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Visiting India | A Brief Guide for Foreigners

Travel Tips
A visit to India is one of the most exciting trips you’ll ever experience, but there’s a lot to keep in mind before heading on the long plane journey to India. Today we’re going to take a look at some of the key factors to think about when planning your trip to ensure you are respectful of the culture and people in this incredible country.

What Language is Spoken in India?

In India, Hindi is the most commonly spoken language, particularly in the North and Central areas of the country. Bengali is the next most common language, which is spoken throughout eastern and north-eastern regions.

Many individuals in India speak English, so you should have no issue communicating on your trip, especially in tourist hotels and regions. English is commonly used in education in India and is used within the government in some situations.

India has a whopping 122 major languages and 1599 other languages, so expect to see and hear different languages as you travel around the country. 

Where to Avoid in India

Due to terrorism and civil unrest, it’s best for visitors to avoid the state of Jammu and Kashmir, with the exception of the eastern Ladakh region.

Also, make sure you steer clear of the 10 km around the India-Pakistan border, as it’s often an area of armed conflict. 

What to Wear in India

During a trip to India, we recommend wearing loose-fitting t-shirts, blouses, and tunics. Look for shirts with high necklines and pants or skirts that are ankle-length. Stick with lightweight fabrics such as cotton so you don’t get too hot when walking around.

A lightweight scarf is an essential item to pack, which you can place over your head and neck when visiting temples and mosques. Avoid clothes that show off too much skin or your knees, as this can be seen as disrespectful everywhere apart from the beaches.

The Weather in India

The north of India is one of the coolest parts of the country, whereas the center is hot and dry.

Heading down to the south, you’ll find that the climate is tropical. There are three seasons in the Indian year, including winter, summer, and monsoon. Places such as Goa enjoy tropical beach weather, with an average temperature of 25°C all year round.

The hottest month of the year is May, where the average temperature here can jump up to 33°C, and the summer months are too hot for many visitors. The country is quite varied in its elevation, with the tallest mountain in India sitting at 8.5 thousand meters above sea level. 

Traffic and Crowds in India

If you’ve done any research so far about your trip to India, you’ll no doubt be aware of the high crowds in the country. The population here is over a billion people, making it the second-most populous country in the world.

In cities such as New Delhi, you’ll be reminded of this every day, as there is a huge issue with overcrowding. People will often get very close to you and lean on you, especially on the subway or buses. Try not to be offended by this, as it’s a part of their culture.

You’ll find huge crowds on the streets, and traffic can often barely move. Sometimes you’ll find that all you can hear is the sound of horns honking, but it’s primarily used to prevent accidents and for safety.

What is Visiting India Like for Visitors?

You’ll find that Indians are generally very welcoming of tourists, but you’ll want to be aware of hotel touts in popular tourist locations. They work for commission and can often pester tourists and make them feel uncomfortable.

Try to stay away from them where possible and be very wary about booking anything with them, as you’ll likely pay far more than you should. Visitors to India often remark that they receive a lot of attention, with locals asking to pose for pictures.

Female travelers in particular may find this attention overwhelming, and if you are traveling alone, you’ll need to be very wary of male attention and posing for photos. Ensure you wear sunglasses to avoid eye contact and keep walking if you feel uncomfortable.

Food and Drink in India

Tap water is generally unsafe for visitors to drink, so make sure you stick to bottled water. Delhi belly is something you’ve no doubt heard of, and even locals experience this from time to time. Even when you are drinking bottled water, avoid ice where possible as this can cause an upset stomach.

Fruit and vegetables that are washed with dirty water could also cause issues, and make sure you are always washing your hands before eating. Food handling and cleanliness is a huge issue in India but avoid watered-down drinks as best as possible to combat this issue.

Check the seal on your bottled water before paying, as sometimes shops refill bottles to save money.

Safety in India

When traveling to India, you’ll find that safety is something you’ll need to be aware of every time you walk down the street.

Beggars are known for being very persistent in India, and they might try to grab your arms and legs as you walk by. Be very careful about giving these people money, as you are only funding some of the issues in the country.

Even giving out small items or food can encourage children to continue begging, so if you want to support people during your trip, find a registered charity to offer your support to. Try never to get angry or upset in public in India, as you’ll find that it will often make things worse.

People will always bump into you here, so just keep this in mind and keep walking. It’s very common for people to cut in front of you in the line, so stand your ground when waiting to be served. 

