Planning a trip to India can seem like a bigger undertaking than a trip to a more familiar destination, and lots of questions arise. We've addressed some of the bigger issues here. For additional advice, check out the travel forums on www.fodors.com.
Before You Go
Do I need a visa to visit India? How far in advance do I need to apply?
You do need a tourist visa to travel to India. Recently, the entire visa application process was outsourced to Travisa, a private visa processing company that you can access online. Though Travisa claims to process applications in 7-9 business days, allow up to four weeks.
Do I need to get shots before I go to India?
Do discuss inoculations with your doctor as far in advance of your trip as possible. Most travelers to India take a prescription anti-malarial drug (especially if you're visiting in summer, when mosquitoes are at their worst) and get inoculated against hepatitis and typhoid.
Is the climate in India always hot? Do I need to pack any cold-weather clothes?
Although much of India is quite warm year-round, the subcontinent does experience varying climates from one region to another. Northern India, including Delhi and Rajasthan, tends to have a more desertlike climate, with warm, dry days and cool nights, and it can get pretty chilly November through March. Mumbai, Goa, and Kerala have a much more humid and temperate climate throughout the year. In general, during the peak travel season of November to March, it's cooler in the north and comfortable along the coast.
With all religions and religious sites in India, do I need to dress extra conservatively?
Though times and social attitudes are changing, Indian culture is still quite conservative. Deter curious stares and unwanted attention by wearing loose-fitting and comfortable (preferably cotton) clothing that's not too revealing, women especially. That said, Mumbai and Delhi both have a pretty hip nightlife scene, so if you're planning to hit the bars and clubs, bring appropriate clothes.
Will I have problems communicating with others if I only speak English?
Although there are more than 400 languages and dialects spoken in India, English is one of the 22 official languages: it's widely spoken in all the big cities, so communicating with locals, hotel staff, and tour operators should pose no problem. If you're traveling in more rural areas, where the language barrier might be challenging, it can't hurt to keep a Hindi phrase book handy.
What can I do to make sure I'm respectful of local customs?
As warm as Indian hospitality is, spending time in the midst of a different culture is not always easy or comfortable. Being polite and thankful goes a long way; accepting that you might get frustrated with inefficiency or lack of personal space at times will also make for fewer trying moments in the long run—realizing that not much happens in a hurry in India is definitely a step in the right direction.
Should I book all my lodgings beforehand, or will I be able to do so once I'm there?
Although most cities along a traveler's route have ample accommodations, it's always a good idea to make reservations, especially for high-season travel (i.e., November to March). If you book with hotels that have a fair cancellation policy, you can often make alternate plans on arrival and cancel your original ones with a few days' notice.
Will all the food be very spicy and/or vegetarian? Will there be alcohol?
Most chefs and restaurants will happily adjust the spice level in dishes if told beforehand; you can also ask your waiter for nonspicy suggestions. Although a large percentage of the Indian population eats a strictly vegetarian diet, it's more common in the south, and most cities covered in Essential India have a variety of veg and nonveg restaurant options. Most vegetarian-only restaurants will have prominent signage to alert you. Alcohol is served at many hotels, restaurants, and bars, but note that some festivals and holidays are dry days.
Can I drink tap water?
Refrain from drinking all tap water. Stick with bottled water like Bisleri and Aquafina, and check the seal and date; empty water bottles are sometimes refilled with regular water and resold. You might also want to avoid fresh fruits and vegetables that you haven't washed or peeled yourself.
How should I deal with beggars and hawkers that approach me?
Unfortunately, while you might want to help, it's generally best to roll up car windows or walk away from beggars. Sometimes if you offer alms to one, several more quickly ambush you. With aggressive hawkers peddling their wares, walk away, say a firm "No," and avoid eye contact.
Is it safe to bring my valuables (i.e., jewelry) on my trip?
As with any travel, if you're afraid of losing it, we'd suggest you don't bring it—better safe than sorry. If you must bring valuables, keep them with you at all times, and this also applies to your passport and cash. Use basic street smarts by keeping your wallet in your front pocket and being alert.
What's the best way to bargain with vendors?
Compared to the West, bargaining is almost always expected in India, especially with street vendors and at smaller stalls. Once a price has been quoted, start your bargaining at about half of that. Don't be afraid to walk away either; it's not uncommon for a vendor to run down the street after a buyer—but don't waste your time, or the seller's time, if you have absolutely no intention of making a purchase.
Any last-minute advice?
The Fodor's forums are full of travel advice. For India, recommendations run the gamut from packing slip-on shoes because of how often you need to take them off when you visit temples to bringing ear plugs for many reasons, and especially in case your hotel is next to a mosque, street noise, or barking dogs. Ask your own questions, and read about the experiences of other travelers at www.fodors.com/community.
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