It’s no secret that people are often tentative about travelling India. It is unmistakable as soon as you pass through those glass fronted doors of calm from the airport, stepping out into the unknown that you have just arrived in India. I went with a child like naivety considering it was my first solo trip abroad. It was confronting, it was colourful, it held highs and lows but there is no denying good through bad India is one of the greatest journeys of your life, and here is my little list to help you get around, and sleep, a little easier.
The first night:
It’s important to have you first night of accommodation booked, they are quite strict at customs about you having an address to go to, make sure (unlike me who had nonsense scribbled down) it’s written clearly and you have all relevant phone and reservation numbers incase there is an issue. After passing through customs you will have taxis wanting your business. Take one, making sure you have researched a general rate before you arrive, calculate the distance to your hotel and work out your price guide, negotiate with the driver and expect to pay $1-5 dollars above the Indian rate depending on how far the journey. If the driver refuses to pre-arrange a price make sure they have a working meter and watch it, I was on a meter from Bangalore airport to my hotel and the 1.5-hour journey came to a measly $16 (AUD) and my driver was a bloody legend.
Have a decent hotel booked for the first few nights, anywhere upwards of $30 (AUD) will get you a comfortable bed, bathroom, room service and a TV (your relief from the outside world). The best way to tackle India is to get straight into it, head out for a wander or take a tuk tuk if you’re worried about losing your way. Since you’re in a nice hotel there might likely be a few tuk tuk drivers that use this hotel as their main client base, check with the hotel staff, they will know if the driver is decent and be able to guide you price wise.
I ate everything in India and didn’t get sick once. I ate cut up fruit from road side stalls, the salads washed with local water, every deep fried samosa, vadi and pani puri, I think I even had tap water ice in my drinks toward the end! The best part of India is the food, you might get sick you might not, don’t stress about it. If you are super worried eat at the more expensive tourist restaurants, but my recommendation is the authentic Indian. I lived of masala dosas (crispy lentil pancakes filled with spicy potato) and talis (rice with a few gravy’s), Indian staples, the only box I needed ticked was to see Indians there, it was always delicious and between 25c to 60c AUD, crazy right!
Embrace eating with your hands, it will make you stick out less and the Indians will love and respect you for it (and probably laugh at you), remember, eat with your right hand only the left is reserved for the other end…
I do recommend taking probiotics, they help put good stuff back in your gut to fight nasty’s, grab these from your local pharmacist pre-departure and make sure you have enough for the entire trip, I’m sure they kept me healthy.
Transport: Bus vs. Train
India is known for its cross-country trains. It also has amazing sleeper busses. I recommend you try both and see which you prefer. Personally, as a solo female traveller I felt undoubtedly more comfortable and safer on the overnight sleeper busses. You can get single or double beds; grab a single if alone or a double if your travelling with a mate and take top bunks if possible. All busses I encountered had curtains so they were very private and I always and got a decent sleep. I do recommend you don’t guzzle too much water though, the toilet stops might be a few hours between. Busses are never (from my experience) over booked, often slightly late and somewhere between $7-$15 AUD.
I took 1 overnight train in India, booking a 3rd class air-conditioned sleeper, which didn’t have any element of glamour to it. I shared a 6-bed birth; 3 stacks of bunks on either wall with 5 Indian men. The beds start as seating and, when customary, covert into beds. You are provided with clean sheets and pillow, and have luggage space (do keep valuables in bed with you though). I simply didn’t feel safe on the train, as the only female, and a western one at that I slept very poorly and unlike busses trains don’t have privacy curtains so you are very exposed. Booking a train was more of a hassle also, having to line up at the train station for a couple of hours in the hope of getting a seat, unlike busses which are booked easily though travel agents or online.
Day trips on the train for shorter journeys are amazing; with the open scenery and the constant activity of chai and food sellers passing through the carriages, as well as the locals who will want to talk with you, will provide an unmissable experience.
In villages there’s never a need to pre-book, locals are always waiting as you roll into each town to show you their guest houses. Don’t get pressured into taking the first you see, shop around- the standard varies dramatically. I always had decent private rooms, my own bathroom with generally cold showers (which is the norm and welcome in the hot climate), that were clean and with friendly owners for about $10 AUD per night. In cities I recommend pre-booking, it makes it less stressful arriving to the hectic sprawl and you can be sure you will have a decent room.
Do splash out once in a while, for about $100 AUD you can stay in some pretty ritzy palaces where you’ll feel like a king/queen in and it’s pennies compared to what you’d pay back home, embrace it!
Other than those hints always try and carry small notes/coins, it’s pretty embarrassing (and rude) bartering something down to 50 rupees and only having a 1000 rupee note… Barter with respect, there is a fair price and it is more for westerners, accept it, you can afford it; the locals rely on it to survive.
Embrace India, don’t be afraid, meet locals and you will enjoy it. There will be moments where you will want to escape; the staring, the constant approaches and it is more than likely that you will get groped at some stage. Be strong, and make sure you have a hard drive full of movies for the days when you just need a break.