General Information & Country Guidelines

Here are some Guidelines and general information about Travelling to India & Nepal

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HYGIENE

Hygiene is a subject of great concern to everyone who travels to the Indian Subcontinent. While travelling with us we will ensure that the hotels we stay and restaurants we eat in will have very high levels of hygiene and cleanliness, but that does not guarantee you will remain healthy. There are however some simple rules that should keep you out of harms way most of the time. A little common-sense goes a very long way to staying healthy on the road.

First and foremost is PERSONAL hygiene. ALWAYS carry hand sanitiser or wipes and use them religiously, after handling money, going to the toilet and especially every single time you are going to eat anything. As a general rule, be mindful of anything you might put in your mouth, including postage stamps!

WATER

Do not brush your teeth with tap water. Do not accidentally inhale or swallow water in the shower. Do not drink tap water, or water from a jug or carafe left in your room, even though you may be told that it has been boiled and filtered. Stick to bottled water and soft drinks or water that you have treated yourself. India produces a wide variety of carbonated drinks including international brands such as Coke and Pepsi. Bottled water is available nearly everywhere and is very inexpensive, costing usually from 40c-60c per litre. It may not always be possible to get chilled water however. Even if the water is not ‘mineral’ water, it is usually referred to as such. It simply means that the water is treated and will be safe to drink. Check that the seal is intact while buying bottled water, especially at railway stations and in small towns.

Some hotels & restaurants have treated water fountains where you can pay a token amount to fill your water bottle. This is a great way to reduce plastic waste. Filtered water is served at good restaurants but is best avoided if you are not used to the water.

FOOD

Do not eat uncooked vegetables or fruits that cannot be peeled. Do not eat food from road-side eateries or stalls or at railway/bus stations that is not freshly cooked and still hot. DO eat confidently from street stalls that have freshly cooked food on offer and are well frequented.

Remain very well hydrated at all times.

PRECAUTIONS

• Remain very well hydrated at all times.

• A travel probiotic is most useful. Recommended is SB Floractiv (BioCeuticals), available in Australia from Health food stores. For other countries, check with your local health food store.

• Vitamin C & Olive Leaf Extract or similar may be useful in helping keep you immune from colds and flu.

• Should you require any medication whilst in India that you did not bring with you, most medicines are readily available over the counter without a prescription.

• Carry a first aid kit with adhesive bandages, thermometer, water-purification tablets, antibiotics, antiseptic creams and mosquito repellents.

• If you believe in vaccinations, get whichever your travel doctor recommends. Cholera, dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, meningitis, and typhoid are the potential risks here. To avoid malaria and dengue, carry mosquito repellents and wear clothes that cover the legs and arms.

Overall, remember that commonsense and good hygiene practices whilst travelling in India & Nepal generally keep most people healthy for the duration of their trip.

 

FOOD

Food is usually one of the highlights of everyone’s visit to India.

You will discover there is so much more to Indian food than Butter Chicken, Tandoori and Naan, and it’s not always as spicy as you might imagine.

Street food is a wonderful way to sample unusual treats not generally available outside of India (always go to a place well frequented by locals).

India is a Vegetarian’s paradise! As approximately 80% of Indians are vegetarians, you will never have a problem finding something appropriate to eat. In fact many restaurants and even some whole towns are purely vegetarian (which in India means dairy products but no eggs).

Most breakfasts are included on our tours, however they may be fairly basic although there will usually be a mix of western and Indian dishes available.

Meals are always included in isolated places such as on camel safaris and when staying in Heritage Hotels in small towns/villages when there are few or no other options.

Where meals are not included, your leader will generally suggest a great place to eat, whether it is a basic eatery or restaurant, a place that serves local specialties, or cold beers, or a great place for an up market splurge. The choice is yours.

REGIONAL CUISINE

Rajasthan: Being the desert state with less access to water, Rajasthani cuisine uses a lot of milk or ghee (clarified butter) as a base, making it quite rich. As fresh vegetables can be hard to come by, legumes, pulses and breads feature heavily in the diet.

Kerala: Coconut is the basis for virtually all Keralan dishes. Spices are grown in the region, so the food is generally hot and spicy, and rice is the staple. Being on the coast and with a vast network of inland waterways, seafood is also a major feature of Keralan cuisine.

Tamil Nadu: Classic South Indian food is from Tamil Nadu, where traditional ‘curries’ and bread are hardly seen on a menu. The typical breakfast of a Masala Dosa, or Idly and Thali lunches with a selection of all-you-can-eat various vegetable dishes, chutneys, lentil soups and sauces served with a huge mound of rice are the norm here.

Delhi: Cuisine from the Punjab (which is what most foreigners would recognise as being Indian food) is the norm in Delhi and North India. Tandoori dishes, Butter Chicken, Vegetable Korma, Naan and Biryani Rice are so much better here in India than your local Indian takeaway.

Mumbai & Goa: Being on the coast, seafood is the speciality and spicy coconut curries are popular. Goan cuisine has the added flavours of the Portuguese influence with specialities such as Vindaloo and Xacuti traditional dishes.

