How to prepare for your trip to India

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Do yourself a favour before going to India: be prepared! Get into the right mindset and you'll never forget the things you experience there. Knowing a few India travel essentials before hitting the ground will help you adjust more quickly.

Although India can be a challenging place to travel for the uninitiated, fortunately, the reward is well worth the time it takes to adjust to such a vastly busy, exciting place!

India is one of the world's largest, most populated, and most culturally diverse countries, and one that attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. Preparing for a trip to India involves planning your itinerary (before or after the retreat), making sure you have the necessary travel documents, and possibly obtaining standard immunizations in order to protect your health during your India trip. In addition, you'll need to know what to pack, what form of currency to bring, and what precautions you can take in order to travel safely. Here are some basic steps and some more specific tips from us who have been to India many times – and loved it more every time.

1.       Planning: Your itinerary for the retreat is planned and you will be in the best hands. If you would like to explore parts of India and spend a few days travelling in order to enjoy its beauty and varied cultures, note that its infrastructure isn't of the best quality in all regions, so you should always plan your added itinerary before you leave. Make sure you reserve any flights, boat trips, train rides, and rental cars ahead of time.

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2.       Apply for your travel documents. You'll need a valid passport to travel, as well as a valid tourist visa for India. Visas to India can be obtained in South Africa in two ways:

1.)  eVisa - by far the easiest and quickest method.  South Africans are eligible to use India's new e-Tourist Visa facility. As the name suggests, it may only be used if you are applying for a tourist visa, a "casual business visit" or a "short-duration medical procedure". You'll require return tickets, and to have sufficient funds to support you during your stay in India. Your passport should have at least 2 blank pages in it and be valid for at least 6 months after your date of arrival in India. https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html or

2.) VFS Global - alternatively, if you don't want to use the online e-Tourist visa, or if you can't because it doesn't cater for your requirements, then you can do it the old fashioned way by applying through VFS Global. India outsources the administration of its visa application service in South Africa to VFS Global, to whom all documentation must be submitted. Important contact details for assistance are: 012 425 3007 http://www.vfsglobal.com/india/southafrica/, info.inza@vfshelpline.com Note that VFS Visa Processing SA only collects the information, and they then submit it to the Indian Mission, who then decide whether you are accepted or rejected.

3.       We would like to advise that you check the status of your standard immunizations such as tetanus, typhoid and possibly cholera. You should allow up to 6 weeks for any vaccinations to take effect. Other medical issues to be prepared for are diarrhoea and possibly malaria if you plan to travel into remote areas of India after the retreat although you do not need these for the retreats themselves.

4.       Make a packing list. Though what you need to bring with you will vary greatly depending on the types of activities you plan to do and the areas you plan to visit in addition to the retreat, you should always bring enough clothes, sunscreen, insect repellent, a sunhat, a first aid kit, and a money belt. Of course, you can buy beautiful appropriate clothes, skirts and scarves at bargain prices on all the Indian markets and some stylish boutiques as well.

5.       Prepare your finances. Though India is very affordable by Western standards, you should also realize that you'll need some cash, as many places don't accept credit cards. Get rupees as soon as you land in India.

6.       While we will look after you while you are at the retreat and on outings with us, do educate yourself about food and drinking safety. The rule of thumb in India is to only drink bottled water, avoid uncooked foods and beverages with ice in them.

7.       Go to the Incredible India website, it has many useful tips, including an extensive calendar of festivals and information about local customs, such as how to communicate successfully in India. For example, most rickshaw drivers and vendors expect you to haggle over prices, but you should also remember to tip.

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What’s more, when you have arrived:

  • The Indian Head Wobble

The quirky head wobble is fun but tricky to master for most Westerners. You'll encounter the all-purpose gesture all over India; it can mean "yes" or "OK," it is sometimes used as a greeting, and can be used to acknowledge what you are saying. Don't be surprised if your question is answered with a silent head wobble! Try to take your question into context to understand the meaning of the wobble.

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  • Learn the right way to pronounce "namaste" in India.
  • Squat Toilets in India

Although sit-down toilets can now be found in many guesthouses and restaurants, you'll still encounter plenty of these squat toilets in public places. Carrying toilet paper on outings is a very good idea.

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  • Wandering Cows

Call it cliché, but yes: cows do wander freely throughout India, even in the streets of cities. Give them room and try not to be the stereotypical tourist who points, laughs, and takes obnoxious pictures of the respected animals.

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  • Money in India

You'll find Western-networked ATMs in all urban and tourist areas around India. Avoid using remote ATMs at night when you may be followed while carrying a large amount of cash. When possible, horde your small change or enter odd amounts in the ATM to receive smaller denominations. Many places will have difficulty making change for 1,000-rupee notes. Oddly, a majority of the 500-rupee notes are written on; unlike other places in Asia that reject damaged or defaced currency, you shouldn't have too much trouble spending them.

  • Power Outlets in India

Despite British influence, power outlets in India are of the round, two and three-pronged types (BS-546) used in Europe. Power is 230 volts at 50 Hz. Check the chargers and transformers for your electronic devices to ensure that they work in this range and won't produce fireworks. The power can sometimes be unreliable with surprise outages and surges, just like in South Africa.

  • Tipping and Taxes

The prices displayed for items in shops should be inclusive of tax, however, that may not always be the case for restaurants and hotels. Nicer restaurants may itemize additional charges for VAT, service, and alcoholic drinks -- all at different rates. The service charge added in restaurants may go to pay the salary of the staff or just into the owner's pocket. If you want to ensure that your hard-working waiter is rewarded, you'll need to leave them a small tip in addition to what is already added to the bill.

  • Time Difference in India

India has an interesting time difference: India Standard Time -- the massive country's only timezone -- is 5.5 hours ahead of GMT/UTC.

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  • Water in India – again, just because it is so important

Tap water is generally unsafe to drink in India. Even if the piped water is deemed safe by the government, the aged plumbing must also be taken into account. Avoid taking home parasites along with your other souvenirs: stick to drinking bottled water. Check the seals on bottled water before paying; an old scam in India, some bottles may be refilled with unsafe water and then resealed.

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  • What Is Ghee?

Ghee is a clarified butter made from cow's milk; it turns up nearly everywhere in India. Although ghee is high in fat, it is considered more healthy than oils or regular butter. Unless rejected by particular religious sects, ghee is used in dishes throughout India. If you are vegan or suffer from dairy allergies, you may want to learn how to ask for food without ghee. Interestingly, ghee is considered to be sacred and is used in blessings, as medicine, and to fuel lanterns.

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  • Hindu Gods

There are many, many Hindu gods and goddesses and it is a good idea to do a little bit of reading before you visit all these beautiful ancient sights and holy temples. It will make your outings so much more rewarding.

Have an incredible experience in India!

 

Annie Wyatt