The lighter the bag, the lesser you sag
! Nothing new to say here except 'Travel
Light'. Yet, in your enthusiasm to have
a weightless bag, do not throw out the essentials.
- Cottons or synthetic blends are most
practical for Indian summers. Don't get
synthetics that don't 'breathe' - they'll
make you what else but breathless !
- The sun will usually be glaring at
you most of the day. So a wide brimmed
hat and sun glasses are a must. Winters
can be chilly. Come armed with sweaters
and light jackets. A collapsible umbrella
will help you stay dry during the sometimes-sudden,
sometimes-continuous rain during the monsoons.
- Sun screen lotion (lots of it) should
be a permanent part of your bag. Also
carry a sewing kit, pre-moistened towelettes,
pocket knife with can opener, lock and
key for each duffel or bag, impact-resistant
flashlight, spare batteries (unless they're
a popular size). Sports enthusiasts should
bring their own tennis or golf balls –
these are expensive in India. A blow-up
neck pillow is excellent for buses and
trains. Eye patches add to comfort. If
train traveling, a bike chain is a must
to lock your packs up on trains. A good
first aid kit you should have too.
- If you are a mountain goat or a trekker,
bring a day pack that will hold some essentials
like sweater, camera, water bottle etc.
- Delicate fabrics will get the care and
attention they need only at a 5 stars’
laundry room. If you aren’t staying
at one, think twice before carrying them.
Tips in India
For most parts of India, you won't really
need to mug up any local lingo. You possibly
cannot - there are 18 recognized languages
and over 1600 minor languages and dialects
! But there is good news. Elementary English
is commonly understood in cities and towns
as it's taught in most schools and colleges.
English is also what the Government and
corporate world writes and talks in. By
the way, did you know that the English
language has accepted a lot of
Hindi words - veranda, chai, pyjamas, jungle,
loot....there are lots.
Yet, if sometime you get stuck, Hindi
should help you get going. It's
spoken in fair parts of north India and
understood in the west too. Down south is
the domain of the Dravidian languages. It's
either English or a regional language that
will do the trick. So, pick up some words
in both Hindi and Tamil and
India is a huge country. And you can travel
through a myriad ways. Choose what you fancy
- cycle rickshaws, tongas or horse driven
carriages, hand pulled rickshaws (in Calcutta
only), buses, trains and airplanes.
- Never buy railway/air tickets or book
hotel rooms through touts. These could
be invalid. Save yourself all those logistical
hassles. Simply, try us !
- Get your domestic tickets done in advance
and save some precious energy and time.
Also, there are 'peak' seasons when tickets
aren't available. So, better not take
chances. And, now you anyway know where
to ask for tickets from, don't you?
- Come prepared for delays, especially
while flying in north India during winters.
Smog envelops cities and take-offs are
impossible sometimes for hours. Carry
a book or a photo album that you love
going through again and again and...
- Pickpockets ant around – especially
at crowded haunts like airports, railway
station or even some popular markets
and tourist spots. Wear an inner money
- Fares for taxis and auto-rickshaws
change frequently and do not always conform
to the meter reading. Ask for the latest
official fare-conversion tariff-card.
Fleecing is common so just keep your cool
and act smart !
- Trains are a cheaper travel option
for long distances and saves you overnight
hotel expenses. Moreover, it is a lot
of fun....a great chance to see the countryside
and mingle with the locals.
- Ask for an upper berth in the 2nd class,
3-tier sleepers. The lower berths are
used as seats during the day and your
berth is your reserved sleeping space
after 2100 hours. Comfortable, isn't it
- Samosas, biscuits, pakoras, tea, ice-cream
are easy to come by on most bus/railway
stations. Though if your palette or tummy
doesn't quite relish all this, carry something
along. Some distance trains have a restaurant
car near the upper class bogies that serves
meals and tea.
- Self-drive car hire isn't really quite
the scene in India. Yet, if you opt for
it, take extra precaution - stray animals
like cats, dogs, cattle and pedestrians
often just amble along. Night driving
is risky - truck drivers can be rash and
callous and other vehicles might not use
lights. Must carry a spare can of petrol.
Finding diesel at a filling station is
easier than getting petrol.
- The yellow & black taxis plying
in most towns and cities are metered.
Just incase you are told that the meter
doesn't work, fix a fare before riding
with him. You can ask the hotel desk,
your guide or a local for an approximate
fare to your destination.
People are generally friendly and willing
to help. Guess that's why they will always
have an answer to your query - even if it's
wrong! This is mostly true about direction
asking. So, instead look for milestones
and overhead signs. Now, don't get hassled
if road milestones and boards have film
posters, circus announcements or marriage
bureau ads pasted on them. Hey....this is
what adventure is all about ! Move on and
you shall get there !
- Never leave an unlocked suitcase in
a hotel room or an unattended one on airports/
- Hindus do not eat beef and Muslims
don't eat pork. Don't upset them by offering
what they cannot eat.