BEVERAGES

An afternoon or evening drink can be a great way to finish off a wonderful day of sightseeing and experiencing India. Beer is the most commonly available alcoholic beverage with Kingfisher being the most common, although there are now many other brands on the market. India also produces rum, gin, whisky and vodka as well as wine, some of which are very drinkable. Try Sula or Grover vineyards varieties. Many restaurants and bars offer imported Beer, spirits and wines, but these are quite expensive due to foreign liquor import taxes.

 

MONEY MATTERS

India can be very cheap. India can also be surprisingly expensive. General goods such as water, soft drinks and cheap meals will probably cost around one third to one quarter the price of the same items in your home country. More up market restaurants can charge the same as similar places in the west. If you eat at average restaurants (the type your tour leader/guide will generally recommend) and avoid drinking alcohol, your daily food budget should rarely exceed $20 per person. However, if you like to eat out at more up market restaurants and like a beer or two with your meal, the price can easily triple or quadruple. Due to high taxes on alcohol, one bottle of beer often costs more than your meal.

Changing travellers cheques is less convenient these days and can be a long and painful process and only available at some banks. You may wish to obtain a small amount of Indian Rupees in cash prior to arrival in India (approx Rs5000 / $100), although it is not necessary. Local currency can be easily obtained at money changers and ATMs on arrival at the airport. Usually, the most convenient place to change money is your hotel, or money exchange offices. Try to get some small rupee notes (10’s and 50’s) for tips, items purchased in the markets, etc. ATMs are easily accessible in main cities and towns, but will only give you large notes – 1000’s and 500’s usually.

If you are going to be travelling for a few weeks, and out of the big cities, and there are a couple of you travelling together, it might be worth going into a bank and asking to exchange larger notes for wads of smaller ones. Try a couple of banks if the first one knocks you back. Get 1000 of 10’s, 5000 of 50s and 10,000 of 100’s.

Having your funds accessible through an international travel Cash Passport Credit Card is highly recommended. See www.cashpassport.com.au if travelling from Australia.

A credit card is useful in India for high end restaurants and buying expensive items. The major cards are Visa and MasterCard.

The unit of Indian currency is the Rupee, which is divided into 100 paise. There are coins in the denominations of 1, 2, 5 and 10 rupees. Currency notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 rupees. As of June 2014, the exchange rate is approximately:

INR 60 = US$ 1

INR 55 = A$ 1

INR 50 = NZ$ 1

INR 100 = GBP£ 1

INR 80 = Euro€ 1

 

BEGGING

Expect to see a lot of poverty whilst travelling in India. Yes it is disturbing and upsetting, but should not put you off exploring this incredible country.

As highlighted in “Slumdog Millionaire” there are professional begging rings where children are purposely maimed to give them a ‘better’ begging life.

Giving money to beggars does nobody any good, least of all the beggars themselves, and we request that you DO NOT give money. You are better off giving them food (some bananas, a packet of biscuits, or even your leftovers from dinner, which the restaurant will be happy to pack for you) and donating your cash to one of the many wonderful projects set up to help the poor in India.

An ongoing national campaign to alleviate the problem of begging and to open more vocational schools, orphanages and workshops is in place in India, and there are many NGO’s (Non-Government Organisations) doing fantastic work to educate and provide a means for living to the poor and underprivileged . Begging is such an inbred tradition that it is a lengthy, ongoing task to change a way of life that goes back centuries.

Your leader can give you more information about various charities and other options.

 

TIPPING

Tipping is a way of life in India. It is usual to tip a little something to everyone and anyone who provides you with some form of service, however it can be tricky and guidelines often vary from one place to the next.

If you are part of one or our organized group tours, hotel porters, drivers and guides tips will come out of the group tipping kitty that everyone donates to at the start of the trip.

Tips for hotel room attendants, and restaurant meals will need to be paid separately.

You will find it useful to keep lots of small denomination notes for tips.

If you are travelling on your own, here are some guidelines to help you decide what to tip.

Transfers to/from Airports and Railway Stations:

Rs100-150 to the driver per transfer

Sightseeing:

Driver: Rs300-500 per day

Guide: Rs500-800 per day.

Long Drives (ie Delhi to Jaipur): Rs500-800 per day to the driver

Hotels

Porters: Rs20-50 per bag for bag carriers – depending on the category of hotel

Room attendants (bringing laundry/bathroom supplies etc): Rs20

Room service: 10% of the bill

Doorman: Rs50-100 to the doorman upon your departure

RESTAURANTS may or may not include a service charge. A 10% tip is appropriate if there is no service charge added.

TAXIS: There’s no need to tip taxi or auto rickshaw drivers – they will probably be overcharging you anyway!

 

PHOTOGRAPHY

Camera/video camera fees are charged at many sights and monuments.

These costs range from Rs 10-300 for a camera and can be up to Rs500 for a video.

