How to travel to India

From a reader:

I have really enjoyed your travel posts on various countries, and am currently planning a trip to India for the month of November. However, I have struggled to find much writing of yours on the country. Perhaps a post on tips/places/cities/culture is in order? It would be much appreciated.

I have only a few India tips, but I can recommend them very, very strongly.  Here goes:

1. You can’t just walk around all day and deal with the pollution, the bad sidewalks, and dodging the traffic.  This ain’t Paris.  Plan accordingly.

2. When Alex set off to live in India, I said to him: “Alex, after a few weeks there, I want you to email me “the number.”  The number is how many consecutive hours you can circulate in an Indian city without having to stop and resort to a comfortable version of the indoors.”  You too will figure out pretty quickly what your number is, and it won’t take you a few weeks.

3. India is one of the very best and most memorable trips you can take.  You should go repeatedly.

4. Every single part of India is interesting and worth visiting, as far as I can tell after five trips.  That said, I find Bangalore quite over-visited relative to its level of interest.

5. My favorite places in India are Mumbai, Chennai, Rajasthan, and Kolkaata.  Still, I could imagine a rational person with interests broadly similar to my own having a quite different list.

6. India has the best food in the world.  It is not only permissible but indeed recommended to take all of your meals in fancy hotel restaurants.  Do not eat the street food in India (and I eat it virtually everywhere else).  It is also permissible to find two or three very good hotel restaurants — or even one — and simply run through their menus.  You won’t be disappointed.

7. Invest in a very, very good hotel.  It is affordable, and you will need it, and it will be a special memory all its own.

8. Being driven around in the Indian countryside is terrifying (and I have low standards here, I do this all the time in other non-rich countries).  If it were safer, I would see many more parts of India.  But it isn’t.  So I don’t.

9. If you go during monsoon season, your trip will be quite memorable.  I cannot say I recommend this (I don’t), but I am myself glad I did it once, in Goa, when monsoon season started early.  I got a lot of work done.

10. Do not expect punctuality.

11. Most of the sights in India, including the very famous ones, are overrated.  The main sight is India itself, and that is underrated.

12. “In religion, every Indian is a millionaire.”

I thank Yana and Dan Wang and Alex for discussions relevant to this post.

Comments

I have visited many countries. I have never visited India or been tempted to visit India, based on what I have read and heard about India from people who I have known who have visited India and talked about it. Thailand is close enough, culturally and geographically, to suit me. I have been to Thailand roughly 50 times in the past 27 years, for periods ranging from 3-12 weeks at a time. Your post does nothing to alter my thinking. But perhaps I am missing something. I concede that. Although I will at this point probably never again leave the small town where I currently live in Japan, from which I administer my internet empire, I would, if I had it to do all over, prefer to visit the west coast of South America from top to bottom, and all around the east coast (again).
Despite this, I enjoy and appreciate your travel posts.

I don't know if you're a Japanese native or immigrant, but in either case, India is a perfect opposite, the Japanese consider themselves the Germans of Asia, at least the samurai family males, whereas the indians are influenced by the Brits, India and Japan are the extreme opposite ends of the historical range of of Buddhism, the Indians have the untouchables, the Japanese the Burakumin. Japan is clean and safe, India is dirty and unsafe, my Indian friends that enjoyed street food in Malaysia also would never touch it in India.

With Japan as reference, one should see India for the contrast.

@Viking India is bright , full of colour , vibrant. Indian Music both vocal and instrumental has an ancient deep rooted traditions. Indian textiles are gorgeous, varied in the style and fabric. India is dirty in parts and yes that’s an area that saddens and takes away from experiencing India as a whole

I still want to go there to see, despite what I said.

My question is: Is it safe both from physical harm and from biological harm? I have heard stories of being roughed up in bad neighborhoods and of being hit by vehicles. Also I understand that there are a vast array of biological worries from food and water, human contact and risks from even small cuts.

India is safe from physical harm if crime is your concern. You'll have to have your wits about you and not trust strangers blindly, which is an advice which I guess pretty much applies to any place on earth. You'll need getting used to the street traffic though - the risk of getting run over by vehicles is significant. As to biological harm: always eat freshly-cooked food at "reputed" joints and always drink bottled water.

I often tell less traveled Westeners who are overwhelmed by Thailand that it is Switzerland in comparison to India. Every person who subsequently went to India has conceded the point.

