Ah, India! Just saying the word conjures up images of the Taj Mahal in the soft light of dawn, camels trekking across deserts, worshipers bathing in the sacred Ganges, mountains of spices in marketplace stalls, and women wrapped in luscious silk saris. India also means being exposed to filth, poverty, masses of humanity, beggars on the streets, incessant touts, and bouts of “Delhi Belly.”
Nowhere else in the world are these contrasts so evident as in Mother India, and many visitors arrive on the sub-continent wholly unprepared for these incongruities. I saw all this and more when I traveled to India a few years ago. In areas of Mumbai, shanty towns constructed with scraps of scavenged wood and cardboard stretched as far as I could see. Here, people lived in abject poverty, clad in rags and defecating by the side of the road. Garbage was strewn throughout the streets and the overwhelming stench of sewage permeated everything. Homeless wraiths curled along the edges of the sidewalks in front of my hotel each night, yet inside everything was luxury and staff in starched white uniforms. Fortunately, I was forewarned. I had a friend who had been to India and he repeatedly told me what to expect so that I would be prepared.
I encourage everyone to go to India, at least once in their lifetime, but it would be wise to take steps to be prepared for the experience. One of the best ways to do so is to read the recently published book by travel expert Beth Whitman, “Wanderlust and Lipstick: For Women Traveling to India.” Although Beth gears the book for women travelers, it’s an excellent primer on India for anyone planning to visit. She thoroughly covers taboos such as: never eat with your left hand (this is the hand Indians use to clean themselves after using the bathroom), never pat someone on the head (it’s considered rude), never allow your feet to touch someone (feet are considered dirty), never curl your finger in a “come here” gesture (this is considered provocative). The book provides an excellent overview of the various modes of transportation and types of accommodations available across India, as well as a good overview of Indian food. Beth also provides dozens of invaluable “hot tips” throughout the book.
In short, my advice to anyone planning a trip to India is to get this book! It is well worth the affordable price of $14.95 and may just save you ten times that much through the advice it provides. I wish I had read it before I went to India, and when I return you can bet this book will be in my backpack.
Beth Whitman is the founder and editor of Wanderlust and Lipstick. For more than 22 years, she has been traveling the globe and inspiring women travelers, combining her love for travel with volunteer work, adventure trips, travel writing and business.