In case you do not wish to pay a camera fee, you may not be allowed to take the camera inside the site. If that is the case, there is usually a locker or camera minding facility where you can leave your camera.

SENSITIVIES

Indian people generally LOVE having their photo taken and often more surprising, they will want to take photos of you. Indians are huge travellers within their own country, so the majority of people you meet out sightseeing at cultural sights will probably be Indians from another part of the country. Don’t be surprised if you spend more time having your photo taken with family groups than sightseeing. Your photo will be a bigger hit than the Taj Mahal back in their home town.

If you do take someone’s photo and they ask for you to send it to them, ensure you get their correct address written down in English (ask another Indian to translate if required).

Sometime however, you might get group of young men crowding around wanting to take a photo, particularly if you are a female. Don’t feel rude to say no to photos with the boys.

In some more rural or tribal areas of India, people still feel uncomfortable having their photos taken. Some even believe that the camera will steal their sole. Be sensitive to this and always ask first before taking photos and respect the answer.

It is not recommended to pay money for taking someone’s photo. This encourages a ‘Begging Mentality’ which turns normally self-sufficient human beings into beggars (even if they do not realise it themselves). Exceptions to this can be the fake Holy men or Saddhus who make a living out of having their photos taken in their exotic garb. Whilst still beggars in one sense of the word, they do make a great photo op. (Genuine Saddhus will rarely be somewhere you’re likely to meet them, and will usually not want their photo taken).

BACKING UP YOUR IMAGES

With the advent of Digital photography, it is very easy to download your photos and burn them onto CDs/Flashdrives while in India.

Make sure you bring a spare camera battery as you’re sure to be using your camera far more than you’d expect.

 

VOLTAGE

All hotel rooms have electricity outlets. The standard plug in India is 250v Type D 3 pin plug. If you have more than a couple of electrical items that required plugging in (for example a camera battery charger and a phone charger, or laptop), you may wish to bring a power-board which can then be plugged into the one point and allows you go attach multiple accessories with the one converter plug (make sure it is a good quality one). Check before you travel whether you will require a transformer. Adaptor plugs are readily available in electrical stores in India.

 

CLIMATE AND CLOTHING

Due to India’s size and topography, there’s a huge amount of variation in its climate. As the seventh largest country in the world, India is home to a variety of terrains – the Himalayas of the north, the arid deserts of Rajasthan and plains of the west, the cool highlands of Assam, one of the wettest places on earth, the fertile waterways of the south and the hills and forests of the east.

There is no one perfect time to travel in India. However, climate and region play a key factor in deciding when to visit India. Keep in mind that climatic conditions in the far north are distinctly different to those of the extreme south. Generally, India’s climate is defined by three seasons – the hot, the wet (monsoon) and the cool, each of which can vary in duration from north to south.

The most pleasant time to visit most places is during the cooler period: October to mid-March. October to March (with the exception of mid-December to mid-January) are the perfect times to travel in the North and Rajasthan. In the far south the temperatures drop to a comfortable level during December and January.

In the thick of winter (around mid-December to mid-January), Delhi, Rajasthan and other northern cities can become astonishingly cold, especially at night and early morning. Thick fog can often delay flights and trains and some days the Taj Mahal is invisible thanks to a veil of smog.

The Himalayas are beautiful in winter but of course extremely cold and roads are often blocked by snow. Best months are April, May and June. When the monsoon arrives in the mountains in July/August the torrential downpours can lead to road collapses and mudslides.

By October the monsoon ends for most of the country, although a second smaller Monsoon consumes South India in October/November. This is when North India sees most tourists – however, it’s too late to visit Ladakh (May to October is the optimum period).

May to September is the summer and monsoon time. India is very hot in the summer months, with temperatures in the North often reaching 50o Celsius. The Monsoon starts from the south in June and heads north reaching Delhi around mid-July. It starts to recede back to the south in August. The monsoon helps to cool the plains when the rains arrive sometime in June. The Lahaul and Spiti valleys of Himachal and Ladakh, however, are sunny, dry and pleasant during the summer months. Light summer clothing is sufficient.

Apart from during the Monsoon (and sometime even for days at a time then), the sun beats down mercilessly on India, so don’t forget good sunscreen and a hat and even a sun umbrella.

It’s worth checking the dates of particular festivals, with many falling in the October/November period. You may be attracted or repelled by the chaos (and jacked-up prices) that attend them. South India becomes very expensive over the Christmas/New Year period. There are very few festivals in May/June. The wedding season falls between November and March, when you’re likely to see at least one lively procession through the streets.

 

DRESS

India is a very conservative country and dressing appropriately is very important (especially outside of the main cities). Many of the places you will be visiting have religious significance and we request you to respect this by being appropriately attired. Ladies are advised not to wear scanty clothes such as shoe-string shoulder tops, halter necks and shorts, and should wear comfortable, loose-fitting cool clothing which covers legs, shoulders and cleavage. Trousers are more accepted than skirts. A scarf, or shawl is useful, especially while visiting places of worship. A great option for ladies are the local ‘Punjabi’ suits – loose fitting trousers with a long tunic over the top. They come with a matching scarf (dupatta).

