INDIA: TRAVEL TIPS

Prior to our booking, the verdict for Jyoti Singh Pandey’s assailants were convicted, sparking nation-wide protests for female security; I read threads and threads on message boards about women being groped in public; and my cousin told me a personal story where her friend was disrespected by multiple men in Goa. So naturally, I was skeptical. But, despite all this, and with assurance from family of friends, my best friend and I booked our ten day, three city trip to India. And guess what?

My experience proved them all incorrect.

For any Westerner, it will be a culture shock. The smell. The driving. The density of well…everything. Did I mention the driving? But, as you’ll find out, it is wondrous.

There is so much to learn from Indian culture – which is impressively vast, diverse, and welcoming. I have never gone on a vacation and learned so much from complete strangers. I watched joy and excitement of a homeless girl pour out over the luxury of rubbing antibacterial soap in her arms (I really wish I captured this moment of honesty); I learned about the impact the Moghul Empire had on shaping present-day India; and I finally caught on to the Indian food craze, which was a HUGE step for me. India taught me that absolutely nothing should be taken for granted and, most importantly, everything should be experienced with an open mind and soul.

You can read about my experience in
Mumbai, Jaipur, and Delhi.

Cow in India Streets

Now that I know how it feels to land in a place that feels like worlds away, below are a few travel tips that I wish I had known before going.


TRAVEL TIPS

  • Dress conservatively. If you’re a woman, make sure your shoulders and knees are covered at all times. I was really hot at Elephanta Caves, so I wrapped my light cardigan around my shoulders, so they were slightly exposed. I still received unwanted stares, nonetheless. Palazzo pants and maxi skirts will be great to avoid feeling under-dressed without being overbearing.
  • Be comfortable with bargaining. Bargaining is a lifestyle. My first tip from an Indian traveler was: “Don’t even go down half, go down to a third of their suggestion and then they’ll meet you halfway.” I was too weak to try this, so don’t be like me and pay the asking price!
  • Prepare yourself for extreme pollution. The pollution is intense. India ranks 174th (out of 178) in Air Quality by the Environmental Performance Index. Avoid exposure by covering your mouth with a scarf or small washrag when outside for a prolonged period.
  • Plan your travel accordingly. The best time to travel (to beat the heat and their monsoon season) is in October and November. I went in the middle of November and had 75 F degree weather, with cooler nights. Bring a couple sweaters if you go around this time.
  • Learn the art of taxis. There are two important questions to ask your taxi driver: 1) Are you metered of fixed? Most airports have a fixed rate, but city drivers will do either. If you can, take metered – they are always cheaper. And of course, rickshaws, also known as tuk-tuks, are the cheapest. And 2) Do you know how to get to (insert destination here)? This will save countless headaches as the driver pulls over and asks every pedestrian directions. Which happened in 95% of my taxi rides.  However, your taxi driver can be your best friend during the short (or long depending on traffic) ride. Make conversation. Most people have a decent grasp of English. Plus, they’ll pull over to grab you a cup of chai and what’s wrong with that?

In Jaipur, taxis work on a commission as well as their driving rate. Most taxi drivers paid hotels to guarantee business and if you pay them for the day, (they will try to convince you to let them be their driver for the day – it’s not expensive and it is really convenient), they will take you to a textile store where they receive a certain percentage of your purchases. You are under no obligation to purchase anything, of course, but it is interesting to see.

  • Keep sacred places sacred. Do not bring any food to the Taj Mahal or any temple, for that matter. I can’t stress this enough. Unless you plan on participating in a ritual where food is given to the respective deity, food should not be brought with you. Also, the security at the Taj is really tight and, surprisingly (or not), better at most of their domestic airports. They’ll throw away your food. AND your selfie stick!
  • Stay clean! Anti-bacterial wipes will save you in situations where an outhouse is your only available bathroom. It’s also really useful to wipe your feet when places require you to take off your shoes and socks. For the temples that allow you to wear socks, bring an extra pair of socks to throw on. Your feet can pick up myriads of bacteria, so throw an extra pair in your bag to slip on!
  • If you want to budget: Between traveling, sightseeing, eating, and shopping, I spent around $40 USD/day. I did shop a lot and used taxis for transportation, except in Delhi where the subway system is super simple. Food and lodging in India is incredibly cheap, so you can easily get by comfortably in India with less.
  • Consult your doctor before you go. This isn’t necessary, but it will prepare you for any viruses that you may be at risk to. Hepatitis A and Typhoid is prevalent in India, but you should be safe as long as you eat cooked food and avoid their water. My doctor prescribed me an antibiotic for typhoid, if I were to get exposed while I was there, and also gave me medication for Malaria. Mosquitoes shouldn’t be an issue if you go in the cooler months, but should be a concern if you travel during Indian summers.

