Even the most seasoned globetrotters will tell you that India is a land like none other. The land is mystic and beautiful at the same time, which can be quite intimidating for some. If you are from a Western country, the first thing that will strike you is the dense population and of course the pollution and poverty that comes along with it. Do not mistake this to be what India is all about. Beyond this urban cover that greets you as you get out of the airport, there is another India that hides some marvelous monuments, wildlife and cultural diversity. To know why India has always remained a popular destination over the centuries and experience her fully, you need the tips we discuss below. Also, we bring you an insight into other minor issues that you probably did not think of!
We at Vacation India try our best to bring you a comfortable experience throughout!
This is the first question that might bother you. For one, it all depends on the trip you’ve chosen. Your ultimate aim must be to remain light. There might be instances where you need to walk short distance with your luggage. That said, Vacation India ensures that you don’t have to walk beyond 15 to 20 minutes. So, the ideal weight of your bag must be around 10 to 15 kilograms (22 to 30 lb). You can bring along your suitcase but backpacks or rolling bags are ideal. Refrain from getting XXL ones as they will not fit under the beds as you travel on sleeper trains. Also bring along a smaller bag so that you can carry the bare essentials like water, camera, etc., during your sightseeing visits. You don’t really have to bring sleeping bags along as these can be rented in places that are ideal for camping.
Items of Personal Comfort and Safety
For a train journey, take a long wire mesh, which you can use to encase your whole rucksack and lock it to your bed
If you want to meet educated middle-class Indians and also capture the magnificent views of the countryside, then taking a ride on the train is the best way to do so.
India boasts the largest railway network in the world but unfortunately, it’s not the most organized one. Looking at the brighter side, the large network means that it has a reach deep within the heart of India and is among the best ways to explore the country. The fact that India is a highly populous country reflects in its railway stations. Trains are the preferred mode of transportation in the country as they are the cheapest.
The Indian railway system is very active and has over 12617 trains running on the tracks on any given day. Total passengers on the move and traveling on these trains daily is said to be some 23.07 million (2.3 crore) which equates to about 1.8% of India’s total population. There are more than 7000 railway stations in India and the Indian Railway employs approximately 1.55 million people making it the largest employer in the world.
VacationIndia.com endeavors to bring you a comfortable experience on trains!
For this reason we make use of AC First class and AC 2 Tier for overnight journeys. For day journeys, we make use of AC chair car seats.
AC1 (aka. AC First Class) consist of four berths in a couchette with a sliding door that locks. AC2 Tier is one lengthy coach with bunk beds,which all have curtains for privacy; it looks somewhat like in the film “Some Like it Hot.” India’s professional class tend to travel on these and this is an ideal place to be in their company. In addition to the first two tiers , there is also the AC3 Tier which is made up of triple bunks, however, these have no privacy curtains. If you are afraid of being in closed or small spaces or if you are afraid of climbing, then you should look for other options; this tier is not the best place for you.
Toilets: Toilets may be of particular concern to you. While these AC First Class, AC2, AC3 or AC chairs might not sport pristine toilets to Western standards, you’ll still find them manageable. However, toilets in sleeper class (without air-condition) and second class (AC chair car seats without air-condition) are a whole new story. You’re requested to bring your own toilet papers and soap. You will find both Western commodes and squat toilets in the trains.
Food: Not all overnight trains have buffet cars or restaurants; however, most long-distance trains usually have a limited menu for you and you’d be able to order through an attendant would take the orders. You’ll also find vendors selling chai (tea), soda, and packed snacks on train stations.
Safety: Trains in India are considered generally safe, even for lone travelers and women (we use only AC First Class and AC 2 Tier for Longer journeys and AC Chair car for shorter ones). That being said, you should not throw caution to the wind. Secure your luggage with chains and padlocks for your own peace of mind. The chains and padlocks are sold in almost all railway stations. Know your stop and prepare yourself in advance to get off. Keep personal valuables close to you, preferably on you. Beware of distractions; a conman might be working on you.
Vacation India can also book the luxury train journey like Palace on Wheels (journey through Rajasthan), a good choice if you dislike changing hotels each night. The best luxury train trips for South India are the Golden Chariot – Pride of South (Karnataka) and Golden Chariot – Splendours of South (Tamilnadu & Kerala), which visits quieter towns that contain some of the most impressive medieval palace and temple architecture in India: $ 3300 per person for a week, including all meals and excursions (flights extra).