Men should not wear shorts as it is looked upon as akin to wearing underwear in public. If you prefer, long shorts (below the knee) can be worn, but not when visiting private homes or places of worship.

Men also should wear loose (for comfort) conservative shirts covering the shoulders.

You need not dress up formally, unless you are attending a wedding, or gathering where a dress code is specified. Carry comfortable casual clothes, with perhaps one smart outfit for a special evening.

Comfortable shoes/sandals that can be easily slipped on and off are recommended as this is often a requirement when visiting holy places/private homes/some shops.

 

SHOPPING

Every region, city and town in India has its specialty – something it is famous for, whether it is Silk from Varanasi, Wall-hangings from Jaisalmer or Carpets from Agra. If it’s Gemstones in Jaipur or Miniature paintings in Udaipur that take your fancy, India is a shopper’s delight offering a wide choice of clothes, fabrics, jewellery, carpets and a stupendous variety of handicrafts.

It is common practice for owners of private shops to give commissions to guides, taxi drivers and rickshaw drivers who bring you to their shops; these payments are included in the price you pay for your purchases. On our organised group tours, your leader will NEVER take you to shops for commission. They will however always recommend great places to find the local wares and give you basic pricing guidelines.

Bargaining is part of the fun of shopping. If, on the other hand, you do not wish to indulge in this, you can shop at the government run or government approved emporia. Prices here are fixed and are usually higher than in the privately owned shops. But generally speaking, private run shops offer a better range than the ones run by the government.

These are some of the main goods on offer in the markets and shops in India.

Jewellery: From ornate tribal silver earrings to colourful blingy bangles and bold chunky rings, there is a huge selection to choose from.

Wraps, Scarves and Shawls: From genuine Pashmina shawls to wool, silk, cotton or the budget viscose varieties, there are more shawls and scarves than you could possibly imagine.

Tea & Spices: Many countries allow Indian tea and spices to be imported, if they are sealed and labelled. This is a great way to obtain high quality spices that are not readily available at home. A huge variety of teas are also on sale, so you can make your own Masala Chai back home.

Home Decor: Cotton sheets, embroidered bed spreads, vibrant table cloths and colourful cushion covers can be picked up in shops and markets at very reasonable prices.

Specific goods available at some of the main tourist destinations are as follows:

AGRA: Marble inlay work, Persian-style Carpets

COCHIN: Coir products, rosewood carvings, and antiques.

DELHI: Designer clothes, fabrics, soft furnishings, home decor items, shawls, leather goods, essential oils, handicrafts, books, jewellery and handicrafts from all over India.

GOA: Cashew nuts, pottery, copper goods and shell carvings.

JAIPUR: Gemstones, precious and semi-precious gold and silver jewellery, Miniature paintings, blue pottery, tie-dye fabric, and block print fabrics.

JAISALMER: Mirror-work embroidered wall hangings, bed spreads and cushion covers and leather goods.

JODHPUR: Hand-painted furniture, hand-printed and embroidered fabrics, Dhurrie rugs, block printed fabrics

MUMBAI: Saris, clothes, jewellery, brassware, and handicrafts from all over India.

MYSORE: Sandalwood products (oil, incense, soaps), rosewood carvings, and silk fabrics

UDAIPUR: Miniature Paintings, stonework, silver jewellery, leather goods

VARANASI: Brocade Silk, Musical Instruments

It’s a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.

 

SMART SHOPPING

The average Indian market is stuffed with bright and beautiful things – handicrafts, silks, ethnic clothes and jewellery and many other wonders.

Many upmarket stores, and those selling manufactured goods and items (such as foodstuffs, electronic items etc) will have fixed prices and goods should come with a MRP (Maximum Retail Price) stamp. Other places, the rule of thumb is to get the price right and bargain. This applies to clothes, fabric, jewellery, leather goods, carpets, paintings etc. Always look around, compare prices and then buy.

If you don’t see what you’re looking for in a store, ask. There’s usually more than meets the eye! Most stores have little display space; so much of the stock is above the ceiling or in a separate room.

Visit the various State Emporiums and Central Cottage Industries Emporiums (most major cities and tourist towns have them) first. The prices here are fixed and will give you a fair idea of the going price.

Never, ever believe touts (they hang around the touristy spots and cities) who promise to take you to the best shops around and get you the best bargains. They usually have their handsome commissions built into the cost.

 

SMART PACKING

Pack light is most important advice, however don’t forget the essentials.

Essentials:

Travel documents – Passport with Indian tourist visa, Travel insurance, Air tickets, Photocopy of these documents. (HINT: Scan all documents and email them to yourself at a webmail account so that you can access them from anywhere)

Suitcase, Wheelie bag or Backpack/Duffle Bag – your preference. I have always travelled with a backpack, however I recently upgraded to a Soft case wheelie bag. It can be a hassle getting on and off trains, but most stations will have porters to help with this. If taking overnight train journeys on your tour, ensure your bag is not thicker than around 35cm (13 inches) or it may not fit under the berths on the train. If you are taking lots of local transport – buses and trains, then a backpack will be far more convenient.