Tyler's post is what it says. How to travel to India not to sell you on it. Are you a fan of Indian food? Indian curry is not the same as Japanese curry or Thai for that matter. The vegetarian food is absolutely the world's best. Are you Buddhist by any chance? If so, you will find the historical sites along the Northern border with Nepal of great interest. Do you enjoy Bollywood films? Or Indian literature? These are all great starting points into what India has to offer.

Golden Curry takes full advantage of umami, though the hot version is the least enjoyable of the three varieties.

@Tsai 2 . My suggestion is that you should. As an Indian who lives in India and has travelled widely, India will surprise you pleasantly and move you deeply. The India that you ‘see’ based on all the secondhand inputs and undoubtedly well meaning advice will be very different from the India that you will experince

I've been to India once and tell everyone that India should be visited at least once. It can't be explained, only experienced.

Quite a good list, from a westerner's perspective. As an Indian, my comments:

6. Try some good stand-alone restaurants (not part of a Hotel setup). The food is usually better, IMHO. Avoiding street food is wise advise to an international traveler, but you should try the "street food" served inside good stand-alone restaurants. Also try "Chinese" cuisine as served in India (hint: its not chinese). And of course each region / major city has a different cuisine that's special. Not all of Indian food is Daal Makahni / Chicken Tikka Masala and Naan.

8. Try taking a train ride if you have the time and inclination. It will be memorable.

10. "Do not expect punctuality" - Never forget this!

12. Try visiting the big / famous temples wherever you go in India. And the mosques in North India / churches in South India. These are generally under-rated.

To be honest, I had thought that Chicken Tikka Masala is not Indian at all.

'The origin of the dish is not certain. Some trace the origins of the dish to the South Asian community in Britain. The Multicultural Handbook of Food, Nutrition and Dietetics credits its creation to Bangladeshi migrant chefs in the 1960s, after migrating from what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). At the time, most of Britain's Indian restaurants were owned and run by Bangladeshi chefs, who developed and served a number of new inauthentic "Indian" dishes, including chicken tikka masala.[5] Historians of ethnic food Peter and Colleen Grove discuss various origin-claims of chicken tikka masala, concluding that the dish "was most certainly invented in Britain, probably by a Bangladeshi chef". They suggest that "the shape of things to come may have been a recipe for Shahi Chicken Masala in Mrs Balbir Singh’s Indian Cookery published in 1961".

Another explanation is that it originated in an Indian restaurant in Glasgow, Scotland.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_tikka_masala

The American equivalent is more likely along the lines of chop suey than General Tso's chcicken.

and...

13. Try to get invited to a wedding.

100% agree. I’ve been to India a few times and am not the biggest fan of it as a holiday destination. But if you have an Indian friend who invites you to their wedding back in the mother country, go. You will not regret it, even if you normally do not enjoy weddings.

you have to specify "wedding in north india". weddings in south of india is too ritualistic and boring. not much of dance and music.

If you’re in Kolkata, be sure to get both a traditional Bengali meal as well as their Chinese food.

I am an Indian and currently live in Bangalore. I agree with most of your statements. I do agree that famous sights in India are overrated. I am planning to travel more. In the past, whenever I visited a city, I checked all the tourist spots and always felt underwhelmed at the end. I want to know what you meant by "The main sight is India itself, and that is underrated."? It might give me a new perspective for my future travels.

That seems very likely a meaningless sentence inserted for reasons other than its meaning.

Or it means that someone who did not grow up in India finds experiencing its reality to be more interesting than someone who grew up in India likely would.

The same tends to apply to people who grow up in DC or NYC - they often do not bother to experience or do not recognize the things that make where they live interesting.

This is the sentiment of someone who does not value curiosity or exploration for the sake of itself.

Have to agree.

To me, it means that ordinary interactions with Indians in India, and observing the way they interact with each other and their environment, is very interesting to a Westerner. Perhaps "mind-blowing" is a better word.

"mind-blowing" is never .a better word

I don' t travel much. Although I've thought about India, the thing that dissuades me is the reports of the stench. I'd like to hear some comments. In all fairness, someone talking about NYC this week commented that New York smells mostly of urine, so hmmm.

Smells are a big part of the place. If you ever wondered what it's like to be a dog, this is the closest you'll ever get. There are bad smells, sure, but also good smells -- flowers grown for this reason, and incense, and rain, and food of course. Coming back to the west, you are suddenly short of one sense.

Winter is the coolest but also least interesting time -- it's dry and dusty. Going in the rainy season is actually great, the air is washed clean, and everything is much greener.

Having flown in there as a pilot, youstart smelling India at about 1,500’ on th approach. An amazing assault on the senses, good and bad

:D that's a different perspective!

