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The Dos and Don'ts of Travelling in India
Travelling to India could be daunting if you let it be, but once you’re prepared for what to expect, the frazzling energy and colourful chaos just become half of the fun. Get yourself clued up by having a read of these simple dos and don’ts and let the country itself do the rest. A place that simultaneously stifles and stimulates, you’ll soon fall head over heels for it.
Do sort out your visa
Don’t panic (or maybe do if you’ve left it until less than two weeks before departure), but you will need a visa to travel to India. Make sure it’s the right visa for your travel, that it’s valid for the length and purpose of your stay and that you have at least six months left on your passport from the date you arrive in India. You can travel to India on an e-Visa, which allows you to stay for up to 60 days. Head to indianvisaonline.gov.in for more details.
Do check whether you need injections
If you haven’t already, it’s essential that you contact your doctor immediately and ask about the following: hepatitis A and B, typhoid, diphtheria, polio and tetanus (the last three are a 3-in-1 combined booster – music to the ears of the needle-phobic).
Do dress respectfully
Indians like to dress conservatively, and any tight or revealing clothing is best saved for parts of the world that better appreciate a flash of midriff. That means keeping legs and shoulders generally covered too – if in doubt, do as the Indians do. A quick look around at what the locals are up to will help spare your blushes. And ladies, you may want to pack a light scarf or wrap that easily folds into a small bag, that way you’ll always be prepared to cover up should you want to nip into a temple on your travels.
Do learn the lingo
A simply “namaste” greeting will never go unappreciated – pair it with putting your palms together and making a slight bow and you’ll be onto a winner. We find that it’s always helpful to learn the very basics, or at least have them to hand in a little pocket guide/saved to your phone’s notes page to refer to should you need to. As Brits, top priority is of course knowing how to be polite. Dhanyavaad, pronounce “dun-yuh-vahd”, is a formal way of expressing thanks to an elder or an authoritative figure, whilst in most cases a simple shukriyaa (an informal thank you), pronounced “shook-ree-yuh”, will do the job.
Do interact with the locals
No one knows a country better than its resident population, so get out there and learn from the locals – when it comes to all of those landmarks/restaurants/shops/bars/sights that you simply cannot miss on a whirlwind tour, they’re your best bet.
Don’t wear shoes inside a temple
Seen as unhygienic and impure, it is out of respect that shoes aren’t worn inside temples. Leaving them outside and entering barefoot symbolises that you are ready to leave the busy thoughts of the world behind you and embrace the meditative state encouraged within the temple. People often worry that they’re shoes will be stolen if left alone outside, but more often than not there are free ‘cloak room’ services that will look after your shoes and bags for you whilst you explore the temple at hand. If you’re really worried just don’t wear your most expensive kicks – a pair of cheap flip flops can easily be replaced.
Don’t drink anything that’s not from a sealed bottle
Ah, welcome to India. The country where “drinking from the bottle” doesn’t quite have the Calvin Harris dubbed connotation of going on a wild bender, but the rather conservative opposite. Here, you have to drink water from the bottle to avoid anything too wild going on with your body – yep, we’re talking ‘Delhi Belly’. The dodgy tummy dangers that come with drinking tap water goes for eating salad (that may have been washed with unfiltered water), having ice in your drink, or brushing your teeth using the tap too. Just don’t do it! For more ways on how to avoid the dreaded Delhi Belly, have a read of our blog.
Don’t eat with your left hand
Eating with your hands is pretty standard in India, in fact, it’s how things are done – which can be pretty daunting when you’re faced with a curry! Of course it’s not obligatory, but if you do fancy doing as the locals do, stick to using your right hand to avoid any onlooking disgust. Obviously you would always wash your hands beforehand (Delhi Belly, duh), but in India your left hand is still considered disrespectful.
Don’t take pictures of people without their permission
Much like pointing or staring, taking pictures of unassuming people going about their day-to-day business is rude. And although it may seem like an obvious point, many holidaymakers visiting third world countries seem to think that it’s perfectly acceptable to take pictures of non-consenting subjects on the street. More often than not, if permission was asked it would be granted and the result can be truly astounding imagery that perfectly captures the spirit of India’s warm and welcoming people.
Don’t be overly polite to street touts and beggars
It’s in our blood to be polite and the poverty that you’re faced with in India is overwhelming to say the least. In saying that, it’s impossible to help everyone and as unfortunate as it is, showing signs of being overly polite is likely to be taken as a weakness, which will leave you open to being scammed. We aren’t telling you to be rude, but it’s essential for your own sake that you are stern. We also aren’t telling you to ignore the poverty that you’re confronted with. A visit to any big city, from Delhi to Mumbai, will be an eye opener and one that is likely to leave you feeling pretty helpless. Instead of giving money to individuals (which could quite possibly be lining a ring leader’s pockets rather than theirs anyway), give food, or donate to a local charity instead. There are definite ways of helping without inadvertently becoming the pied piper of India's street children.