Travelling in India: Some General Guidelines for Foreign Tourists
India is a fascinating country, with wide regional differences historically, geographically, culturally, linguistically and gastronomically. To an outsider, figuring out everything at one go will be a mind boggling experience. Make sure to be ready for some really memorable experiences. In order to make these experiences memorable in a positive sense, please go through the rough guidelines given below.
Travelling in India requires time, effort and a certain amount of guidance from reliable people. It would make sense to categorize your travel under a header: is it for a religious or spiritual experience? Is it for adventure sport like trekking, camping and mountaineering? Is it to savour the historical and cultural flavours of the country? If you cannot categorize your exact reason for travel and want a quick and general overview of something of everything, then you would require a person or agency who would take you through the entire circuit in a hassle-free way.
Before beginning your journey to India, make sure you have the right kind of gear/garments at your disposal. If is between the months of October to March, the optimal time to travel in the country, then you may come prepared with slightly heavy cotton or linen wear for the day time and a light jacket for the evenings. This is especially true for those visiting North India and plan to go on treks or just plain travel towards the foothills or the Himalayan zones. Generally speaking, North India can become quite cold in the months of December and January, with temperatures hitting lows of 0-4 deg.centigrade in most parts. If you are planning a stay in the Himalayan areas or hillstations, do carry heavy woolens.Unlike in Europe and the USA, there is no concept of central heating (or airconditioning) in places other than luxury hotels. In the South and West of the country, there is practically no winter to speak of and you may even begin to feel a little hot in the daytime. The best gear here for the casual traveller are open toed sandals, and light cotton garments.
The summer months of around end of March to September are really hot in the whole country, and one is advised not to visit India during this time. There are some months like May and June where one may even fall sick due to heat: all the more so if you are ill-prepared to meet temperatures of 48-50 deg.c. Whereas North and Central India have dry heat conditions, the East and West have high humidity conditions in summer, which dehydrate the body, and leave one feeling exhausted and unfit. Should you still be choosing this time to visit India, please carry a bottle of drinking water wherever you go, sunglasses, and an umbrella preferably to cut the intensity of the sun if you happen to be outdoors. If you do not follow this advise, you may be a victim of heat or sun stroke.
In recent times, there has been a security scare which is warding off hundreds of tourists to the nation. The threat of terrorism, for instance, is not entirely ruled out, but is not something that warrants cancellation of tickets. Put plainly, the threat of terrorism in India is as real as the same threat faced by the UK, Europe and US. There have been some nasty incidents in the past, but the country is still safe to travel to, provided you are not visiting potentially dangerous zones such as the border states, which share boundary lines with neighbouring countries.
Foreign tourists travelling to India are advised to stay in groups, or with local friends from India. Although the travel agencies will see to your safety at large, they will not be able to monitor your movement if you roam independently and willingly land up in the hands of ill-intentioned people. These may take the form of hecklers at market places, who promise you cheap hotel accommodation, or push some product at what they make you believe is a great bargain. Female travellers are advised not to be alone at night or take taxi cabs without a local known escort, preferably male. There have been plenty of cases where single white women travellers, who stand out with their fair skin and are full of ignorance regarding the average Indian male, who looks upon females as something to be “had”. It is advised never to pick up a male (or female) “friend” from the road-side, who act extra sweet but have other designs on you such as theft, or rape. Also, avoid anyone who offers food to you: it may be laced with a drug that will knock you out of your senses.
Foreign female tourists are advised to wear garments that do not expose much of skin. Although most foreigners disregard this rule, it is wise to wear clothes that will help you mingle with the crowd. In India, any woman wearing clothes that expose is interpreted as a free and available target to predatory men. Also remember, it is wise to carry pepper spray: incidences of strange men taking liberty to touch your body will come time and again….the spray is to be used when limits are overstepped and the situation takes a dangerous turn.
Regarding food, it will be wise to carry a supply of your own kind of tinned food, just in case the locally available food may disagree with your palate. The vast majority of Indians are vegetarian, hence the most easily available food is always vegetarian. Nowadays, most major Indian cities have state-of-the-art shopping malls and supermarkets that sell what your heart desires. Besides this, the bigger cities have A-class and B-class restaurants in abundance. One can also zero down on the several food courts that feature in shopping malls….you are bound to get value for money here, and something to your liking.
The same cannot be said for travel to the small towns of India, where time has more or less stood still, and although malls have made a presence here, the demand for global food is low, and hence this sector is still lacking. You may have to make do with the locally available food here, which is good, but may be too spicy for the western palate. Do buy your own bottled drinking water: the smaller restaurants tend to give water from a tap, which may play havoc with your system.
For the uninitiated Western traveller, the sights of extreme poverty may prove to be more than a shock. Beggars generally make a beeline for foreign tourists as they are easy targets. The trick is to ignore them at any cost. It will be difficult to turn a blind eye to a beggar woman and her emaciated baby, or to a child with a runny nose and filthy appearance, but it has to be done. If you are generous to one, then rest assured, there will be ten more to surround and harass the daylights out of you.
On a more positive note, the travel industry in India is quite well developed, and have a pulse on what the average Westerner would like to see and experience. The travel packages offer attractive features which leave you craving more. Do carry your camera wherever you go. There will be photo-ops at every instance.
For women travellers in particular: India does not offer hygienic toilet facilities at every point, which means that you will have to “hold” on till you get back to your hotel. The very repulsive habit of the average Indian male relieving himself on the roadside in the open is something that will come as a shock to most.
India is a country which holds limitless possibilities when it comes to travelling. Do check out the rates of hotels: they range from middle range to luxury, and the last offers you everything you could possibly want, and throw in even more than that.
If you have personal friends in India, then you have hit on a gold mine. There could be no better channel for guiding you around while travelling. Indians are by and large warm people, and treat guests very well. As stated before, the cultural and regional diversity is great, which makes Indian culture one of the most robust, lively and colorful ones of the world. Unless you make a physical presence here, it is impossible to explain what the country is all about. With a population of over 1.2 billion, this is one fantastic country that is blessed with Alpine, desert, plain, coast and plateau areas. As a result, adventure travel: camping, hiking, mountaineering as well as wildlife safaris are well developed areas of tourism.For the lover of nature or history or the person filled with wanderlust: do not miss your chance when a ticket to visit India arrives at your doorstep.
For the business traveler India will provide a hospitable and encouraging environment. The advantage of the business traveler over the casual one is that a business traveler has ready-made guides for travel within the country, and those comprise his hosts.