For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to go to India, firstly I grew up near Bradford in the UK which has a large Indian community and my West Indian family in Jamaica purport to have some South Asian blood in there somewhere. This meant a lifelong love of Bollywood, saris, henna and curry – it’s hands down my favourite food.
I even used to live on Manchester’s ‘curry mile‘ a stretch of road that’s home to curry houses, sari shops and sheeshah bars in abundance, the vibrancy felt like my little slice of Delhi in the UK and I loved it. I know that I’ll probably be in for a shock when I get to actual Delhi but I’m so looking forward to it. Out of the few places I’ve been, I know that I get the most joy from crazy, buzzing, noisy cities – Istanbul, Marrakesh.. even Camden Town in London. I get such a high off the sheer volume of life, thousands of people all going about their daily business, smells (some good some bad) coming from all around, cars honking, heat coming off the tarmac… I think you get more of a sense of people’s day-to-day lives in urban areas than picturesque rural areas.
Hence why on my trip to India I will be flying into Delhi and having a few days to explore – I want to check out Haus Khas which is supposedly the ‘hipster’ zone there. Then I will be joining a G Adventures tour, suggested by Russ my excellent STA Travel agent. I chose to start off with an organised tour because, truly, I felt a bit overwhelmed, there’s so much to do and see and I was getting in a tiz. Also, I’m backpacking for a f*cking year. Alone. I want to ease into it first and not get put off in month one.
The tour will enable me to (hopefully) meet a few people and it hits a lot of the things I want to see including Bīkāner and Rāisar, Jaisalmer the ‘Golden City’, The ‘blue city’ of Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan and Jaipur the ‘pink city’. Plus I’ll be seeing (of course) the Taj Mahal… this will be good because I’ve been to at least three restaurants that go by this name and I’m beginning to feel like a fraud. Also I’ll be camel trekking, sleeping on an overnight train and watching the sun set on the river Ganges (there’s more too but I’ll tell you about it when I do it). Now imagine me, on top of a round the world trip, trying to plan all of that individually – I’d have a meltdown, and probably get ripped off in the process.
I’m beyond excited to touch down in India but there’s a bit of preparation to do before I do:
Get these vaccinations
You’ll need to make sure you have all your childhood vaccinations (eg. Tetanus, MMR, TB, Polio) check that they’re up-to-date with your GP, most people should be fine. Then you’ll need Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Typhoid, and Yellow Fever – you need a Yellow Fever Immunisation to obtain a tourist visa so plan ahead.
You might want to get Hepatitis B and Rabies vaccinations but please just CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR. Some injections are free on the NHS but you will have to pay for others, if you’re from the states you’ll have to check with your insurer. Lauren of Never Ending Footsteps has a great guide which covers these jabs in more detail including prices.
Get a Visa
India is a country you need a Visa to enter from most countries including the UK. After looking online and finding quite a few dodgy-looking websites I finally found this guide to getting one on the blog Taylor Hearts Travel which is really easy-to-understand and comprehensive. You can get one in person in London or via post. I travel to London quite a lot so I might book an appointment in person. A visa costs £89.44 (as of 2015) so factor that into your budget.
UPDATE: If you’re visiting for less than 30 days from the UK (and some other countries. Check here) then you’re eligible for a tourist eVisa which is all done online.
There are quite a lot of bits to fill in and you’ll need handy; your passport, a PDF scan of your passport (I use Tinyscanner app on my phone as I have no scanner) and a JPEG full frontal pic of you on a white background.
The visa costs $62 or £40 plus card fees. Mine was accepted in 24 hours and you then get the paper bit put in your passport at your point of entry in India.
Respect the culture
India is a deeply religious and traditional country, while 80% of Indians are Hindus there are also other religions such as Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Hindus typically greet each other by saying ‘Namaste’ or ‘Namaskar’ with their palms together (you’ll be familiar with this if you’ve practised yoga), footwear isn’t worn inside temples, homes, or other holy places, and Hidus are largely vegetarian (meat is especially not eaten on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays… no idea why).
This isn’t even scratching the surface of the Hindu religion but learning a little before you go will help you avoid making massive faux pas. Also the cultural dress in India is way more conservative than in the West, make sure you pack clothes that cover you up, a scarf or Pashmina is so useful and you can probably pick up a really cheap one there.
If you’re a woman you’ll definitely want to observe the mode of dress in India and maybe act slightly more demurely – whether or not you agree with the way women in India are treated/represented. I personally don’t get down with cultures that don’t see men and women as equal… but I am choosing to visit India and while there I will respect the country’s traditions. If you’re not willing to, then perhaps you shouldn’t go. Hashtag #justsayin.
Research, research, research
To get the most out of your trip to India, indeed any trip, then do some research beforehand. What’s the exchange rate? How much should a taxi cost? Where’s the best/cheapest street food found? Are there any dangerous areas? How much does a bottle of water cost? By finding out things you’ll need to know before you get there you’ll feel less lost at sea, you’ll be less likely to be ripped off, and you’ll have more time to just relax and soak it all in while you’re there.
So now I’m going to follow my own advice and research India, of course the bulk of my planning is done for me by G Adventures – who have not sponsored this post in any way, I have paid for the trip and I’m writing totally impartially (I just think it’s a great service).