INDIA: JAIPUR

I bought Fodor’s Guide to India as my tour guide and the first sentence in the Jaipur section says, “You have not seen the world until you’ve seen Jaipur.” Too true.

Jaipur was the home of royalty, a fact that it very much takes pride in. It’s walls are painted in pink (my rickshaw driver swore it’s orange!), and you can feel the eminence as you drive through Tripoli Gate and enter the heart of the city. There is so much to see in Jaipur, so I’d recommend at least staying for three days, but honestly, you can spend an entire week in this city and experience everything thoroughly.

So, Jaipur may be the city I visited with the most tourist attractions. Since it has such a rich history rooted in royalty, there are a lot of palaces (mahals) and forts to visit. Luckily, almost everything is within close vicinity and you can spend one day exploring Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, and City Palace.

Hawa Mahal Woman
captured at Hawa Mahal

From the top of Hawa Mahal, you can see the breathtaking views of the terrain around you. Jaipur is enclosed by forts to the east and west (I believe!) and you are able to see Amber Fort in the distant background from Hawa Mahal.  Unforgettable.

Hawa Mahal 5

City Palace is equally, if not more beautiful than Hawa Mahal, but I still loved Hawa Mahal more. You are free to roam all over Hawa Mahal (considering it was a place royalty viewed the public), but City Palace was stricter and you may need a tour guide. We were fortunate enough to have the kindest security guard escort us around City Palace where we learned the history of princes and especially, the Elephant Prince.

The most impressive site (aside from the forts!) is Jantar Mantar. It’s an observatory and probably the most systemic observatory I have ever witnessed. Again, this will be a great place for a tour guide (we did not have the luck of having someone show us around), but I did listen in on some English tours that described a few instruments. One of which was able to tell time to the 6th second of every minute. Impressed yet?

Jantar Mantar Clock Jaipur

You cannot complete a trip to Jaipur without visiting the Sun Temple. Beware. There are plenty of monkeys and they are definitely not as nice as the ones I witnessed at the Elephanta Caves in Mumbai. However, if you get to the top safe and sound you have a view that you will remember for ages. The sun never looked larger as it set over the horizon in front of us. A great way to end an evening of sight-seeing!

Monkey at the Sun Temple Jaipur

Jaipur is definitely a tourist city. The attractions cater to them (i.e by hiking up their “foreigner” prices) and you’ll see any type of ethnicity hop on and off a private tour bus. Like any other city, there is a lot more to witness in Jaipur than just their sites. Certain areas may not be totally safe at night, but during the day, feel free to ask a local to recommend a great place to grab a chapati roti with masala or a place to enjoy a cup of chai. Don’t be afraid of the environment that isn’t glimmering with gold. Sometimes, those tend to be the most beautiful.

Flute player with Snake in Jaipur

So, when you do visit Jaipur, you cannot miss out on the chance to spend a day with an elephant. This was my absolute favorite part of the trip and the excursion I most anticipated. I spent an entire day at Elefantastic, one of the more ethically-based elephant villages in Jaipur. The owner, Rahul, prides himself in the way he treats his elephants and you can see it in the happiness and health of these spectacular creatures. You’ll spend majority of your time feeding them (they can EAT), but after you get to paint, bathe (you may get a shower as well!), and partake in an hour long ride around the elephant villages. Seriously, it was the experience of a lifetime.

Tamanna Perfect

Tamanna Ride

Lastly, do not skip out on the forts (like me!). I only visited Amber Fort for their light show, which was really informative, long, and (I know people may hate me), boring. It’s a total tourist trap that I fell for and I would have been fine just exploring the fort instead. Nahagar Fort is equally incredible and definitely worth setting aside a day to visit. Depending on how fast you are, you can probably see both within a day, but take your time and explore! It is so worth it!

Beautiful Amber FortView of Amber Fort at dusk. How gorgeous!

If you’re enjoying my travels in India, don’t be shy to read my adventures of Mumbai and Delhi! Also, you can check out some additional tips on traveling to India here!