You’re going to love it, trust me!
Take a good think about your budget. India is cheap as a destination in comparison to well, almost anywhere. But cheap is not free. A room might be 5 dollars (at it’s lowest), your food may be two bucks (eating 3 meals a day= 6 bucks), and transport each day may be at least a dollar on average (some days you may spend more and some days none). So let’s just say with no shopping, entrance fees, or any extras you need at minimum 12 bucks a day. That comes to about 360 bucks on basics for one month. Now you have all your train and bus fees to add, any flights, any snacks, shopping, and Wi-Fi. Plus, you probably aren’t going to find a room for the lowest of 5 bucks more than once or twice on your trip unless you’re with a friend. Go ahead and double that just in case 720 and you’ll be safe as a budget traveler. You’ll be sorely disappointed if each day you’re over budget and that’s something you don’t want to ruin your trip.
Religious sites. If it’s temples you’re after, you’ll find them everywhere, but in north and central India, you’ll be truly spoiled for choice. There’s the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the erotically carved edifices of Khajuraho, Konark’s rock-carved Sun Temple, and cohorts of exquisitely hewn milk-white-marble Jain temples in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Temples in the south are something else again, with towering, statue-covered gopuram towers; there are stunning examples at Hampi, Madurai, Tiruchirappalli and Tiruvannamalai, and exquisitely decorated temple caves at Ajanta and Ellora, and Elephanta Island near Mumbai.
Get out of the city. Though perhaps a cliché, the only way to get a true sense of India is to visit smaller villages. The real benefit is that it’ll get you out of the sprawling and vastly overpopulated cities. Once you’ve cleared your head, say with a trip to the mountains or into the slower-moving land of Kerala in the south, you’ll be far better placed to enjoy the famous hospitality of the Indian urbanites.
Dress conservatively. Be aware that India has a relatively modest culture. Covering arms and legs is a simple step toward respecting this. Indians are forgiving of those who aren’t familiar with their culture, but you can quickly make a good impression by, for instance, removing your shoes before entering someone’s home. This is particularly important when entering a sacred space, like a temple. Also, if you see shoes outside a shop, it’s a sign to remove your own.
Indian people are so friendly but they are shy. You absolutely can try to talk to them on trains and buses and most times they will be happy to do so- they’ll even let you take photos of them. They might stare sometimes, but it’s just curiosity and isn’t as rude in their culture. On the other hand, if you try to chat to an Indian businessman, you might be surprised to see that he spends half his time abroad and looks down on you, you silly backpacker!, and might not give you the time of day. Just because you’re in India doesn’t mean all the Indian people you meet are from some small village and haven’t seen a white face. Hell, most of my Indian girlfriends are far more cultured than I and have traveled more place- and speak more languages!
What to eat? For even the casual epicurean, there is no question: you cannot miss Indian cuisine at its freshest and most authentic. There are myriad variations in Indian cooking between and even within regions, but a few general rules apply. A typical Indian entrée consists of a spicy curry or stew of vegetables or meat, accompanied with rice, roti (flatbread) for scooping, and perhaps a small salad. Being a predominantly Hindu country, beef is rare in India, so meat dishes consist of chicken or savory lamb. Indian menus can be daunting to those unfamiliar with the dishes; an excellent option is the thali, a sampler plate of native dishes that allow you to experience much of a region’s culinary diversity in a single sitting. Use the side dish of yogurt, along with the roti or naan, to tame any excessively spicy food.
India is a huge country and can be overwhelming at times – but I highly recommend it as a place to visit. The people are beautiful and friendly, the food was fantastic, and there are so many different options as far as levels of comfort go that there’s an option for every budget and comfort level! This was a quick visit and I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface, but being part of a small group tour meant that we packed a lot into a short amount of time and I’m so glad that I’ve finally visited India. I will be back.