I'm going on my first backpacking adventure. Any advice/tips?
March 13, 2011 10:27 AM   Subscribe

I will be backpacking in India for 3 weeks in April (awesome!) on an organized trip with 12-15 other individuals I have yet to meet. I am very excited about this trip, but at the same time I have never backpacked before, so I will be very much outside my comfort zone. That is the point of this trip though. With that said, do you have any general advice for a newbie backpacker?

Also...bonus random question: what sort of travel adapter do I purchase for charging electronics?

posted by helios410 to Travel & Transportation around India (35 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Pack a whole hell of a lot less gear than you think you'll need. You're lucky to be backpacking with a large group, as you'll have the advantage of borrowing items you may have left at home.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:34 AM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, ditto HotPatatta - travel light. Where will you be? India's big.
posted by anadem at 10:43 AM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I will be covering a lot of ground:

Starting in Dehi, followed by
- Agra
- Jaipur
- Pushkar
- Udaipur
- Ahmedabad
- Mumbai
and finishing in Goa
posted by helios410 at 10:49 AM on March 13, 2011

If you need to buy shoes for the trip, do it now, and wear them as much as you can. You do not want to be breaking in shoes on any trip where you have a lot of walking to do, and certainly not backpacking.
posted by bardophile at 10:49 AM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've heard going vegetarian helps prevent food poisoning in India. I've also heard a can of coke a day helps, but I'm not sure how true that is.

I'd aim for carry-on size luggage, or smaller - since you're doing a lot of moving around. You can do laundry once or twice, if need be. Don't bring a lot of electronics if you don't need to. Chances are you can borrow someone's power adaptor if you're in such a big group.

I'd start ramping up your walking too, as you'll probably be doing a lot of that. The better your physical conditioning, the easier a time you'll have, and the more you'll be able to see.

Most important: Have fun.
posted by backwards guitar at 10:51 AM on March 13, 2011

Bring as few possessions as possible - work out the bare minimum you think you can live with and then leave some of that at home, too. You do not want to be carting a bag half full with stuff you don't ever need. I went to India on a 3 week business trip, which included some personal exploration and all I took was a carry on sized bag and my handbag. This had to hold the laptop as well as work and leisure clothes etc. And there was stuff in there I never used. And I'm female.......

Make sure your bag and washbag are easily opened and accessible so you do not have to unpack everything and repack to retrieve one item.

Bring Immodium or something like it.

Bring wet wipes and antiseptic gel.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:52 AM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you mean backpacking like camping, or backpacking like traveling simply and carrying your stuff in a backpack?

I can't speak to the former, in India.

However, if the latter.

I agree with HotPatatta - pack way less stuff than you think you need. I traveled solo for two months in India in rougher conditions than you're ever likely to face if you're on a package tour. Ten days into the trip I ditched about 30% of what I'd originally brought with me.

For the most part, you really only need the day to day essentials. Clothes. Toothbrush, toothpaste, other toiletries*. Mosquito repellent (I brought the giant can of orange Deet stuff, but after running out of that I moved on to the local brand of mosquito repellent cream called Odomos - I highly recommend it). A headscarf for going into mosques and gurudwaras. All the various cables and adapters for my camera, iPod, and other electronics (which in hindsight I would advise you to whittle down as much as possible).

The only thing I wish I'd brought was one of those quick-drying ultra-wicking travel towels. I used a sarong and bath times were never as nice as they could've been. Though you guys will be there in summer, so this may not be as much of a factor for you.

Remember that India isn't Mars. They have most stuff there, and because you'll have a tour leader, you won't even face the minor barrier to get said stuff (I went on quite an adventure finding tampons in Lucknow, for example).

Eat lots! The food is amazing. If you are concerned about getting sick, eat lots of yogurt. Supposedly the bacteria in the local yogurt will help your system get acclimated to Indian bacteria faster. This is anecdata, but I took this approach and didn't get significantly ill (well I got sick for a day after eating a perfect storm of Things You Are Not Supposed To Eat, but still, it was a 24 hour bug rather than a severe case of something that would have cut my trip short).

To answer your question about adapters: buy when you get there, if possible (this is another thing your tour guide will be able to help with). I had a couple that a friend gave me from a previous trip, and I believe you can also get them in electronics stores Indian neighborhoods if you live in a big city with a large Indian community.
posted by Sara C. at 10:55 AM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh and if you like your food on the bland side learn to embrace spices :)
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:56 AM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take a hat! I didn't and was totally unable to find one in Delhi. I asked an Indian wearing a smart Panama hat where he got it, and he'd bought it in London.

