How to Get Ready For the Trip of Your Lifetime
Parvati Valley, India Photo by Samantha Shea
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The popular nickname Incredible India is no misnomer– India is undoubtedly one of the most incredible countries in the world. With over 1 billion people, thousands of languages, and abounding with varying cultures and religions, India is not just another country; it’s a world of its own.
When I was a child, I became absolutely infatuated with India. I read books, learned as much as I could about Hinduism, rented videos from my local library, and forced my family to frequent our local Indian restaurants. Though it took me slightly over a decade, I finally made it to the subcontinent in 2018.
India isn’t just a place though– it’s a truly life-changing experience. But I’ll be the first to admit that this massive land isn’t the easiest country to travel through. In fact, I personally consider it even more challenging to explore than Pakistan, which is something that I definitely did not expect!
Though chaotic and difficult at times, India is intoxicating in the best way possible. And while its neighboring nations might bear some similarities, there is truly nowhere that is exactly like India.
The thing about India though is that it’s worth every second. It’s a place where any low you may encounter will be followed by a once-in-a-lifetime experience, where people treat you like long-lost relatives coming home for a visit, where cows roam amongst the streets, and even the most insanely haphazard traffic somehow flows.
I’ve now visited India 3 times, spent a total of 111 days exploring this massive nation, and have been lucky enough to see a number of the nation’s 29 states. I’ve visited the lush mountain paradise Parvati Valley, trekked to the start of the Ganges River, and managed my way through the crazy city of New Delhi … and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Discovering India is truly an adventure that could last a lifetime.
Nevertheless, I’ll be the first to tell you that I was woefully unprepared for my first trip. I knew and learned a ton about the country in general in my younger years, but failed to properly research again as a newbie backpacker back in 2018.
Luckily, I learned from my mistakes and went into full-on preparation mode before returning two separate times in 2019. It’s important to prepare before any trip, but doing the research before a trip to India is KEY. It completely changed the quality of my trip, and informed me of epic places I never would have known had I not put in the time.
I’ve compiled the best resources to help you be as ready for your first time in India as you possibly can be. In no particular order, here’s what you can utilize to make your first time in India unforgettable.
Backpackers and Travelers India Facebook Group
I absolutely love this group, and it’s truly a blessing that it exists. This FaceBook group is composed of, you guessed it– backpackers and travelers looking to explore India. The majority of the group’s members are in fact Indian, and they’re all happy to help foreigners with various questions and concerns. This group is also the sole reason that I found out about my favorite place in the whole country (so far), a place that I discovered by asking about hidden beaches. The group members delivered, and because of a few helpful folks I was put on to Guhagar Beach, a picturesque, quiet beach town in Maharashtra state that was exactly what I was looking for. This group is also a great place to connect with other like-minded travelers or even find hosts if you so desire.
IndiaMike is a long-standing travel forum where travelers can ask about anything and everything related to travel in India. Admittedly, the site was at its most popular in the early 2000’s, but I still found heaps of useful info. The forum is still active today, and you can definitely post any questions that you may have. The archives are also a great place to find tips and tricks that are still relevant, especially regarding Indian trains– an iconic form of transportation that hasn’t changed much in decades!
While English is widely spoken in India, it certainly doesn’t hurt to know some basics in India’s official language, Hindi. I was thrilled to discover that Hindi is featured on Duolingo, the best language learning app that’s also free! The app starts out by teaching you the Hindi letters and then moves on to actual words and sentences. Knowing basic phrases in Hindi is super useful for communicating in different settings, especially in more remote or rural areas of the country where English might not be as prevalent. Speaking a bit of Hindi will also give any local you meet a big smile, and might even make you a friend or two!
Vargis Khan Blog
This travel blog is an absolute MUST READ if you plan on traveling to Spiti Valley or Ladakh, two mountainous regions in northern India that are both mesmerizingly beautiful. Vargis Khan has the most up-to-date information on everything from bus times, road closures, where to stay, and everything else you can imagine in these remote regions. I continuously referenced (and screenshotted) this blog as I prepared for my journey to what’s known as India’s Little Tibet.
This is the first travel blog I ever really read, shortly after I came back from my extremely under-prepared first India trip. To this day, it’s the most comprehensive India travel blog on the internet and is one resource you shouldn’t skip. From visas, to trains, to avoiding food poisoning, to literally everything you need to know about India’s incredibly popular beach state Goa— Hippie-in-Heels truly has it all. The owner of the blog, who lived in India for years, has also created several in-depth e-books that you can purchase for even more insider-information.
Shantaram is the best book I’ve read in my life, and it just happens to be the best book on India. Though listed as a novel, the book is almost completely true and based on the author’s surreal experiences whilst living in Mumbai, India in the 1980’s. While not a travel guide, the book describes India so vividly it’s as if you’re watching a movie rather than reading. What’s more, many of the places discussed by the author still exist. If you plan to visit Mumbai, there’s no better way to do so than through a Shantaram-inspired itinerary.
@_citytales Instagram Page
An Instagram page… what? Yup! This incredible page showcases India’s rich history through often-forgotten mosques, tombs, fortresses, and more. What’s best is that it highlights the offbeat places, which is something I absolutely love. Every time I checked it out, I found out about a new must-visit site in the subcontinent. If you want to see pieces of India’s history sans crowds, you should absolutely spend some time on _citytales. I discovered numerous old mosques and cities that I never would have heard of otherwise, including Tonk, the only Muslim majority town in the state of Rajasthan.
City of Djinns by William Dalrymple
Penned by William Dalrymple, a famous historian, this memoir was an absolutely fantastic read prior to visiting New Delhi, India’s capital and most chaotic city. Though Delhi can be challenging at first glance, City of Djinns will give you some great ideas on where to head to get the best out of this historic city.
Plan your Trip to India
I hope you find some of these resources useful as you plan your first trip to India! If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to reach out as I’d be happy to help: firstname.lastname@example.org