Travelling to India

Travelling to India

I recently travelled to India for work, and before I went I asked for advice, which of course I noted down in a big list, as is my habit.

I’ll be honest, altogether it felt like a big List of Things to Worry About and didn’t exactly relax me, but in the end I had a lovely time and everything was fine. 🙂

For what it’s worth I didn’t get ill. I didn’t eat any meat, ice or salad, I used bottled water to clean my teeth and I took strong probiotic pills twice a day. I can’t prove that any of that made any difference though.

Anyway, here it is.

Headline simple tips

  • Water is the main source of bacteria that could affect your gut (ie Delhi belly – normally diarrhoea, which can be very extreme indeed).
  • Only drink bottled water and check the seal. Some shops / street vendors refill bottles from the tap.
  • Avoid salad (because it’s washed in tap water)
  • Mosquito killer is pretty hard core – you set it off, leave the room for a few minutes, come back and they’re all dead – but if they’re really bothering you, this can be the most effective way of dealing with them in your room.
  • Don’t have ice – it’s made of unfiltered water.
  • You’re advised not to use your left hand to eat food, because this is seen as a filthy habit (left hand is used for the toilet, right hand for eating). But I never remembered this and wasn’t aware of anybody being disgusted by my eating habits.
  • Don’t open your mouth in the shower
  • Get up and walk around on plane, talk to staff, take shoes off
  • Only brush teeth with bottled water
  • Drink coconut juice from street vendors, but check how clean any knives used are, and carry your own straws around.
  • Best water brands: Bisleri, Kinley and Aquafina (in that order)
  • Good fruit drinks: nimbooz, mango frooti
  • Drink chai if cup is clean and water is boiled
  • You can’t take more than 25,000 Rupees into the country with you (a little under £300). Make sure it’s the new denominations as banks won’t accept old.
  • Avoid meat.

Other Simple Tips

  • Taking spare pencils, pens and toiletries to give out goes down well if you want to directly give to children who are begging.
  • Be prepared: the disparity between rich and poor is unlike anything you’ve seen in your life.
  • Wear light linen or cotton or silk clothes, no unnatural fibres.
  • Carry a hand fan (electric or old-fashioned) at all times
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat outside
  • Try and make sure you sleep in an air-conditioned room, at least
  • Take a container of alcohol-based hand cleaner, and use it several times a day.
  • Prepare yourself for lots of bureaucracy. The Indians love bureaucracy, thanks to English colonialism.
  • “Overnight flights suck.”
  • “Indian notes tear really easily so be careful with them in a zipped purse. If they’re even slightly damaged they won’t be accepted and even the bank may not accept them.”
  • Aim to use an ME3 airline – refers to the 3 big middle eastern airlines that clean up on long-haul services by routing everything through their hubs. Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad.