If you haven't bought a pack yet, don't get a big one; smaller is better.

Grapefruit-seed oil is said to be good for keeping stomach bugs at bay.
posted by anadem at 11:06 AM on March 13, 2011

Yeah, if you could tell us the places you will be visiting, I can give you more specific info. On a general note, a lighter backpack is suggested, since you can buy clothes cheaply in India.

About electronics, India uses the 220 V/60 Hz with either 3 or 2 round pin socket. Most laptops and phones will work as is in India, with a simple travel plug that converts the straight pins to round pins. These are also available in any electronics stores/shopping mall in India.
posted by theobserver at 11:07 AM on March 13, 2011

If you need to buy shoes for the trip, do it now, and wear them as much as you can.

Considering it will be summer in India, wear something minimalist. I was there in Indian "winter" and had a pair of canvas sneakers and a pair of flip flops. I later picked up a pair of pretty leather sandals at a market somewhere for the few times that I needed to look nice (though in three weeks on a tour this may not be as much of a factor for you). '

The itinerary you list implies that you're not doing any major treks in the mountains, so I'm going to stress do not pack hiking boots. I always felt really bad for people wearing hiking boots as tourists in India: their feet must be sweltering in there, the boots are heavy, they're difficult to take off when you visit one of the many sites that require you to remove your shoes, and they're valuable (which makes you a target for theft). And there are literally ZERO benefits to counteract those problems. Because India is not Mars, remember?

Oh, and yes, be vegetarian as much as possible. This is a no-brainer and will be really easy because all the best food in most of the country is vegetarian.

I think the can of coke is an urban legend. As far as I'm aware, there is nothing in Coca Cola that would inherently combat gastrointestinal problems; if that were the case, it would be widely known as a miracle cure for all sorts of illnesses. If there's any effect, it's that drinking Coke is a good way to keep hydrated without drinking local tap water. However you could get the same effect by drinking bottled water, local soft drinks, lassi, beer, etc etc etc. I think the urban legend was started before bottled water was ubiquitous.

I brought wet wipes and hand sanitizer and all that and ended up leaving them behind because I didn't really use them. And I was doing much dirtier travel than you'll probably be doing. If you're a real neat-freak or germophobe, sure, bring that stuff. But honestly India isn't that dirty. Just bathe regularly and learn to use a squat toilet and you'll be fine.

Immodium is usually contraindicated for Traveler's Diarrhea. You may want to bring it if you know in advance that you're going to be taking a lot of long bus trips. Otherwise, meh. Trains have bathrooms. Just keep hydrated and don't be afraid to skip a day of sight seeing in order to rest if you feel woozy.
posted by Sara C. at 11:21 AM on March 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

My comment didn't get posted until now and on preview, you have mentioned the places you will visit. So, some more info.

Except for Pushkar and Udaipur, all other places have excellent shopping malls, restaurants and other stuff.

1. OTC Medicines that you would normally use maybe a good thing to carry, although finding equivalents is very easy. In Indian pharmacies (called Medical Stores there), you can just tell the person at the counter your ailment and he'll give you something to help you, as long as it is not serious. Unlike in the US, mild antibiotics are given OTC. Some common equivalents:

Tylenol = Crocin, Imodium=Imodium (for loose bowels), anti-histamine=Avil, Stomach upset=Gelusil (liquid form for ordinary ones)/Rantac for severe cases. If you are a woman, tampons=sanitary napkins.

2. Wear long sleeved white/offwhite cotton tops (called kurta) with Jeans. This should give adequate protection, while providing you with some cultural blending. Don't buy in malls, but do some street shopping. Wear Open sandals to give some breathing for your legs - also easy to remove while visiting religious places.

As suggested above, get a thin scarf to cover your head in the heat as well as in religious places (hindu temples don't need head coverings, usually)

3. Hot street food is much safer than eating in Western restaurants (great Indian paradox!). Enjoy roadside foods (chaat or chat), but avoid the ones with water (Called "pani puri"), unless reliable.

4. Carry a water bottle and a small umbrella in your backpack at all times

5. Use sunscreen at all times. For mild sunburns, apply coconut oil (really!) in the night before going to bed.
posted by theobserver at 11:26 AM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

To answer your question about adapters: buy when you get there, if possible (this is another thing your tour guide will be able to help with). I had a couple that a friend gave me from a previous trip, and I believe you can also get them in electronics stores Indian neighborhoods if you live in a big city with a large Indian community.

