The first time I went to India I’m not sure what I expected, but I didn’t pick my jaw off the ground for days. Outside the airport in Chennai at 4am it was 30 degrees, there were people asleep on newspapers spread on the pavement. I was the only white person to be seen, and boy did they stare! It was a completely new experience being the minority, and quite overwhelming.
When I finally got a taxi and the driver pulled into the road, and I was sure I was going to die. It was as wide as a motorway, rickshaws, motorbikes and cars dancing and darting all over the road to a symphony of car horns (you beep to let someone know you’re coming up behind them, but that is constantly the case so everyone is beeping every few seconds).
Every so often a cow would wander into the road and drivers would duck and dive to avoid it. There were whole families of four and even five making their way to work and school on motorbikes, babies in mothers’ arms on the back and kids sitting on the handlebars, not even wearing helmets. It was like nothing I had ever imagined and that was all within the first 30 minutes.
It’s one incredible place, so if you’re converted I’ll give you a little general advice for planning your trip. Don’t be put off by the pricy flight because you can live on next to nothing once you land. For example, in India a three course meal for 2 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 our €1.03.
Beware of being over charged; especially rickshaws (taxis) will try to charge you far more because you’ll be seen as a wealthy tourist. It’s worth planning your journeys and asking the staff wherever you’re staying how much the ride should cost, that way you’ll know if you’re being ripped off. No matter what you’re buying you can barter.
Respecting the culture
Almost everyone gets the dreaded deli belly. Be careful what you eat and ease your self 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’ll also need various vaccinations, go to a tropical medical center as far in advance as possible to make sure you have everything in order.
Be respectful, it’s a totally different culture and is much more conservative, especially in towns or the countryside where they aren’t as accustomed to tourists. Girls should cover their shoulders and knees, so no strappy 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 out wandering at night alone, and just try have your wits about you at all times. On the street you may be heckled, and vendors can be extremely pushy about their sales, be firm but polite in your response.
Most importantly enjoy it, take in the rich experiences on offer. Talk to fellow travellers and to locals and make precious memories. It is a place that can change your entire perspective of the world so make the most of it.