GUIDE TO INDIA
When to Go
Most foreign travelers visit India in the cooler months from around November to March. For the Himalaya, it’s too cold in winter-April to September is the best season here, although there are regional variations according to the onset and departure of the monsoon.
The timing of certain festivals and other special occasions may also influence when you want to.
Lonely Planet’s India & Bangladesh Road Atlas breaks the country down into more than 100 pages of maps, and gives unequalled coverage at a scale of 1:1,250,000.
When it comes to regional maps, be prepared to be disappointed. Probably the best (and most easily found in India ) is the Discover India series, which has some handy state and city maps; prices range from Rs 40 to 50. The Indian Map Service (Tel: 02912740874; Sector G, Shastri Nagar, Jodhpur, Rajasthan 342003) produces a decent series of state road atlases based on Survey of India maps. They include Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka and India.
Throughout India, state government tourist offices stock local maps, which may at first glance appear pretty snazzy, but are quite often dated and lacking in essential detail.
What to Bring
Many travelers opt for a suitcase, especially if traveling to only a few destinations. For others, a backpack is the preferred option. It’s worth paying extra for a good quality pack, complete with sturdy lock, as it’s much more likely to withstand the rigours of Indian travel. It’s also worth investing in a backpack liner – they’re in expensive and give added resistance to grime and water (not all backpacks are 100% waterproof).
If you’re spending time in the hill stations, especially during the cool season, bring wane clothing. During winter, other regions, particularly in North India, can also get surprisingly cold at night.
A reasonable list would include:
Underwear and swimming gear.
One pair of cotton trousers.
One pair of shorts (men only).
One long cotton skirt (women).
A few T-shirts or lightweight shirts.
Sweater or lightweight jacket for the hills or
North Indian winters.
One pair of shoes and sandals.
Flip-flops (thongs) – handy when showering in communal bathrooms.
Fold-up umbrella for the monsoon (also serves as good sun protection). A raincoat tends to get sweaty.
Wide-brimmed hat – for sun protection.
A sun hat, sunscreen lotion, lip balm and sun glasses.
A set of ‘dress-up’ clothes for that special night out.
For camping/trekking you should also take:
Walking boots – these must give good ankle support and have a sole flexible enough to meet the anticipated walking conditions. Ensure your boots are well broken in beforehand.
Warm jacket (for cold conditions).
Wool shirt or pullover (for cold conditions).
Warm gloves (for cold conditions).
Thermal underwear (for cold conditions).
Trousers or shorts – shorts are ideal in hot conditions but should not be worn in places (eg, temples) where they may cause offence.
Shirts – T-shirts are OK, but shirts with collars and sleeves will give added protection against the sun.
Socks – a sufficient supply of thick and thin pairs.
Bedding If you will be trekking, taking an overnight camel safari in Kajasthan in winter, or staying in cold regions, a sleeping bag is essential. For others, it’s not absolutely necessary. Having said that, some budget travelers going to North India opt to take their sleeping bag if they’re unsure of how well heated their rooms will be during the winter months (mid-range and top-end hotels are generally well heated). A sleeping bag can also make a useful seat for long waits on railway platforms.
You may also like to bring an inflatable pillow if you’re camping or staying in rockbottom hotels, which usually have rockhard pillows to match.
A sleeping sheet, which is light to carry, is good for unsavoury-looking hotel bedding (particularly in budget places) and offers protection from bedbugs.
A mosquito net is worth bringing, as malaria can be a problem in some areas (see Health, later in this chapter). Many hotel beds don’t have frames so bring appropriate tape/pins if your net doesn’t come with a portable frame.
Sanitary pads are easily found in India but tampons are not, so bring your own stock. It’s wise to bring your own condoms, as the quality of local brands is variable. Shower caps can be difficult to find (unless you’re staying at a five-star hotel), so bring your own. A universal sink plug is useful, as few of the cheaper hotels have plugs. Women may like to bring a lingerie bag to prevent delicate underwear from being damaged by dhobi-wallahs (washerpeople) and even hotel laundries.
Miscellaneous Items See Health later in this chapter for a medical-kit checklist.
Some items to stow away in your bag could include:
A good-quality padlock – the combination variety is popular. Some travelers bring a strong chain to secure their pack to the luggage racks of public transport (you can buy reasonably good padlocks and chains in India ).
A knife (preferably Swiss Army) – it has a whole range of uses, such as peeling fruit (but remember that it can’t be carried on planes as hand luggage).
A sarong – can be used as a bed sheet, an item of clothing (for bathing in public places), an emergency towel and a pillow.
A torch (flashlight) – power cuts are not uncommon and there’s little street lighting at night.
A voltage stabiliser (and international plug converter) – for those who may be bringing sensitive electronic equipment.
A small alarm clock – many hotels are notorious for missing wake-up calls.
Earplugs and a sleeping mask.
A water bottle – use water purification tablets or filters to avoid adding to India’s plastic waste problem (see Water Purification in the Health section).
String – can be useful as a makeshift clothes line (double-strand nylon is good to secure your clothes if you have no pegs).
Women may like to bring a sports bra – not only good for camel/horse safaris, but also for long bumpy bus journeys.
Binoculars – useful for bird-watching and wildlife-spotting.