Day pack or satchel type over the shoulder handbag for your day items like camera, water, toilet paper!

Comprehensive first aid kit with prescriptions from home. Most prescription medicines are available over the counter in India, but quality cannot be guaranteed.

Money. An ATM card, debit or credit card, cash (for emergencies) and a Money pouch – money belt or neck belt – to keep it all safe.

Hand sanitiser gel/wipes – herbal ayurvedic sanitiser gel (Himalaya brand) readily available in India. Essential for keeping clean and healthy.

Alarm clock, Torch, Mosquito repellent and sunblock, umbrella for rain and sun, sun-hat, electricity power point adaptor plug, camera battery charger, extra battery and memory cards for camera, ear plugs if you are a light sleeper – India is a VERY noisy place, ,

Suitable clothes which are cool, light, conservative. We usually dress in Indian style clothes – cotton full length or ¾ pants with a kurta (thigh length tunic) for women or shirt for men over the top. These are cheap and easy to get in India, either off the rack or tailor made.

A sarong or pashmina style scarf is also very handy as a head cover if needed or a throw for extra conservativeness. Knees and shoulders should always be covered.

Suitable shoes that are most importantly comfortable and worn in. It is not necessary that they be closed in. If you’re travelling in the warmer weather, slip on type sandals or flipflops (FitFlops are awesome www.fitflop.com) that are comfortable to walk a lot in are ideal as you will find you have to take your shoes on and off quite a bit at temples, some sights, shops and peoples homes.

Now for the not so essentials, but usefuls:

Sleepsheet for the overnight trains. Aircon Train carriages provide clean linen, however for peace of mind you may wish to bring your own.

Hairdryer (if you use) and basic toiletries. All toiletries are available very inexpensively in India – you can get some great herbal and ayurvedic products. Most hotels will have basics. I bring my shampoo and conditioner in special travel containers that don’t leak or spill. Ensure your liquids are in screwtop bottles to avoid leaks and spills.

Water bottle – only if you don’t like drinking out of a 1 litre plastic bottle. Most of the time, you will be buying drinking water in 500ml, 1 or 2 litre plastic bottles (inexpensive and available everywhere). Some places have mineral/purified water machines that you can fill up from (not many yet unfortunately).

A power board if you have several electronic items that require charging at once.

Hand sanitiser gel/wipes – herbal ayurvedic sanitiser gel (Himalaya brand) readily available in India

Mobile phone (unlocked) and charger if you wish to use it and get a local sim card (international roaming rates are very expensive)

Passport size photo (and photocopy of your passport photo and visa pages) for sim card application should you want to get a local sim card for your mobile phone

Travel clothes lines. Small packs of washing powder are available in general stores everywhere for a few cents, so you don’t need to bring your own laundry detergent if you don’t want.

Photos from home to show locals a glimpse of your life. They love this.

Foodstuffs you cannot do without – ie Vegemite/Marmite if you’re a fan, muesli bars. Snacks like biscuits/chips/nuts are available everywhere to nibble on in India.

 

TRAVELLING

India is a huge country, and there are countless way to travel.

Book your tickets well in advance if possible. Train tickets often sell out soon after tickets go on sale, which in most cases is around 90-120 days prior to the date of travel. Ask for an upper berth in the 2nd class, 3-tier sleepers. The lower berths are used as seats during the day and your berth is your reserved sleeping space only after 9pm.

Be prepared for delays, especially while travelling in north India during winters when smog envelops cities and flights and trains can be delayed for hours.

Never buy railway/air tickets or book hotel rooms through touts. These could be invalid. Save yourself all those logistical hassles and book directly, online or through a travel agent.

Beware of pickpockets, especially at crowded haunts like airports, railway station or even some popular markets and tourist spots. Wear an inner money belt.

Fares for taxis and auto-rickshaws change frequently and do not always conform to the meter reading. Ask for the latest official fare-conversion tariff-card. If you are told that the meter doesn’t work, fix a fare before getting in. You can ask the hotel desk, your guide or a local for an approximate fare to your destination. Fleecing is common so just keep your cool and act smart!

Some of the various modes of transport in India are:

Train

Travelling by train is one of the great experiences of India. Although chaotic, it works. For overnight train journeys, there are various different classes of sleeper carriage. Sleeper provides 3 tiers of berths in unairconditioned and crowded carriages. For although you should have a reservation to travel on this carriage, on crowded routes, many more people can cram into the carriage and pay a bribe to the ticket collector to stay. The upmarket carriages are 3AC, 2AC and 1AC. 1AC is only available on some trains and comprises of lockable compartments of 2 or 4 berths. 2AC (two tier) and 3AC (3 tier) are open plan, like the sleeper carriages, however they have curtains separating the compartments from the aisles, bed linen and blankets are provided and no-one without a valid reserved berth is allowed in the carriage. Luggage storage on sleeper trains is under the berths, which are not particularly high, so ensure your bag is no thicker than 35cm or it may not fit in the allocated luggage space.

