Part II: Planning Your Trip to India

So you’ve made all the arrangements—you got your Indian visa all sorted out, you picked the right time to visit the country, you managed to book a fabulous place to stay in, and your suitcase is packed with all the essentials to make your stay nice and comfortable.

However, as the plane touches down on the landing strip of the airport, you start having mixed feelings.

Since it’s your first time in India, you can’t help but feel a bit apprehensive about a lot of things. Having that feeling is perfectly normal, since Indian culture can give newbies quite a jolt upon arrival. However, knowing what to expect can help lessen the impact of culture shock, and it can help you to adjust much quicker so you can focus on what you came for, which is to have fun.

Upon arrival in India

India can give quite a first impression

Be prepared for a disorienting experience once you step out of the airport. The heat is the very first thing that will assert itself upon arrival. If you’re wearing warm clothing during the flight, plan on storing a lightweight cotton shirt in your carry-on luggage and change into it a few hours before the plane lands. India is a hot and humid country, so leave the flannels at home and always stash a bottle of water in your bag whenever you leave your hotel room. Another way to deal with the heat is to carry a foldable paper or fabric fan, and if you plan on staying out in the sun, you might need a folding umbrella to protect you from the harsh rays and also from sudden downpours.

Another thing that can take a bit of getting used to is the number of people in India. To say that there are a lot of people living there is quite an understatement, considering that India’s population is currently at 1.21 billion, and that makes up a full 17 percent of the world’s population. There will always be lots of people wherever you look, so try to get used to the idea of crowds if ever you plan on staying in India for more than a week.

The roads in India

Once you start navigating India on foot, one word will come to mind to describe the roads—chaotic. Though it seems like there are no road rules at all, there is actually a system in place that may take a while to recognize. Smaller vehicles usually give way to larger vehicles, and the largest vehicles such as trucks and buses rule the road. Drivers don’t stay in one lane and have a habit of weaving all over the road. They will usually overtake from both sides, so if you’re riding a taxi expect that this will be a hair-raising experience for you. Drivers also love to use their horns when driving, so each day on the road is a cacophony of honking horns, and they do that whenever they overtake, turn corners, or when there’s a another vehicle in the way.

streets in india
Chaotic streets in India

As a pedestrian, you might have to brace yourself before you cross the street. To cross the road, you’ll actually have to brave oncoming traffic, but don’t worry about it, because drivers are used to this and will stop. You can also play it safe and follow everyone else who’s crossing the road at the same time.

If you’re planning to rent a car and drive all over India instead of riding taxis day after day, it’s best to keep in mind that the conditions of most roads in the country are in various states of repair. It’s very common to see roads full of holes, unsealed roads and roads that are partially dug up.

Animals in India

You know what they say about cows roaming all over the streets of India? Well, it’s actually true. The thing is, you see it in all the documentaries, and it’s everywhere in all the literature you see about the country. But nothing, and I mean nothing can prepare you for what you’re about to see, and what it’s like to see so many of them standing on doorways, obstinately blocking the road, seemingly without a care in the world.

cows on the road
Cows napping on the side of road

These creatures can be found meandering all over the place. They’re big, and they’re usually harmless. Nobody lays a finger on them, and absolutely no one is allowed to hurt them. Cows in this country pretty much do what they like to do, and that includes hanging out at the beach. So go ahead, take some pictures, but make sure to get out of the way once you see an angry cow standing in your path.

It’s not only cows that you’ll see in India though, as this country still makes use of donkeys and camels to pull carts along the road. Other animals, such as boars and monkeys, can also be seen roaming the land freely.

Scents of India

You’ll probably have some mixed opinions about the smells of India once you start making your way around. The stench of garbage and urine is common, but so are the aromas of spices and incense. If you want to smell the best of scents, take a walk in the evening because it is during this time of the day that the scent of fresh spices becomes more pronounced. It wafts up from roadside snack stalls, and people light up some fragrant incense as an offering to the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi.

The People of India

Oftentimes, you’ll be asked to be in lots of photos with strangers, and that happens a lot in major tourist areas like the Taj Mahal. Just go with it and have fun. Indians are warmhearted and are naturally curious, so they have a tendency to stare and ask a lot of questions, and many of these questions might be a bit too personal for your liking. Just remember that asking these types of questions is part of their nature, and don’t be hesitant to ask questions in return. People will be genuinely happy that you’re interested in learning about them and the local culture.

Other things that you should remember to do in India

It’s very wise to keep in mind that India is a conservative country, so dress appropriately to avoid getting any unwanted attention. Men should wear shirts with sleeves and long pants, and women should do the same, taking care to cover the shoulders, legs and cleavage.

dress properly
Dress decently in India

If you’re a woman and you’re travelling alone, make sure that the areas that you’re going to are relatively safe, and that means not going to places where crime or drugs are rampant. Read guidebooks and forum pages to determine if your destination falls into that category.

Lastly, as a foreigner in India, expect that the price that you are quoted for items will usually be much higher than the price that the locals will pay. Never accept the first price given, and always negotiate.

Yes, it will take a while to adjust to being in India, its culture and its people, but be assured that a lot of people start feeling more comfortable and adjusted after a week’s stay. Though it’s true that you’ll experience a love-hate relationship with the country, one thing’s for sure—it’s an experience you will never forget.

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