India for First-Timers – What You Need to Know

India For First-Timers

Let me start by saying India is a lot. And let me also say that this is the first developing country I’ve visited. Why I decided to go balls to the wall and jump from European vacations to India, I don’t know. I think it had to do with the price. I love a cheap destination.

From Europe to India, why?

I went to India with one of my favorite travel buddies, Brenton. Brenton and I went to college together, we spent many a nights lounging on the couch, eating crap food, and creating drinking games to the then popular True Blood. I don’t remember how the conversation went and who officially mentioned India (however, I think it was Brenton) but somehow we decided we wanted an exotic vacation that not many of our friends had been on. Well we got that and more.

For this trip we went through an Indian tour agency. Not my usual style but we didn’t have a clue as to how to plan for India. The agency asked us our budget, where we wanted to go, and how long we wanted to stay. They put together a two week trip from Delhi into the Rajahastan and over to Varanasi, it included our hotels and transportation.

*I want to let you all know I visited India in 2011, I feel like a lot has changed in terms of information available to plan your own trip. If I were to go back today I’d plan it myself.

It’s time…time to head to India!

Flight Map to India

We landed in Delhi late in the evening, found our driver Vijay waiting for us outside of the airport and were off…

Things to Note About India

On Driving

Holy Moly!  Mass chaos or organized chaos? In what should have been a three lane highway has been made into six lanes. No, not by paint…the paint clearly shows there are three lanes. The lane lines are just reference points. Speed limits, ha, who needs those? Maximum number of passengers per vehicle? Nah, the more the merrier! I saw several mopeds where the husband was driving, the wife was sitting side saddle with a baby in her arms, and two kids were hanging off the back. On a MOPED!

India Road Sites
Just a few of the things you will see while driving in India

There are cars, trucks, motorcycles, tuk tuks, bicycles, wagons, people riding on horseback, on camels, on elephants, people walking, donkeys, oxen pulled wagons, and cows all on the same road. Honking horns galore. Then wait until you get to an intersection. Traffic lights? Ha. Oh, they have them at some intersections but from what I observed they are a mere suggestion. Drivers weave in and out of traffic. I felt as though I would die at any minute. Yep, this right turn will be my last. Brenton and I would grab each other’s hand every once in a while and squeeze our eyes shut tight waiting to feel the impact of an accident. But you know what? It works. Somehow in the all of the disorder and pandemonium people are still smiling and carrying on with their day.

Camel next to car in India
Oh hi! Just a camel walking next to our car in India

On beggars, street vendors, and shop owners

My Grandfather’s Grandfather – A common phase that I learned to associate with “I am now going to try to sell you something”.

It felt like everywhere we went in India someone wanted to sell us something made by their family. “My grandfather’s grandfather made this rug”, “my grandfather’s grandfather chiseled this gem”, “my grandfather’s grandfather made this chicken sandwich”. I am sure some of their grandfather’s grandfathers did make whatever it was they were trying to sell, but your buddy down the street also tried to sell me something made by his grandfather’s grandfather and it looked very much like what you are trying to sell me here.

Marble Sculptures in India
One of the many shops our driver took us to while in India

Tip: Haggle away. It is expected in Indian culture. I suck at haggling so I made Brenton buy all of my goodies.

Beggars are everywhere and they will not hesitate to touch you. No they won’t touch your man or lady parts but they will grab your arm or tug on your shirt. I do not like being touched, hugs are hard for me and often forced. Yep, that hug I gave you…it was cringe worthy (doesn’t mean I don’t love you, I’m just not a touchy feely kind of gal). For me the touching was very overwhelming. It is up to you whether you want to give your money to the beggars.

On the Heat

Holy balls is it hot! Or maybe we just picked a hot time of year (June). I was a sweaty mess from sun up to sun down. I couldn’t wait to jump in the cold shower upon returning to our room each day. Wear light colored clothing.

Note: I said light colored not light clothing as in no clothing. Be respectful of the culture and don’t dress like a hoochie.

Keep hydrated. Always check your bottles of water to make sure they are completely sealed before diving in and taking a swig. Brenton had a lovely experience with a bottle of water that wasn’t sealed when he bought it (more on that to come in a different post).

Brenton's Hacked Water in India
Brenton’s water was hacked!

On the culture

Most everyone we encountered was grateful to help us. I found that in general the Indian people can be persistent but always friendly. As we entered shops we were given chai tea to sip while we browsed (hence my love of chai chai). Many of the historical sites were filled with “unofficial” tour guides willing to walk you around and give you a personal tour, of course they are expecting a tip. I’d suggest you talk price before agreeing to anything. Brenton and I were at a temple and a group of women started dancing and singing in a circle around him. Everyone was having a fabulous time celebrating (what they were singing for? I don’t know…but it was enjoyable and completely awkward for Brenton, so clearly I loved it). There was a moment when we lost our driver in Jaipur and a few men who I believe were in the Indian military gladly took us in the back of their truck and drove us around until we found him. Well, I think they were part of the military if not we totally got in the back of a truck with several machine gun wielding men.

Elephant Rides in India

Overall Thoughts

There was a time after getting back from India where I said I never wanted to go back. I think the culture shock of something so different got to me; the traffic was overwhelming, the slums were heartbreaking, the mountains of trash was unbelievable. But then I think about the beauty of the country; the colors, the scents, the smiles. That’s what I love about travel – you never know what you are going to get, and that’s how I like it. You get the bad with the good. India made me more patient and open to cultures I don’t yet understand.

Varanasi, India
Boats floating on the Ganges in Varanasi

Would I go back? Of course I would.

4 thoughts on “India for First-Timers – What You Need to Know”

  1. Interesting post. I have been to India twice and I would say its more suited to experienced travelers. Firstly, because it is often very overwhelming and can quickly tire out the novice and even exoerienced traveler. Secondly, once you have been to India, everywhere else seems “tame” in comparison.

    I would refer to it as a “developing country” more than a “third world country”.. There is a lot written out there about changing the terminology.

    Interesting post.


  2. Great post. We’re going in feb for 28 days, can’t wait. We went to Sri Lanka last year which I’m sure was a little introduction to chaos. Thanks for the tips

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