Generally, a small grammar mistake is not that notable, but the title 'How to travel to India' written by an American leads one to expect a pithy 'by airplane,' plus maybe a suggestion about something like Expedia or an Indian equivalent.

Instead, the post is about travelling in India, which is not exactly the same thing.

Heading to India (Chennai area) on Saturday for my 4th time. These are good. I go to India for work so I can't comment on monuments but I fully agree with the bottom line that "the main sight is India". Hard to describe India without being there. I'll add a few comments of my own to a few points.

6. The food is wonderful and you can't go wrong with hotel restaurants. Just make sure you aren't the only one eating. I've had street food multiple times in India but be careful and don't eat it if you aren't with a local. I have built up an "iron gut" over the years through my travels abroad. I will add though that the best meal of my life was probably in India at 10:30pm eating street food in a small town. Choice is yours.

7. Make sure you can be comfortable during the trip because whatever you do with will be physically uncomfortable during large periods of it. India is so different (from the West) so it's also nice to have a break at times. Plan for that.

8. Oh boy. Yes. I'm at ease being driven around Uganda and Kenya where I also work but not in India. Taking a train (especially the local train) is an experience. The train station too really is something.

9. Don't go during May (especially in the south). Your "number" will be very low.

12. Went to what I can best describe as a wedding renewal ceremony in a rural temple. I don't know even where to begin with that experience.

Wonderful place. Incredibly warm people though more so when you have introductions.

Visit Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) if you haven't been there earlier. Go early (sights open at 6am thereabouts) as it gets too hot in the day.

visit kerala (south) in june-july. it's the start of the rainy season. just watching the rain pour, breathing in the fresh, cool breeze, at a resort beside the backwaters, munching on some karimeen...hm hmm hmmmmmmm

Great post!

Some comments (from the perspective of someone born in India, who grew up from very early childhood in the US, visiting India every few years):

"1. You can’t just walk around all day and deal with the pollution, the bad sidewalks, and dodging the traffic. ..."

True, but it's also the case that walking around in Indian cities is fascinating -- one of my favorite things to do. The sheer variety of things going on, differences in neighborhoods, and random sights is amazing. On our way to a neighborhood post office, my older son and I turned a corner and found a brightly painted temple chariot, simply parked behind a house. Unfortunately, walking around is also very difficult, thanks to terrifyingly chaotic traffic and abysmal sidewalks.

"4. Every single part of India is interesting and worth visiting, as far as I can tell after five trips. That said, I find Bangalore quite over-visited relative to its level of interest."

I've never heard anyone recommend Bangalore to tourists, native or foreign!

"5. My favorite places in India are Mumbai, Chennai, Rajasthan, and Kolkaata. Still, I could imagine a rational person with interests broadly similar to my own having a quite different list."

There are vast parts of India I haven't seen. Of those I have, I'd rank Belur / Halebid near the top -- dazzling 12th century temples. (Get one of the guides at the site.) Temples in general -- the many, many "living" ones -- are remarkable, but I've always been unclear on whether non-Indians are allowed in the innermost parts. But even the outer parts, the surroundings, and the people are unlike anything else.

One of the most surprising things of my last trip was how many more Indian tourists there were (i.e. visiting other parts of India); in contrast, there seemed to be fewer foreigners. I was also surprised by the sad lack of progress in things like trash collection and infrastructure, which I'd love to gain insights into.

This is a really good YouTube channel by a guy that travels to all corners of India, eating and staying at not very fancy places, really entertaining.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxDZs_ltFFvn0FDHT6kmoXA

Harald baldr's channel is also wonderful: https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCKr68ZJ4vv6VloNdnS2hjhA

He has traveled with Mr Bald, but i find Mr Bald patronizing and less genuine than harald.

While there are one or two parts of this post I cannot independently verify (never been to Bangalore) I agree with all of those I can do so. While I agree that eating in good hotels is safe and generally very good, even the best, it is OK to eat in good stand-alone restaurants as well generally, especially if one does have a tough stomach. One site that is not overrated in my view is the Ajanta caves, although this is hard to get to. When I went I had to be driven a long distance to see them, and Tyler is right that being driven around in the countryside is pretty scary.

