Travelling to India for the first time
Bright, majestic India can be a culture shock. Here's how to prepare.
India has captivated travellers from all over the world for decades, with people drawn to its energy, history, natural beauty and spirituality.
If it’s your first time travelling there, you’re best off leaving all your expectations at the door. It’s a densely populated country of 1.3 billion people that’s rapidly developing and taking its place on the world stage.
There’s really no proper way to prepare for the experience – but here are a few tips to help you navigate this fantastic, confusing and exhilarating country.
1. Come with an open mind
India is a nation of contrasts, and while there you’re likely to see the extremes of both ends. Abject poverty and incredible wealth live side by side in the cities, and you’ll probably be confronted by many things you see. India is a rapidly developing nation, economically and technologically, and while it can be startling to see the social consequences, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can make any lasting change as a tourist.
2. Lose your concept of personal space
India is highly populated, and the cities are densely packed. Your Australian concept of personal space – the invisible two foot bubble around your person at all times – will be violated. No one intends to be rude when you’re shoved into a train or pushed around in a crowd on the street, so try to go with the flow.
"India is a nation of contrasts, and while there you’re likely to see the extremes of both ends."
3. Wear local clothes
Want to blend in more and escape the heat? Head to a market and pick up some local clothing – think loose, cotton pants and tunics. You’ll stay cooler in the humidity, and women especially won’t have to worry about cultural incompatibility with Western clothing. It can also make packing light easy, and won’t cost you much money.
4. Remove your shoes
Feet are considered unclean in Indian culture, and it’s polite to remove your shoes before entering homes, temples, and some stores. If in doubt, look for the pile of everyone else’s shoes at the entrance. The same thing goes for your left hand – don’t use it for food or to shake anyone else’s hand.
5. Watch what you eat and drink
The tap water isn’t safe to drink in India – it can carry a range of diseases guaranteed to turn your stomach for a few days. Stick to bottled water only, and inspect the seal when buying.
Be careful when eating street food as well, and be diligent about washing and sanitising your hands. Look for where the locals are eating, try to only eat things you can see cooked in front of you, and consider going vegetarian for your trip to avoid the risk of eating bad meat. Many Indians are vegetarian for religious reasons, so you’re sure to be spoilt for choice wherever you eat. Make peace with the fact that you’re likely to get a little sick at some point, and prepare accordingly.
6. Try to stay relaxed
Things just don’t happen the same way in India as they do in Australia. Time can be a relative concept, people will stare, and some vendors will try to scam you. There’s no use worrying about these cultural differences, because you’re unlikely to change anything. Try to go with the flow, and remember – you’re on holiday!
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