the smells range from the delicious to the dire, personal space in the cities is a no go and yes, you will feel out of your comfort zone. Still with me? Good. Because in spite of all that, you’re gonna love it.
Of course like anything, but especially with India, it pays to know what to expect. Do your research, come prepared, don’t be too precious and you’ll have your mind blow. These are our tips and tricks for India first timers…
Be mindful of food and drink
You’ve probably heard of Delhi belly right? Otherwise known as Montezuma’s revenge, the Aztec two-step, or, more literally, TD (travellers diarrhoea) – basically no fun at all. TD is caused by poor food handling or contaminated water, so to minimize the risk make sure you’re sticking to peeled fresh fruit, foods that have either been boiled or fried and bottled water at all times. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be eating street food (you wouldn’t want to deny yourself the sheer pleasure), just be cautious and use your common sense. Chances are you probably will experience some level of dodgy tummy at some point during your trip, but think of it like a bonding experience that ties you to the travellers club.
Get to know certain customs
Especially regarding hands and feet. Hinduism incorporates a hierarchy of body parts, where the head is superior and the feet are the lowest rung of importance. Generally, feet are considered unclean country wide so avoid putting those traveller toes any place that could be deemed rude (think up on tables, on seats or on anything important). Likewise with hands, avoid eating or passing anything significant (like money) with your left hand, as this hand is considered the nasty one, for reasons I don’t need to go into.
Travellers are nothing new in India so locals are accustomed to those visiting their shores not being familiar with the culture. That said, remember that you are a visitor in foreign lands so acting respectively and following local customs is definitely the best way to make a good first impression. Dress conservatively, cover arms and legs and remember to remove your shoes before entering a sacred space or someone’s home. If you’re heading out dancing in the big cities after dark, don’t be afraid to wear your fancier (yet still modest) clothes. Young Indian locals will be doing exactly the same. In Goa it’s essentially a western dress code, so wear whatever makes you happy.
Prepare to be shocked
India is home to a staggering 1.2 billion people (that’s one seventh of the entire global population). It’s a country growing exponentially in terms of technology and industry, but it’s also a place where abject poverty is visible all around. Luxury mansions, hotels and shopping malls exist beside massive slum settlements, and this divide in wealth can be, unsurprisingly, upsetting and eye-opening for many travellers. But this is life, and that’s what travel is all about – seeing the truth of the world. As you are a foreigner you will be perceived as wealthy, so be prepared for beggars particularly in touristy and urban areas. Whilst heartbreaking to see, giving money can actually contribute to the problem instead of improving it as many are forced to beg by exploitive bosses. If you want to give something, instead give rice, fruit, medicine – consumables that people can actually use.
Personal space, or lack thereof, is also something first time travellers can struggle to get their head around. Pushing, shoving and barging are all a part of everyday life in the major cities, so just go with the flow and try not to let it stress you out. Staring may also occur from time to time. This isn’t out of rudeness, just curiosity, and a friendly smile will soon see them on their way.
Get out of the cities
India’s bustling cities are something you’ve got to experience for yourself. Vastly over populated and throbbing with people, they are organised chaos at its finest. Visit them, visit the sites they are best known for, and then get out. The true heart of India lies outside of the city circumferences, in local villages, national parks, beaches – places where life is slower, people are fewer and hospitality is unbounding.
Act with common sense
It goes without saying that common sense must prevail in India, especially for women. You’ll no doubt read and hear of a lot of horror stories and whilst sadly these may be true, they shouldn’t tarnish the reputation of a generally warm, friendly and welcoming nation. For girls, the best advice is to act wisely, don’t put yourself in a compromising or potentially dangerous situation (such as going down dark streets – behaviour you wouldn’t do at home) and stick with friends if you feel nervous. Remember to dress conservatively and don’t be perturbed by male stares – just carry yourself well and be sensible.
A journey to India is nothing short of a life changer, and the best part is you can now do it with Contiki on our brand new trip, Eternal India. Let the magic commence…