It’s nearing the end of my trip, and I thought I would list the top 5 things (plus some bonus ones) you should bring with you when travelling to India. Feel free to add more in the comments box at the bottom of the page.
- High quality noise reduction device (earplugs). India is an aural assault on the senses. Without doubt the the nosiest place I have ever been to. There is no respite, no sanctuary, no relief.In the daytime there is the constant high decibel traffic din, most notably vehicle horns. The night brings packs of (mostly scruffy stray) dogs howling and barking at each other – for what can seem like an eternity. Sometime around 5am everyone decides to get up at once, so you get loud screeching Hindi music, hawking and spitting, babies crying and some f****r shouting for his servant to switch on the water pump.
Oh and if you’re a light sleeper (like me), avoid staying near temples or mosques; the pooja, call to prayer or paht can scare the bejesus (no offence to any Christians reading this) out of you, especially on the rare occasion when you’re in a deep sleep.
India’s noise is a constant low level stress. It’s absolute torture to being with (at least for me), and after almost 4 months, I can honestly say there hasn’t been one time I have slept soundly through the whole night.
So my first top tip is to bring some high quality ear plugs. Steer clear of the freebies you get off planes, go for ones which a very spongy and expand well into the ear. Try before you buy to make sure. And bring some spares. If you lose them (as I did), you won’t find them out here.
- A good attitude minimises the (negative) impact you have on India and Indians, allows you to cope, and maximises your enjoyment during your stay.First of all, be respectful. We’re not living in the Raj era, and you’re not the flippin’ viceroy, so leave your superior attitude at home. You may have a better education and more money than the locals you meet, but I’m afraid that doesn’t make you better than them. This doesn’t apply to any kind of ticket tout or auto-rickshaw driver, maintain a quiet dignity – and then give them hell…
Take pictures of people and religious places carefully. If possible get permission before snapping. Your inability to speak their language is no excuse, most times simply pointing at your camera and the person is enough for them to get the gist and say yes or no. Also, know when to bother someone, don’t be selfish, think of the other person. A temple is a religious place not Disney Land, ideally put away your camera, or take a few discrete shots without flash. Avoid taking pictures of those praying, and always take off your shoes before entering.
Dress appropriately. Sadly this point particularly applies to women. India is a conservative country. It may be hot, but it really isn’t appropriate to wear tight fitting skimpy shorts or boob hugging tops. People are offended, it gives the wrong impression (see point 3), you are a visitor here. Some travellers adopt the bathing and clothing habits of medieval times. Here’s a message from an Indian I met – you stink and you look scruffy, have a bath and wear some decent clothes. Oh and whether male or female, if you’re wondering what Indians think of you wearing local dress, they think you look like a dick. Don’t do it, despite what the guidebooks say.
Personal space. You won’t get any. Get used to it and fast. If you’re mildly claustrophobic, agoraphobic, or scared of crowds, steer clear. Oh, and guys (with guys) are very touchy feely with each other, and occasionally with you. They’re not really hitting on you, they’re just being friendly. Except that big guy with the moustache, that everyone calls ‘Big Bear’, steer clear of him. Avoid PDA’s (public displays of affection) between men and women, it’s frowned upon, so get a room…
Flexibility. Indians are fluid. Very often you won’t get a straight answer, the ubiquitous sideways head wobble can mean either: yes, no, I don’t know, I know, I agree, huh, or alright, depending on the context. Roads are terrible, train run (exceptionally late), guesthouses ‘lose’ reservations, all day power cuts leave you in darkness and unable to check that urgent email. The list of frustrations can appear endless. It’s not, and you always have the choice of how to respond. Try not to be uptight, try to let it wash over you. To survive you will need to be flexible. It doesn’t sit well if you lose your temper. But if you really must, then do. There’s no point in letting it bottle up.
- Women, bring a friend (preferably male). And no, I’m not being sexist. Despite the Karma Sutra, Krishna the lover god, and Hinduisms push to enjoy life (specifically it’s carnal aspects), Indians are incredibly repressed. Unfortunately western women are viewed as ‘easy’. Blame ‘high concept’ Hollywood movies where all the (white) women want to do is to lose their ‘virtue’ to any passing male, and MTV for all the soft porn rap videos, bad parenting, or whatever… just be prepared for stares, accidentally being bumped into, groping, and other activities which are considerably more serious. Other than sexual harassment, India is a patriarchal society, women, western or otherwise are necessarily given the respect they deserve.
- Clothes for all seasons. In my minds eye I’d pictured India’s weather to be searing sun in an intense blue sky. Boy was I wrong. The ‘guidebook’ I’m using recommends travelling to India between October and March. But believe me, December – February can be hell unless you can handle the cold. And if you think it’s blue sky all the way, think again. In the last three weeks, I’ve seen barely three days with clear skies. The rest of the time it’s been foggy (all day and night), rainy, or just plan vanilla cloudy.For me the worst of it is the cold. On the worst nights I’ve endured close to sub-zero temperatures, and thermometers barely nudging the low teens in the day. This without any form of warm clothes or sleeping bag. And it’s nothing like the cold of ‘home’. There is no indoor heating here, there is no insulation, and frequently gaping holes in your bedroom window frame. It’s unpleasant. In the last week I’ve endured hail (not like Cesar), snow, rain, and freezing mist. And I’m not even in the far north or the Himalayas. If you’re considering travelling to Rajasthan, Delhi, Punjab, MP, UP, or HP, bring a sleeping bag, fleece, warm hat, and a big ass umbrella. Or come in October or March. Without these prepare to be chilled to the very marrow of your bones, with no warmth for months. I’m no Michael Fish and this is simply my opinion, do your own research before coming out here.
*Check your ATM and credit card expiry date before you leave. I didn’t, and it expired leaving me stranded in the middle of nowhere.*Bring an MP3 player or other audio device. You’ll need it for the long journeys and to drown out the noise and keep your sanity.
*Even in winter the sun is fierce, you still get burned. Bring a wide hat, shades, and suncream
*Bring more than one guidebook – esp. if you have the lonely planet which everyone uses, and every guesthouse doubles their rate if they’re in it. And do some Internet research on particular locations or activities (yoga/meditation) before you come here.
*Negotiation skills, brush up on your bargaining and haggling skills. Toughen up tiger, you’re going to need them!
*Food allergies? Then you’d better know the Indian words to describe your problem foods, and even then expect to eat them. Don’t rely on menus.
*Man-size Kleenex. Every traveller I’ve met has had a cold at some point, and the Indian tissues are woefully inadequate for the snotty job.
Well that’s it for the top 5 things to bring to India. What do you think? Use the comments form below to have your say… Go on, say something dammit!