India is an amazing country to explore (I have included a number of India attractions in my Top 30 things to see in Asia) but I must admit it can be an intimidating prospect for first timers.
If you’re in the process of arranging your first holiday to India, there are several ways you can make sure your getaway goes smoothly, and I find that knowing what these things are always helps to put your mind at ease before setting off.
This post is dedicated to everyone planning their first foray to this exciting nation and includes handy information on things like itineraries, money and avoiding the dreaded ‘Delhi belly’.
Tip 1: Decide how you are going to travel
I travelled independently in India and while that was satisfying it certainly had its challenges, like standing in line to buy railway tickets and wandering cities looking for accommodation in the heat. Booking an organised tour through a reputable tour operator is another option, especially if you have limited time. The benefits can include local knowledge, exciting itineraries and all the practicalities (flights, accommodation, internal travel) sorted out for you.
There are lots of options when it comes to the kind of tour you take. For instance, private tours allow you to select the departure date and travel independently. Tailor-made tours mean you can have an itinerary built for you based on your interests, and group tours are great for making friends and having the knowledge of an expert guide ever on hand.
Tip 2: Explore beyond the Golden Triangle
When it comes to itineraries for your first trip to India, many people start with the classic Golden Triangle option. The Golden Triangle is popular for a reason – that reason being that it’s fantastic – and you must see the capital city of Delhi, the colourful palaces of Jaipur and the Taj Mahal in Agra. But make sure you explore beyond this well-trodden path. Explore deeper into Rajasthan, visiting the coloured cities of Udaipur, Jodphur and Jaisalmer on the edge of the Thar Desert. Or experience the fascinating Hindu spirituality of Varanasi – ancient Benares. Fabulous hiking in the foothills of the Indian Himalaya is possible from the hill stations of Simla and Macleod Ganj.
Tip 3: Changing your currency in India
My next tip is to change your currency as soon as you arrive in India. Don’t panic, there are plenty of places to swap British pounds, euros and US dollars all over the country. There are currency exchange points at international airports but you will get a better rate from money changers in local markets so just get enough at the airport to get you going. The national currency is called the rupee and – as you may have guessed, you can’t take it out of the country. So, remember to switch your currency back before heading home!
Tip 4: Dress conservatively
It’s also worth giving some thought to the clothes you pack. India is a very hot country, so you should always pack light clothes (linen is particularly good), while it’s also well worth taking a few waterproof jackets and clothes that dry out fast in case you get caught in a downpour – particularly essential if you’re visiting in monsoon season!
You should also aim to dress conservatively to fit in with the locals and ensure you don’t cause offence. That means long trousers or skirts and covered shoulders and arms whenever possible, but particularly when visiting religious sites. Many shops and attractions will also expect you to remove your shoes before entering – as a general rule, if you see footwear lined up outside a venue, it’s a pretty safe bet you should slip your shoes off too.
Tip 5: Be food safe
My final piece of advice is about food. Now, it’s likely you’ll have heard of ‘Delhi belly’, which has become an almost universal term for having an upset stomach while overseas. Avoiding it means vigilance more than anything else – take care not to drink any tap water, which means ice cubes and any food rinsed in tap water, like salads or chopped fruit, as well as water directly from the tap.
I also found it to be worthwhile avoiding meat while travelling in India. Mr Wandering Kiwi had a bad bout of Delhi Belly after eating meat at a fancy restaurant in Udaipur. It is really not worth it and the vegetarian food is varied and delicious in India. I became addicted to the humble Vegetarian Thali. If you do plan to eat meat, pick venues that are popular with locals – a good rule of thumb for any dining experience in India.
Finally, make sure you carry a good travel first aid kit!
By Natasha von Geldern