With Vacation India, when you are on a road journey we ensure that you travel in the comfort of modern sedan cars or an air-conditioned minibus. If your group has more than five persons the air-conditioned Tempo Traveler is used. Whereas, if there are up to 4 persons you will be transported in a roomy Toyota Innova. At Vacation India all of our tours are private and you have access to chauffeur driven cars.
Taking a trip on the roads in India will be an adventure that will definitely spike your adrenaline levels. Although most of the major tourist cities in India are well connected with expressways and highways, traveling on the roads between small towns and traveling within the cities is slow. When you drive within the cities, be cautious and move at an average speed of 40-50kph (30mph) because the roads are shared with pedestrians, animals, and huge barrages. The average speed on highways is normally between 80 and 120 kph (50-75 mph)
Traffic Rules: Don’t expect everyone to follow traffic rules and incessant honking is a part of road traffic in the country. Expect that the streets will be helter- skelter and chaotic with beggars including children sometimes, especially at the traffic lights in the cities.
Night Driving: During night driving you’ll be amazed at the number of drivers who simply drive using high beams that blind you. Then, of course, there are those who don’t bother to switch on their headlights.
Travel Time: Expect that even short distances are going to take quite a while. If you’re caught in the monsoon rains, it might take even longer. The secret is to keep calm and find humor in chaos.
Using local Taxis: Rather than going down the street and waving at taxis, have one booked through your hotel. Alternatively, you can use the services of aggregators like Ola, Taxi For Sure or Uber through your smart phone by downloading the app. If you have to take a taxi on the road, go to the nearest taxi stand as only registered ones would be parked there. Keep your belongings by your side and luggage on the seat. If there’s an emergency, simply exit and run; your belongings are replaceable, not you.
If you decide to go down town, it’s a good idea to walk with a card from your hotel to assist the drivers who may be having difficulty understanding English.
On the plus side, at Vacation India you’ll be in the safe hands of an experienced driver who knows the “real” traffic rules of India. You can feel confident with our drivers as they are very cautious, honest and polite. We ensure that they receive training on how to drive with sense and not follow a bad local habit of blowing their horn all the time. The important thing is to enjoy the surroundings as you pass the countryside while not letting the traffic snarls bother you.
In the event that you want to make contact with our local offices or representatives we equip our drivers with mobile phones and they would be delighted to assist you. Unfortunately, you will seldom find drivers in India who have a sound knowledge of the English language and so they cannot have a long conversation in English with you. However, they do have enough knowledge to help you with the basic needs like meals, stops for pictures, shopping or comfort stops. Remember the drivers, guides and representatives perform different roles and are not replacements for each other!
If you wish you can buy local Indian prepaid SIM cards for calling purpose. Calling is very cheap in India! If you want to use an Indian sim card for your mobile phone, you must confirm with your own country’s provider that your phone is unlocked.
When road signage on the outside of the main cities in India can be found they are usually very poor. Furthermore, you will find that there are no road maps for the distant and undeveloped regions. Therefore drivers very often stop and ask for directions to their destinations. Don’t worry this is certainly not because the driver is incompetent or lacks preparation but it is a part of the Indian culture.
When you decide to go on your local excursions and sight-seeing remember that your driver is available to you. If you will require his assistance after your excursion, please make sure you inform him well in advance so he can make himself available. A daily allowance is given to the drivers for accommodation for every night of their trip. Some drivers may choose to stay at lodgings provided by the hotel that you are at, while others may go elsewhere. In that case it may take a little time for the driver to reach the hotel, so inform him well in advance, if you require the car.
At Vacation India, in case you want to visit a place off the itinerary (within the city limits), the driver will never refuse to go or waste time trying to clear the trip with head office. We have well instructed our drivers to re-route the itinerary and adjust the sightseeing timings as per the client’s wishes.
Please Note: Free Extra Kilometer services are not possible at some selected Indian destinations or itineraries. So please consult our travel advisor at the time of confirming the tour with us!
All Vacation India Trips include private transfers to and from Airport & Railway Stations, and the services of a company representative at Airports & Railway Stations at all destinations of India. However, in some cases, travelers book only a part of the services like hotel booking or air ticket instead of booking the complete tour package. For such cases, we have laid down certain tips for the travelers, so that they can arrange the transfers on their own!
You’ll be met by a frenzied crowd of touts and taxi drivers once you get out of the Airport and Railway Stations in India. This can be quite intimidating. Here are a few tips to navigate through this chaotic situation.
