India is a beautiful and big land of diverse cultures, varied ethnicity and adventurous places to discover. It has always been on the headlines for reasons more than one. With people knowing just a little about the country, being unaware of its culture and traditions, and places to see, there is a lot to do in this land than one can imagine. With so much to do, a trip to India especially for first time solo travelers could be overwhelming. It helps to know a little about the country before stepping foot on it. Here are a few tips for foreign travellers that could help first timers,
Vast Land: India is very vast and diverse land. Its 29 states account for cultural and regional diversity. Each state offers something new and different form the other, right from the weather and language to food habits, standard and style of living.
Culture: Respect the culture by staying stay culturally aware. That’s all that the locals need. The bigger metro cities in India and all other capital cities are at par with any other city in the world. However, if you go to smaller regions and villages, you can expect the villagers to be relatively orthodox and follow age old traditions.
Itinerary: Since the number of states in India is so large, let us roughly divide the country into four directional zones. Foreign travellers in India can plan their itinerary based on which zone they want to cover – North, South, East or West. Based on that, one can draw an itinerary and finalize the days around it. Having a detailed and well planned itinerary is a must for covering the interesting regions of India.
Seeing is Believing: It’s not what to hear, but what you see that matters. You must have heard a lot of stories about the slums, poverty and snake charmers of India. Remember that they are just stories and India is far above and beyond superstitions and slums. It has its rough and low patches, but then it has its developed and savvy areas too.
Stay Safe: Just like in any other part of the world, your safety is in your own hands. Do not engage with strangers, be weary of unknown people approaching you and take care of your personal belongings. Cling to your bags and baggage at public places and busy spots like airports and train stations.
Beggars: Yes, you heard that right. Beggar menace continues to dominate the streets and roads of Indian cities. While some cities find children and adults begging alike at traffic signals, the others find these beggars sprawling in busy tourist areas and outside shopping malls. It’s OK to kindly nod or walk away from them, rather than encouraging them.
Stares: You will find men staring at you on many occasions, especially in local trains, stations, on the streets etc. Though it is advisable to stay away from them and not get affected, it is most likely out of curiosity on seeing someone from a foreign land.
Noise: Strolling along the bustling streets of Indian cities may be quite a noisy affair! With the population booming and cities developing at rapid rates, one can only expect traffic, chaos and noise all around. Be ready to encounter huge traffic jams with cars honking continuously and a lot of noise surrounding you.
Traffic: India is a populous country and has a huge number of cars and motorbikes. The ratio of the number of vehicles per family is large and thereby accounts to a lot of traffic. Population and traffic go hand in hand and account to traffic jams at every main road and by lane of the big cities. Take at least an hour of buffer time when travelling from one point to another.
Pollution: The quality of air in India is very poor owing to the traffic, factory waste, pollution from vehicles, combustion etc. Smaller towns and hill stations promise pure and unpolluted air, but bigger cities are known for their grey skies. Wear a mask to prevent wheezing and related issues.
Food: Indian food is known for its spices. The unique cuisine offers a rich blends of herbs, aromatic spices and desi ghee. Make sure you try the staple food incorporating rice with daal or meat curry and rotis with ghee. Both dry and syrupy sweets like burfi, laddoo, gulab jamun, rasmalai, jalebi etc. are very famous. The food preparation style and staple varies from one state to another.
Tea: As it is commonly said, Indians run on chai (tea). Try different varieties of milk tea, masala chai, assam chai, Darjeeling tea etc. and yes, don’t forget the filter coffee down South. Tea is especially made flavourful with the addition of spices like cloves, tulsi leaves, ginger and other herbs. It is then brewed with milk for some time till the flavour diffused through the pan.
Water: Foreign travellers in India are advised to buy a bottle of mineral water, which is readily available even at the smallest stores. At restaurants, ask for bottled water, instead of opting for regular water. Places that have water filters installed serve good water. Please do not attempt to drink tap water.
Cultural Differences: Every city, village and town of India is culturally rich and unique. Try your hand at the traditional cooking methods, check out the lush farms and vineyards and head to a theme resort or destination or even better, a local village to understand the significance of the culture and origin of their staple food.
Dress Appropriately: It is advisable to respect the culture of Indian men and women and dress appropriately in places of worship. In general, people are often seen fully clad in streets and local shops. The mall and party culture of India is highly evolved and exposes you to a whole new range of modern dressing and non-traditional people.
Recharge your Phone: Local networks in India like Airtel, Vodafone, Jio, Docomo and a lot more are easy to find. A useful tip would be to pick up a local sim and recharge the number for calls and take an internet top up as per the best suited plan.
Rickshaws: Try a three-wheeled auto rickshaw ride for covering small distances and manually pulled cycle rickshaws for a slow ride as you imbibe the feel of the city. These relatively slow modes of transport work well when the weather is friendly, you are not in a rush and want to experience the slow nature of the city.
Travel by Train: A good tip to save money and travel cheap is to make use of one of the world’s largest railway networks of India. You can choose the berth and compartment as per your budget, ranging from general class and non AC to AC and first class. There is something for everyone. Try the local trains in cities like Mumbai for local commutation.
Ask the Locals: To see the country like a local, take help of the locals. India is a place full of friendly people who do not mind sharing information and guiding you to the right places. Check some good homestays to eat the food of locals and live and travel like them the traditional way.
Language: Each and every state of India has its own local dialect. Learning all these languages is next to impossible. However, you can have Google Translate handy to help you communicate. Knowing English and Hindi is helpful as Hindi is the National language of India.
Weather: If you want to experience the different seasons of India, plan your trip accordingly. While states in Southern India have relatively less fluctuating weather conditions, the Northern part of India experiences extreme fluctuations in temperature. Pack your bags and plan the activities around the season.
Money: Indian Rupee is the prevalent currency in India. Carry change of smaller denominations while shopping in street shops or flea markets and eating at small road side joints. Credit cards, debit cards and cash are accepted at shopping malls, hypermarkets, restaurants and other outlets.
Bargain: Do not hesitate to bargain in street shops, flea markets and smaller outlets selling trinkets. These places generally quote higher prices and it helps if you ask them to reduce the price and start walking away. You will be surprised to get a discount of upto 50-70 percent, depending on the item you are shopping for and place you are bargaining at.
Photos: Photography is not restricted at public areas and most other places. However, please check and follow the rules at museums and places of historical importance. Some of the monuments might ask for an additional fee or permission for use of camera and video recording devices.
Open your Mind: Visit the vast land of India with an open mind. It is full of vibrant colours, hand-made fabrics, art work, good food and warm people. Read as much as you can about India, make use of the tips for foreign travellers, and take a first-hand experience yourself.