I have been travelling and living in India intermittently my whole life, thanks to the fact that my roots ascended from what I most often refer to as the Mother Land or Mother India. In fact, it feels more like home to me than the Canadian soil I was born and raised on. Simply because it deeply resonates within the inner reaches of my heart and soul. This is largely due to the incredible sense of spiritual devotion here, which is intertwined into the very fabric of daily life. For it is a society built around Dharma, thanks to the Dharmic (Vedic) culture it originates from some 7,000 years ago – making it one of the most ancient civilizations in the world. After a couple of trips with my parents when I was younger, one of which lasted a year amid completing the first grade in northern India – I have embarked on several more journeys throughout my adult life, which was initially sparked during that experience as a six-year-old when the mystic and chaos of India first captivated me whole-heartedly.
Naturally I have learned a great amount from my travels here over the past 15 years, and I certainly observe in myself that I know more now than when I first began to journey here solo in my early 20s. Here I share with you a few wise tips I’ve picked up along the way, that I wish I knew back then. I hope you will find them helpful in planning your journey to Mother India as you activate what will likely be an incredibly enriching and life-changing journey ahead! May your time there be easeful, deep and expansive.
Travel tips for your first time to India…
- Get clear with the intention of your trip. What do you want to experience? What do you want to work on? What do you want to learn? Then plan with this intention at the forefront in terms of where to visit. Do you want to deepen your meditation or yoga practice? Do you want to take a course or training? Do you want to learn how to cook Indian food and speak Hindi? Do you want to go on camel back across the desert or trek in the Himalayas? Do you want to volunteer with children or women? What’s it going to be?
- Don’t try to see everything at once. Instead pick a region (ie: south, north, etc.) if you have a couple of months or even a few weeks. Less is more. Quality over quantity every time. This will support the opportunity to delve deeper into the culture, connect with the locals, and maybe even make a meaningful contribution while you’re at it through some service work. If you can dedicate a chunk of time to one place even, your experience will be much deeper and richer. Rather than ticking off a bunch of places on your list, during a whirlwind spree that only has you in an amazing place for a mere day and devoting more time to being on public transportation, you will experience a place more deeply. I think you get my point!
- Consider the time of year when planning your travel dates. Ie: mid June to mid Sept is monsoon in the North – very wet and very humid. September and October, as well as March to mid-June are ideal months to visit the North, while November to February is best for the South. Be sure to look up festivals and occasions to either coincide with — or avoid. For instance, you may want to avoid the sheer volume of Kumbh Mela (millions and millions of people), but line up your stay for the festival of light known as Diwali. Be sure to time your arrival day during non-festival time (re: a few days before if you want to catch the festival), as bookings for transport and accommodation will be dire – and traffic will be mad. Besides, if you happen to be arriving smack in the middle of a major festival amid your first trip to India (and possibly alone), this can be overwhelming for many.
- Be mindful when packing for your trip. There is a lot you can get in India quite inexpensively, while also avoiding carrying around a bunch of stuff you will never use. Read: Packing Tips for the India- Bound Yogi for more details.
- If you’re going to be in India for a few months or even several weeks, take some time to learn a few common lines. It’s a great way to connect with the locals, and they are so happy when you do. They will respect you greatly for simply saying “Namaste, aap kaseh ho?” (Translation: Hi, how are you?) and their whole face will just light up! A beautiful sight indeed. That said, English is prolific in India, so no pressure eh’! You may also want to get familiar with the Indian head wobble (moving your neck in circular motion from right to left), which indicates: yes/hello/goodbye. When a locals says “Namaste” to you with the joining of the hands at the heart, you should return the gesture in the same way. It is considered rude, and an insult, not to.
- As a single woman traveller, be vigilant about how you carry yourself in India. Cover up. Don’t look men in the eye, nor smile at them. Be confident, assertive and stay in your power. If you’re insecure or a people-pleaser, you will find it to be a tough place to travel. Read Be A Solo Woman Traveller in India, It’s Ok for more excellent advice.
- Never make a gesture with your left hand to anyone, as it is considered an insult. (Re: wave with your right hand, shake hands with your right hand, pay with your hand – and basically do everything with your right hand ok?!) That means eat with only your right hand too. Also, do not touch anything with your feet except the ground you are walking on, as it is also considered an insult. If you mistakenly touch someone or an item of someone’s with your feet or shoe(s), apologize profusely.
- Stay healthy. My 3 rules of thumb: no salads, no deep fried food (no matter how good it smells or looks!) and no non-bottled water. Wash your hands often and carry instant hand-sanitizer. Stay cool and hydrated. Carry a holistic medical kit. This is very key to benefiting your health! Read How to Avoid Void Delhi Belly & Other Useful Health Tips for more valuable advice on maintaining your health so you can make the most of your time in India, instead of spending a good chunk at the clinic or in a bathroom.
- 50 rupees is about $1CAD or $0.77 USD. So consider avoiding crimping over 10 or 20 rupees with the driver or a fruit seller for instance. Take into account the employment opportunity you are providing, and the family of the one you are exchanging goods and services with.
- The constant beeping of horns by every single passing vehicle may very well drive you mad. It’s their way of announcing they are there so watch out. It doesn’t matter if you clearly see them coming. Nor if the rest of the road is empty. They will still honk. So just imagine everyone doing this at the same time. So! Consider wearing earphones that play calming music, your favourite mantra, or even just having them in your ears without music reduces the noise by a good 50%. Find the short cuts on side roads and stay in quiet areas, in your attempt to strike a balance. The bottom line: Find the quiet in yourself wherever you are.
- Always accept an offer of chai or a meal if you can. It’s rude and bad manners not to. Guest is God in India, and someone you have just met will fast become your friend. The next thing you know, you are exchanging contact info after a brief chance meeting on a bus, in a café, or even at an airport!
- Remember, you’re on “Indian time.” Here the term “patience is a virtue” is kind of like the anthem! So make peace with India early on in your trip! Be light-hearted and go with the flow. Don’t be too serious and most definitely don’t expect the efficiency of the west. As they say here in India, “Aram say.” Translation: “Go peacefully, things will happen in time.” It means relax and go with the flow. Nobody is in a rush there. You will be challenged daily by noise, swerving traffic, smells, crowds, poverty, sellers, delays, lack of personal space, stepping in cow dung – you name it. Just breathe deeply and roll with it. It is all a part of the colourful Indian experience, don’t you know?!
Feeling overwhelmed now and still need a motive to visit India? Check out 52 Reasons Everyone Should Visit Sacred India for a little inspiration!
Indica Jehman has been travelling the planet for 15 years. She is a freelancer in various mediums that include editorial/marketing/events/web content management. She splits her time between India and Canada. Check out her website at prakaasha.ca and her blog at satyais.me.
*All photos are the property of Indica Jehman. Photo credit is attributed to her and her site*