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India. It’s hard to think of another country that brings up more thoughts, facts, memories, knowledge, and ideas to a smart traveler’s mind. There are thousands of things to say about this country, which is home to some of the tastiest dishes, most colorful traditional clothes, dramatic landscapes, most ancient civilizations, and warm welcoming people. If there would be one word to describe it would be ‘intense’. India is intense, in every single aspect of the word. Every little thing is exaggerated from what we are used to in any other part of the world. From the taste of the food to the smells in the markets, from the vibrant colors of the saris to the elegance and perfection of their ancient temples, from the religious practices to peoples’ piercing and almost intrusive deep looks. Anywhere you go and whatever you do on your time in this incredible, diverse, extreme and fascinating place you will be amazed. There’s not a better smart destination where tips, suggestions, and ideas are helpful and necessary to ensure you make the most of the time in India. The distinctions from a western country are everywhere and travel tips, in this case, are essential.

India is a destination to live and experience on the road, with people, through people. It is all about culture and religion, and it is a unique place where these two aspects interact in every moment of everyday life. Traditional cultures, religions, and rituals are the fundamentals from which everything is built. Even a vague understanding of these allows travelers to enjoy the country and feel comfortable in all different situations.

If it is your first time in India you would open a map and be tempted to try to see as much as possible. Don’t do it. India is a huge country with 29 different states, each one incredibly different from the other by culture, environment, landscape, things to see and to do, language, and food. Travel in India requires time and organization, and more importantly, a lot of flexibility and patience. Don’t rush and always have a backup plan because most of the times you may need it.

The Indian subcontinent, thanks to its shape and position, offers an incredible range of divergent landscapes and environments. From the Buddhist state of Ladakh where the Tibetan plateau stretches, down to the sunny beaches and green forests of Kerala, from desertic Rajasthan rich of medieval towns and temples to the foothills of the Himalaya where Darjeeling tea grows. From the remote and less-visited tribal state of Odisha to the vibrant, multicultural and buzzing life of Mumbai. The top tip, in this case, would be to decide which aspect you would like to cover most and choose a reasonably small area to travel around.

From the first step you take outside the aircraft you will be bombarded with new sensations and, by traveling slowly, you’ll get to know the very essence of every place you go. There is a little of India for everyone and with one of the world’s largest railway networks, creating an itinerary is very easy and fun!

Traveling by train is the best way to see the country since road conditions are not the best and it could take hours to do just a few kilometers. There are many different classes available on the trains and it is incredibly safe and very good money value. This is also a smart way to get to know locals and chat with them in a very relaxing way, traveling through unforgettable countrysides and landscapes.

When you are in the city, jump in a tuk-tuk. Not only are they cheap (always remember to negotiate because they will always raise the price, a local friend would be very helpful in this case!) but drivers also know the city better than anyone else. It is the most fun way to have a tour of the town.

Train, bus, on foot…it doesn’t matter how you decide to move around but be sure to pack as little as you can. India is one of those places where you do not want to attract extra attention and it can be easy to lose things. A small backpack with just the essentials is more than enough.

If you decide to discover the north, bring warm layers with you. Close to Nepal, India experiences quite a cold winter (especially at night and around January and February). Wherever you go, bring good trekking shoes because you will always end up walking, through forests, deserts, cities, etc.

One of the things that westerners struggle with is the amount of attention they receive while visiting India. Wearing loose clothing and modest attire is a good idea especially in places where locals are not very used to tourists or westerners. Indians are incredibly curious people and you may feel uncomfortable or that all eyes are on you.

When you plan your trip to India remembers that accommodations, even high-quality hotels, run in a different way. You might have booked everything ahead of time and find them not ready when you arrive or maybe the place is fully booked despite your booking or maybe they are all attending a wedding next door and they’re gone for a few days. People there are relaxed and easy-going with the idea that ‘there is always a solution,’ which will also become your motto during your travels there.

Speaking of accommodations, a portable net to hang over your bed is a great idea, especially in the southern states, along with some cotton bed sheets. Usually, accommodations are very clean and hospitable but mosquitos and insects can keep you awake all night in the inland areas, away from the ocean breeze. You can choose a stay in a local homestay in Kerala or treat yourself to a lake and palace view room in one of the many beautiful hotels in Udaipur, known as the Venice of India.

Food. Opening this chapter you never know when you are going to end it. One of the most appreciated, popular, intriguing, tasty, and diverse cuisines in the world, authentic, local Indian food will be a bit different from your favorite takeaway, even if you live in the UK. It will be a thousand times tastier, richer and first of all… spicier!

Every state as a different cuisine but all of them have one thing in common: spice. The very North has Tibetan and Nepalese influences and they tend to be milder and vegetable-based. When we start going down through Rajasthan we will experience, rich, creamy and flavorful dishes like mutton curry. These meals will almost always be paired with Naan bread, which is incredibly fresh, tasty and fragrant. Unless you love spicy things, order a mild version, if you can.. Remember that there are some dishes, like Biryani rice which is always spicy. Experience what locals can offer by trying all the different delicacies freshly made from thousands of little food carts.

Remember that fried is good! Despite cholesterol and diet, the boiling oil helps fight germs and is a good health safety travel tip. With this in mind be prepared to try all possible varieties of samosa you can imagine! From food to water. Bottled water is completely necessary but as you’ll see while traveling, India has a big problem with plastic, which is very carefully recycled but still has a very bad impact on the environment. If you are traveling on the road it would be a good idea to carry a reusable bottle and fill it up from the 20L waters bottle you’ll find in restaurants or hotels. You will not find it in everywhere but, it will help.

As we said India is a very good destination for budget travelers, but remember that it can be frustrating and difficult to find an ATM, or better, an ATM with available cash. Many places won’t accept cards, especially in remote villages. Small notes are essential to get some dosas (Kerala specialties) for breakfast t or for a cup of Chai (traditional Masala tea with milk). You can keep the big notes for temples and archeological sites, nights out in Mumbai or some tea shopping in the pretty post-colonial town of Darjeeling.

Where ever you go in India, you won’t be disappointed and it will be a guaranteed adventure. Keep your eyes and your mind open, your backpack light and your curiosity alive, and you will have the best experience ever in a life-changing country.

Photo by Vignesh Moorthy on Unsplash

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