15 Clever Tips You Should Know Before Traveling to India

Incredible India amuses and confuses travellers at the same time with its diversity. Here are 15 Tips for travelling to India by someone who has been living and travelling here since the 1990s.

Index

  1. Currency and Card transactions.
  2. Card payment
  3. Cost of living for Tourists
  4. Getting Indian Tourist Visa.
  5. Network and Wifi
  6. Type of Power sockets
  7. Public Hygiene and Toilets
  8. Roads and Public Transport
  9. APPS to be downloaded
  10. Food and Beverages
  11. Alcohol and Smoking
  12. People and Language
  13. Safety & Scam
  14. Typical Indian things to keep in Mind
  15. Tipping Culture.
  16. What to see in India and when

Indian Currency

Amazing view of hotel terrace

Not all-star hotels provide service of currency exchange for Indian Rupees- Pic above is from one of the finest heritage hotels of India.

YOU CAN NOT USE OTHER CURRENCIES FOR LOCAL TRANSACTIONS. Currencies like Iranian Rials, Turkish Lira, and Egyptian pounds can’t be exchanged. Use reliable sources to check if your country’s currency can be exchanged for INR or not. DON’T EXCHANGE the CURRENCY AT BLACK MARKETS.

Get more minor currencies like 10 and 5. These coins come in handy for streetside shops. Don’t exchange /carry for too much cash because Card & Digital Payment in India have grown drastically.

Sikh man in turban making Kheer in Amritsar India

An Amritsari kheer in the Progress- Street-side vendors to Star hotels, 90% of Indians use Digital wallets for Payment.

Except for American Express cards, all other cards work fine in city limits. It is common among Indians to use mobile wallets like GooglePay and PayTM even in rural areas. It is nearly impossible for foreigners to use these digital wallet platforms with their non-Indian bank accounts. ATMs are plenty everywhere in cities and smaller towns. Draw enough cash before going to mountain and rural areas.

Is India cheap to visit?

Rolling hills of Shimla dotted with cyan and pink roof of houses

Couchsurfing & Hostels aren’t a big hit yet in India. Smaller homestays are cheaper & safer.

As a mid-range traveller, if you stick to 3* or similar hotels, use public transportation, eat at a local hygienic place for three meals a day and buy bottled water – it may cost you up to 2000INR/person/day. The countryside and towns will work out much cheaper than the big cities. The biggest shock for foreign travellers in India is – Entrance fees to the monuments, which are 8 to 10 times more than what Indians pay! Keep this in mind while budgeting.

How do I get an Indian tourist visa?

Places like Lakshadweep require special permission even after you have a valid Visa – But trust me, it is worth it!

India is one of the global leaders in the tech industry. But I am sorry to tell you that any government websites work at a turtle’s pace. So many foreigners complain about the prolonged and slow procedure of getting a Visa directly from the Indian MFA Website. (We have heard it enough and we know you are right). So to ease your pain, we recommend you get your India Tourist Visa by iVisa. I don’t recommend it unless we use the service personally and be happy with it ( we got our health declaration travel documents without the hassle from them). So this is a genuine company that gets your Indian Visa – Of course, who can understand your pain better than a man who started a company to help travellers get Visas after he went through a draining visa application process to visit India!

Network and Wifi in India

Mobile network tower in the HImalayas

In Jammu and Kashmir outside the state Prepaid connections don’t work.

The cellular network is decent in most cities and bearable in rural areas. Airtel provides the best coverage of all the other service providers. Internet speed in mountains and suburban areas is weak.

Public Wi-Fi: There is no free public Wi-Fi in most airports, railway stations and bus stations. Hotels and BnBs may provide you with Wi-Fi, but it is poor most of the time. Stick to your Mobile data and download offline maps in prior.

Type of Power sockets in India

We use C, D and M sockets. The slot holes and pins are circular. The power cuts are common in remote villages and less in cities. So bring power banks and extension cords so that you charge multiple things at one go.

