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Visiting India | A Brief Guide

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.

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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