1 ) On the first day – Plan: Spend the first day relaxing into the weather, waking up late, enjoying breakfast, reading up on the sights to see, asking other guests or the hotel what they recommend, choosing a reliable guide and making plans.
2 ) Plan your sightseeing: Make a short list of things you simply don’t want to miss in that place. Plan one major thing a day and allow yourself time to experience it, fully listen to the guide, wander along around it afterwards to get a sense of the place, take pictures, shop a bit and eat and talk at leisure.
3 ) To enjoy your travels, plan a little: No matter which city or sightseeing place, India is usually crowded with people, full of sounds, filled with bright sunlight and colours and people tugging at you from all directions. Traffic is heavy and slow to the beat of non-stop honking. Make sure you allow your mind and body time to absorb the impressions and handle the aggression without worrying about the schedule or the traffic jam. Otherwise you tend to ignore the heat and stress and soldier on – ending up with anger / tears / headaches and a sense that the holiday has gone horribly wrong. This is why planning one thing a day gives you the time and space to handle unexpected events and have a peaceful and interesting day. And don’t plan every single detail of the day – leave enough time to stop and take in the sights, sounds and smells.
4 ) Transport and moving around: Don’t take unknown taxis or rickshaws unless you really know the way. In most places, you agree the fare upfront. Be sure to check with your hotel before you leave. If booking in advance, ask other guests whom they have used reliably or use the hotel taxis keeping in the mind that they may inflate prices. If possible, invest extra money to hire a recommended driver to stay with you for the whole trip so that you can relax and have a stable base during the day to leave purchases with, plan the days and reward once at the end. Do not try to drive on your own. People don’t follow road rules strictly in India and the foreigner is usually penalised in accidents.
5 ) Locals: Often travellers live in a city of their own making, populated by sights, gift shops and recommended places to eat. If you have time, try the things locals do. Go to the shopping mall or cinema. Try a regular cafe. Go to the super market and check out the local produce. Buy stuff and have fun trying it out. Indians in tourist destinations may speak or understand English, at least a basic version of it but may have difficulty in understanding it in your accent. If they don’t get you, write things down so they can read it and have a second shot at it. Locals may be fascinated by your white/ black skin and golden curls/ dreads and ask to take a picture. Do so if you enjoy it but feel free to say no if you hate it and just walk away.
6 ) Food: The one thing to avoid is roadside food. The fact that they use any water they can get and they constantly handle the food with their unwashed hands means that you will almost certainly get Delhi Belly. It is not worth ruining your whole trip for one guilty meal authentic though it may be. Do not drink tap water, only bottled water. Food safety: “Boil It, Peel It, Cook It, Wash It or Forget It!”
By Rakesh Krishna Kumar (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
7 ) Beggars: At temples or traffic signals, they are a constant presence. Most Indians are used to ignoring them, practicing charity nearer to home with steady dependents. But foreigners often find it extremely distressing. Beggars might come across as quite aggressive, but they are harmless and will not “attack” or rob you. While poverty is real, keep in mind that begging is often done by organized gangs. If you want to give to beggars, only give 10-20 rupees at a time and only when leaving a place, not arriving, otherwise you will most certainly be mobbed. Try to give to those who perform a service or those that are genuinely disenfranchised, like the elderly or crippled.
8 ) Photos: Morning and evening hours are usually better suited for taking photos as the light is much better than during the heat of the day. Plus do as the locals do, get up early, go out in the cool of the dawn, take a nap after lunch and enjoy dinner with an evening breeze. There is an old saying from the days of the British Raj: only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the sun.
9 ) Shopping: When gift shopping, choose wisely as everything may seem too cheap to refuse but you may not have space for it in the end. Most Indian airlines only include a measly 15 kgs in their fare and they do not budge on the penalty so you might end up spending a lot on regretful tat! On the other hand, if you really like something, buy it immediately because to come back to that place the next day may be hard to find or tedious to get back to for just one thing or the shop might be closed on the owners whim. Business class flights on domestic Indian airlines offer more baggage allowance but might still be cheap vis a vis Europe.
10 ) Plan for the unplanned: Leave the last day or two for unplanned things that you heard about unexpectedly but feel you must do. It will also give you time to pack at leisure, print out your tickets as the airport requires a physical copy to let you in, book a taxi in advance, allow yourself plenty of time for traffic jams. Buy food and drink for the journey as you may not have enough time at train station stops to get out. Buy books and magazines as these may not be easily found at bus stations and withdraw cash as ATMs often don’t work easily for foreign cards. Domestic flights can get delayed or cancelled so plan your international return flight with enough contingency.
Missed Part 1? Read it here:
More blog posts with India travel tips:
About Lisa: Lisa Mathew lives in London but travels around the world for work and pleasure. She can otherwise be found baking, gardening or dreaming but mostly buried in a book @lisalizlis