Taxi at Airport: Upon landing at the airport, the most convenient way to reach your hotel is by a taxi. Most airports have desks where you can pay in advance for taxis into town and avoid having to bargain. Use the one that’s managed by the Delhi Traffic Police in Delhi or Mumbai Traffic Police in Mumbai as other similar prepaid taxi services might not be legitimate. There are some private taxi counters as well. Once you reveal your destination at the counter, you’ll be asked to pay a fixed amount in advance and be provided with a printed slip. You will give the printed slip to the driver of the designated taxi only once you reach your destination, even if the driver demands it beforehand. If the driver demands more money, stay calm and politely refuse. Of course, you can tip the driver once you reach the destination but that’s entirely up to you. Rupees 20-100 (USD 1-2) would be an ideal tip.
Tip: Many hotels can also arrange transfers and excursions using their own cars.
Taxi at Railway Station: To your utter surprise, you’ll find that the taxi stands at Indian railway stations teem with taxi drivers or tuk tuk drivers who will surround you to take their service. Politely refuse and head straight to the prepaid taxi counter.
Tackling the touts: Touts are everywhere in the airport vicinity, even at hotel reservation counters. They’ll try and get you to book with them at all cost. The tout may even say that your booking is cancelled and you’ll have to rebook. Simply ignore such touts. You don’t even have to strike up a conversation or reply to them.
Book an “Arrival Transfer” through VacationIndia.com: If you’re travelling to India for the first time, it’s highly recommended that you opt for our “arrival transfer services.” You’ll find our representative waiting for you with a placard that has your name and our brand name “VacationIndia.com.” The representative will escort you to the taxi that we would have already booked for you. All you would need to do after your baggage claim is to look for our representative for a pleasant exit out of the airport. For any emergency or late arrival or flight delay you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at our 24×7 Number: +91-99274-65808
Notes in regular circulation are in denominations of Rupees (INR) ₹10, ₹20, ₹50, ₹100, ₹500 & ₹1000. There are 100 Paise in a Rupee and there are coins of Rupees 10, 5 or less, going down to 1 Rupee.
Not every place you visit is going to accept plastic money, although most businesses accept Visa and Master and American Express credit cards. You might find some businesses that charge an extra 2 to 4% for use of credit cards. It’s vital that you carry some cash with you. You will find ATMs all over the country, so it’s not going to be a major issue. However, we recommend that you carry some cash along with travelers check in US dollars. There are several private money exchanges throughout urban areas that will readily accept all major foreign currencies like US dollars, Australian dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros, Pound Sterling, etc. We advice you to check the prevailing exchange rates online before conversion. Currently, one USD equates to roughly rupees 65 (November 1, 2015)
Exchanging travelers checks or currency into Indian Rupees?
Exchanging currency could be a time-consuming job during your India Tour. At Vacation India, we have instructed our guides and drivers to assist our clients in getting the currency exchanged in Indian Rupees (INR). You will be taken to the right place, where you get the best possible exchange rate.
There’s no doubt that Credit Cards are both safe and convenient, especially during your exploration of big Indian cities. All hotels with star ratings of equal and greater than 3, big malls and shopping centers, large restaurants, supermarkets, and even retailers readily accept foreign credit cards. The same is not true when it comes to smaller cities where acceptance of credit cards is fairly low, compelling you to carry some cash at all times.
ATMs conveniently handle this problem, especially when you travel abroad. ATMs are found all over India. Even rural areas have ATMs, although they are fewer in number. In India, there is a limit to the amount that you can withdraw from an ATM in 24 hours. The amount can range anywhere between INR 10,000 and 25,000. A surcharge of 2% to 3% is also charged on each transaction.
Some tips for using ATMs:
Even though we feel that you can tip as an expression of gratitude and appreciation for a job well done and although it is a practice long accepted in India, we also do not want you to feel obligated to do so. We are sure that our drivers, guides and representatives will provide you with the best quality service at all times , for which you may be happy to tip them. However, at Vacation India we do not mandate that tipping for any of our services is compulsory ; the choice is always yours.
If you still find yourself wondering how much to tip, feel free to consult our travel advisor for advice!
India’s cuisine is quite varied and is so according to the particular region. Generally speaking however,fresh wheat breads, rice, vegetables, , aromatic spices and pulses are used throughout the country. In places like Agra, Rajasthan and New Delhi, in the north, you will find heavier, thicker and richer curries, with meat including the popular lamb and chicken. On the other hand, when you venture south in the tropics, tamarind and coconuts can often be found in several dishes and seafood is a favorite.
Vegetarians have very little to worry about when it comes to their meals, as they are very well catered for in India. However, for those who are vegans, they should note that ghee which is clarified butter is used in many dishes. It is also important to understand that upset stomachs may occur as hygiene and standards of food handling here are not in accordance with those in Western countries all the time.
