1. Pick the perfect route.
India packs a lot into a massive space, and you'll never have time to see it all on one trip. Think about what interests you, what you like doing and how much time you have, and tailor your trip accordingly.
2. Escape the crowds.
With over a billion locals, many parts of India are certainly crowded and naturally this is more so in the cities. It is fun, but it’s also nice to escape sometimes and experience somewhere more off-beat or rural, where you can relax and take time to absorb all you have seen. Choose a program that includes some smaller towns and cities.
3. Stay healthy.
Drink plenty of water and keep hydrated, But never drink tap water, and steer clear of any food that may have been washed in it. As a precaution, also avoid ice and fruit you haven't just peeled yourself. Let your stomach acclimatize for a few days before sampling back-to-back Indian meals (more often than not it is the oils and spices we are not used to that cause upset stomachs and not the hygiene, as is commonly thought).
When you’re on the road, you may well find you have to use some less than sanitary toilet stops, but these don't have to be health hazards. Toilet paper is rarely provided at these stops, so it helps to carry some along with you. Anti-bacterial wipes and anti-bacterial gel are also handy to keep in your day bag.
Gateway of India. Photo: Sudipta.rocker
4. Avoid burnout.
By far the most common complaint reported by first-time visitors to India is fatigue – simply trying to do too much in too little time. India is vast, colorful and addictive, but have realistic expectations about how much you can see. A wisely planned visit to a particular area can deliver far more of the unique texture and spirit of the place. And remember, India isn’t going anywhere. You can return time and time again.
5. Don’t be too precious about your personal space.
This isn’t really a popular concept in India. People will stare and they will ask seemingly intrusive personal questions that you may find intimidating. Remember this is a wholly different culture and the questions are merely indicative of the locals’ polite interest in you.
6. Dress appropriately.
Rural India has a relatively modest culture. Covering arms and legs is a simple step toward respecting this at any site of religious significance. Indians are forgiving of those who aren’t familiar with their culture, but you can quickly make a good impression by, for instance, removing your shoes before entering someone’s home. This is particularly important when entering a sacred space, like a temple. Also, if you see shoes outside a shop, it’s a sign to remove your own. When visiting temples and mosques keep your knees and shoulders covered and carry a scarf to cover your head where appropriate. Tourists in India are welcome and respected everywhere.
Bangla Sahib New Delhi. Photo: Ram Singh
7. Watch those feet and hands.
Feet are considered to be unclean in India, so if you touch something with your feet it’s appropriate to swiftly apologize. Similarly, eating or passing objects with your left hand is considered unpleasant for reasons best left to the imagination. If unsure of local customs, keep an eye out for what others do and imitate.
8. Remember that Indian time is relative.
You may well find yourself waiting half an hour for a friend , and traffic and other interruptions can make getting around take a lot longer than expected. Build in plenty of room for unexpected waits and make sure to check opening hours; shops do not open until 10:00 and many government offices close in the afternoon for lunch.
9. Use common sense to stay safe.
While “don’t go down dark streets alone” might seem a bit obvious in most large cities around the world, there are plenty of straightforward ways to avoid subtle dangers in India. Beware pickpockets and note that haggling at a market can, at times, become an exchange. Be pleasant but firm, and don’t allow yourself to be irritated.
10. Be prepared for noise.
This always hectic combination of bicycles, rickshaws, cars, motorbikes, and local Indian people bustling through the streets of big cities can sometimes be overwhelming. Be prepared accept it all as part of India’s charm. After all, you can always retreat to the calm of your amazing hotel for a breather.
11. Don’t apply logic!
India is unique and operates in its own way, which works for India but may seem completely illogical to the traveler. Don’t try to understand it. Accept and enjoy India for all that is illogical about the country and have a wonderful time.
Phil Cappelli is president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, part of The Travel Corporation family. Luxury Gold offers 16 highly immersive, curated experiences in India, which cover destinations from Agra to Udaipur. The most popular trips include the 14-day Classical India with Nepal experience, the 9-day Essence of India with Ranthambore experience, and the 14-day Imperial Rajasthan experience.