Traveller’s tale: Top tips for visiting India inner banner

Traveller’s tale: Top tips for visiting India

There's no destination that polarises travellers quite like India, as guest contributor Joanne Karcz discovered while preparing for a visit to the subcontinent with Habitat for Humanity. Here are some useful tips for travelling in this fascinating part of the world.
27 Jun, 2019
Tips for travelling in India
Tips for travelling in India: Hawa Mahal palace, Jaipur

The many words of advice I received while planning a recent visit to India made me feel rather anxious.

‘Shower with your mouth closed’, said one friend. ‘Keep your hands away from your face’, implored another. I’m told to stick to vegetarian meals and only eat food that is freshly cooked. Salads and ice are out; fruits you peel are in. While getting my vaccinations up to date (a very costly exercise!), I nervously ask about rabies. ‘Avoid dogs completely!’, replies my GP. I buy a big box of Travelan (which claims to prevent most food related stomach upsets when taken before a meal) and stock up on copious amounts of hand sanitiser. In short, I am ready for anything!

Tips for travelling in India
Tips for travelling in India: Chennai

On arrival in Chennai, I took a deep breath and stepped out of the sanctuary of the airport. A sea of people were calling out and waving signs at me. I relaxed at the sight of my name typed on a crumpled sheet of paper. My driver took me to a simple guesthouse, where the receptionist explained how to turn the hot water on for the shower, but not how to use the bucket and jug in the corner of the room. It may be obvious to you, but I was at a complete loss and covertly sort answers from Google at an Internet cafe. I also learned the correct use of a squat toilet (this amusing YouTube video proved extremely helpful!).

For the next week I volunteered my labour on a community building project outside Pondicherry with Habitat for Humanity. The experience was life-changing and one I’d highly recommend. After the build, I joined a 15-day Intrepid Travel tour from Delhi to Goa. Transport was by local bus and the two nights on a sleeper train certainly pushed me well beyond my comfort zone.

Tips for travelling in India
Tips for travelling in India

I coped with the heat by drinking plenty of water — much more than I would at home. I kept a bottle of purified water next to the bathroom basin, to prompt me to use it — rather than tap water — when brushing my teeth. A fellow traveller forgot, and she paid the price.

It’s funny to recall my doctor’s advice about dogs. They’re generally not a problem, but she should have warned me about the monkeys! While visiting Elephanta Island (off the coast from Mumbai), a monkey with a baby started to chase me. She bared her teeth, hissed and spat at me. Frightened, I shouted at her. Someone called out: ‘Your water!’. I unscrewed the lid of the bottle in my hand and sprayed water at the snarling animal. Later I realised that she was probably after the water to drink.

You’ll often hear travellers who’ve been to India discussing the gut-wrenching poverty. Consider making a donation to a local charity, rather than giving handouts to beggars and children. If you’re travelling with a tour company like Intrepid, they’ll be happy to recommend worthwhile causes to support.

Tips for travelling in India
Tips for travelling in India: East freshly cooked food.

The food in India is amazing. I tried hard to practise the food hygiene standards recommended by friends and I managed to avoid getting ill. I ate freshly cooked street food along the way, and drank masala chai in the most unlikely places. The walls of a teahouse might be old and stained, but the tea from the blackened pots will be hot and deliciously sweet.

Tips for travelling in India
Tips for travelling in India: Taj Mahal

Some of the highlights of my trip included visiting the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh Temple in Delhi and the fabulous Taj Mahal in Agra (although naively, I didn’t expect to encounter such huge crowds), exploring the market streets of Udaipur, and watching the sun rise over the Savitri Temple in Pushkar. A hot air balloon flight over the pink city of Jaipur proved unforgettable.

India is a country of extreme contrasts, and what may look at first glance like complete chaos actually has extraordinary order. Go with an open mind and you’ll enjoy the experience.

The writer won a competition to participate in the build with Habitat for Humanity. The rest of her trip was self-funded.

Do you have any tips for travelling in India? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

About the writer

Joanne Karcz is a Sydney-based writer and blogger. She published a blog when she walked the Camino de Santiago some years ago and has been writing about her travels ever since. She is also an aspiring travel photographer and takes her camera wherever she goes. Joanne has travelled through Europe, South America and Southern Africa. She loves discovering new things to see and do in her own Sydney backyard, and blogs regularly about the city’s suburbs.

 

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