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5 tips for India first-timers

Chaotic, bamboozling, intoxicating, crazy, exasperating, wonderful, squalid, beautiful, daunting, overwhelming, and fantastic. India is all these things, and more.

  05/07/2019 16:15
How can you possibly prepare yourself for the ultimate travel plunge? Start with these tips for travelling to India for the first time!

1. Keep your cool

As well as its beauty and wonder, India has an often deserved reputation for touts, scams, and other hassles. There are ways you can reduce the chances of being overcharged or cheated, but you will have a few encounters with scammers on your trip, so keep your wits about you and remember that deals that sound too good to be true usually are. In particular, be wary of taxi and rickshaw drivers who insist on taking you to specific hotels, shops or travel agencies – the cost of their commission will be added to your bill.

The single most important piece of advice for any India first-timer is to try to remain calm, no matter what. Frustrations boil over easily in India, and being able to control them, take a deep breath and move on, is key to enjoying your time here. If you’re getting stressed about losing some money or being scammed, take a moment to consider how much you’ve really lost and whether it’s worth getting that fussed about.

2. Slow down

Many people try to cram too much into a visit to India and subsequently burn out. To get the best out your trip, concentrate on a few places rather than trying to tick off as many as possible. Seeing one or two places slowly can be much more rewarding than seeing loads of places, but not having time to appreciate any of them. Spend a few days in one spot and you'll be less stressed, gain a deeper understanding of where you are, and have more time to get to know the people you meet – your exchanges with hospitable locals will almost certainly lead to some of the most memorable moments of your trip.

3. Escape the crowds

With over a billion locals, many parts of India are certainly crowded. The bustle and mayhem can be fun, particularly if there's a festival in town, but it's easy to reach the point of saturation. Fortunately, India has plenty of quiet retreats, so plan some relaxing escapes into your journey. To keep your batteries charged, spend some days or weeks in a city, followed by some days or weeks in the countryside or in a small town. For inner (and outer) peace, head south to the backwaters and beaches of Kerala, or north to India's captivating hill stations or the Tibetan-influenced valleys of the Himalaya in Ladakh, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh.

4. Stay healthy

India has a somewhat notorious reputation amongst travellers for so-called Delhi belly (an upset stomach). No one wants to get ill, particularly if you’re on a shorter trip, so it pays to take steps to avoid a dodgy tum. Never drink tap water, and steer clear of any food that may have been washed in it. As a precaution, avoid ice, ice cream, and salads and fruit you haven't just peeled yourself. Let your stomach acclimatise for a few days before launching into a mega-spicy street food feast, and whenever buying street food, apply the same assessment of cleanliness standards as you would anywhere. Are the owners freshly cooking the food or has it been standing there for a while? Is the stall busy with lots of customers or only attracting hoards of flies?

Many travellers go veggie whilst in India, and it's not a bad idea, as a dodgy bit of meat will do you a lot more harm than undercooked vegetables. Plus, many Indians are vegetarian, so the country offers perhaps the world's most fabulous choice of vegetarian food. If you do eat meat, make sure it's well cooked, and stick to stalls and restaurants that are packed with locals (the best barometer for hygiene standards).

When you’re on the road, you may well find you have to use some less than sanitary toilet stops, but these don't have to be health hazards. Toilet paper is rarely provided (though can easily be pinched from hotel rooms!), but the left-hand-and-water-jug method preferred by many locals can be fine if you carry soap with you so you can wash your hands properly afterwards. Anti-bacterial wipes and anti-bacterial gel are also handy to keep in your day bag for a last minute clean up before eating with your fingers.

5. Pick the perfect route

India packs a lot into a massive space, and you'll never have time to see it all on one trip. Think about what interests you, what you like doing and how much time you have, and tailor your trip accordingly. Be realistic about how much you can fit in. Rather than trying to see the whole country, you may get more out of your trip if you concentrate on the south of the country, or on the north. However, internal flights – or much more enjoyable and atmospheric long-distance trains – are plentiful and inexpensive so you can hop from north to south if you want a taste of both worlds. 

Source Lonelyplanet
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