Disagree, Sara C. IME, anything you put off buying until you get there becomes a major hassle; some time spent shopping for ITEM X when you could be orienting, catching up on jet lag sleep, eating, or not pissing off the group you're delaying.

Cheap multi-nation adapter kits can be bought; streamline it to whatever is useful after you get there.


My advice: start hiking NOW. In your planned shoes, if possible. Not walking on sidewalks or roads; grassy stretches and uneven ground are what will tax the support muscles you'll depend on.

At least 3 times this week, walk a mile or more. Next week double it. You should be walking over an hour without stopping, in the third week, minimum.


Finally, every single night of the trip, before bed, no matter how tired you are: clean your feet (with alcohol wipes, if possible), and massage your feet, ankles, calves, and quads. It only takes a couple minutes, and you will sleep sounder, and wake up with far less cramps and walk with less chance of injury.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:30 AM on March 13, 2011

It's really nice to have a proper frame backpack rather than a duffel bag or a carry-on bag. You'll be much happier (and much more flexible) if you can keep all your stuff with you and carry it comfortably. This is true even if you're not planning on doing any serious hiking. Just walking a few city blocks with a big heavy duffel bag is awkward and uncomfortable.

Use solid toiletries rather than liquid when you can get away with it — bar soap rather than liquid soap, bar shampoo if you can find one you like, stick deodorant, etc. They're more compact, and less likely to burst or spill when your luggage gets jostled around.

If you're carrying something messy — a pair of muddy boots, say, or a bag of leftover snack food — try to strap it to the outside of your pack rather than stuffing it into an inner compartment. Life is much better when the inside of your pack is clean.

You'll be surprised how few pairs of underwear you really need. You'll also be surprised how many socks you can go through in a bad day.

Keep a few tablets of Immodium on you all the time. And then relax and enjoy the damn food. You will probably get the runs at some point, but if you're carrying some pills for it, it won't be a catastrophe — and my experience is that even people who are super-paranoid about avoiding local food still get the runs at some point when they're traveling, so why get hung up on it?

I always try to travel with a deck of cards and a cheap music player of some sort. The first is for when you're bored and want to make friends, the second is for when you're overwhelmed and want to ignore everyone around you. As far as I'm concerned, these are totally legitimate exceptions to the "travel light" rule, because they're so damn useful for staying sane.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:35 AM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with packing light. Take backup shoes (of a different sort than your main shoes) if you're doing alot of walking! I had a series of shoe mishaps on my last trip and spent most of the trip in a falling-apart pair of sandals. You end up with a blister between your toes on the first day from flip-flops, you're going to want something non-flip flop, you know?

If you have smallish feet, you can plan to get some sandals or shoes there like Sara C suggests. I have non-normal feet and so that is pretty much never an option for me.

Depending on your package tour company, you will either be out partying every night or you won't. If you think you will be, make sure you have a going-out top in your bag. I don't party when I travel alone so I did my usual minimalist packing for a package tour last year, and I had nothing to wear to the bars every night except my plain t-shirts and hiking pants. (Sorry if this is obvious to the younger/hipper folks.)
posted by cabingirl at 11:39 AM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oops, sorry, should have checked that you were a dude. Well, maybe you wouldn't take a "going-out top" but you might pack something for the bars, anyway!
posted by cabingirl at 11:42 AM on March 13, 2011

Meta-advice: Everyone who's traveled a lot has some rules of thumb that they're TOTALLY RELIGIOUS about and others that they ignore. I'll traipse all over the damn place with no umbrella, no hat and no bug spray, even though I know I "shouldn't," but I won't move an inch without a handkerchief. For other people it's the umbrella or the hat or the bug spray or some other damn thing that's totally indispensable.

Everyone's gonna be all "Pack light, but make sure you bring X," and if you brought every single X that anyone recommended, you wouldn't be packing light. So you have to sort of figure out what's going to be essential to your sanity and what's going to be optional. Anyway, you'll be with a group, so you'll be able to bum or borrow a lot of small stuff that you don't bring with you.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:48 AM on March 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you're coming from a cold climate and have been wearing boots and socks and such since sometime in October or November, definitely re-acclimate your feet to summer shoes before you travel. Your feet will thank you.
posted by Sara C. at 11:49 AM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the suggestions so far everyone. It's much appreciated.
posted by helios410 at 11:54 AM on March 13, 2011

you will either be out partying every night or you won't

It being India, you probably won't until you get to Goa. India is not really a "partying" culture in the European sense of getting dolled up and going out for the night. There are night clubs in the major cities, but for the most part people are rather culturally conservative, especially regarding alcohol.