While in India, it is a good idea to eat meals that are freshly done. Truth is that in the towns that are small you really have little choice but to eat at your hotel restaurant with the exception of a few local places to eat. Our drivers and guides will always help you to choose the right restaurant for your meals.
If you love strong beverages, then Indian beer, gin, whiskey and rum are fine. However, we do not recommend that you buy country liquor. Where there is wine available it could be quite expensive in most cases, so before you place your order it’s a good idea to check the price. You will also find that the liquor that is imported into India is very pricey.
The immune system of Indians is considered stronger than the Westerners owing to the environment that they live in. In other words, food that might not make an Indian sick might make someone from the US extremely sick. So, exercise caution before consuming street food. Travelers over 70 years of age are mandated to bring along a completed medical form.
Tip: Eat moderately for the first few days. Allow your system to get used to the changes!
The attire you wear in India would be primarily guided by the local culture and weather! Generally, the dress code in the hotels in India are not strict; even the ones that are exclusive. They allow you to dress in an elegantly casual manner in the restaurants.
For your comfort we recommend that you put on cottons that are light and relaxing and of course a good pair of airy comfortable walking shoes. Enclosed shoes are better because the sandals tend to make your feet dusty and can cause the pebbles on the streets to irritate your skin. Don’t forget your cotton socks, a pair of sunglasses and a shady hat for sight-seeing.
Take note that when you are visiting some of the attractions like temples, mosques and monuments you should try to avoid wearing tops without sleeves and skirts that are short. In some instances you may also be asked to take your shoes off; in such cases airline socks come in handy because by afternoon the stony edges of some of the monuments can be extremely hot.
In Northern India, including Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan, you will find that at night and early in the morning the temperatures are pretty low, particularly throughout the months of November through February . It can reach as low as freezing point, therefore make sure that you have the appropriate clothing to keep you warm. We recommend you to carry a pair of woolen gloves, jackets and sweaters. Thermal wear is most comfortable. If your travel includes arid places, coastal areas like Mumbai and Goa including all destinations in South India we recommend light cotton cloths. Warm clothes are not required on your travel to South India at any time of the year.
There are not many heritage hotels in the middle-range or forest lodges that have central heating, so travel with some sleeping clothes that would keep you comfortable and warm. Wearing slippers indoors is advised as the floors may not be carpeted, although heaters are provided in most of the budget hotels also.
In mid-winter it is usually snowy in the majority of the hill stations including Shimla, Mussoorie, Darjeeling and Manali and the hills are quite cold.
When you are visiting the wildlife parks you may have to dress in different layers of clothing. In the early morning it can be very very cold on the game drives in the open back vehicles, so you will need your mittens, mufflers and different layers of clothing. However, as the day opens up you can adjust the clothing to suit.
The type of shoes you wear in India is very important. We recommend those that are sturdy and comfortable, given the fact that most of the time the ground is dusty, dirty, rocky, and rugged. This kind of terrain puts a lot of pressure on your feet and shoes, sometimes causing the footwear to fall apart. I am sure that your feet will thank you. In some instances flat sandals are preferred because they give your feet good ventilation in the hot and humid country of India.
Dress according to Indian Sensibilities: Urban areas or cities like Delhi and Mumbai are less conservative; however, you’ll find yourself comfortable avoiding low-cut shorts, mini skirts, ripped cloths, and tank tops. Ideal attire for women would be loose, non-revealing cloths. You could opt for salwar kameez, which is a combination of trouser and tunic top in Indian style. If you still choose to go with revealing clothing, know that you will not be allowed inside sacred places, which are often centuries old. In essence, you’d be missing a great visual treat and a spiritual experience.
Your government would have already issued some health and safety guidelines.
We hope that you have followed the recommended health precautions, which include having relevant vaccinations and prophylactics for malaria (if required). We bring you certain tips and suggestion in conjunction to those.
Meds: Ensure that you are up to date with your immunizations and health checkup. It’s advised that you carry a first-aid kit. If you are on any regular medication, please bring it along as sometimes we travel deep into the heart of India where medical facilities are not as accessible as they are in urban areas. The pharmacies in India may not sell the same brand of medicines that are sold in the West. Therefore bring the medicine formula and your doctor’s prescription along. In case of any emergency, doctor’s services are available at most of the tourist destinations in India. Vacation India provides full support to our travelers in case of any emergency.
Choice of trip: Be cautious when choosing a trip. Look at the itinerary closely as the trip may contain activities that might not suit you. Also, check out the physical and cultural shock ratings before you embark on any trip. It’s our aim that you remain comfortable at all times.
