Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Travel Tips in India

I wrote this entry more than a year ago for a lifestyle blog and decided to re-post this entry here for my readers. This was the craziest/most horrible/most eye opening/most adventurous trip of my lifetime filled with bittersweet memories (mainly bitter). I really hope this post can help people who are planning to go to India so that they would be able to enjoy their trip (something which I didn't get to do unfortunately). 

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India is an exotic country to many and is most definitely not one of the mainstream travel destinations. For starters, it is still labeled as a "third-world" country and one third of the world's poor live there. However, to those who are adventurous enough to experience a different part of life, India is the best place to do so. It will definitely be a life-changing experience especially if you come from a developed country.

Of course, due to the "dangerous" nature of this country, travelers need to take note of some things they should or should not do before/during their travels in India. I have compiled some travel tips for India based on my pre-travel research as well as from my own recent experience.

Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Pre-travel preparation

1. First thing's first, you need to know which part of India you will be going to. India is pretty big as it has 28 different states and the Northern part of India is pretty different from the South. Besides the climate (four seasons in the North and tropical in the South), the Northern part of India is also generally less developed and poor. Hence, if you will be up North (most likely the case if Taj Mahal is part of your itinerary) you need to be prepared to witness extreme poverty and repression especially in the rural areas.

2. Get vaccinated. Most websites will tell you that you do not need to get any vaccination if you are not spending more than 2 weeks in India. I say, you can never be too careful! Get a jab just in case. Only one person in my tour group got vaccinated and she was one of the few (out of 30 people) who did not get food poisoning in India. Some websites will tell you to get dozens of jabs. But the two main ones (Typhoid and Hep A vaccination should be sufficient). There are also pills you can take orally before the trip to avoid food poisoning but I am not too sure if it works 100%. Just a disclaimer: you might still get food poisoning after being vaccinated but your chances are definitely lower. Bring some charcoal, Imodium and rehydration salts along.

3. Stay in 5-star hotels. The 5-star hotels in India is like a 4-star hotel standard in developed countries (or even some developing countries like Malaysia). 4-stars are like 3-stars and so on..So do splurge more on hotels because chances are you will also be dining there (hotels generally practice more hygiene in cooking), plus it has better security.

A common sight in India


Water

1. Do not drink water in India unless it is bottled mineral water. Only buy water from these brands - Himalaya, Kinley, Bisleri and Kingfisher. Even then check the cap and make sure it is sealed properly as some locals refill tap water into these bottles and re-seal it. If you are willing to spend the few extra Rupees, get Evian water.

2. Having said that, boil your mineral water if you want to make a hot drink rather than boiling tap water. Some hotels claim that their tap water is drinkable but don't believe that. Just because their tap water is filtered and drinkable by locals, doesn't mean your stomach can adapt to it.

3. Wash cooking/eating utensils with mineral water, brush your teeth with mineral water and try not to open your mouth when you shower to prevent exposure to unfiltered water.

Safe for drinking mineral water brands in India


Food

1. This is probably the most important part of your trip and you need to exercise discretion when you eat. Food preparation hygiene is generally bad in India (especially street food and local restaurants). Factor that in with bad water quality and you can imagine the high possibilities of getting food poisoning. Therefore, it is advisable to ONLY eat in hotels (4 star and above) and high class restaurants. Even then, some people (which includes my friends and I) got food poisoning in these places.

2. Go vegetarian! Meat in India is highly contaminated so adhering to a vegetarian diet is much safer. This was something I wanted to do but gave up on the second day because I was too hungry and the food was pre-arranged so that did not leave me with much choice. If you really cannot live without your meat, the least you can do is avoid lamb. My Indian friend told me that most people get sick from eating lamb.

3. Avoid salads, cut fruits and ice in your drinks. Reason is simple, they are most likely washed with tap water.

4. Avoid ice-creams, cheese, yogurt and dairy products. The power supply there is really weak and power cuts occur almost daily. Dairy products run the risk of getting bad and being re-freezed so it is best to avoid it entirely.

5. When people think of India they think curry. The question most people would ask is whether they will be served curry at every meal. The answer is YES. If you are in a tour, they will most likely bring you to Indian restaurants and almost (if not all) of the dishes served are spicy. Even if you do find western food, it MAY be spicy. I remember having a pizza that had spicy chilli seeds in it. So be prepared to have a spicy feast every day!

6. Check expiry dates on food/bottled drinks you purchased. I remember being served expired coke in a tourist restaurant in Agra. Too bad I only realized after I drank half the bottle.

7. Always wipe your eating utensils (ie: forks, spoons, glasses etc) with tissue, especially if the restaurant is open air. You'll be surprised to see a layer of black dust coming off due to the pollution.

New Riao "Air-Conditioned" Restaurant, Agra


Other important tips

1. The air in India can be REALLY polluted so bring some surgical masks. I remember on my first day of arrival in India the air was so bad (smells like a combination of haze and smoke) I had to wear a mask. Apparently even your snot can turn grey because of the pollution but thankfully I did not experience that...

2. As infrastructure in India is really bad (Read: Highways have only TWO lanes) plus traffic is always congested so getting from one place to another usually takes some time. For instance, if you are travelling from Delhi to Taj Mahal it takes 5 hours so do bring snacks/food on your long journeys, because trust me, you will starve. Remember....stopping at a random roadside stalls for dinner is not an option.

3. Oh..and try not to drink a lot of water before a long journey, or any journey for that matter (as the jam might make it long anyway) because there are no rest areas/fast food drive-thrus on their so called "highways". Unless of course, you are okay with using the bushes....

4. Do NOT give money/buy anything from beggars/peddlers. Once you give to one, they all will come at you.

5.Try not to take pictures of people on the street (especially when they are holding interesting items like monkeys, snakes or what not). They will ask you for money for taking their picture.

Snake charmer in Agra


p/s: I followed almost all of the tips above except get a vaccination (huge mistake!) and not eating meat...so my trip to India was not a fantastic one because I ended up with severe food poisoning. Therefore, don't make the same mistakes as I did and be a vigilant traveler :) Remember, better safe than sorry!


p/p/s: Of course, every human body is different and some are more resistant than others hence they are less susceptible to diseases. At the end of the day, its a choice between risking getting sick or wanting to be safe. Whichever path you choose, I hope that this post has somewhat helped you in your travel plans. Till my next post! Do leave a comment if you have any questions :)

1 comment:

  1. Got the wonderful infomation from you, I came to know about you page through my friend swaminath, Delhi. your website has given me the good knowledge on hotels. This is the information which I need it. I really very much thankful to you. Regards Country Club India

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