- In conversations with locals, remember
that a left-right nod of the head may
stand for 'yes' and not 'no'. So when
you ask the waiter for your favorite tipple
and he wiggles his head left and right,
don't feel sad. It's time to enjoy the
- Photography could be an issue at some
places. For places of military importance
like railway stations, bridges, airports,
defense installations and sensitive border
regions, you would require to seek permission
from the authorities concerned. A few
wild life sanctuaries levy a much higher
fee. The Archaeological Survey of India
issues special permits for shooting at
monuments with tripods and artificial
lights. Yet, Indians love posing for a
picture. But, in some traditional
societies, take care before focusing your
lens on women.
and Cultural Tips
Mind you, religion is a sensitive topic
for most Indians. It is nice to keep your
rational / logical self under wraps and
follow the harmless norms. Just be sober
and friendly in any holy place and remember
some must-dos that should keep everyone
- Step no. 1 is to remove your shoes,
sandals, sneakers, slippers etc. This
is done to keep God’s place clean.
If you hate walking barefoot and are lucky
enough, there might be a cloth overshoe
provided to you. Also, wash your hands
and feet, if you please - it isn't compulsory
but just another sign of reverence to
- Alcohol is a strict no-no inside the
premises, though, in some temples dedicated
to Lord Shiva, liquor might be the holy
offering itself. It is said that Shiva
loved his sips and probably needed them
to beat the cold in his homelands, the
- At some holy places, you might not
be allowed in if you don't practice the
faith. Don’t mind this. And, worst,
don’t force or bribe to enter.
- If you are a woman and in a dress that
exposes your legs or hugs your body etc.,
beware. Though you might not be stopped
from entering the sacred place but such
dresses are seen 'indecent'. An Indian
attire like a Sari, salwar-suit is ideal.
A loose blouse and a long skirt can do
too. Covering your head before entering
a Sikh Gurudwara or a mosque will
be appreciated. And when you enter a mosque,
step your right foot first into the courtyard.
It is the ‘right’ thing to
- Since most Hindu and Jains are veggies,
it isn’t surprising that leather
products like shoes, belts, handbags,
camera cases etc. are prohibited.
- Now for some body language once you
are inside. Do not point your feet and
back towards the Holy Book / the idol
/ altar. In a Hindu or Sikh temple, sit
cross-legged or tuck your feet away.
- Some temples prohibit photography in
the main hall and the inner sanctum. Usually,
signboards announce this. Be prudent and
ask if there are no such indications.
Some temples and other monuments levy
a fee for photography.
- In a Buddhist monastery, remember to
follow a clockwise direction while any
sort of movement – from spinning
prayer wheels to walking around the stupa
or even the exteriors. Inside, do not
plonk yourself on the cushions and
chairs. These are reserved for the lamas
or the monks. Sit on the steps outside
or on the floor. If you get to meet
a rimpoche (head lama) or any respected
monk, it's polite not to turn one's back
on him while leaving. It is decent
to remove the hat and lower an umbrella
within the monastery. Basically, be your
Travel healthy. Once on the road (or in
the air ), take all precautions that will
keep you from that running nose (or tummy
!), dizzy body temperatures, giddy hangovers
etc. Make sure you don't embark on a trip
even if there are some early signs of a
- Cholera, dengue fever, dysentery, hepatitis,
malaria, meningitis (trekking areas only)
and typhoid are the risks here.
- Travelers from the US, Canada or the
United Kingdom do not require any vaccination
certificate. Though normally, an
International Health Certificate is not
asked for by the immigration officials,
its always better to carry one.
Remember to play safe ! God forbid but
just in case you need medical attention,
this will be an invaluable piece
of paper. Carry certificates like the
one for Yellow Fever Vaccination.
- If you believe in taking precautions,
take all the vaccinations one needs. To
avoid malaria and dengue, carry mosquito
repellents, nets and sprays. If you can
bear the heat, wear clothes that cover
most of the body.
- The best thumb rule is to be a careful
about food and water. Eating raw salads
and fried food from a street-side vendor
is a no-no. Avoid pork too. If the temptation
is soaring, go to a clean restaurant that
you can trust. Eat balanced and healthy
meals. Keep popping those friendly multi-vitamins.
- Water has to be from a reliably clean
source. If not sure where the water comes
from, ask for a known brand of mineral
water. Always carry a water bottle with
you - this will save you from dehydration
too. (Make yourself a quick salt-sugar
solution - 1/2 tsp. salt and 4 tbsp. in
one liter of water - to re-hydrate those
parched cells). If you cannot lay hands
on branded water, use chlorine / iodine
tablets in water. These kill germs that
can cause water- borne diseases. Read
the instructions carefully and do not
- Carry a first aid kit with adhesive
bandages, thermometer, water-purification
tablets, antibiotics, antiseptic creams
and mosquito repellents.
- If you fall ill, see the doc and keep
cool. Tell yourself that this too shall
In India, more often than not, a tip is
money paid to get things done and not for
something well done !
- Tips are optional in a not-so-fancy
restaurant. Place only a few rupees as
a tip and not a percentage of your bill.
