Anne is about to embark on her first trip to India and wonders what to expect. Lee Mylne is only too happy to share advice from her own experiences.
I have never been to India before and am keen to go to this exotic country, but I’m really nervous. I’ve never been to a developing country, and don’t know what to expect. Could you please help me out with the best areas to visit for a first timer, to help ease me into the country? Should I do a group tour, go it alone, or have a personal guide? I am also concerned about street safety and the safety of my health, since it’s a country with malaria and rabies. I also love Indian food, but am worried about getting sick. I know I’ll have to drink bottled water.
A. I’ve been to India three times, and while I love it and would go back any time, I understand your anxiety. On my first trip, I found it very confronting. I was young, and hadn’t travelled a lot in developing countries at that time. But the second time, it was different – perhaps India had changed a bit (or I had!) and I fell in love with it. It’s still confronting, but you’ve used the right word to describe it – yes, exotic, and very colourful.
I would not advise you to go it alone, especially on your first trip. A group tour is a good option, but if you want a bit more freedom there is another great way of doing it in comfort and without the worry of dealing with everything alone. That is to do an ‘independent itinerary’ or ‘private group tour’ with a travel company. I’ve done this with Intrepid Travel, where the itinerary and hotel bookings are all organized for you, a driver/guide and car provided (usually the same one for the whole time) and local guides provided at each destination. And there is usually a bit of free time to explore a bit on your own, go shopping, or just rest up in the hotel.
For a first timer, of course, you must see the Taj Mahal at Agra. So I would suggest that you do what is called the Golden Triangle, which takes in India’s three most popular destinations (and there’s a good reason for that!). Start in Delhi for a few days, then explore Jaipur in beautiful Rajasthan and then to Agra for that marvelous monument to love, the Taj Mahal, before returning to Delhi. You don’t say how long you are planning to spend in India, but all this is easily done in a week – or you can spend longer in each place if you like! If you have longer, APT has a 17-day tour that includes the Golden Triangle as well as flying to Kolkata (Calcutta) for a seven-day cruise on the Lower Ganges, and ends with a couple of days in the holy city of Varanasi. Just writing this makes me want to go back!
You are right to be cautious about your health, but doing an organised tour of some kind should help ensure you stay out of trouble in that regard. Indian food is amazing, and your hotels will ensure you get a good taste of that (are you up for a spicy breakfast?). You should also be sure to take some diarrhoea medication with you and some Gastrolyte or similar in case you are unlucky and do come down with it. But being careful about ice in drinks and only eating fruit if it’s peeled should limit your chances of getting sick. Make sure that your basic vaccinations are up to date (tetanus and diphtheria) and consult your doctor about whether you need other vaccinations, such as Hepatitis A and B, or typhoid, and about malaria medication (depending on where you decide to go in India). There is a rabies vaccination available (again, consult your doctor) but you should also try to avoid contact with the street dogs that roam at will, and with monkeys, if you encounter them. Best admired from a safe distance.
I really hope you enjoy your India sojourn, Anne. Go with an open mind, be ready to be flexible (things might not always go as exactly planned), and soak up all the colour and life that India offers. It will be an experience you never forget.
For more ideas about what to do on in India, check out incredibleindia.org.
For detail on the tours I’ve mentioned, go to intrepidtravel.com.
Do you have a travel question for Lee? If so, email your Travel SOS to [email protected]
Lee Mylne has managed to combine her two passions – travelling and writing – into a long and successful career as a travel journalist. Her work is published in newspapers, magazines, websites and travel apps in Australia and around the world.