10 tips for your first time in India
India famously has a reputation for initiating culture shock on a first visit, especially for travellers journeying in the north of the country. Contemporary India can be bewildering, a place of extremes shot through with contradictions. Visitors seeking to negotiate this phenomenally complex country will likely experience juxtapositions of wealth and poverty alongside a liberated young middle class. In many ways, experiencing this is all part of a trip here. However, a few helpful practises can ensure you feel prepared when arriving after a long-haul flight, or when facing a culture most unlike that at home.
"India is a big and incredibly diverse country. When you visit India it's like visiting many countries within a country," says Archana Singh of Travel See Write. "From the mighty Himalayas in the North to the serene backwaters of Kerela to the Coastal countryside of East to the Thar desert of West; India has a lot to offer. Instead of cramming everything in a single trip take it slow."
With that in mind, our India editor has prepared an essential run-down of tried and tested tips to ensure you can get on with enjoying your trip as quickly as possible.
Take the hassle out of planning and discover our Essential Golden Triangle trip here.
Top 10 travel tips for the first-time India traveller
1. It’s best to use a pre-paid taxi from airports. Black city taxis should be metered, but get an estimation of the fare before you set off. Better yet, pre-arrange your hotel transfer to ensure a smooth start to your time in India.
"Book in advance to avoid last minute hastles," adds Singh. "For within city travel, you can always opt for a taxi or an auto. But make sure to bargain with autowallahs."
2. The Golden Triangle is India's most popular tourism area and for a lot of locals, Westerners are seen as rich simply because they're there. Therefore, you can expect a lot of both hustling for business and begging in certain places. If you don't want what someone is selling, it's easier not to get drawn into conversation – politely say no and walk away. Responses to begging are a very personal choice – although many people consider it best not to give any money as a means of discouraging the practise, especially with children.
3. When travelling by autorickshaw, it is essential to agree a fare beforehand to avoid arguments later on. In particular, it's helpful to confirm that you want a price with "no shopping," ie. without unrequested stops at shops operated by pals of the driver, where they can anticipate a kick-back on all sales made. That is, of course, unless you would like to go shopping!
4. Don’t let autorickshaw or taxi drivers take you to a hotel you don’t want to go to – insist that you have a reservation at your specified hotel. Don't be put off by claims that the hotel has burnt down, is booked up or suffering an infestation of some sort. Be polite and insistant about where you want to go.
5. With regards to your health, two attitudes almost guarantee a miserable time: carelessness and hypochondria. Take elementary precautions by sticking to bottled drinks, no ice and freshly cooked hot food, and you should be fine. Note that even decent hotels' buffets, left out all day, can be a risk, so order a la carte or even from a street food stall, where you can see food cooked in front of you. If you're especially concerned, India is an excellent place to go vegetarian, as many people don't eat meat and the choice of veggie options is excellent.
6. Beware of credit card fraud, and don’t let your credit card out of your sight when paying by plastic.
7. Carry valuables on your person at all times if possible, or leave them in your hotel safe, rather than unsecured in your room. When taking internal flights or overnight trains, padlock your bags and carry anything especially valuable on you.
8. The sun is strong in the Golden Triangle, even in the winter. Keep hydrated (with sealed, bottled water), protect your head with a hat and try to do your outdoor sightseeing in the morning or late afternoon.
9. India's respect for red tape and bureaucracy can be maddening, but use it to your advantage – vouchers, passes, letters of introduction and official business cards can all work wonders for you.
10. In all senses of the word, stay cool. India has been described as a "functioning anarchy" and this remains true in the face of encroaching globalisation. Don't get cross and remember that a smile and small tip can be more effective than anything else.
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