Detailed Tips

  • Useful site: https://www.asherfergusson.com/2012/10/6-tips-for-safe-drinking-water-in-india-a-tourists-perspective/
  • Understand the Indian head nod: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RaBxH_MKQI
    • Summary:
    • Mid brow: “all right.”
    • Low brow: “I agree but I’m not convinced.”
    • High brow: “brilliant! Bring it on!”
    • The faster the nod, the more extreme.
  • “Probiotics are good to take before going to India, they boost up your gut bacteria. I took acidophilus Lactobacillus before I went and only had mild runs once.”
  • Be prepared for the visual and sensual assault. The pollution is hardcore and its a v frenetic place.
  • Avoiding jetlag: “If it’s daytime at your destination, try and stay awake with daylight or at least blue light in your eyes, eating when you would eat when you are there. If it’s night time at destination, don’t eat, close your eyes, try to sleep, but even if you don’t (I rarely do), just limiting the light coming in does wonders.
  • When eating communally with Indian colleagues, eat with your right hand. Most importantly, don’t pass anything or touch anything on a shared plate with your left hand. (I find it easier just to sit on my left hand for the first couple of days!)
  • Surviving long-haul flights:
    • Seatguru.com is your friend – use it to work out which individual seats on each plane are most comfortable
      • “some are in awkward positions, or next to smelly loos or noisy baby basinets, or have media equipment boxes under the seat in front (massive bugbear if you’re tall) or will be constantly bumped by the food carts (big issue if you want to sleep).  The plane nerds have crowdsourced info on every seat for each route so it’s really useful.”
    • Take your own films on iPad (don’t assume you can charge on the plane though – a portable charger is a good idea).  
    • Take your own headphones.  
    • Check in early as you can online and bag the seat you want.  
      • But then also check the checkin screens when you arrive at the airport to see if there’s a seat with an empty next to you.
      • You can change your seat at last minute.  Either at the check in desk, or on the touch screen check ins.
      • A lot of airlines also have apps, which in addition to offering electronic boarding cards, will let you see a live seat map so that right up to the door of the plane you can change seats and hopefully avoid a dreaded middle seat!
  • “If you’re on Etihad you could listen to some of the expertly selected CDs hand picked by perhaps the most dashing audio producer this side of Doha or the AMAZINGLY mixed (if really cheesy) Dance program.“
    • [this from a friend of mine, who actually does this for his job!]
    • (or they also have quite a lot of movies.)
    • But take ipad too in case your screen is broken or their systems crash
  • “I’ve found travelling with a hoodie is a godsend as it can be super cosy, and provides a nice buffer between your head and the window (if you’re leaning against it) and can be pulled down over my eyes for shade and you can tuck your hands into the pockets so that if you fall asleep, they don’t randomly land in your neighbour’s lap.”
  • As a white woman you will unfortunately get hassled a lot. It’s not uncommon to have men pinching your bum as you walk down the street.
    • This never happened to me!
  • No ice in anything ever (my 24 hours on the loo were from a fruit juice from a fancy place – where I forgot the no ice rule).
  • Prepare to have your privilege exposed like never before.
  • Professionally, no-one says no. Even when they should. If you are getting vague answers, don’t assume the best. Don’t assume someone will tell you bad news you need to hear.
    • I found this not to be true.
  • The water thing isn’t because all the water there is dirty. We don’t have the gut flora to cope with their normal bacteria.
    • My Indian colleagues didn’t drink tap water either, so I’m not sure about this one.
  • It’s fine to take immodium if you have the runs: “it’s a common misconception that it stops the movement, and therefore by taking it you are keeping all the nastiness in.”: http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/conditions/digestive-health/a27690/11-common-digestion-myths-debunked/
  • hotels with restaurants are often the best source of Delhi belly, because they have large freezers & when they suffer power cuts (which in some places happens a lot) their food defrosts & refreezes, thus making people sick.
  • Directions – if you ask someone on the street for directions or if you ask someone at a bus terminal where you get the bus you need for XXX they will tell you. It won’t always be right. Indians think it’s ruder to say “I don’t know” then tell you something wrong.
  • If you want to go on day trips out of the city, hire a driver for the day. They’ll stay in the cab while you go sight seeing and it costs @*&^!? all. Like £20 for a day. Just be nice & buy them a drink of fanta if you’re getting one. I imagine if you  hire one from via the hotel it’ll be a lot more than walking down the road to a taxi rank and asking there.