Female travelers receive a lot more attention in India than you might be used to, and sadly groping and touching happens in broad daylight. Dress in a conservative manner to protect yourself, and avoid tight-fitting clothing. Ankle-length skirts and covering your shoulders is the best option, and a shawl is an easy accessory to help cover up.

Don’t shake hands or make physical contact with men, as this can sometimes encourage more attention. Be very careful if you are staying in budget hotels, and always keep your door locked at night. There are female-only train carriages available, so make sure you use them and sit with other women on public transportation.

Certain busy festivals are often used as an opportunity to grab women, so keep this in mind. 

Sightseeing Packages in India

There are many options when it comes to sightseeing packages in India. Travelers can find packages specific to one site, one city, one part of the country, or the country as a whole.

There’s a package for everyone, if travelers look hard enough. 

Travelers should make sure they are working with a tour company that has a good reputation in India. They can look for reviews online or ask people they know who have visited India.

Before they book a sightseeing package, travelers should make sure they know what is included and what is not.

For instance, they will need to know if they need to supply their own food and beverages and if they need to secure their own accommodations (for tours longer than a single day).

They should also make sure that the tour guide has fluency in a language they understand. It’s no fun to take a tour and not be able to understand anything the guide says!

Finally, travelers should call and ask about specialized sightseeing packages if they can’t find anything that is exactly what they are looking for.

Many of these companies will help travelers out by customizing a package just for them. It might cost more but it means that the tourists get to see exactly what they came to India to see.

Hotels in India

Hotels in India exist across a wide spectrum. Some are very, very basic, offering simple rooms with shared bathing facilities and sparse furnishings. 

Others offer incredible luxury, matching the level of glamor seen in the top hotels throughout the world. 

Most hotels are somewhere in between. Travelers should make sure that the hotels they are booking have good reviews from travelers who originated in their home country.

That way, they can be sure that the hotel is up to the standards they are used to.

Hotels in India offer a wide variety of amenities. Some offer almost nothing extra, while others offer pools, spas, beaches, tours, and more.

Travelers should ensure that the hotels they are booking in India offer everything they want and need before they make their reservations.

It’s usually easy to communicate with hotels in India via email or WhatsApp. Most people in the hospitality industry speak English, as well as some other languages.

Travelers should book their accommodations in India well ahead of their visit. That way, they can be sure to get the style of sleeping arrangements that they desire.

Preparing Your Travel Documents

Travelers should have all of their travel documents organized before they visit India. What is needed will vary from person to person, but most will have the following items. 

First, they need their valid passport from their home country. This should have at least 6 months of validity from the time they plan to enter India.

If it does not, they will need to renew it before they travel.

Next, they should have any tickets that they need, either to get to India or to travel within the country.

After that, they will need any receipts, itineraries, etc. that shows that they have purchased accommodations, travel, and more for their time in the country.

Most travelers will need the Indian eVisa, while others will need the paperwork necessary to enter India. Travelers are responsible to have the right permission to enter the country before they arrive.

Travelers should have health records as they pertain to COVID-19. While India may not ask to see these, travel rules can change abruptly and travelers are better off being prepared. 

They may want to carry proof that they have been vaccinated against COVID or proof that they have recently recovered from the condition.

Travelers can organize their paperwork in a folder or a binder. Some may also choose to take scans or photos of documents to have them available electronically.

Documents that are only available electronically should be organized on a device for easy access.

Scams in India

Petty theft and scams are a bigger issue in India than violent crimes, so keeping your wits about you is the best way to protect yourself. Don’t walk alone at night, and ensure you hide your valuables close to you when walking along a busy street. Never put your bag too far from your reach in a restaurant, and be very careful when using ATMs in public.

There are many elaborate scams being used across India, and these are constantly changing. Even more experienced travelers will need to be aware of what’s going on at all times and just be aware any time you are approached by a stranger. 

There are certain holy men called sadhus and babas who wear robes and carry water pots on the streets, but they are often not genuine. They scam tourists who think they are gurus or sell them hashish. Smoking is quite common in hotels and restaurants, but you can be fined if you smoke on the streets.

Look out for ashtrays before lighting your cigarette to avoid any trouble. Marijuana and hashish are smoked in many Himalayan tourist centers, but they are still illegal. There is a minimum prison sentence of 10 years for possession, so keep this in mind if you are ever offered these.

While India is certainly a challenging country to visit, you’ll find the whole experience to be incredibly exciting from the moment you arrive. By keeping yourself aware of common scams and looking after yourself when walking on busy roads, you’ll have an amazing time exploring this incredible country and culture.

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