Is India clean now?

Brij Rama luxury hotel facade with traditional Indian architectural style by the side of river Ganga in Varanasi

Varanasi was notorious for polluted rivers and filthy streets – I have been there three times at different times. The changes are positively drastic. You don’t see dead bodies floating on the HOLY RIVER GANGA ANYMORE.

My nation isn’t clean. Littering, and men urinating in public are some of the biggest problems we are fighting still- It may take a decade or more to have a clean India, but it is better than what the media has shown you. It is not just what you see in Slum Dog Millionaire.

Most tourist interest places are maintained well & garbage free. North-East states are the cleanest of all. South Indian states are cleaner than the North & West. Around ten beaches in India are awarded the Blue flag

Indian women in saree riding bicyles in Chettinad

What are the toilets like in India?

Squat toilets were common in ancient India. Now, most places have shifted to EWC. We use a Jet spray/ or water in a bucket to wash, and you won’t find tissue papers in Public toilets. Most cafe/restaurant toilets are good enough to use. Avoid using Transport hub toilets.

Old style Indian toilet made of stone

1600 AD’s Indian Toilet at Padmanabhapuram Palace

Are Indian roads good?

Rocks carved to make road b the beautiful green rolling hills on the other side in India

The road to Badrinath is as enchanting as the temple.

We are one of those 73 countries that drive on the left lane like in England. The connectivity by road/rail is decent, including rural areas, but road conditions aren’t great everywhere. So reaching beautiful mountain areas or a hidden village by the seaside isn’t a big deal when you are ready for a bumpy ride. A 300km journey on a four-lane highway by private car will take 5 to 6hrs and 8hrs by public buses.

Traffic in most cities is chaotic. Countryside drives are blissful with fewer vehicles on the road and a beautiful landscape, so the rugged roads are part of your adventure exploration. Plus, not every city/town obeys traffic signals 100%. So you will find the game “Road Rash” happening in India for real.

Which transport system is best in India?

Indian railways are the cheapest and best way to get around India. Private car/vehicle isn’t necessary for interstate travel as railways are efficient. But having a private vehicle with a driver is suitable for short-distance travel in the cities. India is a developing nation with the second-highest population in the world. Do booking in advance to avoid the “no seat available” situation at the last minute in any mode of public transport.

Train crossing the sea bridge in Rameshwaram

Pamban bridge at Rameshwaram.

Does India have a good railway system?

Indian trains are best for journeys more than 400km. In the last five years, the train’s cleanliness, and punctuality is improved drastically. You can expect 15 to 30 minutes of delay in departing/arrival. There are four main seat categories available, out of which 2S is the cheapest and referred to as “General compartment”, but crowded. 1A is the costliest, with a private cabin that contains 4 or 2 beds. Train kitchen food is trustable. But don’t consume fried snacks that random outside sellers’ food at train stations.

Is travelling by bus in India safe?

As an Indian living here by birth, I use it most of the time. And I am alive. So it is safe. There are government & private bus companies with various options. The cheapest ones are NON AC government buses suitable for less than 4hrs journey. AC Seater and sleeper are suitable for overnight journeys beyond 5hrs. Some reliable private bus companies are-SugamaKPN, VRL, SRS, and Hans Travels. Or collectively, you can check on RedBus.com.

One hut in the middle of a lake surrounded by coconut farm in India

A lonely home in Tamil Nadu. But there was bus connectivity to this area

What are the 5 major airports in India?

There are 30+ International airports and over 100 domestic airports in India. Delhi, Mumbai Chennai and Bangalore are the most important international airports. Avoid Spice Jet for domestic travel as many of us have suffered from their last-minute cancellation and missing luggage.

Can you self drive in India?

