India is one amazing place, and even though I was only there for a couple of weeks, travelling around the cities of Rajasthan really gave me an insight into the culture and how the societies within function. Below I have created a guide to the glory of India and what to expect. Although some may seem obvious, and others not, it is very easy to forget the essentials and leave without knowing facts about the country and what is expected of you.
This short guide will tell you the top 5 essentials for you to bring, do and be aware of during your time there.
Although it hasn’t been a problem for myself, as a male, the Indian culture is very particular in how women should dress in public. In most cities, towns and public areas it is essential that women should have their shoulders and legs covered. For example, in Pushkar, the hotel had signs outside stating the rules of the town and warning women that they must cover up. This is a way of giving moral respect by not showing the body as well as to avoid unwanted attention, an idea that has developed since medieval period when men believed that if their women were covered it would withdraw any attention from foreigners. Because of this ensure that you have clothes that will cover you accordingly, and ones that are easily washable.
- Nothing serious is likely to happen to you if you do wear more revealing attire, but as a foreigner you will already draw attention and there will be a limit to how much you want. Also, for example, entrance to a temple may be refused if not clothed properly.
The idea of travelling to some is to go off, carefree into the world and figure it all out there. The step-by-step process. And although I do like this approach, and had originally planned to do just that in India like the rest of the trip, if you are someone who likes to know where they will be sleeping in two nights time, then planning will be vital for a trip to India. Although we had booked our first round of accommodation, that was shortly stopped before it even began after finding out it was in a Red zone area. With limited organised transport we found that our best option, as it was the first two weeks, was to get a driver for the whole time, something that we booked through the Tourist Information centre. In hindsight, we could have managed by ourselves but it just made our time in India easier before hitting South East Asia.
- I have known people to travel day-by-day from South to North, but as I said, if you are someone who doesn’t take pleasure in the unknown then I urge you to do the necessary research for India before you plan a big trip only to find out the bus doesn’t run anymore.
- After much research and talking to others we met, after we had booked, we found out that the idea of the ‘Red zone’ was likely a scam used to make tourists spend more money. Although we did end up paying more than we budgeted for, without the driver and our accommodation all sorted for us, we wouldn’t have been able to see nearly as much of India. So it did work out really well, falling for the scam.
Are you squeamish?
This point may be the most important. Driving from city to city, through various villages and towns you get an insight into the way the country lives. And although all of the roads have been tarred (something that shocked me compared to South Africa), the life of the under developed is far from that of England. With stray dogs foraging in the streets and unaware cattle, pigs and donkeys disrupting traffic, the scene of a small town road would cause riots in England. As well as this, many of the animals are badly injured from cars or fights, some with babies, and despite your first instinct to help, a lot of them are covered in flees, so it may be best to say away. In the cities beggars, who are mainly children carrying babies, wait by the lights to tap on windows (with one hitting my head) asking for money and in the towns they are common amongst markets pulling at your clothes and following you until they get tired.
- One thing to be aware of is that in these smaller towns there appears to be no particular awareness of where people go to the toilet. With people washing in the same water as animals and men going to the toilet off walls and into water sources, the smell will hit an unsuspecting tourist in the face without any sympathy. It isn’t uncommon to see this in even the most public places so be aware, it will get you.
Keep those costs down
Like most places outside of Europe, the US and Oceania costs are going to be dramatically lower that what you would usually pay in almost every aspect, especially food. However this doesn’t stop things being expensive, despite your currency saying otherwise. Our driver, who was very nice regardless of his lack of English and partial hearing, continued to take us the to most ‘touristy’ locations for our meals and if you do decide to take the same option as us, don’t be afraid to walk out and ask to be taken somewhere else. As with everywhere, these places are more expensive than the street food that the locals are eating, with the quality likely to be the same. With stalls cooking samosas and other delicious snacks from 8p, the street food will really keep your spending at a minimum while being able to experience the best of the local cuisine. And if you are weary of cooked meat, opt for something else as everywhere mainly serves vegetarian food so there is no need to worry. As well as this, there must be a partnership with the tourist information centre and companies, as many drivers will take you to the factories where clothes and jewellery are made. These places tend to charge a premium on the same quality items you can sometimes find in street shops, while telling you they are selling them at ‘normal’ prices. Just trust your instinct, if the material is basic don’t spend a fortune but at the same time realise that if the price of jewellery is ridiculously low, even by the Indian standards, then it is likely to be fake.
- Create a daily budget for yourself and attempt not to go over it. Most things are available all across India, so if it isn’t essential maybe wait and see if you are able to get it at a lower price.
- Tipping isn’t necessary in India, but with a growing western culture it as become more apparent. A lot of people will ask for one and will be quite pushy, EVEN for giving you toilet paper to dry your hands or giving you directions. If you don’t feel they deserve it, don’t give it – don’t be afraid to say no, they are used to hearing it.
Be VISA aware
Ok so yes, you would think this is the most obvious rule for any trip to India, but if you are like myself, completely useless and leaving everything till the last minute, then you might want to note it down. Quickly. Being a UK citizen we have the ability to obtain a tourist visa for a maximum of 30 days. Unlike places like Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines (to name a few) this isn’t automatically given to you when you arrive in the country and you will need to purchase one. What does make it easier however, is that you are able to now get an E-Visa online that doesn’t require you to send off your passport before your flight. This is because, I presume, you can only order your visa 30 days before you arrive, so it helped me as I was in South Africa when I had to order it, and couldn’t send off any documents.
- That the Airlines will ask to see your visa AND your return flight out of India within the month otherwise they will refuse you entry.
- The Visa’s take 2-8 days to come through, and will do via email. Print this off instead of presenting it on your phone.
This is the glory of India. The way that the land functions at the moment is something that will soon disappear once greater development kicks in and I urge anyone to see even a little bit. The experience, whether you enjoy it or not, will show you a side of life like no other, and in many ways teach you a lot about what is available to you.
I hope that this guide helps, and feel free to contact me with any questions.