The Indian subcontinent ranges widely in temperature from the cool Himalayas to the tropical south. November to January is the coolest time. Monsoon season is generally July – September. The winter is the best time for most of India, with the exception of the Himalayas, which is accessible only through the summer months.
Women: best to avoid shorts, short dresses etc. and to cover shoulders. Indian clothing is very comfortable and practical. Take walking shoes that go with most outfits.
It is considered an insult to ‘point’ the soles of your feet at others. Feet and shoes should not touch other people, as they are considered unclean. Shoes are usually left outside homes and temples. The head and ears are sacred. Never pat a child on the head. Do not point with your fingers at a sacred object – this is considered rude. Indians point with a jerk of the chin, or with an open hand facing upwards.
There is western time and there is Indian time. Discover the latter and you will learn to develop qualities of patience. Slowness and queues are a fact of life.
Vegetarian food is highly recommended. Many western constitutions cannot tolerate too much chili or spicy food at once – i.e. pace yourself. Be wary of food which has been lying around eg on street side cafes. If it is freshly cooked in front of you, then that is usually best. Fruit you can peel is generally safe. If afflicted with an upset stomach, try a little boiled rice and plain toast once you are ready to try food again. If in doubt ask for plain dhal and boiled rice and ask for all food to be prepared with ‘no chili and no spice’.
Bottled water is recommended (eg Bisleri) otherwise bring a filter or purification tabs. Check to see that seals have not been tampered with. Avoid local water – even in restaurants. Also be careful about taking a drink with ice, which is usually made with tap water. Many travellers avoid salads etc, which may have been washed with local water. The exception to this rule is “Aquaguard” water, which has been passed through a good quality filter. This is becoming increasingly available and is a good alternativeto generating more plastic waste with bottled water. In some tourist areas,enterprising eco businesses are selling boiled and filtered water… also a good option.
Tea is available everywhere. Chai or Marsala tea is a sweet milky tea flavoured with spices and ginger. This is available nearly everywhere. Ask for “Chini Alak-se” (sugar separate) if you don’t like your tea sickly sweet.
There is very likely a specialised travel medical centre in your home town. These centres provide the latest information about precautions, immunisations, etc. as well as selling medical kits. Alternatively, check with your local GP. It is worthwhile planning ahead, as the course for hepatitis A & B injections, for example, continues over several months.
Upon arrival at the airport it is useful to exchange some money to ensure cash flow. Local money change bureaus are usually more efficient than banks and are generally open longer hours. As soon as you arrive try to obtain some smaller denominations for tips, rickshaw fares etc. Keep some exchange receipts. These are sometimes (but not always) required to convert money afterwards. Use a secure moneybelt for the bulk of your cash, traveller’scheques and travel documents.
India is a land of surprises. Always be alert in crowds and allow plenty of time. If you require a porter, an older one usually knows the ropes and can help you quickly and effectively. Negotiate the price first and pay only at the end.
Public telephone, fax and email facilities are now widely available. Generally most hotels will add a surcharge. To make international calls from India add 00 at the beginning. Most area codes in India are preceded by a zero, which is omitted when dialling India from an overseas country. It is quite easy to get a prepaid Indian sim card to put into your mobile phone these days, which makes it very easy to keep in touch at local rates.