Even though India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world today, there are still some skepticisms and misconceptions associated with the country. And these thoughts are amplified when a foreigner is planning his first trip to India. In order to make their India plans more seamless, I have jotted down this list of tips for first time travel in India. This is a healthy mix of life hacks and myth-busters to prepare for a journey of a lifetime.
1. Not just a land of snake charmers
Yup. This is one of the biggest myths associated with our country, and it is completely untrue. Even though more than half of the Indian population still resides in rural areas, but the rapid penetration of technology and internet has enabled most people to connect with the modern world and let go of age-old methods. Urban India is just akin to any other developed land with skyscrapers, 24x7 medical facilities, smooth highways, etc. Hence the transition from your country to India will be fluid.
2. English is widely spoken here
With more than 125 million English speakers, India is second only to the United States in terms of the largest English-speaking population in the world. So, yes, we understand your language. One of the tips for first time travel to India is to not act surprised even if a child in a mofussil part of the country can interact with you comfortably. Come as you are, we are linguistically equipped to handle you.
3. Plenty of restaurants serve your cuisine
As much as I urge you to go for local Indian food, which is definitely spicier than your food back home, I recommend you acclimatise yourself in the country a bit before going on a street-food spree. During this period of acclimatisation, there are plenty of restaurants that you can visit to indulge in your own cuisine. India is a culinary delight; you get the whole world's food here. Once ready, you can try out the local desserts from each state and union territory in India.
4. Taj Mahal is not the only monument worth seeing
A favourite amongst international tourists visiting India for the first time is the "Golden Triangle". This comprises the cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and each travel operator insists on going on this route. Although it is not a bad choice, this has created another unsolicited impression about India that the monuments in the country are restricted to these three cities only. India is an architectural marvel in itself, and so you'll be surprised to witness the grandeur of numerous other historical monuments in India if you delve deeper.
5. Don’t follow guidebooks
There is a barrage of tour operators and travel magazines out there that claim to give you a "complete tour of India". One of the major tips for first time travel to India is to not pay heed to these blindly. Since India is renowned for its great diversity, it just can't be experienced to the full while following a specific protocol. Take unknown routes, go the extra mile and try to understand the cultures of the various places you visit.
6. Befriend a local with no ulterior motive
Since a large chunk of our country's population lives below the poverty line, almost everyone will try to overcharge you thinking that you're a wealthy outsider. To tackle this issue, try to make friends with a young local who doesn't have any monetary expectations from you and is genuinely interested in showing you a good time. He will ensure that you don't get robbed in broad daylight.
7. Take it slow
As already mentioned in point number 5, India is not really a country that can be experienced in a hurry. There is the high-rise life of Delhi and Mumbai, and then there is the restrained pace of Lucknow and Jaipur. There are the beaches of Goa and Kerala, and then there are the unexplored mountains of Himachal and Uttarakhand. One of the more insightful tips for first time travel to India is to not try to achieve all of this within a short period of time, because in the pursuit of quantity you'll lose out on quality. Also, there are chances of falling ill in the tropical climate of the country, if you try to cram a lot in less time.
8. Follow Tripoto for real itineraries
If you are unable to find local company to show you around, you can always log on to Tripoto and read insightful itineraries and guides from real travellers. The USP of this website is its voluntary user-generated content and hence you can be assured of the fact that whatever you read is from a source whose sole motive is to really help his fellow travellers and nothing else.
9. Tread the path less trodden
As soon as you land in any of the major cities, you will see a sea of people almost everywhere you go, since India is a land of over a billion residents. In order to get away from all the hustle and bustle of an urban city, it's important that you take at least a short getaway to the Indian terrains that are less trodden. One good tip is to not visit the usual hill stations that travel operators or the internet suggests (such as Manali, Shimla, Ooty), but to discover a lesser-known route with the help of either a local or Tripoto and end up at a place where you can chill and take in life as it comes. Some examples of such places could be Jibhi (in Himachal) and Munnar (in Kerala).
10. Don’t be afraid of getting pushed around
Completely contradicting the earlier point, it is completely fine to stay put in the crowded metropolitan centres of the country because that is where you'll get to witness the true flavours of India. Hence, don't be afraid of getting pushed by others in the local trains of Mumbai or the Metros of Delhi; personal space may not be given much importance, but that's how you'll ultimately realise that you're in India and not somewhere else.
11. Take the trains
Don't spend your money on flights to travel from one city to another unless it's absolutely mandatory, because you will be in a country that boasts of one 0f the world's largest railway networks. There are very few people in this country who haven't ever sat in a train. If you wish to talk to local people while peeping out of the window with the train crossing the various geographies of the country, the Indian rail is the best mode of transport.
12. People may stare, but they’re genuinely nice
Talking of people, Indians have a habit of staring if they see anybody of a different ethnicity. And hence, do not let the staring perturb you one bit because the natives are merely curious and not harmful. In fact, in case you are stranded or are in need of anything at all, you shouldn't hesitate to ask these staring guys for help.
13. Don’t wear clothes that are too revealing
You are free to wear anything you wish, that's correct, but you shouldn't ignore the fact that India is still an orthodox country at heart. So it's a good idea to be properly covered while on your journey to the interiors. Some people may even be too shy to talk to you if you are a girl wearing a pair of shorts, because it's unthinkable in the villages.
14. Western commodes are relatively uncommon
This can probably be the most important tip of them all. If you're on a budget and plan to check into a "reasonable hotel", you should ask the manager beforehand whether the hotel has a western commode. Squat-style toilets are more common if you stay in budget hotels. Although you can get used to them quickly, but it may be a bit difficult to adjust initially. You can find great budget hotels or homestays that have western-style toilets if you search for them at the right sources.
15. Document your journey
"Wow, dude, you are going to India?! You should totally go to that Italian cafe in Delhi!"
"Sure, bro. What's the name of that cafe?"
"I don't remember the name of the cafe, but their pizzas are awesome."
Don't you just hate such people? They get you excited and then burst your bubble. Yes, I know that that Italian cafe is great; but which Italian cafe are you talking about, my friend?! For all I know, there are a thousand cafes in Delhi and I will never find the one with the "awesome pizzas." In order to refrain from forgetting about such special places, you should make it a point to document your journeys. It does sound tedious, but it's really helpful for your future. You can recommend uncommon places to your friends, and more importantly you are constantly filling up a chest of memories. Yes, you already click pictures. Yes, you already shoot videos. But in due time, you are bound to forget where you did all those things. Hence, keep a record of these things the next time you go on a trip. Trust me, it'll bring a smile on your face when you revisit your records sometime in the future.
By the way, Tripoto is the best place to document your journeys on the internet. Tripoto's mobile app lets you save your photos and videos real-time so you can create stories out of them without any effort. You can try it right now. It's really useful.
If you're planning to come to India for the first time, consider this article a bible. You can press the "heart" button on the top right corner to "wishlist" this trip, it'll always be accessible in your "wishlisted trips" section on your main profile then. Also, do share your experiences with fellow travellers once you come to India. Happy travels!