Jungle Book, an animated movie based on the stories of Rudyard Kipling, the Taj Majal, and Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi are all Indian icons renowned throughout the world. These reminders from the diverse realms of literature, architecture/history, and human rights are just a tiny part of what any observant visitor to India will discover. In order to experience Indian in comfort, safety, and good health, follow these hints for happier travels.
1. Eat the yogurt
Instead of trying to maintain your gastro-intestinal rhythms with medications or brand name yogurts, search out the Indian equivalent of “homemade”. It is sold in little crockery containers about 3.5 inches high, throw away the container when you are finished. The cost is minimal, perhaps fifty cents. The benefits are dramatic. In hot climates, people tend not to eat enough protein because eggs and meat can seem a bit heavy and dicey in terms of microbes. Indian yogurt is creamy, pure, and tasty, though not generally sweet enough for a Western palate. Add honey if you must.
2. Hydration – Humidity is the traveler’s enemy, especially when it is combined with heat. The day a friend and I visited Agra and the Taj Majal, the 11am temperature was 104 F and the humidity was well over 50%. Those realities scream for “WATER!”. In normal circumstances, humans should have 8 glasses of water per day. In India, that doubles. Do not go anywhere without a bottle of water, however much you may resent the extra load. This travelers’ necessity is available everywhere, particularly near tourists sites and monuments, though you have to make sure that the bottle is factory filled, not just refilled from a tap by an enterprising vendor. Check the corrugated seal on the lid to be sure it is intact. Rule of thumb – whenever you exit the hotel, make sure you have 20 ounces in purse or back pack. Spend the money! Buy the water!
3. Dilli Haat in Delhi
India produces so many exquisite gift products, amazing fabrics, craft items, artisan wares, and pieces of jewelry that your bags could be filled before you had been there a day. But wait! There’s more! Slip-on sandals with sequins and fake jewels, gossamer shawls of every color and 22 karat gold at the going market prices. Stores along the main routes of any city may tempt you or a taxi driver might suggest his cousin’s shop, “Just over there,” but remain firm. At least in Delhi, Dilli Haat awaits. Slightly beyond the center of New Delhi is a shoppers’ paradise, though without the mall walkways and air conditioning. Located in Kidwai Nagar, Dilli Haat is like an Arabian bazaar transported to the subcontinent. At prices far lower than any tourist shop, Dilli Haat vendors will sell you anything from creative little wire figures to queensize silk bedspreads. Be prepared to dicker and know what your spending limits are.
4. Cotton and natural fibers
Bisected by the Tropic of Cancer, India sits across a span of longitude that equals the distance from Egypt to Kenya or Mexico to Columbia. India is hot almost everywhere, and almost all the time. Polyester and other non-breathable fabrics keep all the moisture and odor bottled up, the stench of sweat growing more powerful with every passing second. One doesn’t want to have a little science experiment or eco-system growing around waist bands, arm pits, and other regions. Instead, opt for natural fibers (rayon, cotton, linen, tencel, and silk) that breath and allow both sweat and odor to dissipate into the air. Better yet, for visitors staying a week or more, have one of the millions of tailors whip you up the perfect outfit, a kurta and khameez or tunic and loose pants.
Not only is India one of the last refuges for squat toilets, but in many locations it is also a hold-out in the toilet paper department. Always carry little packets with you. These tend to be strong and the plastic wrap keeps them clean. Tissues also come in handy for wiping off soda can lids before you pop the tab, and for use as a pad at your toe or heel should a blister begin to form.
6. Rickshaw Rhapsody
Give yourself the pleasure of a lifetime and clamber up into one of the million one-man rickshaws in India, the type with a bicycle and a rider. Often tourists don’t see the benefits of this simple mode of transportation, aside from providing a hardworking gentleman with an honest days wage. While rickshaws look peculiar, with a narrow seat perched between two wheels and only a tiny back support, you will find the ride surprisingly comfortable. Rickshaws give an unimpeded view of everything ahead and to the right and left. Perfect for picture taking and people watching, a rickshaw driver will pedal at speeds dictated by traffic and geography; that is slow up the hills, and more quickly down them. It is important to set the price before you and your companion climb on board.
7. Keeping money safe
In India, or any country, you need to know where your money is at all times. Manufacturers have come up with several ingenious hidden wallets that slide under your shirt or fit against your waist band. However, getting at the money in these wallets is a problem when trying to make a purchase. It doesn’t work to advertise that under a loose fitting shirt or blouses rests an unprotected bank. Nor do you want to dislodge it. Therefore, daily-use money should be kept in another purse or wallet. For daily use, when taking taxis, visiting museums, monuments, and temples, carry only 2000 – 4000 rupees, an amount you can afford to lose. Your passport, credit cards, and larger amounts of cash all stay safe in the belt and completely out of sight.
Mark Twain spoke the truth when he said, “…India is the only millionaire……the One land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.”