While we sit here in Pushkar killing some time before an overnight bus to Jaisalmer, we’ve been reflecting on the last couple of weeks and what we’ve learnt against what we were expecting.
Now, I am by no means claiming to be a nomad or professional ‘traveller’ (my newly bargained travel pants are for comfort only, I promise!) but I read a lot of blogs about people’s experiences of coming to India for the first time, so thought I would share a bit of advice from our own.
Here are some do’s and don’ts worth thinking about when coming to India for the first time…
DO – Think about your route, or rather when would be the best time to do the big cities. We did Delhi, Varanasi and Agra altogether at the start, which really was throwing ourselves in at the deep end in terms of culture shock, but also meant that every place we’ve been since has felt much more relaxed.
DO – Be prepared to get ill. Not dying ill, but almost certainly a bout of Delhi Belly is on the cards at some point. Ride it out – it gets better! Oh, and..
DO – Always carry toilet paper
DO – Be patient, openminded and ready for a change of plan. It’s easy to get stressed with the number of people and pace of India, but the more relaxed you are about going with the flow, the easier and more enjoyable it is (that’s coming from someone who hates relinquishing control!)
DO – Read reviews. It’s helpful to get to know an area and whether your accommodation or restaurant are any good, and helps you discover places outside of the Lonely Planet guide!
DO – Ask about hostel/hotel pick ups. Not essential, but sometimes they are free and save you the hassle of navigating a new area with all your bags with little sleep.
DO – Always read the train number on your ticket AND the platform – we nearly ended up on the wrong train after not paying attention.
DO – When booking long train journeys, book a class with AC. They might be more expensive but they are fair less cramped (available with 2 or 3-tier bunks).
DO – Be a vegetarian.
DO – Expect to be stared at. Staring back sometimes makes them look away, but mostly you just have to ignore it and try not to get irritated.
DO – Pack long sleeved / warm clothes. Particularly in the winter. It’s been useful for me to cover up to avoid attention, but also stay warm! It’s been much cooler than we expected!
DO – Agree prices of tuk-tuks etc. before you get in and make sure they stick to that agreed amount. Don’t be afraid to haggle.
DO – Get a tour guide now and again. We have learnt the most when we’ve paid extra for a tour of some kind rather than learning from information points at monuments which aren’t very detailed!
DO – Talk to people and say ‘yes’ to opportunities that come up! We ended up at an Indian wedding (a must do!) from speaking to a couple on a delayed train.
DON’T – Worry about offending anyone selling to you by saying no. No means no. They will get bored and leave you alone.
DON’T – Give money to beggars – it will only encourage others. Sometimes they ask for food instead, which is your perogative but again, be wary!
DON’T – Always listen to ‘helpful locals’. If the Lonely Planet guide says you can buy train tickets in the station, but the salesmen outside say you’re not allowed in without a ticket, go with the advice from the guide. Be resilient and walk with purpose!
DON’T – Count on anything being free. It’s good to be polite and friendly but there’s usually an ulterior motive.
DON’T – Always agree to selfies. Initially it was quite funny when people came to ask for a photo with us, but if you’re spotted saying yes to some, others will want one too!
DON’T – Plan too far ahead. We’ve heard about a couple of times where train delays have caused people to miss connecting travel links. Also, plans and routes can change, so to avoid cancellation fees, booking a couple of days in advance may be better.
DON’T – Compare your trip to others. We had some fantastic advice from people about where to go and how much to spend, but remembering that it’s our trip and it should be shaped around what works for us has been important.
DON’T – Be afraid to ask for help. Locals are generally very helpful and a lot speak at least basic english.
DON’T – Take flowers from people, they will generally want a donation. Same goes for people offering to take pictures and give you a blessing (e.g. in Varanasi).
DON’T – Be afraid to slow down! We dramatically slowed down the pace after we got ill and have enjoyed it much more since.
The above is mostly learnt from having dived straight into some of the most stressful and challenging cities in India (apparently). It’s my no means been a negative experience, in fact we were surprised at how quickly we adapted and our willingness to take our time despite the culture shock.
However, we are now very much enjoying the comparable peace and quiet of Rajasthan and are looking forward to meandering south to the beaches in Goa!
Until next time! 🙂