Kickstarting Your Trip to India


So you are planning a trip to India- a really good decision. A decision which will change your life not only because you are traveling but because you will see much more than what you thought. Now that you have taken the first step it is time to plan your trip and prepare for the country which has over 500 languages and over a billion people.
India can be an overwhelming experience right from the time you start planning. Even if you are planning to spend a year traveling, it is highly unlikely that you can see it all. For that to happen you would be moving almost all your waking hours and then spending your nights in a train or bus.
Most of the travelers I have met are constantly torn between multiple options that the country offers. To make the most of your time in the country. Let us assume the case of Miss X who want to visit India

Understand India
KSRTC Bus with text in Kannada
we simply asked people

Let me be true even I don't understand India it is simply too big and varied to be summed under a paragraph or a book. Still I would recommend that you get the basic facts about the country right.
We have snakes but you will be very lucky to find a snake charmer especially in bigger cities. (who got this in people's minds?)
The country is actually very big please be realistic. From Srinagar to Kanyakumari it is 3600Km.
You will get by quite well with English and really well with Hindi at least in northern India. For rest of India you will do what we do-talk in your tongue and then make signs.
In most cases you will have telephone connection (except for sensitive areas and high up in the mountains), decent 2G or 3G data (cheap too).
We have a lot of sensitive areas, before planning a visit be informed things can change at a moment's notice. That being said India is actually safe to travel withing reason.
Miss X will face some problems depending a lot on how she looks (It sucks I know). There are a lot of blogs and guides which recommend wearing what locals wear and that is the best thing to do anywhere.

Decide what all you want to do
Rapids in Ganga at Rishikesh
Rapids in Ganga at Rishikesh

The first thing to decide is what you want to do and see. India has a lot to offer and can cater to almost all kinds of trips you would want to have from white water rafting to quite heritage and national parks. Unlike most countries where you can predict people, food and climate India varies from north to south and east to west; just like any big country and then some more.

If you think you will land and then go with the flow I call it underestimating India. Why? Because there is simply too much here for anyone to think I will decide as I go on. Yes you should be spontaneous as I write below but don't land here clueless. Having a better idea of what all you want to see and do will help you decide which airport to land on. Even though most domestic flights in India are just 2 hours the trains can eat up days if you are traveling from one extreme to another.
Our Miss X wants to do some hiking and visit the sand dunes of Thar. I also want to shop a lot maybe in later part of my visit.

Make a macro plan and try to stick to it
View from rope-way at Gulmarg
View from rope-way at Gulmarg

After you are clear whether you want to trek forests and mountains or you want to visit  monuments or sample religious places and delicious food; it is time to make the first draft of what I call a macro plan. A little bit of research will tell you what parts of India will suit your wishes and requirements. Single out the areas and decide on the landing airport or port. For example if you want to trek Himalayas Chennai might not suit as your entry airport. Likewise if you fancy Hindu temples with tall shikharas or abundant forests and beaches southern India is the place to be.
With X's plan to visit desert and Himalayas the ideal entry point is Delhi. Visit Rajasthan/Gujrat and then move towards eastern India and fly out from Kolkata.

Never plan to details

People start planning details once they have a general idea of the route they plan on following. Don't. It is just not worth the time you are spending. If you book every hour or minute of your trip to see or do something specific you will burnout. Detailed planning may make you sad if your planning fails. Living in India for all of my life I can still not guarantee a lot of things when I travel. Trains, buses can change times, a site might be closed or natural calamity may occur stopping you from going any further. All of this has happened to us in this year alone.
There are simply too many things to be seen done and eaten only aim for what your time allows.
So if X thinks she can see all of Delhi in two days she would not only be tired she would not have given herself time to adapt to the city. Delhi, Mumbai or any metro for that matter are the places where you should sort things out especially if traveling on your own without a organized tour company. Make sure that you get these things down as soon as you get in.

Do Not think that your plans are etched in stone

Great! Now you know your movement pattern in the country and it is time to throw that planning book out of the window. Plans can never remain the same after you start your travels. From getting sick to blockades on your route will force you to change your plans. Never ever think you trip is going to go as you have planned it. Take a deep breath and get over it. So why even bother planning? You should make a macro plan to have an idea of how you will be moving about in the country. Apart form peace of mind it will also allow you to plan you accommodation and travels easily.

Don't be averse to organized groups

There are few things and places which can be visited only with groups or with guides like Nanda Devi National Park or Lakshadweep. It goes without saying that the Himalayas are unpredictable and you should have someone who knows the zone.
In addition to restrictions an organized travel company will start making sense if your time is limited and desires are not. Though  I always recommend that you book your first day accommodations before you land it is usually a better deal when you book trips after you get here. It is of no use to loose money when booking in $ from your home.
Here are some advantages that matador talks about.

Talk to locals
The Dosa Man at Kadpakkam highway
The Dosa Man at Kadpakkam highway

Locals are a big part of our travel experience and the correct interaction can change you day in a jiffy. There are a lot of forums which are dedicated to India. Indiamike, thorn-tree and Couchsurfers are one of the best source of advice. Please feel free to drop any questions in the comments below.
If you want us to help you plan your trip to India buy our gig. Don't fret even though we have a gig we always answer the mails and questions that we get.

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