India for beginners: tips, help and advice
It’s hard to put into words a place that evokes every single emotion, many at the same time, leaving you confused, awed, angry, frustrated and amazed. Take it from me. It’s a place that’s vibrant with colour, where the aroma of incense mingles with the heat-hot smell of frying spices and your eardrums are punctuated by the incessant but somehow charming tooting of the incredible traffic. It’s a place that will leave an indelible impression on you. As such, it’s worth knowing a few things, so here are a few helpful tips to India for the beginner…
Before you go
You’ll probably be aware that to take a holiday in India, you are required to first obtain a holiday visa and ensure you have travel insurance in place for a single trip. This can take some time, so it’s worth getting this process in motion well ahead of your departure. You will need to provide the name and address of your accommodation and quite a lot of personal details. You’ll also need to supply two passport photos, but be warned, these are not the standard passport booth photo size, they require larger snaps. However, many photos machines will now produce these for you; if not, then your local photography shop will be able to oblige. You may also need to get some inoculations. Exactly what you need will depend on your exact destination – for example, a trip to more metropolitan locations won’t necessarily warrant a malaria shot or tablets, but trekking in the hills probably will. Make an appointment to see your GP about the injections required. They’ll go through some health information with you. This should be done again in advance as some of the jabs require several weeks to come into effect.
Balle balle! Welcome to India!
Most people fly into the very swish and recently refurbished Indira Ghandi International Airport in New Delhi. It might come as a bit of a shock that it’s so organised and tidy. Make the most of this; the second you step outside, the adventure begins! struck by the noise and the heat immediately. It’s worth sorting out your transport before leaving the UK as the buses are crammed full to bursting point – standing room would be a luxury. Organise a taxi or even hire a driver for the duration of your stay, it won’t cost too much. If you have hired a driver, make sure that he and only he handles your baggage; at the airport car park there are many opportunists who volunteer their assistance then demand pounds or dollars – which are of course, worth a lot more than rupees.
The roads leading from Delhi Airport are wide, fairly empty and newly tarmacked. These soon give way to the busy roads you’ve seen on TV. You’ll see families of five on one moped, cows wandering across the road, people dicing with death to reach the other side, unstable-looking auto rickshaws, packed cars and the aforementioned stuffed buses – each vehicle dented and without wing mirrors. You’ll be gob-smacked, to say the least. Six rows of traffic squish into the three lanes, weaving in and out, turning around and facing the oncoming traffic, all beeping their horns and bearing messages: ‘Horn please – use dipper at night’. It’s noisy, dangerous and incredible, but none of it is aggressive. Even the stares you’ll receive are purely from curiosity.
Even in the most affluent areas of India, there will be people begging on the streets. It’s terribly sad and as a tourist that stands out, they will make a beeline for you. It’s a good idea to keep some small denomination notes for this occasion. It’s hard not to want to help, but it’s money that the beggars want, not pens or sweets. Be aware that if you give to one, the expectation is sometimes that you’ll give to all, thus you’ll have to draw the line at some point. Those that insist might be put off with a simply ‘bas’ – which means ‘enough!’
Indian people, regardless of their situation, are extremely welcoming and generous. If you are invited to an Indian family’s home, you should take your shoes off at the door; it’s nice to bring some flowers. When eating, there will likely be a knife and fork, but why not eat like the locals, using your right hand to tear up bread and scoop the delicious food up? Be aware that that all meat is cooked on the bone, even when it’s chopped up. Your hosts will be most amused if you can offer a few words in Hindi, too. Try ‘shukryah’ for thank you and ‘kripyah’ for please.
The above barely comes close to describing what to expect when you go to India for the first time, but hopefully it will give you a few helpful hints of things to come. One last important point – bring clothes with an elasticated waist; you’ll need it with all that wonderful food!
About the author:
Elizabeth Smythe is a veteran traveller having conquered India over a period of nearly several months. She adores the country and can’t wait to return. Elizabeth writes this post on behalf of UK multi-trip insurer Alpha Travel Insurance.