When we visited South India (Chennai, Kerala etc) a few years ago we discovered the best way to do it was to engage — by email — an Indian (New Delhi) travel agent who made all the arrangements and supplied a full time driver (little English but smart, prompt and obliging), a good car and local guides who were great. We got wonderful food recommendations (I agree about eating in Hotels mainly) and detailed guidance especially in the temples that were a focus of our interest. The company we used was Uday Tours and Travel in New Delhi (Google). Alas, most public spaces in southern India seem to be filled with trash or worse. So being able to take refuge in a nice car or hotel is actually important.

Great comment, and you are exactly right.

I’d occasionally visit Mumbai for work and always stayed at the Oberoi - and always ate at the Oberoi.

Until one day, hours before leaving, some colleagues took me to a nice restaurant. The flight back was hell. The day that followed was worse. I’ve never had such food poisoning. I honestly thought I might die.

No the metros are not that great... Try the offbeat places... Try these:
Kerala(Munnnar/Alleppey)
Himachal Pradesh (Kasol etc)
Uttarakhand (Mussouri etc)
Rajasthan
Maharashtra (Konkan region, Khandala mountains)
South Goa
Northeast (still paradise - Gangtok, Imphal etc)
Leh/Ladakh (It will make Swiss Alps appear pale)
These and there are others that make India a paradise.... The cities are filth in comparison, polluted and corrupted.

I second this list wholeheartedly even though the ones I've been to only include Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Leh/Ladakh. I would plan India as three or four different trips. Perhaps a northwest and central one, including the three I've visited above and the golden triangle. A south one for Mumbai, Goa and Chennai. An east one for Kolkata and Bangladesh.

The Himalayas, particularly Jammu and Kashmir, which may be dangerous now as fighting has broken out again, are incredible. Riding motorcycles around Leh/Ladakh from Buddhist temple to buddhist temple was absolutely one of the best things I've ever done in my life.

Tyler strikes me as more of a worrywart than I had imagined about both transportation and food. In fact, I am not sure I would have taken such an adventurous trip were it not for the influence of this blog, and yet, Tyler seems to have fallen victim to his own stagnation!

If there is one thing to keep in mind about India, it's that it is deeply to its bones pluralistic in ways westerners inculcated in the Westphalian tradition of "cujus regio, ejus religio" simply cannot understand. Unlike the Han Chinese, who are one people, India is the aggregation of 600 or so genetically distinct communities of 2-3 million each, that have maintained over 99.5% endogamy for thousand years. No one community can impose its will onto the others (the flip side being it makes it easier for outsiders to impose theirs, from Alexander to the Mughals to the British). Even the dominant Hindu religion is pluralist, being more of a common metaphysical system that encompasses multiple religions within it. And of course India has been a refuge for persecuted groups from the Zoroastrian Parsis to Jews for millennia. This is precisely why India is so diverse and vibrant, but also unruly and often violent.

@Fazal Majid - "This is precisely why India is so diverse and vibrant, but also unruly and often violent." - quite wrong; mood affiliation noted. According to this site: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate

India's violent homicide rate (3.22) is less than Thailand's and much less than either the United States (5.35) or the Philippines (11.02). In PH I don't feel unsafe, so in India you must feel even more safe. Possibly you are confusing the occasional political or military death with public safety. Possibly India has a high property theft rate, which sometimes is a bit uncorrelated with homicide rates.

Indeed, India does not have a street violence problem the way (say) Brazil or South Africa do. You can walk around most places, including past the slums, without too much concern, at least if you are a white guy. (Women sadly need to be a bit more careful.)

I think what F Majid meant is by "unruly and often violent" is more what they call "communal violence" up to and including what in Europe they would call pogroms. Not every week obviously, but inter-group tensions exist. Famously, while Modi was in charge, there were riots in Gujarat which killed about 1000 people.

Definitely DOES NOT APPLY if you are a woman. Do not let the spiritual and pacifist elements of the Indian culture lull any woman into any sense of security in mixed company. It does not apply to us. It's bad enough if you are white, its worse if you brown and haven't grown up in India. I left India with my parents when I was 2 and barely visited since. I'm essentially a foreigner. I look Indian, but act foreign, which is apparently particularly enraging. When I travel alone to visit my grandmother alone in suburban Kolkata, my (Indian middle class) family hires me a bodyguard. And this is not a modesty question, I'm a slightly squishy 42 yr old. Not tall, not a beauty. Average Indian hair, which means great hair.

That's sounds a little bit excessive to me! I don't disagree with the general sentiment of what you are saying but a bodyguard...? For real? as a 42 yr old?
I grew up near Kolkata and never considered it to be that dangerous. In my family, the understanding was it's imprudent for young girls to go out after dark and avoid bad neighbourhoods and so on. But no one ever considered bodyguards as anything remotely necessary. Could you elaborate on why family thought it was necessary? Its fascinating to me.

