India First Timers Guide
Most yogis find themselves in India somewhere along their journey; despite challenging culture-shocks, the first trip is usually not the last. Visiting the back-to-basics Motherland can be full of twists, turns and life-altering learning curves. Stripped of home comforts, you are liberatingly left to see your Self.
India can charmingly appear back-to-front. Seemingly simple things malfunction, children roam and curry pots boil until late. Streets are lined with litter, ‘holy’ cows and curious locals who may stare relentlessly. Embracing Indian way of life often comes easier under the nurturing wing of an experienced tour guide and handy hints beneath your belt!
Health and hygiene
When it comes to toileting and sanitising, you are playing on a vastly different field in India. Firstly, you will notice the general absence of toilet paper. Instead, there may be a bucket of water for tipping strategically onto bodily parts. Furthermore, you will regularly encounter squat toilets – which on the plus-side is great for glutes! Soap dispensers may be scarce, so pack hand sanitizer or anti-bacterial handwipes.
You may also need insect repellent, as mosquitos especially are plentiful. Safeguard your health before departure by consulting your GP about travel vaccinations against mosquito-borne diseases and other potential ailments.
Food and water
To avoid ‘Delhi belly’, be cautious of what you consume – contamination is not uncommon. Water is generally not consumable in India: if it doesn’t come from a sealed bottle (check the seal is unbroken), don’t risk it. Be careful of accidentally taking mouthfuls of water whilst showering or brushing teeth, or consuming washed foods. Be prepared to buy loads of bottled water and pack water purification tablets.
Be wary of food from street markets – eating only from trusted sources and sealed packets. It is not just what you eat, but how you eat it. If you love eating with your hands, India is a dinner winner where the right hand is the most popular utensil. Eating with the left is considered dirty – that hand is saved for less savoury things!
Indian shopkeepers host impressive powers of persuasion, so brush up on bargaining skills. Enter an Indian shop for harem pants, and you may leave with four pairs of earrings, two blankets and a packet of biscuits for an extra rupee! It might initially feel uncomfortable, but don’t be shy to haggle (with a smile!) – they often begin with inflated prices for ‘well-off’ westerners. Confidently ask if they can offer a discount or deal. The back-and-forth becomes a bit of a game, and walking away will often result in being offered a better bargain!
Traffic and tuk-tuks
Hold onto your hats – people-moving in India can be … let’s say, thrilling! The constant sounding of horns, and packed-to-the-rafters (literally!) vehicles swerving around pedestrians and cyclists. Your palms may be clammy the first few fieldtrips, but it is amazing how quickly you adapt and revel in the chaos!
The most common way for tourists to trek around India is by auto-rickshaw or ‘tuk-tuk’; like a golf buggy-style taxi without a meter! Tuk-tuk drivers are clever, and usually banking on westerner’s plentiful purses to sustain their livelihood – so can’t be blamed for trying one on inexperienced travellers, demanding an outlandish fee upon destination. Always negotiate the fee before departure – clarifying an overall fee, not per person.
Temple tours are part of the package when visiting India. Seen one, seen them all? Not so – each is uniquely atmospheric, with beautiful sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses (deities). Experiencing the ancient tradition of puja in Indian temples is profoundly moving, enhanced by placing kumkuma powder upon the third eye (forehead). As in ashrams and many Indian homes, shoes are not worn inside – and conservative clothing is required.
A couple of other pointers on visiting temples: locals may ask to take your photo or offer to show you around (cheekily requesting payment upon conclusion!). You may also see beggars loitering outside. Although bleeding hearts genuinely want to give, best keep money hidden and move on.
Daily dress code
It is important to be culturally-aware with attire; generally covering legs and shoulders. Singlet tops should be covered by shawls or scarves. Particularly in warmer months, dressing conservatively might sound torturous; but traditional Indian clothing is comfortably light. An experienced tour guide will show you the best stores for suitable clothing – and how to bargain for them!
One final word on Indian etiquette – it is considered rude to point your feet at people. This heightened awareness, respect and earthy connection you can’t help but take back home … you may even unknowingly adopt the token head wobble and feel weird wearing shoes – the potential for transformation is endless!
Join Rach, your confident tour guide, on a Southern India tour 8th – 22nd January 2018. Click here for details!