12 Essential Tips for Foreign Tourists coming to India

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India is hosting the World T20 this March and we want to host you as our esteemed guests. Here is a comprehensive guide for all coming with their teams to the vast, mind boggling yet truly incredible India

Planning your itinerary

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India is truly a melting pot of so many cultures and boasts of equally diverse architecture and spots to visit. In no country will you be able to find the metro-ness of the big cities, the Islamic touch of the Arab world, the parties in Goa can truly get you high in every possible way and there is no better place to find your spirituality a la ‘eat pray love’ than in India’s ashrams and temples. Decide the kind of experience you are looking for and stick to it. It can be quite overwhelming to keep up with pace of India’s spirit so don’t bite more than you can chew and limit your places to see to a handful few.

Activities in India

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The list is exhaustingly long so we will list out a few activities that can engage you. Trekking, white water rafting, mountaineering, yoga and meditation in the Himalayas, sight seeing and enjoying the architectural extravagance of India in Delhi, Jaipur, Ajmer and most Indian cities, visiting temples and caves in Maharashtra, the beaches of Goa and the backwaters of Kerala. We really cannot do justice to the beautiful landscapes and architecture in India with one paragraph.

Travelling to and within India

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There is no visa on arrival in India. You need to apply way in advance (3 weeks is ideal) to give time for processing and postage.

Travelling within India is fairly affordable.You can book trains online on irctc.co.in. Get the app installed on your phone before you head to India. It is probably one of the most frustrating apps out there but you got no option but to make do with it.

Autos are ubiquitous in India but sadly when they see a white guy and their rates soar high. Insist on the meter rate and better still book yourself a cab on your phone. Download the cab booking apps namely ola and uber (yes we have uber in India..hurrah!) and you can find a cab easily. But try not to get too happy as the cab availability is limited to big metropolitans and scarce in remote areas and small towns.

Accommodation

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In India your budget for accommodation can be the most flexible ever. You could rent rooms at dirt cheap rates in youth hostels and pg accommodation or opt for slightly pricier budget hotels. OYO rooms is branded network of hotels which aims at standardizing budget hotels in India with hygiene standards, WiFi and other amenities. So for some assurance of quality you can look out for that OYO logo.

Dharmasthalas and ashrams are also an option for those seeking spirituality in India.

On the other end of the spectrum you will be able to find five star chain of hotels in most major cities. If planning to stay in one then you can book online on via.com or hotels.com or goibibo.com. There are numerous websites so check rates on a couple and read reviews and book in advance to get better rates.

Another option that can sweep you into the eras of Maharajas and offer a window into the cultural past is a heritage hotel. It is a palatial residence of a ruler which has been transformed into a hotel. You can google up and book your stay in advance. Cost can be comparable to five star hotel accommodation and these are ideal for honeymooners and for a luxurious vacation.

Food and water

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There is no better party-pooper to your India tour than a bad case of the runs. So carry a good stash of probiotics to keep your gut bacteria healthy and happy and also sachets of oral re-hydration salts.

Chose your eateries carefully. If you get a bad feeling about the food served, then stay away from that place. Keep a packet of pre-packaged biscuits and snacks handy as they are a safe bet in case of non availability of safe food.

Bottled water is your go to option for safe drinking water. There is another option of a portable sterilizing option called steripen which can be used to sterilize questionable tap water.  You can think of investing in one if you travel frequently to remote areas. It is available on amazon.in but the cost is prohibitively high at around 13,000 INR.

Another tip is to check the seal on the bottled water. If the seal is broken and a plastic cover is used instead then you can bet that the water is tap water in a used bottle. Beware of that.

Climate

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India is a huge country and the variations in climate across the states is even bigger. If you are travelling north to south in one trip then be prepared to remove layers of clothing as you head down south. Keep yourself briefed about the monsoons and do abundant research on the weather forecast of each of your destinations even if travelling within one state. Instead of carrying heavy clothing it is better to dress in layers as climate variations during the day itself are not unheard of.

Culture and Culture shock

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If you are travelling from the west then you might be in for a huge culture shock in India and you may shock many here with your culture. For starters, it is best to wear longer sleeves and longer pants with the exception of maybe the Goan beaches and night clubs. If visiting places of worship it is always better to carry a head scarf and cover your head when you are inside.

Eating with left hand is a taboo. So be extra conscious of that. Also women hugging men and any form of public display of affection between adults is frowned upon so refrain from that.