Very nice "going out" worthy clothes can be found easily in any city. Especially if you're a guy - grab a kurta at FabIndia when you get to Delhi if you plan to party a lot right away. Your next nightclub-ish opportunities won't be until Mumbai and Goa, anyway.

That said, I tried to dress a cut above your typical backpacker while I was in India (not hard, you will laugh to see what your average 20 year old Australian or Israeli considers "clothing"), and in general I felt like I was treated better by the locals because of it. So it's not a bad idea to bring some pants that aren't jeans, maybe a shirt with a collar or some structure to it.
posted by Sara C. at 11:56 AM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Agree that a backpack is much better than a duffel or rolling suitcase, even if you are not seriously hiking. Carrying a duffel can be annoying, and you don't want to roll your suitcase through something you'd rather not.

Call your doctor and ask for a prescription for whatever the current favorite antibiotic for traveler's diarrhea is. Get it filled at home and take it with you so you can take it as soon as you need it. India has doctors and modern medications, but you won't want to lose a day finding a doctor, making the appointment, getting the prescription filled, etc etc. (Especially if you get sick on a weekend, or the middle of the night, or on a 12-hour train ride to another city.) Immodium is also your friend. Have it on hand. I did this in Mexico and was very glad I had.

Leave room in your pack for souvenirs.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:56 AM on March 13, 2011

Call your doctor and ask for a prescription for whatever the current favorite antibiotic for traveler's diarrhea is. Get it filled at home and take it with you so you can take it as soon as you need it. India has doctors and modern medications, but you won't want to lose a day finding a doctor, making the appointment, getting the prescription filled, etc etc.

A. No antibiotics are commonly indicated for traveler's diarrhea. Traveler's diarrhea is almost always a symptom of being disoriented and over-exerted in a new place with new bacteria. You can take some Immodium if it will make your life easier, but it's not really a disease that needs to be treated with cutting edge antibiotics. There are caveats to this which you can find in any guidebook to a third world destination, as well as in packets that your doctor will give you when you go in for your shots. But by and large diarrhea is just diarrhea, not a sign of the apocalypse.

B. It is disgustingly easy to get almost any medication at an Indian pharmacy.

Firstly, they are everywhere and impossible to miss. You're not going to be searching all over town for a pharmacy, even in the tiniest most obscure place. And all the places on your itinerary are huge sprawling population centers and tourist meccas with everything anybody could ever want. There are as many pharmacies in Ahmedabad as there are in New York or London or Berlin.

The dispensing of medications in India does not work the same way as it does in the USA. You don't have to have an appointment with an MD, get a paper prescription, bring it down to a pharmacy, etc. You just walk yourself over to the pharmacy, tell the nice man behind the counter what's wrong with you (he probably speaks English, but feel free to pantomime if you need to), and he will give you whatever you need. You can ask for specific medications if you know what you need, too.

This will be even easier considering that you're traveling as part of a tour. One of your many traveling companions can do this errand for you if you're too ill to walk down to the corner and tell the nice man what's wrong with you. If it's something really complicated (you get really, really sick in some village in Rajasthan with no facilities), your tour guide can sort it out for you.

3. Any advice that urges you to blast your system with antibiotics so as to avoid missing some tourist site is TERRIBLE advice that is not only bad, medically, but will ruin your trip to India. This sort of thing is why people come home from trips like yours and have nothing but horrible things to say about the place. Most people come down with Traveler's Diarrhea because they need to slow down and make sure they're getting enough rest, hydration, nutritious food, etc. Kicking it up a notch so as to stick with the pace of a tour is exactly the opposite of what your body is telling you to do.

If you feel sick, slow the fuck down. Jeez. Don't beat yourself up because you rested back at the hotel instead of going to see yet another temple.
posted by Sara C. at 12:13 PM on March 13, 2011 [8 favorites]

Most westerners fall sick in India by eating western cuisine, as recounted by countless anecdotes of my friends and contacts in India!

Indian cuisine is usually cooked (very less raw items), so sticking to Indian food is your safest bet. Fruit salads, plain sandwiches, burgers etc should be limited, but feel free to munch on unpeeled fruits.

And Please, please, please taste as many varieties of mangoes as you can, since the summer is the mango season in India! Buy the juicy varieties, especially and eat them over the sink, without cutting them. Thats the connoisseur way to eat mangoes! Watermelons, musk melons, bananas are other fruits you must definitely try - they are tasy and provide you with much-needed coolness to your body from the heat. Cocount water, sugarcane juice, Lassi, Sherbet, falooda, masala chai are other beverages you should try.

