Essential Things to Know Before Traveling to India

Tourism-wise, always on top of everyone’s list. But more than the iconic destinations, the state does really offer a melting pot of cultures — a nation bursting at the seams with creativity, distinct architecture, amazing people, and the spiciest food I’ve ever tasted.

Attending the 7th International Youth Peace Festival got me to book a ticket to New Delhi. Thing is, never have I thought to do a South Asian trip before Indochina. I wasn’t even that much of an experience seeker and Taj Mahal was probably the only star in my head then. Needless to say, experiencing India for 12 days was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had. Not to mention some local friends that I still get to be in touch with from time to time.

With all the damaged hard drive drama, recalling every bits and piece from all my travels over the last 7 years is becoming a serious struggle. So, I finally managed to take a deep breath after a whole day of downloading old photos from my social media accounts and I’m only now getting the opportunity to review everything and think about what I want to pen down about all of these trips. I don’t know where to start, so I’m guessing a series of posts about India would be a great head start because so many friends have asked me about my experience.

Figure out the kind of trip you want – tailored to your interest and time

Choosing your destination in India is not an easy task. There’s so much to see that it would take a lifetime to visit all of it and I can only write based on my own, very limited experience.

Will it be a food trip and indulging in all kinds of Indian food? Spotting wildlife in national parks? Uncovering India’s History and Heritage – Taj Mahal? Adventure-filled trip with the Himalaya region as your target? Live like a royalty and stay in palace hotels in Rajasthan? Take a houseboat along the Kerala backwaters? Thinking about yoga or meditation retreats? Perhaps go for homestays and experience the farm life? Visit some Indian tribes? Festivals? Swim and catch waves in some of its renowned beaches? Off-the-beaten type of trip?

The list goes on and options just seem endless. SO DO YOUR RESEARCH.

A prepaid taxi from the airport is your best option

As soon as you land, getting a prepaid taxi to your hotel is the wisest decision you can make. Not only are they convenient but also very safe and efficient. The drivers are registered with the airport so there’s a minimum shot to have a bad encounter.

Food is unbelievable (+spiciest food I’ve ever tasted)

India now holds a special place in my heart but seriously, I wasn’t really ready when I ate that extremely spicy food. Even the “original” chicken at KFC tasted like a spicy one for me! haha

Hot, spicy, oily, curry powder, fatty, more curry powder… Things that initially come to our minds when we talk about Indian food. As true as it gets, the art of blending spices and herb cooked to perfection amazes me.

BUT LET ME GET TO THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTIONS

  • All Indian food is hot and spicy – As to my surprise, this is not true. In fact, PARATHA IS ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITES! Not all Indian foods contain 10 different spices. I think it’s just a matter of preference and everyone basically grew up in a society which overly welcomed the use of chilies.
  • Indian food is unhealthy – Big N-O! Some foods are prepared by roasting, steaming, grilling, and boiling. I guess it’s just a matter of preference as most of the Indian dishes are prepared from scratch and can be changed accordingly. Also, you’d be surprised by just how much vegetables they use for cooking. India is probably one of the best options you have if you’re a vegan.
  • All Indian food contains curry powder – I’m not going to lie but I used to believe this one. Surprisingly, this is so not true. Pakora, Samosa, Tandoori Chicken, Dosa, Biryani, and Paratha are just some of the Indian foods that don’t have curry in them. Also, I learned that curry does not always mean that saucy food we all used to know. In fact, it can be prepared dry.

I may not be in the best position to talk about food, as I am not a foodie myself, but I want to believe that Indian food is one of the bests in the world and doing a food trip across the country will definitely be one hell of a hot journey that you will never regret.

Be mindful of what to wear

Skip the crop tops and short shorts. India is a very conservative society and women, most especially, should refrain from showing skin and dress modestly to avoid unwarranted advances. Properly cover your shoulders and legs by wearing knee-length and full-length pants or skirts.

A rickshaw ride should not be missed

Some may not agree with me, but I conclude to say that rickshaw ride is the most efficient form of transportation in Delhi. But, of course, this doesn’t apply to extremely long-distance travels. It’s fun, especially when you are in a middle of a traffic and you wind up astonished by all the sights, smells and sounds around you. I say this is one of the best adventures you can have in India!

TRY to avoid street food

I, myself, am a fan of street foods but it can sometimes get really dangerous in India. Most places where foods are found are very unhygienic. I’ve seen vendors serving food with a couple of garbage bins just underneath the table and the unsanitary treatment of the food is very apparent. So, try to stay away from those very obvious ones. I’m sure there are some which are still safe to eat but I guess just be cautious.

