ABOUT– INDIA TRAVEL GUIDE FOR FIRST VISIT
Oh India! Have you been thinking of visiting India but don’t know where to start from? Help has arrived! Presenting to you the ultimate India travel guide for your first visit. Everything you have ever wondered about or wanted to know is included in this guide and there is no sugar coating!
India is the 7th largest country in the world in area and is the second most populous country in the world with 1.3 billion people! It is the largest democracy in the world, also known as a subcontinent, there are 29 states, 23 official languages are spoken and it is the world’s second largest English speaking country.
Geographically speaking, India borders Pakistan, China, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Some of the major cities are New Delhi (capital of India), Mumbai (home to Bollywood), & Bangalore (the tech hub). India is also home to one of the 7 wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal.
Festivals and weddings are a big deal and the celebrations are out of this world. If you are keen on experiencing some of the celebrations, some of the major festivals are holi, diwali, dussehra, etc.
With all of these things going on, a first time visit to India is a culture shock to many and is definitely not for the weak hearts. Having said that, once you get past the initial shock, you can now fully embrace the madness and have fun! Expect lots and lots of people everywhere, it is going to be more crowded than any other place you have ever been, traffic is horrendous with cars, buses, pedestrians, animals, etc. all on the roads, most people are friendly and welcoming, food is delicious, dancing and singing runs in their veins and the sport of cricket is religion to many. Don’t panic and just enjoy every moment of it.
It’s crazy how many different options are available when it comes to transportation, airplanes, cars, buses, trains, bicycles, rickshaws, taxis, and even animals in some regions, All though, I do not recommend the last option.
Plane: There are about 30 international and about 90 local airports in India. If you are planning to travel cross-country, this is the fastest option. If you are flying from the U.S., U.K, Canada or Australia I found flights to some of the major airports like New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai were the cheapest.
Train: India has a very extensive train system and the metro runs in some of the major cities like New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Jaipur and Kochi. You can purchase your train tickets online from sites like Makemytrip.com, Yatra.com and IRCTC. Click on each to view more details or to make your reservations. You can also purchase the tickets at the station, if you are a tourist, many of the stations have booths or offices specifically for tourists or foreigners where a passport will be required to make a purchase. Click here for the official Indian railways site.
PRO TIP: You will come across a lot of coolies or porters dressed in red uniforms at the railway stations. They are there to transport your luggage. Two things to keep in mind- don’t get started without confirming the price and 2. they walk extremely fast, be prepared to run through the crowds!
Buses: Local buses are an inexpensive way of getting around the city or town. You can purchase the ticket either at the main bus station or on the spot once you board the bus using cash. The buses are not always clean or well-maintained. If you are traveling longer distances such as inter-state, then go for the air conditioned buses which might cost more but are a lot more comfortable. You can make advance reservations through Yatra.com and Makemytrip.com also.
Taxis: If you have to take a taxi let’s say from the airport to your hotel, always and I repeat always take the pre-paid ones. As make your way to the pre-paid taxi booth, you will be tempted and stopped by many private cab drivers promising better rates or claiming they can offer pre-paid rides too. Ignore the offers sternly and keep walking, do not stop till you get to the booth, reserve your ride there and go in that cab. Uber and Ola cab apps can also be used if you need rides around the city. I have heard about Meru cabs as an alternative, however, I have not personally used it yet.
Rickshaws: You will come across cycle rickshaws and auto rickshaws. Cycle rickshaws are great for very short rides especially when you do not want to walk and are inexpensive, auto rickshaws can take you a little further and can also be a shared ride option. Be prepared for a bumpy ride!
Car rental: Driving in India is nuts! I do not recommend driving at all especially if it is your visit, however, if you must insist, you can rent your vehicle from one of the big companies such as Hertz, Avis, etc at the airport or through Zoomcar. Click here to read more about Zoomcar.
WHAT TO EAT
Man! India is like the ultimate foodie heaven. There are literally thousands and I mean thousands of different things you can eat in India. Every region has tons of food, whether that be at a 5 star restaurant or some street food. You can also get a never ending list of vegetarian options.
Even though street food is extremely popular, it is not always hygienic but it sure is delicious. Drink bottled water only and avoid ice in your drinks as they ice cubes might not be from filtered water.
Growing up eating Indian food let me tell you somethings you absolutely have to try while you are there: pani puri, chaat, idli (excellent light breakfast), biryani, naan bread, dahi vada, aloo tiki (yum!), paneer everything, tandoori chicken, samosa, kulfi, dosa and gulab jamuns! Honestly, this is a never ending list, however, lets start with this for now.
If you are on the road, you will see a lot of ‘dhabas’ which are roadside restaurants mainly by the highways. Popularly used as truck stops, they offer authentic local cuisine. As a regular traveler to Delhi, here are my top recommendations:
Bukhara restaurant: Indian cuisine, where you can enjoy some delicious fresh naans and other signature Indian dishes.
Location: ITC Maurya, Diplomatic Enclave, Sardar Patel Marg, New Delhi- 110 021
Indian Accent: Fine dining & Indian cuisine, amazing staff and ambiance make it a must try.
