India is a huge and varied country and if you’re planning a holiday there, it will be an experience you’ll never forget, but you want to make sure that’s for the right reasons. The first thing to note is that it will be a very different trip depending on where you go. Most people choose to head to Goa and Kerala for a chilled out hedonistic holiday by the beach, others choose Rajasthan for the historical forts and palaces or if you’re into yoga or trekking the Northern States might be more up your street. Whichever area you go for, don’t forget that this is a country like no other, and mishaps can be easily avoided by following some of my key tips.
Have the right expectations
Make no mistake, this is not an easy country to travel in. It varies vastly from state to state with Kerala being one of the most civilised parts and Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh (for the Taj Mahal and Varanasi) being the worst. The latter is incredibly dirty, full of tourists which means full of touts, and noisy beyond anything your mind can conceive of in normal daily life. That’s not to say you shouldn’t visit, Rajasthan also has an incredibly rich culture full of gorgeous monuments, delicious food and vibrant colour. By setting your expectations accordingly and remembering to have a thick skin and be assertive, you’ll be less bothered by the hassle and enjoy your trip more.
Hire a driver
I’m usually all for travelling local style, but this country is an exception. Take it from someone who has done it both ways, if you want a somewhat relaxed holiday here, having a driver helps considerably. If you decide to do it by train you face a long process just to register online to buy the tickets, followed by a very difficult to understand mess of acronyms that usually wind up meaning you are on a waiting list with no confirmed ticket. Alternatively you can purchase overpriced tickets through an agency, just make sure it’s a reputable one that buys you confirmed tickets rather than waitlisted ones.
Your best option in my opinion is to hire a driver who not only takes you to every city you want to go, but also stops at interesting places along the way you may not otherwise have seen or known about. On our trip from Agra to Jaipur we stopped at a brick making factory which is way more interesting than it sounds, especially when you’re walking over giant handmade ovens with children clambering at your feet for a picture together. Afterwards we stopped at Keolado National Park for some surprise bird watching, pedalling through the park we got to see owls, peacocks, storks, woodpeckers and countless other species. After Jaipur we stopped in Sanganer to see how paper making factories work and all of this wouldn’t have been possible without a driver to take us and enlighten us to the many other things there are to see off he beaten track.
Cleanliness is key
Always carry hand santisiter on you, if you’re not in a fancy place wipe down plates and cutlery before you eat with it (you’ll be surprised how often the tissue is black) and if you’re really not sure, wash the plate yourself. More often than not you’ll get sick from the dirt, not the food itself. Your driver can help to translate the importance of washing everything in clean water if you’re in a more islolated spot where people don’t speak English.
Stick to your guns
Just saying “no” to people who hassle you in the street is not enough. Work on your affirmative “no” that shows you mean business. It can mean the difference between being pestered half way down the street or being left alone immediately.
This one’s more for the ladies, though men shouldn’t go around in tank tops and hot pants either… Indians love to stare at foreigners, but they do it with more malice if you’re not dressed modestly. It’s more respectful and culturally sensitive, and trust me you’ll feel more comfortable too when you don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Wear clothes that come below the knee and cover the shoulders, or go a step further and invest in a Punjabi (knee length or floor length tunic with matching trousers) or a sari.
Sit back and enjoy the ride
There’s many things about India that don’t make sense, you can drive yourself crazy wondering why this up and coming country is so full of hypocrisy and lacking in logic.
The trick is not to try and find logic, because there is none. India is an incredibly unique country in this way, a place where “everything is possible” as our driver liked to comment regularly. Genuinely there are too many things to mention, but if you go with an open mind and open eyes, you’re sure to notice them for yourself. Sit back, observe and don’t try to make sense of it, just enjoy the ride!