The toilets can be a huge shock so carry your stash of toilet paper! You should be able to buy toilet paper in the cities but always keep some in your luggage.

Health

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Carry a mosquito repellent lotion. “Odomos” is the brand easily available in most pharmacies in India.

Carry adequate supply of sunscreen along with umbrellas and hats. Umbrellas are not only used to protect ourselves in the rain but also from the harsh sun. Most foreigners are not used to the sweltering temperatures as that of India so protect yourself by sipping lime juice (called nimbu paani) and tender coconut water.

Do not play with stray dogs, cats or monkeys as they could be rabid. In case of a bite rush to the nearest health clinic and get yourself immunised against rabies. You will have to take booster doses on day 3, day 7, day 14 and day 28 after the first shot.

Get your tetanus shot before your travel. Also consult your doctor 2 weeks before your travel to begin your malaria prophylaxis.

Do not walk barefoot in the grass. Leptospirosis spreads by rat urine and the bacteria can enter your body through small insignificant cuts on your feet.

Scams

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If you are a foreigner, then you are a very good target for scams.

If you are in a city for say a week then don’t do your shopping on the first day. Get acquainted with the prices and learn the art of bargaining from other buyers. Usually the shopkeeper will give you a 300% increase in price because you are a foreigner. Keep this in mind and bargain your way down.

Usually shops in one area sell similar merchandise (for eg, shawls or bangles). You can get a rough estimate of the actual selling price by just observing.

If you hate bargaining, the way we do, then go for fixed price shops. Malls and shopping centers have no room for bargaining.

Beware of over friendly auto rickshaw drivers. There is no such thing as free lunch especially not for the white guy. If you ask to be dropped to a particular accommodation and the auto driver says it is not a great place and he will take you to a better place instead, don’t fall for it. They are usually touts from that hotel and get a fixed commission on every guest they bring in and are definitely over charging you.

Keep loose change on you at railway stations and the streets as you are bound to be ambushed by beggars. We advise refraining from giving them money as it is a thriving business in India and promotes child trafficking. But if you feel generous then don’t flaunt all your cash and fish out some change.

Safety

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Invest in a pouch that can be worn beneath your clothes. Carry your money in that. The pickpockets in India can do a notoriously neat job.

Do not carry original documents while moving about. Carry a photocopy of the original and keep your driver’s license as you identification card.

Buy a chain lock and key before boarding for a train journey. You can fasten your luggage under the seat for ensuring safety while sleeping or visiting the toilet.

Do not accept food from strangers on the train. It could contain sedating agents and they could rob you later. But more often than not they are just a bunch of friendly Indians. Nevertheless decline saying you have a stomach upset or some other excuse. Err on the safer side but don’t offend them for their hospitality.

Do not look lost or unfamiliar with the country even if you are. It will make you an easy target for frauds. Be assertive with them and ward off one by not paying attention.

Everyone and especially women should avoid walking out alone in the dark.

Money and foreign exchange

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ATMs function 24/7 in India. It is better to withdraw cash during the daytime rather than after dark. Click here to read more on ATM withdrawals on your trip.

Like in any place, a foreigner is the best target for swindlers and frauds. Always get your currency exchanged by a centrally authorized money changer. If someone is touting for a dealer and all praise for the rates just remember that if the deal is too good to be true then it probably isn’t. There is no way you can differentiate a shady dealer from an authorized one. But Fxkart.com lists only authorized money changers and gets you the most competitive rates by an online dynamic bidding system where the dealers bid online for your deal and get the rates down.

You could download the Fxkart app or log onto the mobile site and get your rupees at the most competitive market rates. The currency can be delivered to your hotel. Click here to read more about handling foreign exchange.

Banks and post offices are open from Monday to Friday. There are many bank holidays in India. You can check online before heading to the bank.

A little free advice

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You will be bewildered and frustrated to find that your charger does not connect in most of the power sockets in India. Most big hotels do provide one to their guests but best is to come prepared with one. You can buy a three pin adapter online for less than 200 INR.

If you are planning to be out on tours and visiting places all day long invest in a power bank. Buy one back at home (it will be cheaper there) or you can get one online in India easily. Read reviews before buying. Mostly if the price is too good to be true then the product is definitely a fake.

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Whatever said and done, India is a safe place and the guidelines here are just to help you stay safe and vigilant. There is a saying in Hindi “Atithi Devo Bhava” which loosely translates to “the guest is equivalent God”. Yes our guests are treated like God and our cricket is our religion. Have a great stay and a hollering cricket season!