Domestic travellers rent cars. But renting a car and bike is not a good idea for foreign travellers. Driving among locals who follow different “unsaid traffic rules” can get stressful Plus, every time, looking for a parking spot on jam-packed roads is a nightmare. If you aren’t ready to use local transport and willing to spend money, hire a car with a driver through certified travel companies.

Giant and artistic Akshardham temple's parking area filled with cars

The usual scenes of Parking slot problem- at Akshardham Delhi.

Is it safe to ride a motorcycle in India?

If you have cruised through the ocean of motorbikes in BangkokVietnam – you can do it in India. Do not hire motorbikes in state capital cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Jaipur, and Kolkatta. Motorbikes are a great mode to explore smaller towns like Jodhpur, Dharmashaala, Varkala, Goa, and Pondicherry. A bike trip to Ladakh is (over) famous among Indians. A few companies rent a bike for a month or two for such expeditions. 

Cycles: North-East Indian states encourage cycling more than the rest of Indian states. If you are fit to cycle uphill, cycling in Sikkim and Arunachal is the best way.

Royal enfield bike parked to an Autorickshaw in Tamil Nadu state of India

Auto rickshaws are soul of India

No matter where you go in India, you are never a “hand wave” away from an autorickshaw. These are similar to Thailand’s Tuk-Tuk but more closed. Auto Rickshaw has younger/elder siblings like – Cycle Rickshaws in Varanasi, hand-pulled Rickshaws in Kolkatta, and Chakda fitted with a motorbike in Gujarath. A few things to keep in mind before you use these are –

  • You can use Ola/ Uber to book autos in many cities.
  • Before getting into “Non-App” autos, ensure zero on the meter. If the driver quotes price instead of turning the meter on, haggle for half price.
  • Don’t take auto-rickshaws to isolated and deserted areas and in the night.

Taxis- Mumbai and Kolkatta ( Kind of India’s capital during British rule) had hand-wave taxis until recently. Now, most taxis are app-based. Ola is spread more widely than Uber.

Must-have apps for travel in India

Homestay made with mudwalls and thatched roof in India's Kalimpong town

We booked Lonely Homestay at Kalimpong via Facebook messenger during the offseason

You don’t need VPN to run social media apps. But you need it to play Pub-G and Tiktok.

  • For room bookings, Use- Booking.comHotels.com, Hostel world. Don’t use Oyo, though they give the cheapest rooms but are infamous for sex scandals. Many rural homestays in rural areas take booking on Facebook.
  • Intercity/interstate bus – Redbus.com
  • Flights booking – Makemytrip 
  • Indian railways booking – IRCTC, Ixigo.
  • Maps- ( downloaded and available offline) – Google Maps. Don’t use Apple maps in India – it has never been accurate whenever we used them.
  • Taxi and Autorickshaw mobile phone app – OlaUber
  • Food reviews – Zomato and Trip Advisor
  • Ordering food and checking restaurant reviews – Zomato, Swiggy, 
  • Online Transactions – Pay pal and other banking apps.
  • The most commonly used messenger –Whatsapp.
  • Music – WynkGaana,

Indian food & beverages

South Indian famous dish Dosa with chutney and butter

My favourite Indian breakfast is Dosa with butter and Chutney.

Are Indian foods tasty?

Around 40% of the Indian population is vegetarian, making it the country with the highest vegetarians.  We take you to the veggie paradise if you wonder what variety we have. Plus, consuming veg food is better for foreigners who aren’t used to spicy food in their homeland. Before Vegan food gained global attention, many dishes of our daily consumption were Vegan without an intention to be. So Vegans will have no problem finding food in India.

Is street food in India hygienic?

Not trying delicious street food in India is a crime. But if you eat in the wrong place, you may get into trouble. Make sure you digest the spice level and choose the street food wisely advised by your hosts.

