India is an assault on the mind, body and soul. She'll kick you to the ground and then offer you a hand to help you get back up again. You will fall in love with her and she'll send you delirious. She'll let you down, she'll laugh at you and, at times, she'll make you question your own sanity but through it all, she'll love you back with a sea of smiles and a torrent of warm embraces. Indian people live through their hearts and no one can resist that, not even after your Delhi taxi driver has taken you to three different government tourist offices despite you showing him repeatedly your freshly printed Hostelworld confirmation email...
In a country bursting with chaos, but seeping with serenity, full of faces, but lacking in purpose, it can feel like you're always on the back foot. India is an adventure, not a holiday; it's a journey that will fray your emotions. That moment when you're meditating over the Blue City watching the sunrise? That's when it's worth it. To avoid hysterical breakdowns in bustling bazaars (not advised, trust me) take a look at a few things I'd wished someone had thought to tell me...
1. Travel during the day - If you can, especially early on in your trip, try to avoid arriving anywhere in the middle of the night/ early hours of the morning - it's a lot safer in the day and you'll find your bearings a lot quicker. It will also mean that you won't have to sip the same masala chai for hours on end to avoid being kicked out of the railway café and left for the mosquitos to feed on. Oh, and the official Indian train website only lets you book 6 tickets a month so, for the two of us, that was three tickets because you know, 3 x 2= 6 (duh!) so bear that in mind when your planning where to visit and for how long.
2. Don't get your cash at the airport - Or, at the very least, don't change up ALL your money at the airport. You'll need to change up some as India has a closed currency, meaning that you can't transport their currency in or out of the country, but the exchange rates are terrible and it will actually bring tears to your eyes when you realise the deceit you've fallen victim to. Ok, it's not that extreme, but still, you get the idea. Exchange rates are marginally better in hostels and hotels so change up minimal and wait until you're all checked in before you do the rest.
3. Have your hotel/hostel info translated into Hindi - As much as I try to distance myself from the Brit Abroad image, I arrogantly presumed that, because the majority of Indians speak such good English, they could read it just as well. More fool you Fleur, you over-confident backpacker. That Hostelworld confirmation email with a 4-line address in English doesn't get you very far in a sprawling city like Delhi where there are hundreds of Ganesha Havelis.
4. Take Probiotics & Go Vegetarian - You're not going to find a chicken tikka masala anywhere anyways...
5. Pack nothing - Okay, pack some things, but pack lightly. I was the backpacker trying to squeeze (without breaking) soapstone tea lights into whatever gap I could find. In a wave of saris your black Boohoo harem trousers feel a little drab and you'll want to spice it up a bit. You'll actually want to turn it all the way up to Vindaloo and walk out with half the textile factory spilling from your arms. The urge to update my leather jacket and black Joni jeans with my turquoise sari is still very real. Trust me.
6. Stock up on hand sanitisers - Most Indian meals are eaten using your hands so to avoid the dreaded Delhi belly I suggest putting in a bulk order of Detol Protect.
7. Say No to Selfies - We live in a world that is seen by many through miniature screens and in India it's not much different. Whilst at first it's flattering, it gradually wears off and becomes a bit of a burden. There's only so many times you can smile and pose for a photo for their friends back in London, that you know you don't know but they're thoroughly convinced otherwise...
8. Bargain your way through Bazaars - As much as this is the most unnatural thing for us, it is a huge part of Indian culture and it is an expected thing to do. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and by the end of it you'll be playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with Tuk Tuk drivers whilst you negotiate over a 200 rupee fare (that's £2 by the way!)
9. Bin your itinerary - Don't get me wrong, it's great to know your spending 2.75 days in Jaipur and then 8 hours 11 minutes on the train to Agra but this, I promise you, will never go to plan. We learnt very early on that those plans built over Costas mean little when your train is stuck on a track eleven hours away from your destination due to flooding (but of course Fleur, it only rains a little during monsoon season...those were my famous last words everyone). You'll add more stress to your trip if you worry about too many minor details. Whilst I'm not saying turn up with a one-way ticket and see what happens, just don't be surprised if plans change and make sure you budget for any delays. Besides, following our flooding fiasco, we ended up exploring a city we never thought we'd visit and falling head over heels for the place.
10. Just embrace it! Absorb the cows that take priority on the dusty roads, stop, high five and practice English with the school children squealing on their journey home, accept the invites to family gatherings and remove your shoes at the door as you enter. Because, truly, India will make you one of her own.
Before you jump on the next flight out of here, check out these websites: www.gov.uk/travelaware and www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice. They have further checklists regarding individual countries laws and customs, vaccination and visa information. Don't forget to follow @FCOTravel on Facebook and Twitter for travel advice updates too!
For more photos from my time in India, check out my instagram @fleur_rm
Suggested For You
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more