Wonderfully put.

This might appear a bit rude, but though 6, 7 and 8 might apply to a more mature traveler used to some level of comfort only staying in "very, very good hotels" will cut off many interesting experiences and even entire regions of India. You might "need" the comfort of a very good hotel at aged 60, but at 20, not so much. Similarly with food, only eating in "fancy hotel restaurants" will cut you off from a lot of great food and experiences. If you're super sensitive, sure cut yourself off but if not just take normal precautions and you'll be fine. Personally, I found not eating meat the best insurance. The only time I was seriously ill was after eating a chicken salad at a 5 star hotel in Delhi.

Yes I agree. There are very nice boutique hotels if you can afford them, converted palaces and the like, but major city 5-star hotels are not special.

The food in good hotels is good, but not great. Seek out regional food: ask where the best Gujarati, Goan, Mangalore, Kerala, Muglai restaurants in the city are, and go there. These are really very different foods, you won't find good versions in a place that tries many of them.

I'm scared of street food, but you can find reproductions of it in fancy hotels, which are worth trying. Be scared of western food, as nobody knows how to handle it -- the sickest I've ever been was some bagel with olives thing which had apparently been on display for years.

Haha - yes that sounds likely. I agree proper off-the-cart street food is probably a no, but there are plenty of places in between that and very high end hotels that serve great food. If the intention is to see India as the destination in and of itself, you will not see much of it (and even fewer Indians) from the lobby of a 5 star hotels.

- You might "need" the comfort of a very good hotel at aged 60, but at 20, not so much.

India is huge. There are regions with nice temperate weather, or comfortably arid. But there's also the west coast . Poor mosquitoes struggle to survive the night when temperatures drop below 23°C while poor tourists discover the joys of the hot tropical weather =)

Also, never underestimate jetlag. There's only a 4h30 difference between Central Europe and India while there's a 10h30-12h30 difference with the US. Even if you're 20, the first 2-3 days after a 12 hour time zone change are a period to endure while not doing much apart from contemplating life feeling like a 60 year old.

Fair enough - I've always traveled from Europe I guess. But that's just the first 2-3 days. I just disagree that most people *need* high end hotels, and if you go with that attitude there's a lot you'll miss out on. For me, staying on a houseboat on Lake Srinigar in Kashmir was stand out experience in some fairly extensive travelling. Following 6, 7 and 8 would have totally ruled this out.

I discovered India 10 years ago and have spent a lot of time there since, mainly for professional reasons. Over the years I’ve traveled to Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi, Bangalore, Pondichery, Kolkata, Chennai …

Its a fascinating place and I can only wonder at what it would like today had it not been disfigured by British colonialism and capitalism

I think India is deeply important for humanity and everyone should visit once . I’m not blind to some of the worst aspects of the country , but India is fabulous if you let yourself be free.

1. You absolutely need to walk . Distances are huge but you don’t need to see everything. Just start from any random point and wander aimlessly. You’ll find entire neighborhoods hidden behind the busy roads. Don’t be afraid to take alleyways and get lost. At the end of the day you can take a rickshaw back to the hotel or guest house. Indians are extremely welcoming and you’ll be greeted everywhere as a friend. Many times I’ve been given a fruit or asked to share tea .

2. You’l find chai vendors and a place to rest at every street corner (especially in cities like Kolkata) 

3. Take a bus if you need to travel intra city . Inter city take the train . Take your time and stop at random cities along the route. 

4. For a cure of greenery and delightful colors, visit the wonderful city parks. Prepare by learning about the flora and trees ahead of time, Take time to identify the plant species. 

5. Visit the diversity of the markets (fruits, vegetables, spices, fish, poultry , .. ) and dread the day General Mills or Kelloggs will take over and all that variety will be obliterated and replaced by a 20 flavors of Pop Tarts . Realize that capitalism is not realy about choice at all and that it kills diversity rather than expands it .

6. If you cross paths , as I did , with a platoon of American Christian missionary zealots intent on bringing puritanism to this beautiful country , fling cow dung in their general direction . If you come across a Starbucks or a KFC, throw rocks at it , or better yet, burn it to the ground. 

7. Yes, the food is the best in the world. Avoid at all cost westernized food chains. In Tamil Nadu, eat a lot of fish (spicy). 

