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First time India: your questions answered

For first-time visitors, India’s chaotic cities, intoxicating monuments, exasperating traffic and sheer size may seem a little overwhelming – but it needn’t be! Our best tip for preparing for your first trip to India is to just take the plunge, but these handy tips from India Product Manager Glyn Thorneloe – who has visited India nine times – will help you to plan for your upcoming adventure.

When is the best time to visit India?

India is a year-round destination but there are some times of the year that are better for first-time travellers. Much of the country’s climate is tropical, and the summer months can be uncomfortably hot, while the monsoon rains don’t mix well with outdoor sightseeing. Southern India remains warm all year round, while the north is best visited from October to April, though if you’re visiting the north and south in one trip you may need to pack for two different climates. If there’s a particular festival or region you’re interested in then it’s worth asking our Adventure Travel Consultants for advice.

What is the best itinerary for a first-time trip?

First-timers can’t go wrong with the Golden Triangle, which travels around Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and takes in the incredible monuments such as the Taj Mahal and Amber Fort in a week-long trip; it’s the perfect introduction to the country. Those interested in wildlife might like to extend their trip by two days on our Mughal Highlights tour, which also visits Ranthambore National Park where you can search for the elusive tiger.

Which visa will I need?

In the last couple of years it has been possible to obtain an e-visa online before travelling to India, which is normally sufficient for most holidays to India, however there are some exceptions. We have partnered with Travcour, a company which specialise in visa processing. They can tell you exactly what kind of visa you need for your trip and will process all the paperwork correctly so that it is accepted without the hassle of doing it yourself. 

What should I pack?

Our India itineraries are a mix of moderate and full on pace, so you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes as there can be a lot of walking. Pack jumpers and layers for the early mornings when it can get chilly in rural areas, and a scarf or shawl to cover up when visiting religious sites – it’s also wise to pack long, lightweight trousers for this purpose too. We’d also recommend packing antibacterial wipes and hand sanitiser as it’s not always easy to clean up before eating or when handling money, and loo roll which isn’t readily available outside of the cities.

What vaccinations do I need?

A standard spectrum of immunisations is recommended, as well as typhoid, tetanus, polio and Hepatitis A which we would advise for travelling to all remote areas or developing countries. We advise you to speak to your doctor about which specific vaccinations may be appropriate for you.

Will I get ill?

Not necessarily – most travellers will have a straightforward visit, though tummy troubles are the most likely cause of illness. The best ways to avoid getting ill are to only drink bottled water and to use it while brushing your teeth, avoid salads, ice cubes and fruit that you can’t peel yourself, and only eat food that has been boiled or fried fresh. When eating street food, always choose a stall that looks busy and is visited by locals – the best indicator of where is safe (and delicious!) to eat. Many travellers choose to go vegetarian in India, which is no bad thing as a vast number of Indians are vegetarian and the country offers a plentiful choice of meat-free dishes. Your Explore Leader is the best person to advise what and where you can eat.

Will I only be eating curry?

Not at all, Indian cuisine varies across the country and there are a huge number of options. While curries are the most popular dish and are undoubtedly delicious, there are myriad variations in Indian cooking, from hearty stews in the north to savoury thali platters and freshly-caught seafood in the south. Most meals are served with rice or a roti (flatbread) for scooping up the sauce, and side dishes of raita or yogurt are usually available to tame any excessive spice.

Are there any cultural customs I should be aware of?

Indians are naturally inquisitive by nature, and will openly stare and may take photographs of travellers. This isn’t something to worry about and is totally normal – those who speak English are often thrilled for the chance to practice their language skills on a foreigner and may ask seemingly intrusive questions, but this is merely indicative of their polite interest in someone new. If you wish to take photographs of people yourself, it’s good manners to ask for permission before you snap away – but speak to your Explore Leader if you’re unsure, especially if you are visiting a tribal or holy area. Do bear in mind that is may be appropriate to tip, too. India is a crowded country and people are not precious about their personal space, so in busy areas and on transport be prepared to get a little jostled; it’s all part of the fun, just keep your belongings close and secure. India has a relatively modest culture, so be aware of this and respect local customs by covering your arms and legs, particularly at religious sites. At some places of worship, such as Jama Masjid in Delhi, female visitors will be provided with cover ups that they are required to wear, and you will often be asked to remove your shoes or wear protective covers. It’s always polite to remove your shoes before entering someone’s home.

I’m a solo traveller; is it safe?

All of our small group trips are ideal for solo travellers, so you can experience all the sights and sounds of India with a group of likeminded travellers – no partner required, and no compulsory single supplement to pay. While there are risks of travelling anywhere, India is a relatively safe country and there are straightforward ways to avoid any subtle dangers: don’t carry large quantities of cash for example – pickpocketing is a very present problem in cities – and while haggling, stay calm and firm. As a general rule while travelling in unknown places it’s never wise to go out alone after dark, but in India it’s particularly sensible to stay with other members of your group.

Where is the best place to spot wildlife?

Ranthambore National Park is one of India’s most popular wildlife-spotting regions, where you may get to see tigers in the wild. There are many national parks throughout India, many of which we visit on our itineraries. For specific wildlife spotting our Indian Wildlife Adventure is for you, which includes walking and jeep safaris as well as canoeing in Satpura, Kanha, Pench and Tadoba national parks. Alternatively, explore India’s northeast and go in search of the one-horned rhino on our Highlights of Assam and Nagaland trip.

Is India suitable for families?

Absolutely, our Family Taj, Tigers and Palaces trip is one of our bestsellers. India is a fascinating country packed with history, incredible sights and new cultures – what could be more exciting for a family holiday? Indians are very accommodating towards families and love children, who will enjoy making friends with local people and trying new things, like camel safaris, visiting hilltop fortresses and exploring the bustling streets of Delhi.

Our best advice for first-time travellers to India would be to go with the flow; remember that Indian time is relative and that traffic and various other interruptions can mean that getting around takes a lot longer than expected. India is a fantastic culture shock and is huge and bewildering – but with your Explore Leader to illuminate the country’s amazingly varied facets and a group of like-minded fellow travellers to experience it with along the way, you’re sure to return a convert to incredible India.

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