The first time I journeyed to India, I was so awestruck that I did not pick my jaw off the ground for days. When I arrived at Chennai airport at 4am it was 30 degrees and there were people asleep on newspapers spread over the pavement. I was the only white person to be seen, and boy did the locals stare. It was a completely new and overwhelming experience being the minority.
When I finally got a taxi and the driver pulled out onto the main road, I feared for my life. Rickshaws, motorbikes and cars danced and darted all over the road to a symphony of car horns (drivers beep to let someone know they are coming up behind them, so everyone is beeping every few seconds). Every so often a cow would wander onto the road and drivers would duck and dive to avoid them. There were families with up to four or five children making their way to work and school on motorbikes; babies in mother’s arms and kids sitting on the handlebars, no helmets to be seen. The scenes were like nothing I had ever imagined…and this was all within the first 30 minutes.
India is an incredible place. Don’t be put off by the expense of the flights because you can live on next to nothing once you land. For example, in India a three course meal for two in a mid-range restaurant will cost you around €6, a beer is about €1, and a taxi costs approximately €0.18 per kilometer, compared to €1.03 in Ireland.
Tourists should beware of being over charged. Rickshaws and taxis often try to charge more to those seen as wealthy Westerners. It’s worth planning your journeys and asking hotel staff how much the ride should cost. This way you will know if you are being ripped off, and don’t be afraid to barter.
As for the cuisine, almost everyone who travels to India gets the dreaded ‘deli belly’. Be careful what you eat and ease yourself in so that your system has a chance to adjust to the new bacteria. Stick to fruit you can peel, foods that have been boiled or fried, and only drink bottled water. You will also need various vaccinations; go to a tropical medical centre as far in advance as possible to make sure you have everything in order.
Be respectful of Indian customs; it’s a totally different culture and people are much more conservative, especially in smaller towns and the countryside. Women should cover their shoulders and knees, so no revealing tops or short shorts. Make sure you do your research about customs and manners so that you don’t offend anyone.
Be safe; India can be a dangerous place. Don’t go wandering at night alone, and have your wits about you at all times. On the street you may be heckled, be firm but polite in your response.
Most importantly; enjoy yourself, appreciate the rich experiences on offer and talk to fellow travellers and locals. I guarantee you will come home with precious and lasting memories.
Image: Ashu Mittal via Flickr.com