A First-Time Traveler's Guide: Preparing for Travel to India
Imagine visiting beautiful palaces, fragrant temples, listening to peaceful chanting, running your hands over thousand year old sculptures and eating authentically delicious food. And then there's the reality of the crowded airports, smelly restrooms, loud traffic, dusty streets and if you're not careful, the water that can make you sick. A trip to India is a paradox a wonderful experience juxtaposed with reality - either way an onslaught on all your five senses.
Home to approximately one sixth of the world's population, India is the seventh largest country in the world. This could mean many months of travel within India and not scratching the surface of what the country has to offer.
The most frequently visited part of India is undoubtedly the Golden Triangle. This comprises of Delhi (the nation's capital), Jaipur and Agra. The city like other major metropolitan cities around the world is polluted, crowded and noisy.
Delhi is rich in history and comprises of several impressive monuments including the Mughal Red Fort, the solid stone tower of Qutub Minar and the India gate (built to honor the 90,000 Indian soldiers who died during World War I.
There are numerous temples and mosques including the Birla Mandir, the Bahai Temple and the Jama Masjid Mosque. It is important to remember when visiting holy places to respect local customs, particularly that of removing footwear when entering a temple. Delhi prides itself in the beautiful gardens in the city such as famous Lodi Gardens and the Mughal Gardens located in the Presidential Residence. Delhi is centrally located for travel to Agra and Jaipur.
India's most famous tourist attraction, the Taj Mahal is in Agra. A three hour train journey or a 30 minute flight will bring you to the great Moghul monument that took over twenty years to build. Emperor Shah Jahan built this magnificent structure to immortalize the love for his wife who died during childbirth.
The Taj Mahal is made entirely of pure white marble and its pure white walls are decorated with exquisite "pietra dure" (stone inlay work). It is said that different types of precious and semi-precious stones were used in the intricate inlay work Agra is also famous for another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Agra Fort. Made out of red sandstone, the fort was home to several great Mughal Kings and even contained the largest state treasury and mint. Within its walls lies the grand enclosure for harem festivities and included pools and fountains. While a neighboring structure housed the King's wives and mistresses. This fort is comprised of magnificent gardens, mosques and grand pavilions that reflect the bygone era of luxurious royal living.
The final corner of the "Golden Triangle" is Jaipur popularly knows as the Pink City for its imitation pink stucco buildings and walls. The most famous palace is the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds).
It was built in 1799 as an extension to the city palace. Its main purpose was to allow royal ladies of the King's harem to observe everyday street life without being seen. The breeze that circulates through the 953 small windows facing the street gives the palace its name. Another interesting monument is the "Jantar Mantar" which is a collection of architectural astronomical instruments built in 1727. Some other tourist attractions in Jaipur include the Jal Mahal or "Water Palace" (which sits in the center of the Man Sarobar lake), the Amber Fort, the Jaigarh Fort (that still houses the medieval cannons including the world's largest cannon on wheels). Jaipur is also famous for its Johari Bazaar (a jewelry market).
For those who do not wish to be too adventurous on their first trip to India, a relaxing beach vacation in Goa maybe a great alternative. With its beautiful beaches and large Roman Catholic presence the city lends a much more western feel unlike any place in India. One of the main tourist attractions is the Christian religious site the Basilica of Bom Jesus (that holds the mortal remains of St.Francis Xavier).
The southern state of Kerala presents several five star luxurious hotels such as the Kumarakom Lake Resort that provide travelers with ayurvedic massages, dance performances, along with boat rides as well as delicious food. Tourist attractions include a bird sanctuary and the largest backwater Vembanad Lake.
As with travel anywhere beware of scam artists and pick pockets. Drink water only from sealed distilled water bottles to prevent the popular malady "Delhi belly".
India's colorful and diverse culture rich in sights, sounds, smells and tastes are like nothing you can experience in the Western World. Pack a few chill pills and enjoy the country for all that it has to offer.
Here are some quick facts to know before you go
Visas are required by all visiting foreign nationals. Valid for 6 months from date of issue and allow for multiple entry. Check our VISA section for costs, application procedures, process times etc.
When to go
The seasons in India can be divided into three: the hot, the wet and the cool. The hot season (March through May) sees temperatures as high as 113 degrees making the central plains very dry and dusty. The wet season starts in the South in early June and makes its way north by July. The best time to visit India is the cool season between November and February.
Most international flights land at Delhi or Mumbai. But you can also fly into any of the other major metropolitan cities of Kolkatta and Chennai.
Hindi and several hundred local languages and dialects. English is spoken widely by all in the tourist industry and educated classes.
Immunizations & health
Immunization against hepatitis A and B, Japanese encephalitis, rabies and typhoid may be necessary. Malaria still exists around the country. Topical anti-mosquito creams and lotions alone will not suffice. It is strongly advisable to take prescription anti-malarial medicine. It is unsafe to drink water out of faucets. Always buy bottled water with its seal intact. Carry anti-diarrhea medications as a precaution.
Have a Wonderful Trip!
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