This is a continuation of our series on tips for female travelers to India by awesome guest blogger – Christine Winkler.
India is bound to surprise you, India might confront you with your own abyss and you will surely experience a culture shock. But India also has a lot to give. Be aware that India is a country with still a high level of poverty and some things are handled so much differently from western countries. Not only the climate can be a challenge, also…seriously, there’s so much people! But if you keep an open mind and an open heart you’ll surely have a great time.
There are so many men…
For women travelers many travel guides recommend the fake husband trick – wearing a fake wedding band to pretend you’re married and your husband just stayed at the hotel that day. I wasn’t traveling alone but still I never felt any of this was necessary. If you are aware of the Indian culture, are wearing decent clothes and common sense is a word you are familiar with you should be fine.
In fact I often had the opposite problem. Instead of dealing with intrusive single Indian men I realized that a lot of men hesitated or even refused to talk to me. It was especially weird when we ate at a street food stall that was popular with Indian men who judging from their clothes worked at an office nearby. They were happily chatting with Max but completely ignored me, even turned away when they felt they were too “close” to me. In situations like this remember that it’s a cultural thing and does not necessarily reflect you, your personality or your behavior.
Salespersons however are a complete different story. To me it seemed like they can spot the tourist in even the biggest crowds (which honestly isn’t that difficult, I have to admit) and coming from a western country you are their prime target. You are rich – even if you aren’t. But you are rich enough to travel their country so it means they desperately want to sell you whatever they are selling. And OF COURSE this is the only place in whole India where you can get that beautifully hand carved/sewn Ganesh statue/scarf/painting/whatever. So if you want to buy souvenirs check prices and assortments of different stores so you get a feeling for prices and goods. Since you’re a foreigner prices will be most likely significantly higher for you, so don’t be shy to negotiate if you find a piece you want to buy. Don’t feel bad about haggling with a salesperson, no vendor will ever agree to a price that will literally ruin them – although they’ll claim that’s the way it is.
Not everything goes as planned
Sure, it’s always good to have a plan. Knowing where to stay for your first nights so you can accommodate and fight possible jet lag is a smart decision. But don’t plan to much. India is a huge country, traffic and road conditions are sometimes…let’s say…interesting. Things might not always go your way, but that’s okay. Go with the flow and be open to surprises the country might offer you.
It’s tempting to get a taxi to take you everywhere since it’s fairly cheap. Of course that’s always an option, but for a more authentic feel (and to avoid the horrible traffic jams) I’d recommend taking the metro. I can only speak for Delhi here but it was surprisingly simple. The first train we got into was really crowded and we were not only the only foreigner but I was also the only woman on that train. Everybody stared at me. Nothing happened, but it was a bit weird, I have to admit. On the next train we changed into we accidentally went into the women’s section which we only noticed because it was so weirdly empty for Indian conditions. This is perfect for female travelers but even if you’re out and about with a guy you can still stand on the section between the women’s and the normal section, it’s less crowded and the atmosphere was nicer.
If you ask me, Indian cuisine is one of the best in the world, but even if you don’t usually like spicy stuff you don’t have to rely on american fast food chains to survive. One shocking thing I realized when eating at different locations in India is…the food really isn’t that spicy. Everybody warned us about all that extremely spicy food. Truth to be told in most places they probably toned it down a lot for us despite us asking for something spicy. I don’t know if my taste buds are ruined because we eat a lot of spicy food at home or if that’s a touristy thing…but just to be sure take it easy when experiencing Indian food for the first time. Don’t be afraid to give it a try, for example you can choose rice based biryanis or a butter chicken. Also a Lassi (yoghurt drink) on the side might help if your dish turned out to be hotter than you wanted it to. If you absolutely don’t know what to order stick to thalis, these are plates with lots of little bowls with a variety of veggies and sometimes also chicken or lamb. Great to get a first idea of authentic Indian food.
If you feel daring enough try street food. We absolutely loved it, but a word of advice: stay clear of everything that involves raw food or suspicious looking water. It’s probably also safer to stay on the vegetarian side when trying the delicious food that’s sold on street food stalls. Everything went fine for us for two weeks, then we got a bit too carefree and had this really delicious chicken…well. For drinking…it’s obvious that especially in hot climate it’s crucial to stay hydrated. Only drink bottled water and pay attention that the seal of the bottle is still intact. In restaurants I often order coke (without ice of course) because I feel it’s „safer“, but this might be just me. Do not drink tap water, at least not unless you cooked it. The popular rule „Peel it, boil it, cook it or forget it!“ is to be taken seriously, unless of course you really want to test my advice about what to do when you got your stomach upset…
The infamous Delhi Belly
Even if you follow all the safety advice you can get, it’s not unlikely for travelers to suffer from a Delhi Belly which struck me after our Rajasthan tour. In this case get some rest. If you’re staying in a hostel dorm room consider to upgrade yourself to a private room where you can sleep off and get rid of whatever bugs your stomach in private. I know you might not feel like eating or drinking is a good idea but be sure to stay hydrated. Don’t be shy to consult the hotel staff for advice, I got some meds from the hotel receptionist that really helped me to overcome the most awful phase. In severe cases, if your symptoms only get worse go and see a doctor.
A Delhi belly can take some time until you feel normal again. Trust your guts and take it slowly when it comes to food. Maybe ordering some plain rice and naan bread? Or if you crave for salty stuff maybe get yourself some french fries/chips? For me my body usually tells me what it needs after tummy problems and even if you’re hungry, try to rather eat small portions and have some snacks more often than indulging on a full meal only to realize later that it was indeed too early to get back on the foodie wagon.
Want to know what Christine is up to? Feel free to check out her Instagram.