8. Avoid Americanized Indians. They’re quite easily recognizable by their garb which denotes a desire to mimic American bad taste (ill-fitting jeans and loud checkered oxford shirts) . Notice how other indians seem so much better dressed . Also the Americanized indians are embarrassed about their country and will drive 10 miles to show you a Starbucks or a drab mall rather than take you outside to the nearest local coffee stand. 

9. Especially in Kolkata , visit the old-style coffee shops. Best coffee I’ve ever had, outside Cuba. Buy a book at book row and linger around the coffee shop. Taste the pastry

10. If you’re into photography ( as I am ) , take a small camera that will help you give purpose to your long walks . Use it it discretely and respectfully . If you don’t want to take photos, take a notebook. Stop and write your impressions down. As an exercise , try describing what is around you. For example, a house : describe the color, the materials, the shape, the fixtures (balconies etc … ) , the roof, with as much detail. Prepare yourself by looking up exact styles and terms in architectural glossaries. Know what you are looking at . Or describe the plants . Observe. This will make your trip so much more meaningful 

11. Indian architecture and sights are absolutely underrated. Prepare yourself by learning about the cultures and archeology first. No set of ruins , however small, should be ignored , especially in Tamil Nadu where entire temples are waiting to be excavated. 

12. Prepare yourself by reading about Indian history before and during your trip. You’ll still be mostly ignorant but perhaps a little less so 

13. prepare to be overwhelmed 

14. Avoid that large, impersonal international hotels (blah). Stay at guest houses, especially the ones with dinner provided. 

15. If you are a male, Indian women are strictly off-limits. There is no flirting or seduction. No chance of a random encounter ending with a delicious and profound moment of shared intimacy. Actually , no intimacy at all with members of the opposite sex. Sexes seem quite separated and if your colleagues take you out it will be 99% male 

16. In certain areas and at certain times, you will be propositioned in the streets by “hawkers” that will take you to hidden brothels . Avoid, the women there are exploited. 

17. If you walk a certain street in N Kolkata at dusk , you may cross path with a very large Nepalese-looking women . In a flash, she will bump you brutally into a small hut, push you against the wall and put her right hand in your pants and her left hand in whatever pocket has money and take that money. If you yell at her and try resisting she’ll yell louder and inflict bodily pain. Just walk away and leave the neighborhood . As you leave , notice that there are about ten other people crouching in the corners of the dark hut, including a naked couple under the hut’s only cot. Go to a nearby stand and look at the night sky while sipping your chai and laugh at your experience. Feel alive. 


17. Along the coasts ( Coromandel or Goa) , rent scooters. Otherwise, don't try to drive

18. I found India to be very safe but the usual precautionary measures apply.

#17: it reads like Jim Ballard fan fiction ;)

15. Indian women aren't exactly off limits. But you will be attacked by raving hordes of cow vigilantes if they find out. Honor killing is real.

>Realize that capitalism is not realy about choice at all

You realize that these kaleidoscopic markets that obey no laws and are beyond any sane regulation are much, much closer to a vision of pure capitalism than a U.S. supermarket, right?

Aren't the indian markets pre-capitalistic ? Closer to medieval markets than Safeway or Walmart.
Here in the S of France we have amazing markets and a strict regulatory environment that is meant to protect small food businesses. For decades, France had strict price controls on food items. We have regulations to keep supermarkets out of the downtown areas and regulations to keep independent bookstores alive. The result is more diversity , not less.

I often point out that modern liberals are just conservative for a different time and a different set of privileges. Thank you for illustrating that better than I ever could.

I think (?) it was a parody of a certain type of liberal western traveler.

1. On arrival in India, I would urge the visitor to download both the Indian Uber and the local Ola app. These apps have made travelling within India cheaper and faster. Many of these drivers also only take cash. So it’s advisable that one travel with cash.

2. South Indian vegetarian food is tasty, cheap and mostly healthy. These restaurants are usually called bhavans. So, if one is interested in vegetarian food, one must watch out for restaurants called Vasantha Bhavan; Arya Bhavan; Vasantha Bhavan; Saravana Bhavan and Lakshmi Bhavan. Local Indians congregate at these places.

4. In Chennai, some of the best Andhra food is at Hotel Amravathi. Amravathi also has a good meat and fish selection. The fried pomfret is divine as is the chicken Amravathi. The Waldorf restaurant, in Adayar, offers a fine accounting of Indo-Chinese cuisine.

4. If one travels to Hyderabad, one must try the biryani, which is a very rich rice and meat Muslim dish; biryani is cooked with at least 10 spices. There are many kinds of Indian biryani, but Hyderabadi biryani is the best. If you are in Chennai, try the biryani at Ya Mohedeen.

