Travel tips for first time travelers to India

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Over the last few years, India has become a very popular destination for business and leisure travelers alike from around the world. Whatever may be your reason, there are several pointers you should keep in mind when visiting for the first time to make sure you have a good first experience.

1.  Getting around in the big cities:

Uber and Ola (the Indian equivalent of Uber) have made getting around major cities by taxi very affordable. Some have found that an Uber is even cheaper than an Auto Riksha and definitely cheaper than taxis from a taxi stand. That being said, not every Uber/ Ola driver is good.

Now if you are going to multiple locations, or driving to a location outside town, you could hire an air conditioned taxi car for the day. It comes with a driver, so you will be more comfortable and you won't have to worry about how to get to multiple places. It should cost between Rs 1200-1500 per day (which is about $20-30 a day). There is a fixed amount of time and mileage that you hire the car for. Petrol is included. If you exceed the time or the Kilo Meters, there is an extra charge. The mileage starts from the garage, not from where you are picked up. You pay in cash. You also pay for any parking charges and tolls.

In Delhi and Mumbai, the Metro system and the local trains will certainly be the cheapest option to get around, but the trains are extremely crowded at peak hour…and sometimes, not at peak hour as well. The Delhi Metro does have one bogey reserved exclusively for women passengers so if you are a lone female traveler this may be a good idea, specially since the ladies isn't as crowded as the general compartment.

2.  Food and Water:

Always drink bottled water. For some unknown reason many foreigners fall ill, particularly with stomach infections when coming to India. As a precaution, it's better to drink bottled water or boiled water.

Do not eat street food. It may be tasty but may make you hasty!

Do not eat salads, any raw food, chutneys, or unpasteurized dairy products. Most households would boil and pasteurise milk as soon as it is bought so it should be safe in homes. Essentially eat food that is thoroughly cooked.
Avoid cold milk and dairy products as these spoil easily in the heat.

3. First Aid kit:

Carry a small first aid kit with antibiotics, immodium etc with you just in case you fall sick. Talk to your Dr and get prescription basics for stomach infections, flu, headaches, etc. This is simply as a matter of precaution. Although going to a Dr is easy and medicines are inexpensive and easily accessible in India (don’t worry, you won’t need your insurance to kick in unless you are hospitalised) it's not fun being sick on holiday.

4. Dress Code in the office

For men, a regular business suit and tie is fine. For women, no low cut blouses, or extremely tight clothes. Dress conservatively. There is no “casual day” dress code for Fridays, we dress conservatively for business on all working days.

 

The above four pictures are of Buddhist Monasteries in Ladakh (Likir, Hemis and others)- some are 600 years old, some newer, some much older

5. Dress Codes at popular tourist locations

As a general rule you should dress modestly. No bare shoulders. No low cut blouses or shorts. In fact, it is better if this rule is followed not just in tourist spots/ religious locations but everywhere in India.

Please note that barring Jewish and Christian institutions, all places of worship require you to take off your shoes when entering. All temples/ mosques have a place where you deposit your shoes. They will either give you a token (to identify your shoes when you come out), or you just point out your shoes to the man attending to the shoe counter at the temple. There is usually no charge for this service.

Please note that Sikhs are particular about what men and women wear in the temple complex. So whether you are a man or a woman, the following rules apply.

    • You cannot wear shorts, short skirts, and no short tops.

    • Both men and women have to have their heads covered when entering the Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). So, if you have a gentleman's handkerchief, that's perfectly alright. Anchor it behind your ears and use that to cover you. If you don't have anything of the sort, that's fine. There is usually a stand outside the temple where you can rent or borrow a handkerchief to put on your head. You must return it when you leave the temple. A baseball cap or a cap of any kind will not do. Ignore this rule for Hindu, Buddhist and for Jain temples.

6. Security at ticketed tourist locations

Please note that there is heavy security at popular tourist destinations. Security will including manual frisking as well as X – Ray Machines at some locations, so don’t carry things like a pocket knife, or any kind of sharp object with you. Food is also not allowed at ticketed tourist locations, so leave any apple that you might be carrying with you in the car. At places like the Taj Mahal, there is an inexpensive locker facility near by, so if security tells you you cannot take your back pack into the complex, you could simply use the locker facility.


7. Ticket prices at popular ticketed tourist locations

If you are not an Indian national, your ticket will be considerably more expensive than for Indians at ticketed tourist destinations. What you are paying is the true cost of the up keep of the monument. In some places you will get a bottle of water and shoe covers with your ticket. Make sure you collect both, you will need them. In any case, you should hang on to your tickets after you visit the monuments as there is a deal where if you visit three monuments in a day, you get a discount.

8. Other things to watch out for

Beware of a bizarrely huge no of touts and tour guides at ticketed monuments. Ignore them all.
Beware of monkeys. For some unknown reason there are a large no of monkeys at many sights in Delhi and Agra. Don't get close to them; monkeys are sharp and extremely destructive. They may pinch your phone or your wallet and run off with them. Also, monkeys carry rabies, so be very careful.

I hope that these tips have been of some help while planning your trip. I would like to end by saying that every thing you hear about India is true- and the opposite is also true. Come with an open mind, and a spirit of adventure, and you will not be disappointed. But don't expect everything to be just as it is in your home country.

If you would like more detailed tips for a particular destination in India, please contact me by email and I would be happy to help you to the best of my abilities.