Day trains are usually open plan, and day-time express trains have roomy aircraft type seating. Luggage is stored in overhead shelves, so heavy luggage will be a problem.

There is often catered food available on the train and usually you will have hawkers selling snacks and drinks. You may wish to bring your own food if unsure of the availability of food on the train.

Bus

Public buses can range from air-conditioned coach style to dusty, rough bench-seat buses with very little leg room. These journeys are always a good chance to meet the locals. Luggage storage on buses can sometimes be on the roof of the bus, in the boot and sometimes on the bus under your seat or in overhead racks.

Private Vehicle

If you hire a car and driver (trust me, you do not want to rent a car in India and drive yourself, unless you learnt to drive in India!) you will generally find yourself in one of several type of vehicles. Most common are Toyota Innovas – which comfortably seat 5 passengers plus driver, Tata Indigo or Indica (smaller cars seating 3 plus driver) or less commonly these days, the classic Ambassador.

More luxurious models are available from some travel agents at a premium.

For small groups, the vehicle of choice is a Tempo Traveller. These mini buses come in varying seating capacities to seat from 7 plus driver to 14 plus driver.

Suburban Transport

The Metro train line in Delhi is very convenient and will take you across the city in air-conditioned luxury for a few cents. Public buses in cities can be far more difficult to work out. Suburban trains in Mumbai are great, although peak hours can be challenging. The Delhi Metro and Mumbai trains have women-only carriages.

Boat

There are many opportunities to travel by boat in India. A sunset boat ride on Lake Pichola, Udaipur, a speedboat journey down the mighty Chambal River, a leisurely cruise on a Keralan Houseboat or a dawn rowboat down the Ganges. Don’t miss the opportunity to get out on the water.

Taxi

A good option in larger cities if you are travelling some distances, particularly in Mumbai, where the taxis all have metres (and the drivers use them, with the exception of some drivers around the touristy centre of Colaba).

Auto Rickshaw

These 3 wheelers, increasingly being referred to by tourists as Tuk Tuks are the most convenient and inexpensive option from getting from A to B in just about any town or city in India. Although many come with metres, like a taxi, most won’t use them, so a fare needs to be negotiated before any journey.

Cycle Rickshaw

The classic rickshaw of India – where you sit up on a small bench behind the cycle-wallah – are a more budget form of the Auto Rickshaw. These guys do it tough, and if you feel awkward about making them physically work to convey you from A to B, remind yourself that you’re giving the man work and money and probably at a much better price than a local would pay.

Jeep

When on safari through tribal villages, jungles and national parks you will usually be in a jeep, good for rough terrain and with open sides for wildlife spotting.

Camel

Camel Safari’s mean a journey by camel, that may be as short as an hour, or as long as weeks. The slow galumphing gait of the camel can be mesmerising as you wander through the sands of the desert.

Elephant

Some national parks offer elephant rides – either elephant treks or shorter duration rides. Amber Palace in Jaipur offers an opportunity to ride elephants to the entrance, and some locales offer elephant experiences which include short rides and bathing with elephants. In Jaipur, the day before the Holi Festival, you can participate in the Elephant Fair and play Holi on Elephant back.

 

RELIGION

Religion in India is a big deal. Regardless of their religion, people are likely to be devout. Following some basic do’s and don’ts you can enjoy visiting the various temples, mosques, churches and other places of worship.

Always remove your shoes before entry

Some temples do not allow entry to those who don’t practice the faith, although this is fairly unusual.

Appropriate dress (shoulders/knees covered in all places of worship and head’s covered in Sikh Gurudwaras and some mosques).

No leather products like shoes, belts, handbags, camera cases, watch straps in Jain Temples.

Do not point the soles of your feet or turn your back towards the Idol / Altar / Holy Book. In a Hindu or Sikh temple, sit cross-legged or tuck your feet away.

Some places prohibit photography in the main hall and the inner sanctum. Usually, signboards announce this. Some temples and mosques levy a fee for photography.

In a Buddhist temple or monastery, remember to follow a clockwise direction while performing any sort of movement – from spinning prayer wheels to walking around the stupa or even the exteriors.

 

TOILETS

Most public toilets outside of hotels and tourist restaurants will be Asian-style squat toilets. They will be in varying states of cleanliness! When travelling between towns and cities, it is sometimes more favourable to find a deserted stretch of road and ‘Go Bush’. It’s a good idea to carry a sarong that can be held up as a screen. There will usually be no toilet paper so you should always carry your own. It is highly recommended to carry hand wipes to maximize hygiene and a bottle of hand sanitizer gel is also useful.

You can often expect to pay for using public toilets – anywhere between Rs2 and Rs10 rupees is the norm.