5. If one visits a temple, church, or a mosque, one is urged to dress very conservatively.

6. Speaking of holy places, if one visits Kerala, one would be encouraged to visit the Jewish synagogue in Cochi; if one wishes to explore Jewish life in Mumbai, one would be encouraged to visit the Kenesseth Eliyahoo and Magen David synagogues. Further, the South Indian city of Madurai is virtually a town anchored by Hindu temples. These temples reflect the glory of Tamil temple architecture. Then there is the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Every visitor is offered a free meal, but the temple’s majesty lies in the space it occupies.

Why is it unsafe to drive around the countryside? Are you in danger of getting mugged (or worse), or is it more about dangerous traffic?

And why not eat the street food... Does it make you sick or does it just taste bad?

Most of the country side roads are two-way lanes. There are people, slow moving cars, and obdurate cattle wandering on these lanes. In other words, these objects cause dangerous traffic. Further, the street food is unclean, or it is prepared in unsanitary conditions. It could make one very, very sick. Due to diet and purity restrictions, many Indians do not eat street food.

If you wonder why street food is unsafe, consider the sanitary environment of a nation that needs to make PSAs encouraging people not to defecate in public. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Pj4L7C2twI

Tyler is right that seeing India itself is underrated and should be the primary goal. But that objective is seriously undermined by his suggestions to stay in very nice hotels, avoid the street food, and avoid the country due to driving conditions. If you *don't* get out of the big cities then you won't really see India. My most memorable experiences include riding buses (no, not the luxury ones that foreigners ride) through the country in the Punjab region; eating chapatis in a simple roadside stall; finding my way out to the Tibetan settlement in Bylakuppe; being invited into people's homes along the way; meeting interesting travelers in small guest houses, sharing experiences, and coming away with a new list of lesser known places to visit; the *thrill* of being driven through wild traffic that really does have its own logic (obviously, the VAST majority of transportation trips in India don't result in injury); hearing from locals what traits they associate with which nationalities of backpackers and other travelers (I'll leave it to you to figure out which kind of hotel or restaurant you WON'T get that in--at least not honestly); how bargaining practices differ around the country and by product or service. The list could go on and on. But you have to get out there, be 'risky' (it's not as risky as Tyler makes it seem), and get off the comfort track.

Never been to India except as far as an airport but if you really want an authentic experience, as per your claim, you should be prepared to publicly defecate. I publicly urinate when in the Philippines, but the culture does not permit defecation in public. However, in India you should do as the Romans do...or Indians do.

I left a comment saying as much elsewhere on this thread, but I totally agree--the hotels and street food are my only quibbles.

7 and 8 are completely spot on

"Avoid Americanized Indians" - Another unwritten rule is to avoid all Westerners when overseas, except in small talk. However, having lived in three countries outside the USA for more than a year, I find that in each country a sizeable percentage of the population, about one-third, attempts to "ape the west". I used to get annoyed, but no longer, maybe they're right? Creature comforts rather than culture are sometimes more desired to some people. Who gives you, Mr. Hoosier, a pejorative term used in the 19th century to denote poor Illinois territory whites, to expect foreign people to dress up in traditional garb and honor ancient customs, just to please you? What are they, actors in an open-air museum? :)

I have been to India many times and this is excellent advice. I enjoy the south more than the north (except the far north), the far west and the far east, rural more than urban because the large Indian cities are unpleasant (though interesting). The advice on hotel food is right and the regional variation is unavailable outside of India.

11. If you've ever built or made anything with your own hands, the Taj is worth going to India for alone. It is a level of craftsmanship on such a scale that it doesn't seem possible, and puts into perspective anything you could make with your own labor in your lifetime. Perspective is one of the main reasons we travel (or should be, anyway). If you've never built or made anything it probably seems like a fancy building with too many people around it.

Very true, having built things myself. The level of craftsmanship of the ancients was incredible. Try pouring a simply concrete floor and making it smooth, and compare your results to professionals, by way of example.

Another 'clueless' comment about ancient sites is how 'small they are'. I've heard this about the Taj Mahal and the Giza pyramids (never having visited either). American people expect the Great Pyramid to be something out of a Katy Perry music video and are disappointed when it's smaller.

The Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest man-made structure in the world for nearly 4000 years. It is still amongst the top 10-15 largest human structures by volume (and probably no. 1 by mass?). If someone thinks that is small, well, ....