Don’t drink the tap water

Don’t even dare to try. Shop for boxes of mineral water if you have to. Unfortunately, having a pure drinking water in India is one of the most important things you should do for yourself while there. India is not really known for its sanitation, and you will find that taking simple steps – including washing your hands frequently and making sure your food is served in a sanitary plate or what not. Another option is a fresh coconut but be careful not to drink those with obviously dirty straws and knives that the coconut vendor is using.

People staring at you

It’s like having that sort of celebrity feeling which becomes very uncomfortable later on. I’ve come to realize that it may not be the best idea for a woman to visit India without a male companion. Although it’s very unlikely that someone will pull you from behind, I guess it’s due to that very reason that you are a foreigner so everything about you just seems so bizarre for them, maybe. I don’t know what the reason is, but I guess you just have to prepare for long stares and weird smiles from time to time.

Indians like to talk – A LOT

Ask them one question and they would probably give you more than what you need to know. On some occasions, they might even start talking to you even if they don’t know you. Maybe Indians are really friendly but hey, I reckon they are just really good conversation starters. Where you are from and how you find India are two of the most common questions you’ll be asked. Well, someone even asked me how old I was haha.

Head wobbling means YES and NO

Head wobbling is definitely that one distinctive characteristic of Indians. If you personally know an Indian and you ask them a question, they’re most likely to respond by wobbling their heads and you won’t know if it’s a Yes, a No, or a Maybe. It will take you some time to understand but when you get used to it, you’d be surprised by just how infectious this gesture becomes and you will suddenly find yourself doing the same unconsciously.

To prepare you for a wobbling trip, here are the most common ones…

A continuous head wobble means that the person really understands. 

A wobble from side to side means “yes” or “alright”.

A slow soft wobble, sometimes accompanied by a smile, is a sign of friendship and respect.

Indians don’t take queuing seriously

Queueing in India is not the same as queuing elsewhere. IT’S INSANE.

Are they just impatient? Perhaps in a hurry?

I would definitely love to know the answer to this philosophical question. Once, I was standing in line at KFC. It wasn’t lunchtime nor rush hour, but what surprised me was these two women who just came in and literally stood in line IN FRONT OF ME. Woah there, ladies! What is going on here? For a moment, I raised brows and wanted to give a quick lecture about manners but I asked them politely instead. They apologized and stood at my back after. A few moments later, I was happily eating my chicken.

Thing is, it doesn’t only happen in restaurants. It happens everywhere — banks, hospitals, ticket counters, shopping malls, even at the airport. They queue not because it’s what they’re supposed to do, social-etiquette wise. But rather because it’s the only way they can get to the counter. And if you aren’t as hard as everyone else, expect to be jumped in from time to time. Don’t even get me started with elbowing haha

I think one of the best things India taught me was seeing the humor in every situation rather than losing thy nerves.

Dirty, chaotic roads

You might come to think “Do they even have a set of road rules to follow?” Scooters. Motorbikes. Cars. Buses. Rickshaws. Name it. Driving, blowing horns all at the same time.

The country is literally crowded at places and sometimes the chaos can be overwhelming which can really get on your nerves but it’s something that you have to get used to. Also, I was surprised to see the overwhelming number of trash in every corner. It was literally a mountain after the other. You will find plastic and all kinds of non-degradable waste all over the place and no one will ever give a shit about it. Throughout my stay, I rarely saw a trash bin. So just imagine that!

Cricket

Indians are madly in love with cricket and everything that has to do with the game. They love it so much that if you say it’s a boring game, it will totally piss them off. Despite being the most popular, did you know that cricket is not the national sport?

Some survival tips for becoming street smart

  • Never flash your money in public
  • Refrain from wearing too much bling that will attract attention
  • Beware of scams and touts – you will encounter a LOT
  • You are welcome to bargain when shopping. You can even negotiate for guides and fares
  • When that gentle heart hits, make sure you choose the right one. There are people who pretend to be beggars – some can be even quite confronting and persistent

Indians, in general, are very friendly people. Despite the notable cultural differences, perceptions, and misconceptions, a trip to India will surely give you a trip of a lifetime.

Yes, I’m feeling the need to come back soon.


I met some really good people and if you want to know India from a local’s perspective, CLICK HERE!

jnomarie

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