(This is from an email I wrote in 2006 to a dear yogi friend who was traveling to India a few months after I went there. I gave him all the information I wish someone had told me. I read this email for the first time today after five years and I feel that it is still relevant. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Also, if you are going to India, these are good tips.)
Here is the packing list…
Hand sanitizer (a must!!!)
First aid kit
Saline nose spray
Little book for numbers and addresses and suggestions from people you meet.
***DEFINITELY bring crayons to give the little kids who beg you for money. It’s something they can use for fun. Someone suggested that to us in the airport. It seemed like a good idea.
1 jean – (I don’t recommend jeans but it’s your choice.)
2 long sleeve shirts
4 pair of socks
Rain jacket (monsoon season for you)
Try to get a money belt before you go. You can get it at Target. I know I said you could borrow mine, but honestly, mine is really stinky. 🙂 hehe! you might want to stink up your own money belt there. Also, buy a lock and wire chain if you wish so secure your belongings at the ashrams. Like you said, there are thieves at ashrams, too. You can also buy little locks at Target to lock your zippers.
You will love it and hate it all at the same time. The faster you can just accept the fact that the conditions are uncomfortable and different, the better you will adjust and not let it bother you.
Just remember these main things (there are more, but these are the ones that come to mind right now:)
1. Don’t eat from markets/street vendors… ONLY restaurants. And try to eat at restaurants that you see has some people in it. You want to know that there are regulars and that no one gets sick. If the restaurant is SUPER busy, probably not a good idea to eat there because when they wash the plates and cups they don’t have time to dry them completely before they give it to a new customer. Usually the water left behind isn’t purified. Just dry everything when you get it. NO ICE! Everything bottled.
2. You are looked as a piggy bank to locals (you are a tourist), so they will try to harass you to buy something constantly. Stand your ground and don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. And don’t let them touch you or push you. They aren’t violent at all, but they do get into your space. There is no such thing as personal space there.
3. Communication is hard since we don’t speak the same language. The more simple you can speak to them the better. If you have different forms of communicating, it can help also. Write down addresses and bring maps for the taxis/autorickshaws.
4. Negotiate with everything – usually half of what they ask for. Autorickshaws are cheaper than taxis. For short trips, it is ok, but for longer ones, it can be stressful. Always secure a price before you get into the vehicle. In Rishikesh, most stores have fixed prices, and they seem to be honest, so there isn’t much negotiating in Rishikesh, which is actually very relieving. Not stressful.
5. TRAFFIC IS INSANE!!!!! The way they drive is completely opposite than here. They aren’t violent drivers or road ragers, just every man is for themselves. They honk in order to warn the other drivers that they are coming. They come very close to one another. You think everyone is going to die, but they don’t. It works for them. Very few accidents. I called them “honkaholics!” hehe!
6. Pre-planning is good. Even if you have to change something and pay a little bit more, it is worth it because you know you have an option. Once you have your transportation and living conditions settled, then you can really enjoy the country. Just like anything else right, your bare necessities are done, so now you can have fun! It always felt good to walk into a hotel and they know you have a reservation and can call you by name. Also, if you hire a driver or when they pick you up from the delhi airport, it will feel very welcoming to have a guy holding up a sign with your name on it. You know that someone knows you are there.
7. On the streets you will see… Shit, piss, cows, dogs, beggars (young and old, men and women), cripples, dirt, dust, mud, women in sarees, men in collared shirts, flies, garbage, mosquitos, etc. Just be constantly aware of your surroundings and where you are stepping.
8. Beggars: don’t give to the children because they are usually working for someone and they get no money. BRING CRAYONS (like a pack of Crayola 128) and pass those out to the kids. They’ll love it!!!! Don’t give to the women with babies, because they too are usually working for someone. Give to the elderly and to the cripples.
9. You will get harassed by beggars constantly. Just stand your ground. Just say NO. If you would give money to each of them, you will you run out of money fast. Also, the younger beggars can work, but they choose not to. When you see how little people make (like autorickshaw drivers) it reminds you that they could be begging, but they are working hard. They have a choice. You will see that Hindis are very hard workers, even the elderly (men and women) are carrying heavy loads. Very admirable.
10. Take garlic pills for your immune system. You can get them at Wild Oats or Whole Foods. It worked well for us.
Everything will be fine. If you need anything, feel free to email me and ask away. You will cry, laugh, be sad, be happy… All the extremes will arise, but just experience it and don’t hold on to any emotion. Just observe them as they come. You can always come home if you want to. Luckily, you have that freedom. 🙂