Location: The Lodhi, Lodhi Road, CGO Complex, Pragati Vihar, New Delhi 110003
Shang Palace: Yes you are in India, but Chinese cuisine is very popular in India especially with an Indian twist. This one offers plenty of options for vegetarians too.
Location: Ground Level, Shangri-La’s- Eros Hotel, 19, Ashoka Rd, Connaught Place, New Delhi 110001
The GT Road: One of my absolute favorite, showcases some history of the country along with some delicious food.
Location: M-39, Shankar Market, Block M, Coonaught Place, New Delhi, 110001
If you are looking for authentic food freshly made right in front of you, Old Delhi is the place to be. I recommend scheduling a tour of Old Delhi where you can explore hundreds of years of history and try some of the food. Click here for tour details.
WHAT TO DO
India is such a beautiful country with thousands of years of well preserved history, and such a wide landscape, make it impossible to visit only once. What are you expecting from your trip? Are you here for the culture? Food? History? Hiking/outdoors? You will find all of this plus beautiful beaches of Goa, yoga retreats, shopping, delicious food, and much more!
Check out the Incredible India website here to get an idea of what all you can do and see there. If you are thinking of selecting a pre-planned tour, the golden triangle tour is popular which connects Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and some of them include Amritsar. Other places to be are Mumbai which is also known as the commercial capital of India, Bollywood, British style architecture, glitz & glamour. Kochi located in the state of Kerala is known for it’s beautiful waters, finger-licking good sea food and amazing culture in the form of dance. Hyderabad, which was ones home to the wealthy Nizams, is the perfect blend of old and new and some fancy jewelry. Goa is another popular destination amongst tourist, known for its serene beaches, happening nightlife and Portuguese style architecture. Heading back up North, Shimla and Manali are beautiful hill stations by the Himalayas and are popular winter vacation destinations.
WHAT TO WEAR
Okay…ladies and gents, we are traveling to India…not Vegas. What to wear in India seems to be a million dollar question especially for women and I can understand why. Generally speaking, you do not have to be covered up top to bottom at all times. Out of respect, don’t show your legs or shoulders when visiting a religious organization and some of them require you to cover your head and remove your shoes before entering. Here are some other things to consider…what part of India are you traveling to? Is it the north, east, south or west? What time of the year are you traveling to these places? Do you plan to spend most of your time outdoors exploring the country or indoors? Are you going to be in the city or the rural areas? What sort of activities are you planning to do?
Once you have some sort of idea of what your trip will look like, we can now start planning your outfits.
-Summers in most of India are extremely hot and humid. You want to wear lightweight, natural fabrics like cotton or linen.
-Winters in the northern parts such as New Delhi, Agra, etc. are cold, dress accordingly.
I also recommend dressing a little conservatively if you are unsure of what to wear. Think cute maxi dresses, maxi skirts, jeggings with longer tops, etc. Just remember conservative does not necessarily mean shabby. For winters, you can opt in for skinny or flared jeans with your favorite tops. Lastly, don’t forget some comfortable shoes.
In case you are planning to travel light, you can always shop once you get there. Most likely the clothes are going to be much cheaper than back home. For example, you can find clothes from the local markets starting at Rs. 100 which is about $1.40!
GENERAL TIPS– INDIA TRAVEL GUIDE FOR FIRST VISIT
-Natives of most countries need a visa to enter India. You can easily apply for a tourist visa online and have it back in a few days. Click here to read about the process.
-If you are looking to stay connected with you friends/family back home, either take an unlocked phone and purchase a local SIM card there or you can purchase an inexpensive phone and SIM while you are there. Some of the major phone companies are Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea, etc. You will need to present a copy of your passport and visa due to the regulations.
-I recommend bringing some necessary products such as toilet paper, feminine products, medicine, etc. Even though these things are easily accessible, it can be challenging for a first timer.
-Since most of the places you go to are extra crowded, forget personal space. Having said that, just like any other crowded touristy destination, it can be an easy target for pick pockets. Take extra caution.
– Haggling is big everywhere, whether it be at a local clothing shop or the taxi cab drivers. Don’t be afraid to ask 3-4 people to get an idea of the prices before you make a decision.
-Best time to go? Well, depends what region you are going to. Generally speaking, October to March is a good time frame, if you are looking for a more specific time frame, I personally say November especially to the Northern side because of bearable weather.
WHERE TO STAY– INDIA TRAVEL GUIDE FOR FIRST VISIT
This again depends on what part of the country you are going to be in. There is something for every budget. Whether you are someone who likes to live in luxury or whether hostels are your thing. Start by checking out the Incredible India official site for some recommendations, click here. Airbnb has some really nice options too, some of them are well under $50 in cities like New Delhi, click here. There are some really options available in other cities such as Mumbai too, click here.
If you are baller, you can spend a couple of nights at one of the palaces in the state of Rajasthan. Ultimate luxury experience, click here for a list of recommended palaces to stay.
To summarize things, you are going to love your first visit to India. I highly suggest spending a minimum of 10 days just because there is so much to do and see.
I would love to hear what your thoughts are. Have you ever been to India or are you planning a trip? Ask your questions here!