 

LANGUAGE

For most parts of India, you won’t really need to learn much of the local language, and if you are travelling around the country, you would be overcome trying to learn the various regional languages. There are over 18 recognized languages and over 1600 minor languages and dialects!

Fortunately for English speakers, basic English is commonly understood in cities and towns as it’s taught in most schools and colleges. English is also the language of government and business.

Did you know that the English language has taken on a lot of Hindi words – Eg verandah, pyjamas, jungle, loot.

You may however wish to learn a few words of Hindi, a good option as it is spoken in most of north India and understood in most major cities of the country, or the local languages in South India if travelling there to enhance your interactions with locals.

 

WOMEN TRAVELERS

Once upon a time, women travelling alone used to be frowned upon in India, but these days ladies travel a lot more now. There are ladies’ queues for train tickets, ladies’ compartments in trains and even ladies’ seats in buses.

RULES TO STAY SAFE WHEN TRAVELLING

Be friendly but don’t get friendly, especially with those servicing you in hotels, trains or even your cabbie or porter. Do not speak to men in public places. Do not feel the need to be friendly. Ordinarily, Indian men do not approach Indian women in public. And if they do the woman will chase them off or ignore them or walk away. Do not shake hands with men. Indian women do not shake hands with men outside a business situation. It’s a good idea to avoid eye contact.

Don’t wear anything that attracts glances or invites cat calls. In metros like Delhi, Mumbai etc., it is ok to dress western but in smaller cities and towns, short skirts, tight pants or blouses can make you stand out in the crowd. Dress sober – loose and long clothes that neither define body shape nor expose it.

Never accept a ride in a taxi or an auto-rickshaw where there’s someone accompanying the driver.

Keep your hotel room locked while you are inside. If there is a chain or bolt to lock your hotel room door always keep it locked. Be conscious of who you allow into your room, particularly in a budget hotel. Room service is fine, but keep the door open while the house boy is in your room.

If you find yourself physically ‘touched up’ by a man in public, whether it’s a sly rub against you or a boob squeeze, and you get the chance, take off your shoe and whack him over the head. This is one of the biggest insults you can give an Indian. If he has run away, as is the norm, shout, yell and scream and point him out as a molester.

Sometime you might find yourself surrounded by a group of young men wanting to take their photo with you. Don’t feel rude saying no. And when they blatantly pose for each others photos with you in the background or stick their mobile phone out, obviously taking your photo, turn your back and deny them the opportunity. This may sound harsh when we sometimes find ourselves surreptitiously getting in a sneaky zoomed photo of a subject hoping they don’t know they’re being photographed, but the reality is that these young ‘men’ will probably spend their days after snapping your photo showing off their new ‘girlfriend’ to their mates. God knows what stories they will be telling.

 

COMMUNICATIONS

INTERNET

There is internet available almost everywhere in India. Internet cafes offer inexpensive access for around 50c and $2 per hour. In some areas, access can be very slow, although connection speeds are improving all the time. The better quality hotels often have internet cafes/access, increasingly available as Wifi in public areas and/or guest rooms.

If you have your own laptop and wish to have unlimited and constant access to the internet, you can purchase Mobile Internet connections. The dongle’s usually sell for around $25-30 and then you purchase a pre-paid data package on top of that. Bring a photocopy of your passport photo and visa pages, and a passport size photo to apply for a connection.

PHONE

Public phone booths and shops, once found on every street corner in India have all but vanished with the impact of Mobile Phones. If you do need to use the phone whilst travelling in India, there is excellent mobile/cell phone coverage and phones with global roaming work well.

If you have an unlocked mobile phone, bring an international calling Sim with you (much cheaper than international roaming rates from your home country), or if you are based in one place for more than a few days, you may find it far more cost effective to purchase a local Sim card to use whilst in India. Bring a photocopy of your passport photo and visa pages, and a passport size photo to apply for a local sim card connection. Connections can take up to 5 days to be processed.

 

ACCOMMODATION

4 & 5 star hotels in India, like anywhere else in the world, generally provide a standard selection of facilities that you would expect such as Wifi, Television, Minibar, Refrigerator, Tea & Coffee making facilities, a selection of toiletries and other niceties.

In the majority of hotels other than the above, even Heritage Hotels and other unique accommodations, facilities are often scarcer, even if the hotel is of a good standard. Unless staying in a 4/5 star hotel, rooms are often not cleaned nor beds made every day. You may need to ask specifically should you require your room to be cleaned.

The below is a rundown of what to expect from standard and mid-range heritage accommodations in India.

FACILITIES

Wifi

In the larger towns and cities, Wifi is commonplace. In out of the way locations, Wifi may not be available, or is only available in public areas.

TV

Many heritage hotels, homestays, guesthouses and hotels in remote areas do not have televisions in the room.

Minibar/Tea & Coffee Making

Most midrange and less than 4 star heritage hotels will not provide a refrigerator/minibar or tea/coffee making facilities.

Toiletries

Basic toiletries and toilet paper are usually always provided, but you are best to carry what you require with you.