Banaras man making Samosa

Not all Indian food gives you Diarrhea – Varanasi is the best place to devour some deliciously hygienic street food

Mughlai Biryani to Coastal Karnataka’ska’s Kori Rotti, Indians love chicken. The order of highest consumed meat goes like this – Chicken, Fish, Other Seafood, Mutton / Lamb, Pork. Cow slaughtering for beef is banned in a few states as Hindus worship cows. The food varies from state to state a lot. In a nutshell, stick to each state’s authentic food to have a food bonanza.
We Indians love devouring our food using fingers. You find spoons in most restaurants, but seeing us eating with fingers is a typical scene everywhere.

 man mixing Lassi with rose petals

Lassi and Butter Milk are your best summer refreshments – Pic Above, my mom and dad discussing if they should ask for more rose petals in their Lassi at Vrindavan.

What are the most popular beverages in India?

 Most South Indians are coffee drinkers (Filter Coffee, precisely). And the rest of India loves tea. Both are made by adding milk. So if you need an espresso or black tea at local restaurants, you have to specify while ordering and specify if you want it to be sugarless. Coffee and tea are served after breakfast and for snacks. Post lunch and Post dinner are served with buttermilk or Curds.

Alcohol and Smoking in India

Beer bottle kept on a table by the beachside at Gokarna

Gokarna – Religiously significant and Hipsterly vibrant.

There is no alcohol ban in India except in five states. However, in some of these states, foreign travellers can avail special permission from the government to buy alcohol from designated places. Other than in Goa, street-side beer bars are a rare sight.

You find many cheap liquor shops for affordable prices, and they are stronger. Old Monk Rum is one of India’s cheapest and most loved alcoholic drinks. Amrut Single Malt Whiskey is made in Bangalore with Himalayan Barley and was awarded 3rd best whiskey globally at Glasgow in 2019. This is not available in every bar in India, as it is exported more than for local use.

What is the most popular alcohol in India?

Rice beer of Sikkim in a bamboo shoot as glass

Try local alcohols like Neera, Rice beer(Zutho) in Sikkim served in bamboo shoots, and Mahua from flowers of Madhya Pradesh. Research the constituents before entering the floating stage.

Smoking in public is a punishable offence in India.

So nobody smokes on buses, trains and other public places. Smokers are conscious of their surroundings, and it is ok to ask them to slide away if they smoke in an open area next to you. The pubs, restaurants, and cafes will always have strictly followed two seating zones – smoking and non-smoking.

Indians and their languages.

Gathering of Indians at a public square

Can you observe the diversity in clothing – Buddhist Traditional dresses to usual Trousers and pants – In a street show at Gangtok.

How friendly are people in India?

In general, Indians are smiling, happy, and loud talkers. But we are shy to talk to new people. Especially in rural areas, you need to break the ice first. Once we get comfortable with you, don’t be shocked when we ask, “Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend/Girlfriend? Why no kids yet? Come home for coffee.” The term “Privacy” is dealt with differently than the rest of the world in my nation. 

What religions are allowed in India?

The majority of Indians follow Hindusim (one of the most ancient religions). Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism are the other minor religions.

The British influence is evident when it comes to Christianity.

Do Indians speak Hindi or English?

Though 22 recognised languages are there, India is the 2nd highest number of English speakers next to the USA. So with English, it is easy to manage in every state since signboards are always in English and the regional language. Hindi is not our national language and is used in North India mainly.

Is India good for tourists?

Indian woman travellers standing by the turquoise coloured river side in Sikkim

Ashrith’s sister Akshata & I travelled in Sikkim for 155 days. I hiked in the hills with men, and took taxis with them– It remains one of the most pleasant trips I have ever had in India.

India is not the rape capital of the world.

India ranks 140+ on Global Peace Index. But it isn’t unsafe for tourists like Media exaggerates.

Some expectations are purely from the cultural background, like how travellers dress up. Along with dressing up modestly (yet comfortably), avoid going out at night and on deserted streets in the cities. Take public transport with your guards up. Beware of your belongings like you would do in any nation. Book cars and drivers through reliable agencies only. As a foreign traveller, you get both good & bad attention. There are always good Indians who come to help you.

