How to Travel in India and Still Enjoy Yourself:
A guide for the inexperienced traveler
by Neema Avashia
Getting to India has never been a problem for me. I start out in the sterile confines of Dulles Airport, go from its clean, air-conditioned, safe atmosphere straight into a stuffy, crowded, air conditioned plane, sit on the plane for approximately 20 hours while the pilot does the flying, and then all of a sudden Im landing in Bombay! My troubles only start after landing in India. Even the transition from the cool, dry airplane to the hot, muggy, smelly, bright Bombay airport reminds me that Im now in an entirely different worlda magical world full of sights to see and things to do, but also a world of crowds, traffic, bargaining, pollution, and confusion. Theres much in India that you have to see if you visitthe Taj Mahal in New Delhi, Swami Vivekanands temple in Trivendrum at the southernmost point in India, the hill stations in the Himalayas, and more. But unless you know the tricks necessary to travel in India without losing your money, your bearings, or your composure, your enjoyment of Indias beauty and culture may be tainted.
|Last summer I went to India to visit relatives, something that I do every two or three years, but instead of going with my family as I had in the past, I went by myself. The idea of my travelling alone in India worried my parents and sister. Before I left I was bombarded with instructions: Keep your money in several different places. Act like you know what youre doing and where youre going at all times. Dont speak unless absolutely necessaryyoull give yourself away as a foreigner. Watch out for slimy men on trains and buses. Dress in traditional clothing whenever you travel. The stream of advice was endless, and I got on the plane to India scared that before I returned to the U.S. I was going to lose all of my money, be harassed by multitudes of men, have my luggage stolen, and go crazy trying to travel alone in India as a small 19-year old woman. And just thinkI had traveled in India with my family seven times before I went alone. I can only imagine how daunting the idea of travel in India can be for a first-time visitor.||"The natural beauty, historic landmarks, and incredible culture of India are all worth experiencing without having to worry about any of the negative possibilities. If you keep these tips in mind as you travel you should be guaranteed a safe, healthy, enjoyable trip."|
But dont worry! There is hope! As I quickly learned by talking to friends and relatives who have traveled extensively in India, you can minimize your risk of having bad experiences and maximize your enjoyment of your visit to India if you just keep some simple tips in mind. I did this even though I was traveling alone in India for the first time. If I could do it, then theres no reason why you cant! All you have to do is
Equip yourself with preventive medicines and basic first aid equipment before you leave home. Having these supplies will save you the trouble of going in search of a doctor or drugstore if you get sick.
Always carry a water bottle with you. Either boil your own water, or make sure to buy bottled water from a reliable distributor (Bisleri, Yes!, etc.). Indian drinking water contains many forms of bacteria that cannot be filtered out by using a simple filter. If you have to drink soda, avoid bottled sodas since they may be watered down with the same contaminated water that you are trying to avoid.
If you eat on the street, consume only fresh fruit or food that is boiled or fried. Food that hasnt been cooked at high temperatures could make you sick. The one time that I decided to eat out and didnt take care to make sure that my food was fresh and properly prepared, I ended up in bed for four days with a bad case of diarrheayou dont want this.
Always keep your passport and any other important papers close to you. Dont leave important documents in your luggage. Also, keep two photographs and your passport information in a safe, separate place in case your passport is lost or stolen.
Contact the state ITDC (Indian Tourism Development Corporation) or the state tourism office (usually located in the capital city) for travel information. Travel brochures and advice can be acquired at these centers. The ITDC location information can be found in a local phone book.
Use STS (Station-to-Station) phone booths to make intra-country and foreign calls. The cost of calling from these booths is less expensive than calling from a house or hotel, and they can be found virtually anywhere.
Look for movie theatres to stop at when youre on the road and need a bathroom break. Theatre bathrooms are usually the cleanest you will find while on the road. You may also want to carry toilet paper with you.
Dont give money to beggars; offer to buy them a meal instead. Pulling out money leaves you open to being robbed or mobbed by beggars. Also, be prepared to see many, many people begging for moneyespecially in train stations and outside temples.
Realize that personal space doesnt exist in India. On any Indian city bus people sit three to a seat, and there are usually three orderly rows of people standing in the aisle. With this many people in one bus, youre bound to get pushed around, which, although unintentional, is disconcerting for people who arent used to so much body contact. However, women should be very carefulfor them, sometimes the jostling and pushing by men is intentional. Nevertheless, a city bus ride is definitely an experience worth having at least oncejust so you know what Im talking about.
Avoid putting your luggage on the top of the bus when travelling. If you do so, it may not be there when you get to your destination. Even if it is a little uncomfortable, try to keep your luggage with you on the bus.
Only carry as much luggage as you can handle without looking weak or helpless. As a girl travelling alone in India, I was often accosted by eager porters wanting to carry my luggage. Carrying only one small bag helped me to demonstrate that I didnt need help. Also, on the one occasion when I was followed by a strange man who seemed to have bad intentions, being able to handle my luggage alone helped me to move quickly and stave off any problems that might have arisen.
If using a taxi or rikshaw, make sure the meter is at the lowest rate when you begin the trip. Drivers may rip you off if they think you dont know any better. Negotiating prices beforehand can also help you avoid being cheated.
Confirm your return flight at least two days in advance in order to avoid getting bumped. Indian airport computers arent always reliable; confirming your flight ahead of time could save you grief at the airport.
The natural beauty, historic landmarks, and incredible culture of India are all worth experiencing without having to worry about any of the negative possibilities. If you keep these tips in mind as you travel you should be guaranteed a safe, healthy, enjoyable trip. You will be amazed by the natural beauty of the Valley of the Flowers at the foothills of the Himalayas, awed by the incredible architecture of the Lake Palace Hotel in Jaipur, and very pleased by taste of the delicious dosas and sambhar that you will surely eat when travelling in South India. And if by chance you forget the other tips I have given you, at least remember what my friend J. F. Lacaria had to say about travelling in India after he returned from his trip: "The real key is to trust the people and trust yourself, and your expressed confidence will serve you well, especially in India. Ask for help from [police officers, train conductors, waiters, and tour guides] who clearly are there to be helpful, be friendly, and people will return your friendship because they will be delighted to get to know you as a traveler in their country."
Neema Avashia is a Sophomore studying Professional Writing and Anthropology. Now that shes an "expert" on travel in India, she cant wait to visit again and see how good her tips actually are!