If you want an eye-opening, life changing experience, travel to India. India is bamboozling, exotic, colorful, frustrating, beautiful, and never, ever boring. On a visit here, expect to see gorgeous places and heartbreaking poverty all in the same day. This is a country where you can climb high into the tallest mountains in the world, relax on tropical beaches, gaze up at one of the Wonders of the World, and dine on flavorful, spicy food. In small doses, at least for first timers, India has a lot to offer. Coming here is a trip of a lifetime.
Things to Know
The official languages are Hindi and English, which are widely spoken throughout India. However, there are 22 major languages in India.
230 V 50 Hz, Europlug (Type C, D and M)
Indian Rupee, INR. $1 USD rougly equals 67 INR (as of February 2017).
India has recently started granting e-Visas, electronic visas, to residents of 150 countries. This visa allows a maximum of 30 days stay in India. The e-Visa must be applied for and approved before traveling to India. For more information, click this link.
First Time in India? Keep Your Visit Short
India is a rewarding destination, but it is so very challenging. Depending on where you visit, India can be chaotic, dirty, sometimes smelly, and in some areas the poverty can be overwhelming. We spent five weeks here, which was two weeks two long for us. For a first time visit to India, we would recommend a visit no longer than two to three weeks. This is just enough time to see a few of the main sights without being overwhelmed by some of the negative aspects of India.
Two places we did not visit, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh, were recommended to us by locals after our visit to India. According to their input, these areas are better starting points for touring India than places like Delhi, Varanasi, or Mumbai.
Do Not Drink the Tap Water
To avoid getting sick while in India, avoid drinking tap water or any food washed in tap water. This can include the herbs that are sprinkled on top of a dish just before it is served. We always scraped this off, receiving strange stares from the locals, but we also never got any kind of food-bourne illness while in India.
Know How to Use a Squat Potty
Does this sound like silly advice? Well, if you are traveling to India, you will eventually make a close encounter with a squat potty.
Beware of Scams
No one does this better than India. The man who wants to give you a free tour of the temple you are visiting will expect a tip at the end. The man warning you about riots and unrest in the direction you are heading is trying to lure you to the market where his family owns a shop. The people here are brilliant when trying to get a few rupees from you.
Malaria in India
It is possible to get malaria in most areas of India (unless you are above 2,000 meters: Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Jammu, and Kashmir). Taking anti-malarial prophylaxis is strongly recommended. The CDC recommends taking atovaquone-proguanil, doxycycline, or mefloquine while in India.
Dengue Fever is on the Rise in India
Dengue is now endemic in India. The peak season for dengue is just after the monsoon, between August and October, although you can get Dengue Fever between May through November. Dengue presents as a biphasic fever with headache and muscle aches. It can be fatal in some instances.
Julie got Dengue Fever during an outbreak in Mumbai at the end of October. Her symptoms were self-limited, lasting about one week, although it took several weeks to completely recover.
Currently, the only way to avoid getting dengue is to avoid being bitten by the mosquito Aedes aegypti, which means you should use insect spray containing DEET at all times. A vaccine for dengue is being tested in three countries.
Recommended Vaccines for India
All travelers should have these routine vaccines up-to-date before traveling to India: MMR, DPT, varicella, polio, and the flu shot. Hepatitis A and typhoid are strongly recommended by the CDC, as these can help prevent food-bourne illness. Also recommended are Hepatitis B, rabies, and Japanese Encephalitis. There is no risk of Yellow Fever in India.
The Taj Mahal. A Wonder of the World and considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, the Taj Mahal is already on most visitors must-see lists. It’s best to spend a full day in Agra, giving you the chance to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise and sunset for the best experience.
Varanasi. Varanasi in India’s holiest city. Hire a boat at sunrise to watch the people pray and make their ablutions in the sacred water of the Ganges River. This is one of India’s most culturally rich sites. Varanasi can be overwhelming but there’s no better place to absorb the culture of India.
Himachal Pradesh. This is a state in northwestern India. Tour the hill stations, go trekking in the Himalayas, and visit Buddhist monasteries.
Celebrate Diwali. Diwali is a Hindu festival that occurs every autumn. This is one of the most important Hindu festivals and it lasts 5 days. The country is in a very festive mood, businesses shut down, and fireworks are launched every night well past the 5th day of Diwali. It’s a very fun time to be in India.
Go on a tiger safari. Go on safari in India, searching for the elusive tiger. There are several national parks where you can spot a tiger, if you’re lucky. Taking a tour gives you the best chance of seeing tigers.
Udaipur. Udaipur is one of the prettiest, cleanest cities in India and a popular place for tourists. James Bond fans will love this city. It was used as a filming location for the movie “Octopussy.”
The backwaters of Kerala. The Kerala backwaters are a series of lagoons in southern India. The most popular thing to do here is to rent a houseboat and cruise through the canals.
The Pink City of Jaipur. Famous for its pink buildings, people travel here to tour the forts, the Palace of the Wind, and to get up close with Indian elephants.
Amritsar. This is the place to see the Golden Temple, a beautiful temple that is a place of pilgrimage for many Indians.
Hampi. Hampi was once the capital of a 14th century civilization. Now it’s a place to walk among the ruins and explore an amazing landscape with giant boulders as far as the eye can see.
Go on a Camel Safari. Journey on a 2 or 3 day (or longer) excursion into the desert on a camel. Sleep under the stars and go on an adventure of a lifetime.
Andaman Islands. The Andaman Islands are located in the Bay of Bengal, closer to Myanmar than India. They resemble the tropical islands and beaches of Thailand and are a very popular place to go scuba diving.
Mumbai. Once known as Bombay, Mumbai is the capital city of the state Maharashtra. It is home to Bollywood, India’s largest slum population, and India’s largest collection of millionaires and billionaires.
Puducherry. Once known as Pondicherry, this small town in southern India is popular for its French influences.
Ladakh. Ladakh is a remote destination in India, located in the far northwestern corner of the country. While you are here, it may feel like you are in Tibet rather than India.
New Delhi. This is the capital city of India. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, along with Varanasi and Jerusalem. Tour old forts and monuments, walk the chaotic streets of Chandni Chowk, and go shopping in Hauz Khas Village.
Goa. Why go to Goa? It’s home to some of India’s best beaches. And it’s more laid back and peaceful than many of India’s northern destinations.
Darjeeling. Darjeeling was a popular hill station during British rule. It is located in the mountains between Nepal and Bhutan. Some of the world’s best tea is grown here and you can tour the tea estates. This is a place to escape from the heat of India and view the Himalayas to the north.