Bikers on the road to Ladakh by the river side

That’s because the Pakistan border is just straight ahead.

There have been many female solo travellers who loved India and came back for more. Unfortunately, few have had bad experiences too. As an Indian woman who has travelled throughout the nation, I was never threatened or felt unsafe. Ashrith has camped on the isolated beaches of Karnataka and has stayed in tents at the foot of the Himalayas. Though not all areas are safe for camping, with proper research and help from the locals, India is safe for night camping in many places.

Talking on behalf of Pakistan may trigger many Indians. Avoid any kind of political discussion unless you know the other person well.

Indian and Pakistan soldiers saluting each other hoisting their respective flags at Wagah border.

Foreigners aren’t allowed at Indo-China & Indo-Park borders unless they have special permissions.

Common Tourist scams in India

Taj Mahal entrance made with orange sand stone and flock of tourists going inside

Taj Mahal – The tourist and scammers hotspot

Scams are common near tourist spots. Villagers and people living away from tourist spots are friendly and kind. Like any other country, beware of overpriced taxis and broken autorickshaw metres. While shopping, beware of Fake artefacts, faux silks and fake gems. At the religious place, don’t fall for faltoo fortune-telling Babas, a fake fundraiser in the name of the holy lord and gem sellers who say they will cure your illness with a stone.

The locals are friendly but shy to talk to at first. So often, if over-enthusiastic locals approach you, saying they want to have a friendly talk, they are very likely to sell you something or want something from you.

Don’ton’t fall for the lady beggar with a baby (often, she would have borrowed someone else’s baby to beg). You may feel sorry for the street kids. If you give pen/chocolates to one girl, you will be swamped by ten more kids ranting at you for more.

What are important customs in India?

Goddess Rangoli drawn by priests near Udupi, India

Kollam/Rangoli/Chittara – the chalk powder drawings are considered auspicious and sacred. You spot it at many Hindu house gates. Avoid walking on it.

  • Learn to walk barefoot- Religious places and regular households don’t let you wear footwear inside.
  • Get used to rinsing your butts with jet sprays or a mug of water.
  • Respect ceratin basic traditions – removing footwear while entering the local’s house, using fingers to eat, and not consuming beef or Pork in Hindus and Muslims houses, respectively.
  • PDA is frowned upon in India. Holding hands is fine, but anything beyond that may put you in an awkward situation.
  • In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the draconian Article 377 that criminalised gay sex. So LGBTQ community is safer than before. But homestays and guesthouses aren’t open to this.
  • Many hotels may ask for marriage proof when staying with the opposite gender. 
Indian woman in saree patting a sleeping cow at Mathura

Hindus worship cows. So beef is banned in many states.

Tipping Culture in India.

It isn’t mandatory to keep tips at restaurants. You can keep a small amount if you love the food and service. If the bill is 300, we usually keep 20-30 Rs. The porters at the train station, and bus station expect 5 to 10 Rs extra. Many porters, auto drivers, and taxi drivers try to get sympathy from foreigners with their fake tragic life stories for some extra money. Be firm, don’t display the money in your wallet and say, “no, this is all I can” pay”.

What should visitors to India see and do?

Villages making clay dolls near Madurai

One of the most fascinating villages of India – Velachery, the doll making Village

What is the best time to visit India?

My country is the 7th largest country globally and is divided into six climatic zones. So each zone has “its “best time to visit”. Generally, January to 2nd week to March 2nd week is the best time to visit every climatic zone. What India can offer you is –

India is so diverse and vast that we had to make a few more posts to describe India in detail. So read our posts-50 truths about India & 15 Myths about India.

Got more doubts? Ask us in the comment section below.

Heads up, we are super honest, and we keep it no secret.
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you buy or book something with our links, we’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Think of it as a way of saying thanks for helping you plan better!

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: