So you are plenty enamored of India to want to go there. In all likelihood, you have seen enough, heard enough, discussed enough and learn enough about this gigantic nation that’s teeming with things, both animate and inanimate. Numbers are intimidating so let’s not even go there but suffice it to say that you are about to embark on a journey where you’ll probably see more crowds than in Kodak Theater during the Oscars, more stray cows and dogs on the streets than on a lush Kiwi farmland, and more vehicles than at peak time in New York. India can be daunting, no doubt. But here are ways in which you can make your travel to and within India memorable.
Why do you want to go?
The first step in easing your way down to India is to ask yourself this fundamental question. Do you want to go because you want to witness the beauty of this land? Or is it to see, up close, the fabled exotica? Perhaps you want to sense the chaos firsthand? Or take a dip in spiritual salvation? Is it history, geography, archaeology, heritage, architecture, what? Or maybe, just maybe, you are planning to go because, well, India falls somewhere near Thailand and since you are going that far you might just pop in to say hi? Whatever your reason, be clear. Because, you see, India’s size bestows upon it such a diversity that there is something for just about every category of traveller. There’s wildlife (chiefly the northeast, Madhya Pradesh) to bait the nature enthusiast, deserts (Rajasthan) for the gypsy, beaches (Goa) for the amphibious, erotica (Khajuraho) for the sensuous, spirituality (Varanasi, Hardwar, Tamil Nadu) for the seeker, not to mention rugged terrains, beautiful Everydayness, and alluring eccentricity that seems to seep out of India’s very pore. Only if you know what you want can India deliver it to you. Call it our on-demand service.
How much time do you have?
That’s the piece of information which will decide your itinerary. If time is of no consequence, you can be a wandering soul out to savor every bit of India. But if, like most of us, time is a constraint, you have to do a bit of juggling to see what fits in; leave out what doesn’t. There is no point in trying to squeeze in too much because you will be doing yourself a disservice and India, a disfavor. For instance, New Delhi alone will need at least a week to make anything of it – right from the Red Fort, the Old City, Nizamuddin Dargah, Qutub Minar, Purana Qila, Akshardham. And we haven’t covered even half of Delhi yet. See the point?
What time of the year are you visiting?
India has three dominant seasons: Summer (from March-April until June-July) followed by monsoon (June-July to August-September) after which comes winter (November to March). While the summer season is scorching in most parts, monsoon can play spoilsport to your travel plans and winter in the northern and north-eastern parts can be extreme. So plan your trip and your destinations keeping in mind the time of year.
What are the documents you’ll need?
You will need a valid passport, of course, and a visa. That apart, there are some places in India which are restricted/ protected and require foreigners to get a permit from the Ministry of Home Affairs for visiting. See http://india.gov. in/overseas/travel_advisories.php for details. Below are some more generic pointers. Heed them.
Don’t get over friendly with touts. Red Riding Hood was attacked by the Big Bad Wolf who took on the garb of a friend; avoid over intimacy.
Dress sensibly. While it’s sexist and baseless to suggest that a certain kind of clothes invite sexual attacks, it is always prudent to dress discreetly.
Respect the customs of the place you are in. Follow propriety. For example, in Goa anything goes, but in some places of worship even men wearing shorts are expected to cover up.
Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of bottled/treated water as the intense heat can lead to dehydration.