Beds

Most hotels will have a selection of rooms with single/double and twin beds. Some hotels however only provide single or double bedded room configurations. If you are travelling with a friend who is not your partner you may find yourself sharing the occasional double bed.

Bedding

Even in midrange hotels in India, it is not unusual to not be provided with a top sheet on the bed. The bed will be made up with one sheet over the mattress and a blanket or quilt. Always ask for a top sheet to be provided as the blankets are not washed or cleaned between uses. Sometimes, the bed will be made up with just the bottom sheet, and a top sheet and blanket neatly folded at the end of the bed, requiring you to make your own bed!

Door locks

Many hotel rooms, even upmarket and heritage hotels are locked by a bolt and padlock. This is the traditional way of locking doors in India and the idea has stuck. Don’t be surprised if you get to your room when checking into a hotel and are faced with a big and bulky padlock to open. I think it’s kind of funky. On the inside it is common to have at least one bolt to secure the door closed from the inside. This is a good idea to do to ensure you do not get any unwanted visitors entering the room. Indian’s do not have a habit of knocking first.

BATHROOMS

Hotel bathrooms rarely have hairdryers and provide only basic toiletries. It is recommended that you carry all of your own toiletries. (Can be purchased easily and inexpensively in India). Towels can be small and discoloured, although clean. If you so prefer, bring your own towel.

Many bathroom showers come without a screen or curtain. Bathroom floors tend to get very wet when showering.

Hot water can often be scarce. It may take several minutes, sometimes even up to 20 min to run hot, it may only be available certain hours of the morning or evening, or sometimes not available due to electricity issues. Hot water is sometimes heated by individual geysers in each room. These need to be switched on before a shower to heat up the water.

Bucket showering

Most bathrooms come with a bucket. This is the traditional way of bathing and many Indians still prefer this to a shower. The buckets are very useful for soaking laundry.

LAUNDRY

Most hotels offer laundry services at a very reasonable cost (and are returned beautifully pressed and folded). You may however wish to do your own laundry (particularly underwear) from time to time, so bring some washing soap and portable peg-less clotheslines.

 

CULTURE

As one of the oldest living civilisations in the world, India’s customs are based on an ancient cultural heritage. As contemporary India changes at a rapid pace, it stills clings to time worn traditions that have been in existence for centuries. Modern India is made up of a fascinating blend of ethnicities and religions, and as the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, any visit to India will undoubtedly be steeped in spirituality as it permeates most aspects of society, which also includes significant populations of Muslims and Christians.

Regardless of a person’s religious beliefs, the family unit is given paramount importance in life and society, with generations of family members living together under one roof, usually with the eldest male acting as head of the family. Indian weddings are elaborate affairs and arranged marriages are still the norm – being arranged according to caste, social standing and sometimes, favourable astrological alignments at birth. Giving the world everything from playing cards to prayer flags, yoga, cotton cultivation, ayurvedic medicine, Bollywood films, as well as many other important contributions in mathematics, science, literature and political theory, India’s evolution has impacted on the entire world.

 

CUSTOMS

India is a very confusing country, and with such a vast diversity of peoples, religions, history and culture, you will find customs vary from place to place and what is true in one sense can be the opposite somewhere else or for a different group of people. Anything you are told is the truth will likely have an equal and opposite truth that totally contradicts what you have been told. That said, there are some general customs that hold true for most of the country.

Indians generally eat with their hands, and as the LEFT hand is used for going to the toilet, it is considered unclean and impure. Therefore only use the RIGHT hand for eating (and indeed for passing anything, particularly money to anyone). Of course, if someone is Lefthanded, it’s OK to use the left hand for eating. One of those great contradictions.

Cows are considered sacred to Hindus and should always be respected.

When sitting on the ground (i.e. inside someone’s home or in a temple), never point the soles of your feet towards any religious deities.

Do not pat children on the top of their head as it is considered an insult unless you know the family very well.

 

RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL

Responsible Travel is travel in a way that shows respect to the people, to their culture, economy and of course the environment. What may be acceptable in your own country, may not be suitable behaviour in India.

Do’s and Don’ts

Be considerate of India’s religions, customs, culture and traditions.

Dress respectfully and modestly.

Avoid where possible buying bottled water. If you have the opportunity to refill from a water filter or larger bottle, do so.

Always dispose of litter in bins, or carry with you to throw away later.

When bargaining in local markets and shops, keep it lighthearted and fun. Do not insult by offering a ridiculously low price. Remember that the extra Rs10 you’re trying so hard to knock off the cost is in reality only 20c. Conversely, don’t pay too much for goods and products, particularly that the locals use as over time, this can raise the cost for locals.

Learn some Hindi, or Tamil in the south and practice it. Locals love that you’re making an attempt and you’ll have fun picking up a few more words.

Shop in small, locally run stores and purchase locally made goods.

Always ask before taking photos of locals, particularly in villages and less touristy locales.

DO NOT hand out money or small items such as pens and chocolates to children, particularly in villages and tribal areas as this creates/perpetuates a begging mentality.

 

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