traveling tips

Smart Packing Tips

The lighter the bag, the lesser you sag ! Nothing new to say here except 'Travel Light'. Yet, in your enthusiasm to have a weightless bag, do not throw out the essentials.

Cottons or synthetic blends are most practical for Indian summers. Don't get synthetics that don't 'breathe' - they'll make you what else but breathless !

The sun will usually be glaring at you most of the day. So a wide brimmed hat and sun glasses are a must. Winters can be chilly. Come armed with sweaters and light jackets. A collapsible umbrella will help you stay dry during the sometimes-sudden, sometimes-continuous rain during the monsoons.

Sun screen lotion (lots of it) should be a permanent part of your bag. Also carry a sewing kit, pre-moistened towelettes, pocket knife with can opener, lock and key for each duffel or bag, impact-resistant flashlight, spare batteries (unless they're a popular size). Sports enthusiasts should bring their own tennis or golf balls – these are expensive in India. A blow-up neck pillow is excellent for buses and trains. Eye patches add to comfort. If train traveling, a bike chain is a must to lock your packs up on trains. A good first aid kit you should have too.

If you are a mountain goat or a trekker, bring a day pack that will hold some essentials like sweater, camera, water bottle etc.

Delicate fabrics will get the care and attention they need only at a 5 stars’ laundry room. If you aren’t staying at one, think twice before carrying them.

Traveling Tips

India is a huge country. And you can travel through a myriad ways. Choose what you fancy - cycle rickshaws, tongas or horse driven carriages, hand pulled rickshaws (in Calcutta only), buses, trains and airplanes.

Never buy railway/air tickets or book hotel rooms through touts. These could be invalid. Save yourself all those logistical hassles. Simply, try us !

Get your domestic tickets done in advance and save some precious energy and time. Also, there are 'peak' seasons when tickets aren't available. So, better not take chances. And, now you anyway know where to ask for tickets from, don't you?

Come prepared for delays, especially while flying in north India during winters. Smog envelops cities and take-offs are impossible sometimes for hours. Carry a book or a photo album that you love going through again and again and...

Pickpockets ant around – especially at crowded haunts like airports, railway station or even some popular markets and tourist spots. Wear an inner money belt.

Fares for taxis and auto-rickshaws change frequently and do not always conform to the meter reading. Ask for the latest official fare-conversion tariff-card. Fleecing is common so just keep your cool and act smart !

Trains are a cheaper travel option for long distances and saves you overnight hotel expenses. Moreover, it is a lot of fun....a great chance to see the countryside and mingle with the locals.

Ask for an upper berth in the 2nd class, 3-tier sleepers. The lower berths are used as seats during the day and your berth is your reserved sleeping space after 2100 hours. Comfortable, isn't it ?

Samosas, biscuits, pakoras, tea, ice-cream are easy to come by on most bus/railway stations. Though if your palette or tummy doesn't quite relish all this, carry something along. Some distance trains have a restaurant car near the upper class bogies that serves meals and tea.

Self-drive car hire isn't really quite the scene in India. Yet, if you opt for it, take extra precaution - stray animals like cats, dogs, cattle and pedestrians often just amble along. Night driving is risky - truck drivers can be rash and callous and other vehicles might not use lights. Must carry a spare can of petrol. Finding diesel at a filling station is easier than getting petrol.

The yellow & black taxis plying in most towns and cities are metered. Just incase you are told that the meter doesn't work, fix a fare before riding with him. You can ask the hotel desk, your guide or a local for an approximate fare to your destination.

Religious and Cultural Tips

Mind you, religion is a sensitive topic for most Indians. It is nice to keep your rational / logical self under wraps and follow the harmless norms. Just be sober and friendly in any holy place and remember some must-dos that should keep everyone happy.

Step no. 1 is to remove your shoes, sandals, sneakers, slippers etc. This is done to keep God’s place clean. If you hate walking barefoot and are lucky enough, there might be a cloth overshoe provided to you. Also, wash your hands and feet, if you please - it isn't compulsory but just another sign of reverence to the deity.

Alcohol is a strict no-no inside the premises, though, in some temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, liquor might be the holy offering itself. It is said that Shiva loved his sips and probably needed them to beat the cold in his homelands, the snowy Himalayas.