For lunch and dinner, opt for buffet, since you get many items to sample. You can also order additional dishes along with the buffet if something that is not in the buffet catches your attention!

Oh and one other thing - keep visiting cards of your tour operator and Hotel always with you. Ask for reliable cab operators' numbers and write them down in the back of those cards, just in case you get lost and need to go back.

[I had to absolutely tell you this, sorry...]
posted by theobserver at 1:02 PM on March 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

Vaccinate. Get malaria prophylaxis.
posted by abx1-se at 1:46 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I didn't see this mentioned above, but make sure that your backpack is fitted properly, meaning that the weight should rest on your hips and not as much on your shoulders and that the straps are snug and not tight. This makes a huge difference if you're on your feet a lot.

If I was to go back to India, I'd probably bring some spare loose change, a few mix CDs, and a couple of cheesy American items to give to folks I met while traveling. I gave a kid a pair of Spiderman mittens I'd brought on a whim while I was in a tiny town in the mountains and it made their day. Then again, judging by where you're going, access to stuff like that probably isn't too much of a problem.

Great advice above, have fun!
posted by ajarbaday at 4:27 PM on March 13, 2011

Regarding food poisoning - I've been to India a few times to see family, including pretty much everywhere that you'll be going. The most important thing is to be careful with water. The Indian water supply has all sorts of flora and fauna that your body is not used to, and if you let it, it will smack you down.

So, drink bottled water exclusively, or else boil anything that you're going to drink.

Brush your teeth with bottled water.

Don't have ice in your drinks (it will have been made with unboiled tap water).

Avoid fresh uncooked vegetables (they will have been washed in tap water).

I forgot about the ice thing once, having a last minute drink (at a 5 star hotel bar) with my cousins before getting on the plane home. Was sick as a dog all the way back.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:53 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had ice in drinks throughout India and never had a problem with it. I also stopped brushing my teeth with bottled water after a while and experienced no adverse effects (though I'd advise OP to stick to that rule of thumb since he'll only be in country a few weeks).

Everyone's stomach is different, though - and it obviously doesn't hurt to be careful. But don't have a panic attack if you start sipping a drink without noticing it has ice, or order a lassi only to discover there's ice in it halfway through.
posted by Sara C. at 5:11 PM on March 13, 2011

Agree 100% on Sara C.'s clothing recommendation. Nobody will mistake you for a local, but if you follow some basic principles of dress you will have many more opportunities for interaction with people in North India. In public, for males: always collared shirts. Always pants. NEVER shorts. Head covering if you're in a mosque. You will see many, many backpackers flouting these principles, and I promise you they will not have as much luck gaining the respect of locals. You may also see some rich Indians walking around in t-shirts, but again, different rules for different folks. It will be hot as heck but I promise this will pay off.

(Goa may be different, but I can't speak to that.)
posted by threeants at 9:50 PM on March 13, 2011

Vaccinate. Get malaria prophylaxis.

I can't speak to India specifically but I just got back from several weeks in various parts of Bangladesh, and there seemed to be about a 50/50 split between people whose doctors had recommended malaria prophylaxis and those who hadn't. My doctor recommended against it, because many of the drugs have fairly significant side-effects (including suicidal ideation, depression, etc.; we're not talking about upset-tummy level side effects), and I didn't have time to get used to taking it before I was scheduled to leave.

My doctor didn't seem to think that the risk of malaria in most areas that tourists go to (not just in Bangladesh but the subcontinent generally) was enough to make prophylaxis worthwhile; YMMV of course. (She said the only places she recommends malaria prophylaxis for anymore are certain regions of Africa.)

Malaria drugs seemed to be very easy to come by in all the areas I visited, and that included some fairly non-touristy locales. Maybe not the latest high-tech drugs, but doxycycline (and other antibiotics) and quinine seemed to be at every little pharmacy in every town/village. So if for some reason you think you might have malaria, unless you are really in the middle of nowhere, it shouldn't be hard to get you drugs promptly. (If you wanted, you could easily get a 7-day course and keep it in your kit on the chance you need it.) It's all about weighing the risks.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:01 PM on March 13, 2011

I've heard going vegetarian helps prevent food poisoning in India.

Anecdotal, but the few times I got sick in India was from eating vegetarian food (vege fried rice that was obviously using old rice; an omelette from a street vendor).