But outside restaurants and hotels, tipping
or ‘baksheesh’ is commonly
- At most eating joints, you can pocket
the tip unless you are in a swanky, upmarket
one - the kinds that dot the metros and
has liveried men serving you. Some tourist
restaurants and hotels add a 10% service
charge to the bills.
- In a 5 star, the waiter, room service
boy, housekeeper, porter, doormen will
all expect tips. For railway porters,
always fix a price before taking his services.
For a not-so-heavy bag, Rs. 5 - 10 per
bag is ok. Yet much depends on the weight.
- No tips for taxi drivers unless he
miraculously got you to the airport or
put you on a train that you never thought
you could make it to. Rs. 50-100 is a
handsome one. Give a local guide Rs. 50
for 4 hours of his service and Rs. 80
for a full day.
- Hand out a few rupees to people whom
you photograph on the road like the snake
charmer, the cart puller or the camel
- Carry small change - you'll need it
often for people who help you with little
things like those who keep your shoes
outside temples/mosques etc.
Tips in India
The Indian bazaar - a place that puts your
temptation resistance skills at test. They
are stuffed with bright and beautiful things
- handicrafts, silks, ethnic jewelry, curios
and what have you. You can shop till you
drop. Read more to be a smart shopper in
First, the thumb rule - get the right bargain.
This stands for all items that don't come
with an MRP (Maximum Retail Price) stamp
like clothes, jewelry, leather goods, carpets,
paintings etc. Don't grab the first good-looking
thing and pay extra bucks for it. And who
knows....it might be fake or of poor quality.
Always, always look around, compare prices
and then buy.
- Exporting items like ivory, fur, animal
skins, antiquities etc. is illegal. If
you must have it, obtain a certificate
of legitimate sale and permission for
export before leaving the country.
- If you don't see what you're looking
for in a store, ask. There's more than
meets the eye ! Most stores have little
display space, so much of the stoSck is
above the ceiling or in a separate room.
- Visit the various state emporia and
the Central Cottage Industries Emporia
(most major cities have one like Delhi,
Calcutta, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore,
Hyderabad etc.) The prices here are fixed
and will give you a fair idea of the cost
with a regular dealer.
- If you need a delivery, ask if the
price includes delivery charges. Be ready
to pay additional customs (generally 20%
of the cost) and handling charges (normally
a 10% of the total value of the good).
- Never, never believe the touts (they
hang around the tourist-y spots and cities)
who promise to take you to the best shop
around and get you the best bargain. They
usually have their handsome commissions
built into the cost.
- Those sparkling gems and patterned
carpets look very attractive but the market
is flooded with imitations. You don't
want to pay for a 'real' one and get a
fake, do you? Be sure you know the grain
from the chaff !
- Just a suggestion. While buying carpets,
look for one with a Smiling Carpet label
- these come from factories that do not
employ child labor.
Once upon a time, women traveling alone
used to be frowned upon in India, but times
are a changin'. Ladies travel a lot more
now - infact, there are now ladies’
queues for train tickets, ladies’
compartments in trains and even ladies’
seats in buses. So you see, it is not that
- The 1st commandment - Be friendly but
don't get friendly, especially with those
servicing you in hotels, trains or even
your cabbie or coolie.
- Don't wear anything that attracts glances
or invites cat calls. In metros like Delhi,
Mumbai etc., it is ok to dress western
but in smaller cities and towns, short
skirts, tight pants or blouses can make
you stand out in the crowd. Dress sober
- loose and long clothes that neither
define body shape nor expose it.
- Never accept a ride to..…anywhere..…if
there's someone accompanying the driver
in a taxi or an auto-rickshaw
- Keep your hotel room locked while you
are inside. Chain locking your hotel room
door is a smart precaution.
- It's a good idea to avoid eye contact.
If your eyes like to look around and you
cannot resist glancing, put on sun glasses
while out of doors or just carry an interesting
book and glue your vision there.
No place is completely safe. Yet, some are
safer than others. The safest of cities
can be 'unsafe' at a different time of the
day or have 'seedy' places. So, why worry?
Just pick your bags and trip on !
- Don't be reckless. Rely on your senses
and instincts and not so much on the local
Tourist office. Remember they will always
want to play it down.
- Agreed that you want to experience
local culture etc. but never accept invitations
from locals to their homes for a chai
or a meal. Not unless you want to invite
- Carry your passport, travelers cheques,
money, cards etc. in an inner shirt/jeans
pocket. Better still, shove them in a
hidden money belt against your skin. You
can then dance around pickpockets and
yet be safe. The worst thing
to do is to carry them in a zippy bag
hung over the shoulders. You will never
know when someone just slips it
out. The fanny bags or waist packs spell
'money' to pickpockets and make you an
easy prey to swoop on. You cannot
escape their nimble fingers and sharp
- Turn your alarm sensors on when in
crowded places like airports, railways
stations etc. Watch for faces that are
always lurk in a radius of 10 feet.