At some holy places, you might not be allowed in if you don't practice the faith. Don’t mind this. And, worst, don’t force or bribe to enter.

If you are a woman and in a dress that exposes your legs or hugs your body etc., beware. Though you might not be stopped from entering the sacred place but such dresses are seen 'indecent'. An Indian attire like a Sari, salwar-suit is ideal. A loose blouse and a long skirt can do too. Covering your head before entering a Sikh Gurudwara or a mosque will be appreciated. And when you enter a mosque, step your right foot first into the courtyard. It is the ‘right’ thing to do.

Since most Hindu and Jains are veggies, it isn’t surprising that leather products like shoes, belts, handbags, camera cases etc. are prohibited.

Now for some body language once you are inside. Do not point your feet and back towards the Holy Book / the idol / altar. In a Hindu or Sikh temple, sit cross-legged or tuck your feet away.

Some temples prohibit photography in the main hall and the inner sanctum. Usually, signboards announce this. Be prudent and ask if there are no such indications. Some temples and other monuments levy a fee for photography.

In a Buddhist monastery, remember to follow a clockwise direction while any sort of movement – from spinning prayer wheels to walking around the stupa or even the exteriors. Inside, do notplonk yourself on the cushions and chairs. These are reserved for the lamas or the monks. Sit on the steps outside or on the floor. If you get to meet a rimpoche (head lama) or any respected monk, it's polite not to turn one's back on him while leaving. It is decent to remove the hat and lower an umbrella within the monastery. Basically, be your courteous best.

Health Tips

Travel healthy. Once on the road (or in the air ), take all precautions that will keep you from that running nose (or tummy !), dizzy body temperatures, giddy hangovers etc. Make sure you don't embark on a trip even if there are some early signs of a sickness.

Cholera, dengue fever, dysentery, hepatitis, malaria, meningitis (trekking areas only) and typhoid are the riskshere.

Travelers from the US, Canada or the United Kingdom do not require any vaccination certificate. Though normally, an International Health Certificate is not asked for by the immigration officials, its always better to carry one. Remember to play safe !God forbid but just in case you need medical attention, this will be an invaluable piece of paper. Carry certificates like the one for Yellow Fever Vaccination.

Precautions:

If you believe in taking precautions, take all the vaccinations one needs. To avoid malaria and dengue, carry mosquito repellents, nets and sprays. If you can bear the heat, wear clothes that cover most of the body.

The best thumb rule is to be a careful about food and water. Eating raw salads and fried food from a street-side vendor is a no-no. Avoid pork too. If the temptation is soaring, go to a clean restaurant that you can trust. Eat balanced and healthy meals. Keep popping those friendly multi-vitamins.

Water has to be from a reliably clean source. If not sure where the water comes from, ask for a known brand of mineral water. Always carry a water bottle with you - this will save you from dehydration too. (Make yourself a quick salt-sugar solution - 1/2 tsp. salt and 4 tbsp. in one liter of water - to re-hydrate those parched cells). If you cannot lay hands on branded water, use chlorine / iodine tablets in water. These kill germs that can cause water-borne diseases. Read the instructions carefully and do not overdo these.

Carry a first aid kit with adhesive bandages, thermometer, water-purification tablets, antibiotics, antiseptic creams and mosquito repellents. If you fall ill, see the doc and keep cool. Tell yourself that this too shall pass !

Safety Tips

No place is completely safe. Yet, some are safer than others. The safest of cities can be 'unsafe' at a different time of the day or have 'seedy' places. So, why worry? Just pick your bags and trip on !

Don't be reckless. Rely on your senses and instincts and not so much on the local Tourist office. Remember they will always want to play it down.

Agreed that you want to experience local culture etc. but never accept invitations from locals to their homes for a chai or a meal. Not unless you want to invite trouble.

Carry your passport, travelerscheques, money, cards etc. in an inner shirt/jeans pocket. Better still, shove them in a hidden money belt against your skin. You can then dance around pickpockets and yet be safe. The worst thing to do is to carry them in a zippy bag hung over the shoulders. You will never know when someone just slips it out. The fanny bags or waist packs spell 'money' to pickpockets and make you an easy prey to swoop on. You cannot escape their nimble fingers and sharp razors.

Turn your alarm sensors on when in crowded places like airports, railways stations etc. Watch for faces that are always lurk in a radius of 10 feet.