Kaitlyn Poole, Student Ambassador is here to share some tips and tricks for travelling through one of her favourite places in the world: India. At the wide-eyed, very innocent age of seventeen, she took off to India with nine other students.
For the best part of three weeks we trekked across the Golden Triangle; a common travel route between Delhi, Jaipur and Agra.
India can get a bad rep. When many people return I hear a lot of mixed reviews. So, here are my tips and a few things to keep in mind in order to make the most of this amazing country:
1. Embrace the chaos. Mega cities like Delhi are these bustling hubs like nothing you have ever seen before. ‘Chaotic’ is a complete and utter understatement. Try not to get overwhelmed and embrace it.
2. It will be dirty and it will smell. Cities like Delhi are heavily polluted and there are huge slums. But this is nothing compared to all the amazing things there are to see. You haven’t seen a party until you join an Indian wedding party marching through the streets of Agra. Did an elephant just walk past? I think it did!
3. Monsoon has its perks and it is not nearly as terrible as it sounds. When I travelled to India it was in the middle of June. Peak monsoon season. When I told many people I was travelling in that time season they shared all of these disastrous stories. It is not disastrous in the slightest. For starters, as it’s the off-season for tourism, travelling is much cheaper.
4. Secondly, big tourist hubs like the magnificent Taj Mahal have significantly less visitors so you can spend a lot more time taking in the sights. Plus, all the locals are out making the most of the off-season and for me this is a big perk. I love talking to the locals. Also, at least when I went, it was not constant rain. There was only one day in Jaipur where it rained for the entire day. Usually it would pour for about forty minutes throughout the day and that was it. And it was so hot that the rain was very welcome.
5. Getting anywhere is difficult. Crossing the roads is terrifying. Riding in taxis and tuk tuks can also be terrifying. It seems as if there are no road rules but the locals assured me that I was in fact in safe hands and Indian drivers are experts at maneuvering the chaos of Delhi traffic.
6. If you’re travelling on the roads between cities, it will take a long time. Distances that take about four hours travel in Australia look more like seven in India. Roadtrip! We killed time attempting to recall the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody and enjoying the amazing array of musical car horns. Also, there a few bathroom stops along the lines. Take them as the Holy Grail.
7. You will get a lot less unwanted attention if you dress the part. India is a conservative country so take note to dress appropriately. For the majority I wore long skirts, harem pants, a light, button-up shirt and carried a scarf. In Agra I had a sari tailored by a few of the local women who taught (or tried to teach) me how to tie it, which I then embraced as the perfect going-out outfit for the evening. However, my skin has two shades only. The shade of white on teeth in Colgate commercials and tomato red. I also have blonde hair. I was always going to stand out amongst the locals. And if you are like me, expect to have a few people approaching you. However it is not normally in a threatening way. For the most part it was children or families who were curious or took it as an opportunity to ask me where I was from and about my travels. As a result I had children teaching me Hindi, women asking us to hold their newborn baby and was invited to play cricket. It created some of the highlights of the trip. Note, if you are a red-head like my boyfriend, you may get a few requests for photos which can turn into a line. Just politely decline or request that it be group photos only. Otherwise you can be there for quite a while.
8. There will be some confronting things. There is an enormous population in India living in poverty. I spent some time in schools, specialising in educating children in poverty, and speaking with some of those children was one of the most confronting things I have ever experienced. But it has shaped who I am for the better and improved me as a more ethical traveller.
9. Bartering is expected. Let me just start with this: I am terrible at bartering. Awful. I understand that in theory you should estimate what you think it is worth, start a little below without being insulting and work your way up. I just cannot put it into practice. So I accept it is not for me and I am content paying a little too much by local standards.
10. Watch the water. I probably went a little overboard and avoided getting any water on my face and opted for a cream cleanser that did not require water to wash my face. Some of the boys in my group used electric razors to shave. Definitely do not rinse your toothbrush in tap water. Most hotels will provide a pretty constant supply of bottled water so use that instead. Also check the seal of the cap and at the bottom of the bottle, as there is quite a lucrative industry refilling and reselling water bottles.
11. Before you fly off get your vaccinations and some malaria tablets. A bright side to taking malaria tablets as they can make you skin look amazing for all those pictures you will be taking. Downside is that they can make you a little more prone to UV so make sure you sunscreen up. As an extra precaution, slather up in DEET.
Lastly, India is a magnificent country. The people, culture, historical sites and food are spectacular. It is amazing and if you go in prepared you can make the most of this colourful place.