India – country of colors and spices, home to more than one billion people and completely different to everything we know in Western Europe. A visit to the subcontinent can be overwhelming for the first time visitor, but with the following basic tips for visiting India, you will be well prepared for your journey.
Choose Destination and Travel Time Wisely
India is strongly influenced by the monsoon, seasonal winds, accompanied by daily, heavy rainfalls, which breathe new life into India’s landscapes and agriculture, but can last for hours and cause serious floods.
Not all of India is affected at the same time. The southwest monsoon hits the southern state of Kerala around the beginning of June and keeps moving up from there. It reaches Delhi usually by the end of June. In general, southwest monsoon season is from June till September, while the northeast monsoon hits the east coast between October and February.
Traveling during monsoon season definitely has its advantages like empty tourist attractions, low prices and a fascinating change of landscapes and lush green oceans, but it might not be recommended for the first time traveler, since it brings a whole bunch of additional challenges to an already challenging country.
In general, one of our main tips for visiting India is to go during the best travel season, which is from October to March. But also here you might want to avoid peak season in December, when the Taj Mahal is so packed, that you can’t see your own feet and selfies inevitably turn into group pictures, unless you tread away from the tourist track, and pick somewhere less busy and travel across South India instead.
Since India is so big, every region has its own ideal travel time. Which means, the better you do your research and your planning in advance, the more you will enjoy your first trip to India.
Take it Slow
India is huge. It is packed with history, ancient monuments and cultural and natural diversity. Even with a tourist visa for 6 months you probably won’t be able to see it all and give every destination the attention it deserves.
So depending on the time you’ll have, choose one or just a few regions, you would like to get to know – be it the Himalayan north, which is great for hiking and spiritual retreats, the endless Thar Desert in the west, the tea gardens of the northeast or the temples, tropical forests and beaches, temples and sites of South India.
Travel slow. Allow yourself to get to know the culture, traditions and the history of one region and you will enjoy your first time in India much better than if you’d be rushing from one must-see to the next all over the country.
Be Careful about Water
In Western Europe, we are incredibly spoiled by getting clean, drinkable water delivered directly into our kitchens and bathrooms. In India on the other side, you need to be very careful with tap water and water in general.
If you don’t want to provoke any unpleasant reactions of your stomach, drink only bottled water from trustworthy shops.
Even when you brush your teeth you should use bottled water, since it is very easy for germs and bacteria to enter the body through tiny lesions in the gums. When you shower, you better close your eyes, since also this is also an open door for bacteria.
While it can be a spiritually uplifting experience to bathe in a holy river like the Ganges, you should also consider that the river is one of the most polluted ones on earth and having a swim is not exactly recommended.
Be Picky about Your Food
Hygiene standards in India are not always as high as the ones our western digestive system is used to.
You might want to avoid street food, since you never know where the ingredients have been before and how long they have been lying in the sun already. If you don’t want to miss out on street food, since the taste can be amazing after all, go for the busy street stalls full of locals and don’t eat anything that hasn’t been freshly prepared and fully cooked in front of your eyes.
On of the main tips for visiting India is a suggestion many people follow and that is to go vegetarian during your time in India. The Delhi belly under-cooked vegetables can give you is still enjoyable when compared to what rotten meat can do to your stomach. Because of Hinduism many Indians themselves don’t eat meat and the country’s various cuisines offer enough meat free options to make India a vegetarian’s paradise.
When it comes to raw fruit, don’t eat anything that you haven’t peeled yourself or washed yourself with bottled water.
Respect the Culture
Even though modernization takes place in many parts of India with breathtaking speed, in its core it is still a very conservative country. So if you want to be respected, you need to show some respect.
While you may see many affectionate actions between men or between women, it is taboo to show affection to your significant other in public. You should definitely not kiss your partner or give your other-sex-buddy a hug.
To minimize the unwanted attention that you will get anyway for being a foreigner, dress appropriately. No matter if male or female, always cover your legs and your arms, as tempting as the hot weather may be to bare all. Especially when you visit a temple, pay attention, if there are any signs that indicate additional requirements for entering, like covering your head.
Stay Calm and Enjoy
More than one billion people live in India. It is a country of chaos, smells and noise, where personal space is nonexistent, a country of pollution and natural beauty, of endless poverty and incredible wealth, home to some of the most modern technology in the cities and the simplest lifestyles in the countryside.
You’ll be scammed dozens of time, you’ll sit in overcrowded buses with a couple of strangers almost on your lap and you’ll always draw attention with your bright skin.
India can be overwhelming. But even though you need to keep your wits together and pay attention to some things, don’t be scared. Drop all your expectations (they will not be met anyway) and go there with an open mind that can be filled with new experiences. Let go of a little bit of your usual western need for control and just go with the country’s hustle and bustle. Take India in with all your senses and you will irreversibly fall in love.