First Timers’ Guide to India
Published 23 August 2016
With its 1.2 billion inhabitants, India is one of the most incredible, diverse and fascinating countries you will ever visit. It is a sensorial and visual explosion that is going to dazzle and engage you from the moment you step foot on its soil. However India is not a relaxing travel destination: It is chaotic, crowded, hot, noisy, shocking and well, dirty. A first time visit to India can be overwhelming and exhausting, so it is important to be prepared to face challenges and set-backs.The best way to have a fantastic experience in India is to do a bit of research ahead of your trip and familiarize with the local customs and traditions. Be a savvy traveller and avoid dangerous situations, but also don’t be scared to try out new things! Allow yourself to try local food, interact with Indian people, get out of your comfort zone a bit. India will dazzle you and reward you with a wonderful trip of a lifetime!
When to go and how long for…
Allow yourself a minimum of 2-3 weeks for your first trip to India, as you will need a few days to get over the jet-lag and adjust to the weather. Focus on a specific region to explore, as India is a huge country, so you will only be able to see some of it during your first visit. To avoid the hottest months and rainy monsoon seasons, the best time to travel is between late October and mid-March.
How to avoid the crowds…
My favourite time of the day to explore Indian metropolis is at dawn when the cities are quiet and empty and I can take photos in the most touristic spots. I avoid being alone in the streets at night-time; always travel with a group or in daylight.
Where to treat your taste buds…
I love spending time at the markets, which at any time of the day are bursting with people, stalls, dogs, cows, cars, rickshaws and buses. I love discovering new types of fruit and vegetables, they have the most incredible colours and names. If you are buying from market stalls, don’t forget to haggle the prices!
Don’t miss out on the amazing Indian street food either; every state has its own traditional dishes! Also make sure to try the drink chai: it is a spiced, sweet, milky tea that is drunk all over India at any time of the day. It is delicious and one of the main traditions in the Indian’s way of life.
Like anywhere else, there is good and bad, so make sure you follow recommendations from locals (whether it is people you know or bloggers who have shared their food guides online).
Staying hydrated in a hot and humid country is very important, so make sure you drink plenty of (bottled) water throughout the day. I always drink fresh fruit juices from street stalls, but if you have a delicate stomach avoid it.
As with any trip, apply for comprehensive travel insurance before flying to India, check that your vaccinations are all up to date, always carry a first aid kit and hand sanitizer.
Don’t underestimate the traffic: anything that can happen on Indian roads. If a driver tells you it is going to take “x” amount of hours to reach your destination, allow yourself double that time and you should be alright! Don’t be put off by delays, expect things not to go as you planned them.
India has got one of the world’s largest railway networks, so you can travel anywhere by train. If you are travelling overnight, make sure you book your ticket well in advance (weeks or even months if you can) as you often need to get on a waiting list for first class (A.C.) tickets. First class in India doesn’t mean luxury, but it is a lot more comfortable journey than travelling in Sleeper Class.
What’s a trip to India without a rickshaw ride? These three wheeled boxes may seem daring but they are the best way for getting around in big cities like Mumbai.
home cooked meal
Respecting the culture…
India is a conservative country, especially in the most remote villages. Don’t go around wearing skimpy clothes or showing off legs, shoulders or midriff which could offend the locals. It’s a good idea to carry a shawl to cover up when visiting a local household or a temple. I always buy a few cotton kurtas and leggings as soon as I arrive in India; I find it easier to integrate (and avoid the curious stares!) if I get rid of my western clothes and dress in the local fashion.
If you are a woman travelling on the train, look out for the women-only carriage. Women-only rooms or floors are on offer in a few big Indian hotels. But, if you get the chance, choose a homestay for your overnight accommodation. It is the best way to immerse yourself in the local culture, get to know Indian families and learn about their traditions! Remember: the best (and spiciest!) meals you will ever have in India are home-made.
All photos are by © Giulia Mulè