  • If you go sightseeing somewhere like the Taj Mahal (although they may do it more ordered there – but it’s India so unlikely) you’ll be mobbed by tour guides offering you tours. It’s really easy to get pissed off and turn them down cos it can be a bit stressy & also cos it’s easy to be suspicious of everyone and assume they’re all on the make. The tour guides are actually really knowledgeable & know all sorts of stuff you don’t get in the little guide books.
  • “You might also find you get stared at. It bugged the hell out of me until I realised that Indians don’t have a culture of don’t stare. And as soon as I smiled at someone staring they’d smile back. And quite often wave.”
  • “Don’t expect food to come quickly. It might, but don’t expect it. They do work on Indian time. I mean it’s hot, so why rush?”
  • You can buy any prescription drug you want from a pharmacy without a prescription. Pharmacies do also sell knock offs.
  • “Carry small denomination notes to give to beggars”
    • …but some people say, give out pens and pencils instead.
  • “Take bag space for bringing stuff back. you’ll want all the fabrics and knicknacks.  maybe that’s just me.
  • You’ll probably have AC but the best trick I found in the hottest place I stayed was to have a shower in my pajamas & then lie on my bed with the ceiling fan on high. It was only one night but I think I woke up three times stone dry & boiling hot.
  • Apparently men come back thinner and women come back fatter after a trip to India. Men clearly have weak stomachs. Bunch of pussies.
    • LOL
  • You absolutely must do Taj Mahal if you can, ideally get there for sunrise – it’s totally worth the early start!  Nothing prepares you for how beautiful it is IRL, even though you think you’ve seen it a million times.
  • Re jet lag: “it’s always harder going east than west
  • Two weeks of air pollution is fine. If it’s a bit dusty as well you might want to take a light scarf that you can pull up around your mouth and nose. Also faces masks do @*&^!? all for pollution they really just stop dirt particles getting in, which you cough up anyway eventually.
    • Not sure that’s actually true, I’ve seen some articles suggesting face masks really do make a difference… but also others that suggest they make very little difference.
  • I was a bit “meh” before I went to India. But when I got there, I was “f*cking hell, wow !” It’s just a mad, crazy place. Every day there, you witness things that are so massively different to life in the UK : the contrasts between opulent wealth and extreme poverty (way bigger than anything I have seen in the UK)……the crazyness of Delhi rush hour white knuckle ride…..the touristy stuff was excellent (I went to Taj Mahal / Agra temple, and also the ginormous Hindu temple on the eastern side of Delhi – which is well worth a visit)….the wildlife, the architecture…..etc etc. Some of the poverty stuff was quite upsetting – seeing leprosy sufferers begging at the traffic lights was a real eye-opener. But when I was there, I was treated incredibly well by my Indian hosts. It’s just a really intense and full-on place. It’s exhausting being there, but exhilarating too.
  • We went to a few places where they make stuff as part of our tour and I loved seeing how the handicrafts are still being practiced such as inlaying wood and marble with precious stones or wood-block printing fabrics or weaving silk for saris. I know it’s a dying art – as it is everywhere in the world – but it’s very satisfying watching a skilled craftsperson at work. And the fabrics! Omg i could have bought it all! Such beautiful cloth with gorgeous patterns and colours.
  • podcasts, hoodie, in-ear buds (which work nicely for noise mitigation with podcast on softly) plus a decent amount of booze and popping 10mg of melatonin – that’s usually me sorted for a longish (i.e. 5+ hours) flight.
  • don’t feel like you have to keep your shoes on (but do wear clean socks, obvs), and do take a walk now and again if you’re uncomfortable.  I often hang out at the back of the airplane and chat to the stewards, particularly on night flights when they don’t have much to do.
  • From an Indian colleague of mine from Delhi: “lots of places to see …
    • Qutub Minar, Jama Masjid and Red Fort are my favourites
    • you can very easily  and cheaply rent a car with a driver for a day
    • Leave early morning though … As early as possible … Otherwise there are too many queues
    • Taj Mahal is best at dawn … It opens at 9 though … So you can plan to be there then …
    • And do get a guide … But only the official ones with a badge … Plus they tell nice stories 😁”
    • “there is a smog these days in Delhi … get a mask if you are bothered by it … Masks are easily available at any medicine shop
    • Office & shops be okay though … It’s all temperature controlled hence sealed”
    • “If they try to put you up in a guest house …  Say no 😝 … They are not good”
    • “u can take uber everywhere because it’s ridiculously cheap.”

 

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