Two weeks in Sri Lanka, I thought, would allow me to acclimatise to the month I had before me in India…I was wrong. But sometimes, ignorance really is bliss.
Wide-eyed and gob-smacked, nothing could have prepared me for this country of 1.33 billion. But, don’t get me wrong, I would do it all again… that sensory-overloaded adventure in one of the largest countries on earth.
The majestic Taj Mahal. Image: Akshaye Kumar
We began our journey on India’s western coastline, picking the well-known tourist town of Goa. Hammocks, beach parties and markets play homage to the historical hippie’s movement from the 70s. It felt safe enough for two Australian girls in their mid-20s to relax in before heading north.
Jamia Masjid of Delhi is one of the many significant places to visit in Old Delhi. Image: Akshaye Kumar
Beginning the journey
I used Booking.com to find a one-week stay, close to the cafes and beach. Getting from the airport to Goa was a one-hour drive and we booked a private shuttle safely in the airport.
While Goa is known for its fish curries, we decided to go vegetarian for the month. It was easier than I thought. India does vegetarian well and, if you’re like me, you won’t feel a lack in your diet. Be careful of cocktails though. I’d suggest sticking to beer because the server opens it in front of you.
When in India, it’s best to lean on the side of precaution.
Built in 1565, Agra Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Image: Akshaye Kumar
Should you do a tour?
Seasoned-travellers (and having lived in SE Asia for over six months), we felt confident once we were at our destinations. But, we didn’t want to risk taking overnight trains alone or trying to navigate cities like New Delhi. We also knew many of the spots that were on our list, weren’t easy to get to.
After much deliberating between “should we do it ourselves” and “we’re two young girls in India”, we decided on a 15-day tour with Gap Adventures.
In hindsight, some of my favourite memories happened in villages I would have never visited. We were treated like royalty, on a camel ride through a town called Tordi. The locals welcomed us with smiles and waves – an unspoken dialogue that helped me understand the beauty of their culture.
We were treated like royalty when riding on camels in Tordi. Image: Hillman India Adventure
Wrapping up in New Delhi
The tour we chose wrapped around New Delhi, including Jaipur, the pink city, into the desert, and over to Agra, home to the majestic Taj Mahal. The quintessential holy city, Varanasi, where millions of Hindus go to cremate their loved ones on the River Ganges, was the last stop on the two-week trek.
The Taj Mahal is a globally recognised site that symbolises the rich history of India. Image: Akshaye Kumar
Advice for first-time visitors
I still think of many of these colourful memories, nearly three years on. For first-time visitors to India, I suggest following a similar path as we did. Those rare moments of solitude are essential on a trip to India and being with a group offers you (and your family back home) peace of mind.
You can still pick moments to explore autonomously. But, you can do it with the safety of a group knowing where you are at all times. Trust me, India isn’t the place for big egos. Accept the help and enjoy making new friends in unfamiliar lands.
But before the forts, cows, spices & curries…
It’s a good idea to explore in a group, Swarn Jayanti Dwar, Pathankot.
When it comes to India, you can’t overprepare. Okay, maybe, but recognise this is going to be unlike any other place you’ve ever been. It’ll push you to the limits, but there are beautiful lessons to unravel.
Visas & onward flights
Before you book your flight (and your tour), apply for a visa. Every traveller requires a visa, so don’t assume you can get this once you arrive – here’s the official website.
The same goes for your onward flight. We missed our first flight from Sri Lanka to India because we didn’t have proof of a flight out of the country. Again, we assumed we could do this there. They won’t let you on the flight, so have it printed out as you board.
Have proof of your onward flight with you when you travel to India. Image: Jovita Aranha
Vaccinations & travel insurance
As I was living in Bali at the time, all my vaccinations were up to date. I recommend visiting your doctor before you leave to find out what you need to be covered for. Smart Traveller is also a great resource, for preliminary research.
Make sure you take out a new travel insurance policy. I use World Nomads.
Clothes & daily supplies
Expect to be uncomfortably hot, a lot of the time. But, you’re in India, so respect cultural norms when it comes to clothes. T-shirts are better than singlets. Long, flowy skirts are favoured over shorts. It’s important to follow cultural customs, especially in religious areas. You can’t expose your legs at the Taj Mahal. You’ll discover ‘rules’ like this, along your journey. Pack accordingly.
Be conscious of what you wear, particularly in religious areas.
Money & belongings
Don’t assume in a country of billions, ATMs are readily available. If you’re on a tour, your guide will be able to show you the safe places to get money out. I would take out lots of $200 at a time, leaving most of it in the hotel safe, and bringing $20-30 out with me. Unless we were visiting major attractions with entrance fees, $25 per day is more than enough.
The Red Fort is just one of the sights you should see. Image: Akshaye Kumar
Decompressing after your trip
Whether you’re returning home or flying to another country, give yourself a couple of days to decompress after India. Trust me, you’re going to need it… physically, emotionally and mentally.
For every pungent smell and chaotic, in-humane sight you’ll see, there are many more heart-opening, spiritually-awakening moments that’ll change you.
Get ready for a full mind, body and soul adventure.
Do you plan on experiencing the sights and sounds of India for yourself?
About the writer...
A journalist by trade but storyteller by heart, Amanda writes content for a variety of communication agencies and individual brands, and editorials and feature stories for magazines, blogs, and news platforms. She’s worked with over 100 brands across Australia and globally. Always curious, Amanda draws her creative inspiration from people – whether it’s sitting in a cafe people watching, having a conversation with a stranger or reliving memories from the 50 countries she’s travelled to. Follow her on @amandasmith_writer and visit her online at www.amandasmithwriter.com.au.