Insist on bottled water and check the max retail price on the bottle. If there’s a demand for excess price, move on to the next store. Completely refrain from drinking water from taps, wells, or glasses served in hotels. The only places that you can drink water from a glass are 5-star hotels. Famous brands in India are Himalaya (most expensive), Aquafina (Pepsi), Kinley (Coca Cola), Water Pure by Tata, Bailey and Bisleri (trusted Indian brands). Don’t buy the brands other than mentioned here. Completely avoid using ice.
At Vacation India, we provide packaged drinking water bottles in the car for our clients at absolutely no charge!
There is a fee for carrying cameras into monuments and wildlife parks. Video cameras have a higher fee. This is not included in your tour price and you have to pay directly at the point of entry. Our guides will facilitate the payment. Tripods are not allowed in all the monuments of India managed by the Archaeological Survey of India. But in some cases prior permission can be acquired from the local office of Archaeological Survey of India to take along a tripod. In most Hindu, Sikh and Jain Temples, cameras are not allowed at all. Please ask your accompanying guide or driver for more information, while visiting any religious place in India.
The electric voltage in India is 220 volts. Most English electric appliances work well in India but a universal adapter is needed. This can be bought in India and should also be available at the airport you fly from.
While most hotels offer laundry facility for a small extra charge, you might be put up in hotels in some places where this facility is not offered. We urge you to bring along a non-polluting/biodegradable detergent or soap for this purpose.
Please note that modesty even around swimming pools is much appreciated in India. Topless swimming or sun-bathing or very revealing swimwear may cause offense and should be avoided. Please note that due to the cool night time temperatures from November to February, most hotel swimming pools in the north will not be comfortable for swimming.
For those visiting south India and especially the coastal states of Goa and Kerala, many beach areas do offer swimming opportunities. However please be very careful about local swimming conditions as most beaches are not properly patrolled and undertows, rips or other dangerous currents may exist.
We urge all travelers to take their respective government advice seriously. The governments all over the world maintain updated information on their websites.
Valuables: Typically, your valuable items would include cash, debit/credit cards, travelers checks, passport, and airline tickets. We advise you to hold them in a neck or waist purse safely. Jewellery is best left behind to avoid the burden of guarding additional valuables. Any valuable that you may have can be safely deposited in the hotel as most hotels offer safety deposit boxes.
Personal time and exploration: You will have times for yourself during the trip, which you can use for personal exploration of the locale or simply relax. Cities in your itinerary are considered generally safe both during day and night. However, to veer towards caution, we suggest moving in groups and making use of taxis for moving around. Avoid roaming at nights!
Adventure: Adventure activities (like Elephant ride, Camel ride, Tuk Tuk ride, Jeep Safaris in National Parks…) may be a part of your package. We urge you to exercise prudence during these activities and remain safe by adhering to the instructions provided by the experts who will guide you through them. At Vacation India, we make prudent efforts at keeping you safe at all times.
Water Sports and Boat rides and Boat Safaris: Be attentive to the safety briefings, so that you’re prepared for an emergency. If the briefing says “wear your safety jacket” do so. It’s wise to keep one hand free so that you can hold on to something. Know that water is highly reflective of the sun above, so apply copious amounts of sun protection. If you are a person who gets seasick, have meds handy.
Your Documents: Backup all the vital documents (Passports and Visas) with photocopies and have a scanned copy emailed to yourself. Having a backup makes it easy to get a replacement for your documents through your embassy in case you lose them.
Contact with Embassy: Make your travel plans known to your embassy. In case, you fall ill or meet with any untoward incident, your country’s embassy can easily track you and help you out.
Insurance: Prepare yourself financially for any eventuality with travel insurance. If you’re only comfortable with medical care in your country, ensure that you get an additional cover for air ambulance. Remember, every eventuality starts with “I never expected…” So prepare for the unforeseen circumstances.
In-flight briefing is perhaps the most ignore safety aspect of a flight and we urge our travelers to pay attention. You need to know how to exit quickly and safely during an untoward incident. During emergency, the visibility and lighting might not be optimal; so, it’s wise to count the number of rows to the emergency exit.
Consuming too much alcohol is never a good idea. For one, it takes away the joy of sightseeing in the early morning hours. Also, since the cabins are pressurized, the alcohol might act stronger than usual. Lend a listening ear to the flight attendants and fasten your seat-belt to keep yourself safe.
Hotels are, in general, considered safe in India. The hotels usually maintain high standards of hygiene and offer excellent service. Here are a few tips that will make you feel more secure.