I agree with the advice above about eating local food. Most places I went, the attempts to cook Western food weren't very good anyway.

Be kind to people: India is crowded and often high-stress and people will get in your face. Be relaxed about this. It's a fairly safe country - you're highly unlikely to be mugged, but pickpocketing/theft is possible, so keep your valuables out of sight and close to you (maybe get a money belt).

How are you getting around? Are you flying? Train? Tourbus? (You're covering a lot of ground, is why I ask).
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:26 AM on March 14, 2011

Bring immodium for dire emergencies, but unless you're unlikely to get to a toilet, don't take it! If your gut wants to get rid of something in your stomach, let it.

I say this from experience. After a few weeks in India I finally got a really bad gut and reached for the immodium, only for it to block me up and create overwhelming stomach pains as a result of not being able to get whatever needed to get out, out. After that, I was fine, lots of gut troubles (it happens) but there's always a toilet around - even if it's a stinky, gross, fecal covered one.

Better out than in.
posted by skauskas at 5:36 AM on March 14, 2011

4x India here, 1.5 years in total...

For the first week or so, India will headfuck you. It's busy, crowded, noisy, intense, vibrant, smelly, crazy, everything.

In particular, Delhi-Agra-Jaipur are known as the Golden Triangle, because so many "short time, big money" tourists take that route on their whirlwind tour. For this reason, Agra & Jaipur in particular are easily the most hassle-filled cities in the country - touts, beggars, scammers, etc, basically lured there because every now & then some gormless git straight off the plane might inadvertently tip $20 or buy a carpet for 50x its value, or even worse: fork out $thousands for gems worth almost nothing. They'll be in your face all the time & it can be annoying, to say the least. It's never threatening, just irritating - like being surrounded by 10,000 mosquitoes all at once.

You *might* be wanting to go home by the time you hit Jaipur, but don't worry...it gets better once you get past those cities, and Pushkar is an ideal place to sit back & take stock. Very peaceful & pleasant. Udaipur is also reasonably relaxed.

Ahmedabad is busy, but relatively untouristed, so pretty easy going. By the time you hit Mumbai you should be reasonably well acclimatised. Goa is laid back.

But you seem to be on some kind of guided tour, so should be relatively protected from a lot of this.

General advice: learn a few phrases in Hindi, don't be afraid to go wandering about, eat food from street stalls, if possible within your tour avoid 'western' style food, go to Chisti's Tomb in Ajmer (30 min from Pushkar) if you can for great Qawwali music, don't have a Pushkar bhang lassi unless you have a good acquaintanceship with datura, don't give the shithead mercenary "priests" in Pushkar more than 10 Rupees for your "Pushkar passport" (a string around your wrist for a mandatory ritual by the lake, without which they won't let you onto the ghats) no matter how much they protest, eat lots of masala dosas, drink chai by the bucketload, play cricket with kids in the street, feed banana peels to cows, have all your shaves at barbers & remember that the head massage is gratis, hang around temples as long as you like, and ignore all warnings & have fun.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:07 AM on March 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

PS - I just noticed the April thing. OK, that's hot season, like 40 degrees Celsius plus, although it's dry heat up north so not so bad. You'll be drinking bottled water, most likely 1.5 litre bottles of Bisleri. I'd recommend you buy some sachets of rehydration salts from pharmacies (should only cost you a few rupees a pop) and empty the salts into a bottle of nicely refrigerated water. When you drink a bottle of this stuff in one go it will feel like the nectar of the gods, really.

April is also mango season, and there are hundreds of different varieties of mangoes to sample, which means mango lassis at every possible opportunity. The yoghurt in the lassis will also help with your stomach.

Chances are you'll be there for the Holi festival - should be heaps of fun.

Ceiling fans are a godsend - keep them on full blast all night & the mosquitoes won't touch you.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:57 AM on March 14, 2011

This foldable wallet card might be a bit helpful in decoding indian restaurant menus - they don't have descriptions of the dishes or the ingredients (unless it is a 5-star hotel or really classy).

While this is primarily south-indian, names of vegetables are usually common.
posted by theobserver at 7:19 AM on March 14, 2011

Yes, confirming that theobserver's foldable wallet card will work for you in North India - especially the "And briefly" bit. Dishes are very prosaically named, eg palak paneer = spinach & cheese. Aloo mattar = potato & peas.

Use it as a dictionary to interpret menus, not as a menu to order from, because about half the things on there are specific to the south (eg utthapam, idli, rasam, sambal, vada)
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:42 AM on March 14, 2011

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