4 Things to do on your first day in India

Since we started traveling actively we have met a lot of travelers on their dream trip to India. In most cases they find themselves confused and shortchanged by the country. This is true for those who are in first few days of their travel. As they travel more they find themselves adapting to our rhythm. It is OK even though I have lived here all my life there are times when I am left speechless. You don't have to feel like you are not meant for the country or that the country is not worth the time. Both are not true.

A very interesting thought came from a British couple we met in Aurangabad. The guy said that it is very different when suddenly you become minority. As a white christian (I am not profiling anyone just saying it in simpler terms) used to completely different social dynamics it can be overwhelming especially for a female. The lady told us she cried on their bus from Chennai to Pondicherry.

Another couple we met in Agra told us that they did not like Delhi and most of their friends had the same opinion of the city. As some one who has lived in the city for years I could not believe it but yes it can be a bit too much too soon. Everyone has to live through the initial shock and adjust themselves to the ways of a billion people who make this country.

Here are four things that can make your life a bit easy during your first days in the country.

1. Get a Pre-booked Accommodation

With very few countries eligible for visa free travel or VOA (though it is going to improve) you need to have some accommodation option when you apply for visa. In case you think you will take care of accommodation after a door to door session wait for a few days. Book a hotel in advance at least for a day. Unless you are flying from South-East Asia you have been on a long flight and the stress of looking for accommodation is not what you want. Also having accommodation booked will help you when you apply for sim card.
It can sometimes be difficult to get an accommodation the way we were turned back in Pondicherry. In case you are renting an apartment get your landlord to issue a form C to get the sim.

2. Get a Local SIM

Indian economy depends on SMS
and phone verification so if you are going to be here for sometime or will be using trains you need a local sim. Indian cellphone market works very differently than most western countries. We do not have to restrict ourselves to any carrier we can change to whichever we want. So get an unlocked phone or you can buy one  for cheap here. You will probably need it if you plan on going around a few more countries. We have various carriers but I recommend you use either Airtel, Vodafone or BSNL. BSNL is the best choice if you want to be roaming about in remote areas as none of the other have networks in mountainous or forest areas.

Come prepared with these things
1. Two passport photo (carry more copies)
2. Proof of residential address (can be your passport copy if it has your address mentioned)
3. Proof of Indian Address (ask your hotel to issue one)
4. Copy of your visa.

Now all said and done it is no more a simple task to get a sim in India. You will love every day you spent waiting for the sim to get activated when you have to book rail tickets or are stuck in a situation. It can take up to five days to get it activated and the best thing to do is to ask your hotel if they can arrange  a sim for you. Also if you want the sim you better be staying in the address you gave the carrier as they actually do check. If you can get your CS friend or somebody local to get the sim for you you are lucky. People usually avoid buying sim in their name with all misuse possible and have passed.
Internet access on your phone is also a plus when you need to check up on sites nearby or even lookout for a place to eat. Plans start at 100/-for 30 days.

3. Get a Train Booking Account

If you want to travel through immense length and breadth of India cheap, you will have to take a train sometime. The best way to book tickets is online and you need an account for it. Unfortunately this can only be done after you have a sim but again if you are here for sometime and plan on sleeping during night long journeys you should be considering this. It is a long elaborate process but with a local sim card and train booking account you can book your travel as you go. Even if you can't take prints the SMS they send on your mobile is accepted as a ticket on the trains. I did a write up about how to book tickets some time ago.

4.Get the Helpline Nos.

Usually we all take care and note these numbers before we enter a country but in case you did not think you need these note them down. Here are a few you should have.

108- Emergency response service for medical, police and fire emergencies. Available in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Assam, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh

100-   Local Police

101-   Fire Department

102-   Ambulance

1091-  Women Abuse

1098-  Child Abuse

People might say you are not going to get help but our personal experience with 108 has been quite satisfactory. Our family had to call for an ambulance(everybody is fine now) and they were there in some time.

Are all these enough to get you through India unscathed? No are you kidding. Why would you want that a few misfortunes(desirably small) are a part of what makes all those stories you are going to tell your grandchildren. Give us some time and we will win you over. I have had people tell us that you simply can't dismiss India it stays with you always and you always want to come back just one more time.

Would you like to add the fifth thing?

This is a part of India Prep Series that will be on for all of November as a part of NANOWRIMO. Even though I have started 3 days in advance this is just a prelude to the actual prep series.

Get Travel Updates in your inbox

* indicates required

You Might Also Like


  1. Ah, the first day in India... I remember it like it was yesterday. :) I think I spent my first week there (in Kolkata) in a state of exhilaration and panic. Definitely worth it. And yes, good advice on booking your first day there to get your bearings, though it's a good thing to have a few backup options because even that sometimes fails... My first hotel room in Kolkata was a cockroach dance floor.

    Regarding train booking, they implemented this ridiculous rule that you need a local cellphone number while I was there, two years ago. It's a very good idea to get a SIM card, and I think it's great that you put that up in your list. Have you heard of Cleartrip.com? I used them extensively the 5 months I lived in India, and they are way, way better than the IRCTC's website.

    You're right, India never leaves you... There are days I think, "But I'm over *here* and India is over *there*!" Hard to explain if you haven't been!

  2. I am happy that you liked both India and the list. Its a bare minimum what you need to survive. If someone asks me I would advice them to arrange a CS or a reputed accommodation. I have had ants on my bed in some places and others which I expected to be bad were very clean.

    I know it is a pain for foreigners but the phone rule has helped a lot. Best part is you do not have to print your ticket. Earlier you could book tickets directly from Cleartrip but now you can't you have to go through the process I wrote about in the other post. They are definitely better than the IRCTC.
    I bet you miss all the chaotic traffic, crossing the road and food. Whenever I go out I miss the food so bad nobody does spice like Indians do.

  3. I see... Wow, I guess booking directly on Cleartrip was becoming too convenient, so the IRCTC had to step in. :D

    And yeah, accommodation was a heck of a challenge in India. It wasn't so bad in major cities (although oddly enough, the most bare-bones, concrete walls-style places were the most bug-free), but I traveled a bit off the beaten path going south from Kolkata to Chennai and wow, I had some nasty experiences.

    I DO miss the traffic, the food... Oh, the food. I'm thankful to be in Thailand right now (northeast, far from the tourists), which feels like an easy, laid-back India to me. But it's... not... India...

  4. They are increasing Visa on Arrival for a few other nationalities so maybe you won't have to worry about that if you had to. We would love to host you again. Drop in sometime I am sure those cockroaches miss you too.