One comparison is that it was built several centuries before the Americans' ancestors (in England) were arranging stones in a circle.

"This ain’t Paris." Don't worry, it soon will be.

OMG, #1 and #2 are SO TRUE! I wish I had read this before my first visit to Delhi. Coming down from a week in Bhutan I thought I would be back to strong lungs, not....

It ia funny how the America regime feels the need to wax propaganda the allegued virtues of its Shintoist, Muslim and Hinduist allies.

Did you go to Amber in Cal or Trisha in Mumbai? (Non hôtel)

I was actually surprised by how much the biggest sight in India (the Taj Mahal) lived up to the hype. It may actually be "rated" rather than overrated. What they don't tell you, though, is that there are many other Mughal-era buildings that deliver 50-75% of the effect of the Taj Mahal but are nowhere near as famous.

For example, Fatehpur Sikri, which is maybe 20 miles from Agra, but seldom visited

If you can't get out to India, at least get out to Artesia.

Little India

Having been to India only once, I agree wholeheartedly with all of these tips with one slight proviso: I had GI troubles the whole time I was there and so in retrospect--I might as well have indulged in the street food.

Re: "Most of the sights in India, including the very famous ones, are overrated." -- This is wrong with regard to the Taj Mahal, which really has to be the best building in the world (yes, better than the Vatican).

As someone who has traveled a bit in India, I can absolutely second the terrifying travel. Keep to the sidewalks, and while you are not likely to get hit by anyone people will swerve around you. A lot.

Also I used to travel a lot to mountains in Punjab where they have various Hindu temples. The people who drive you up and down get within feet of missing the turn and hurling you off a cliff many times. They are experienced and are really well trained, so you trust them, but it is the scariest thing.

And also, if you know what you are doing, the street food is not really that bad, its just a matter of knowing what to get.

Like I personally find Gulabi disgusting, but if you like it, it will almost never get you sick, if you ignore the fact that it is extremely unhealthy for you on its own terms. Similar with ras mulai. In general, fried food/heavily spiced food, you should be fine. You will see juice stands everywhere. Ignore them.

You will also see gol gappa or pani puri stands. Gol Gappa is probably the greatest food in existence, it is amazing. But if you see it on the street, it is best to avoid it, as the water used can get you sick. But in a restaurant, you have to try it. The exception would be if they serve it in the street with dahi, which is generally pretty safe from experience. So in general, fried/spiced/fermented things are ok, other stuff is probably bad. It goes without saying that do not, absolutely not, drink the water unless it is filtered or preserved with lemon, i.e. it is pretty much always worth it to buy the nimbu pani if you have no other choice.

I traveled quite a bit in India between 1982-2000 and lived there for a while. Business purpose -- my company made sure I had tetanus and polio boosters, and Hep A and B. The latter require planning. I carried Imodium with me as well as Flagyl. This said, I was never ill but some colleagues were. I never worried about personal safety and wandered around the slums at night with no fear. In the foothills, if you get out of the car and look over the edge at the carcasses of cars, busses, and trucks that have gone off the road that is useful in formulating your priors about road safety. I did not like being confronted by fakirs with their cobras, but maybe they were defanged. In any case I didn't like it. It's true that hotel food tends to be the best, particularly at Taj and at Oberoi hotels.

I have never been attracted to India, but I have to admit this post made me feel intrigued..

only time we got sick was from a hotel meal. as anywhere travelling watch out, be aware and don't take silly risks. like accepting a motor cycle lift from someone we didnt know. Yes it turned out perfectly fine thank you. Love india warm , vibrant, friendly, go to the country. Delhi is hell

My wife and I visited India (Delhi and Chennai) last year, and I like most of Tyler's suggestions, with two exceptions:
1: re Hotels--a) we found that eating in hotels was vastly inferior to eating in other restaurants, and b) we found that staying in slightly "earthier" hotels was a much better experience. We wanted to go to India, not "India by Marriott," and are glad we took the path we did.
2: re street food--Tyler is correct in warning about street food, but incorrect in forbidding it. Street food in India is phenomenal, and it must be tasted. The way to do this safely (as suggested in a wonderful travel book we checked out) is simply to only buy street food from "busy" vendors who are constantly cooking food to order. Following this advice led to freshly-made, amazing street food and no upset stomachs later on.

India is an interesting place. There are many beautiful places that you can and should visit.
I, as an artist, would be nice there. You can draw a lot, and I usually draw with pencils ( like these https://wowpencils.com/best-staedtler-pencils/ ).
I am sure that I will go there as I can.

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