Last time we went through the first part of the interview I conducted with fellow traveler Adam Taylor Smith about his four month trip to India and his subsequent book called “Where Camels Dance and Cows Wander, An Indian Odyssey”
If you missed it, I highly suggest you go back and read it!
Today we have part 2 packed with more heart-opening stories and experiences and some very useful travel itinerary recommendations.
So we’ll begin with question 11:
11. How should a traveler prepare before his/her trip to India?
If someone wants to have a more in depth cultural experience in India (and not just a relaxing resort holiday or a quick trip to see the Taj Mahal), than I would definitely recommend traveling through some other developing countries first.
India can be overwhelming for the first time visitor, so it will help the traveler to already have some experience navigating places that are very different from what they are used to.
Also, I’d read some books and watch some movies about India in order to learn something about the country’s history, culture, and people before arriving.
That bit of mental preparation can go a long way when someone is suddenly thrust into a very different environment than what they’re used to.
Also, women who visit India, particularly if they physically stand out as very Western, would be wise to prepare themselves for the difference in cultural attitudes toward their gender that exist in much of India.
In order to both be respectful of local culture and to attract less unwanted attention, packing loose fitting, conservative clothing is essential.
The planning supplement to the e-book goes into greater detail on how to prepare for a trip to India.
12. What are some real dangers to watch out for?
Before I address this, I’d like to say that dangers such as what I am about to discuss exist in many places in the world, and are not unique to India.
However, India’s intense crowding and resulting competition for economic resources can amplify their presence here.
That being said, it would be wise for the first time visitor to be aware that scam artists do operate in areas popular with tourists, and that the visitor will almost certainly be approached by at least one of them.
Some will try to persuade you that all the trains are full, and then attempt to convince you to hire a costly personal driver to take you around the country. I know many people who have fallen for this trick.
Or they might tell you that your train has been delayed or cancelled, and then whisk you over to a tour agency where you can be sold overpriced bus or plane tickets. I myself nearly fell for this one.
Also, as I hinted at before, women would be particularly wise to consider the signals that they give when speaking with local males, as these signals might be interpreted by the receiver in a very different way than how the sender intended.
Plenty of Western women that visit India don’t have negative experiences, however, so it would be unfair to generalize. But this is still something to definitely be aware of.
On the flip side, dangers that exist in many Western places are much less pronounced in India. For instance, the threat of violent crime is much lower in Indian cities than in a typical American city.
Also, one needs to keep in mind that for every person who could be perceived as a danger in India, there are thousands more who are sincere, thousands more who will immediately offer you genuine friendship, and thousands more who would go to great lengths to help you in a time of need.
13. What do you want the regular western traveler to know about India?
That India is a more diverse country than anywhere we have ever experienced.
Although we may consciously try to avoid doing so, we all inevitably end up associating the places that we have not visited with a particular object: for instance, Spain might be “flamenco“, South Africa might be “safari“, or Japan might be “technology“.
None of these are fair representations, and with India, any simple, preconceived associations that we hold are totally invalid.
There is as much or more diversity in India than exists in all of Europe. That is a big part of why India is such a special place to visit!
14. Would you recommend going solo or in a group?
It depends on the person. If someone has not traveled solo before, India is definitely not the place to start.
However, don’t let this stop you from coming: it is incredibly easy to find other like-minded travelers to join up with once you have arrived. For women this is especially recommended.
Also, being in a group can be very helpful to keep yourself emotionally grounded in the face of so much new information to process.
Groups can also be great for giving one a break from having to always “be in the driver’s seat“: constantly making decisions on where to go, where to stay, where to eat, and how to deal with unfamiliar situations.
On the other hand, those of us who travel solo are offered opportunities to connect with locals to a degree that simply does not exist for those who travel with other people. By virtue of being alone, you are almost forced to be extraverted and engage more with your hosts.
In addition, your hosts are oftentimes more likely to engage you and seek a personal connection if they perceive that you have less immediate social obligations.
Personally, I love the freedom that traveling solo offers: the freedom to do what I want, when I want; to go where I want, when I want; to spend time with who I want, when I want.
But it all depends on one’s personality, and just as importantly, the travel experience that they have had before coming to India.
15. Is there anybody who should not go on a trip to India?
If someone has visited a developing country (or countries) before and has primarily negative associations with their experience, than India is probably not the place for them.
One has to have a relatively thick skin to jump from their comfort zone in the Western world to such an unfamiliar place, and that is why I recommend “testing the waters” in other developing countries before starting out in India.
However, I believe that humans can adapt to anything given sufficient time and motivation, so if someone really has their heart set on coming to India before visiting anywhere else, than I would wholeheartedly encourage them to do so.
Just prepare yourself as much as you can before you come.
16. Aside from the Taj Mahal, what would be your top 5 not-to-miss sites?
Even though I traveled across the country for four months, I only saw a fraction of the incredible sites that exist within India.
But of the ones that I saw, these are the five that I’d highly recommended, in no particular order.
The Jain Temple of Ranakpur: This awe-inspiring sanctuary in central Rajasthan is supported by well over a thousand intricately sculpted marble columns, no two of which are alike.
The Surreal Landscape of Hampi: The hills are made up of giant boulders in this stunning area of Southern India. Throw in the ruins of an ancient civilization into this otherworldy landscape, and you have a place that is totally unique on Earth.
The Golden Temple in Amritsar: The spiritual home of the Sikhs, who make sure that a visit to the Golden Temple is an unforgettably welcoming and stunning experience.
The Blue City of Jodhpur: My favorite place to visit in Rajasthan. Ascend to the striking Mehrangarh Fort at sunset and enjoy one of the greatest views in India as a city full of indigo-painted homes gives off an ethereal glow in the fading light.
The Beach of Varkala: Stunning fifty meter high cliffs rise up behind this beach in the Southern state of Kerala, and they make a perfect place on which to relax and watch the sun set into the Arabian sea.
17. Give us a sample travel itinerary of your favorite city in India
I enjoyed so many places that I visited in India, it is hard to pick a favorite! But I would have to say that Mumbai was the most fascinating city that I went to, as it is such an astoundingly cosmopolitan place.
If someone had never been to Mumbai before and had one day there, this is what I’d recommend that they do.
- Exit your Colaba-district hotel and walk over to the legendary Leopold’s Cafe for a hearty breakfast.
- From there, make the short walk over to the famous Gateway of India.
- After posing for a few pictures, stroll down to the neighboring dock and take the tourist boat over to see the Elephanta Caves, where ancient, stunning sculptures of Hindu Gods are chiseled into stone.
- Have lunch at one of the numerous outdoor restaurants on Elephanta Island, then catch the boat back to the city, marveling at the impressive Mumbai skyline.
- Walk west across South Mumbai, past pristine examples of Victorian architecture such as the Mumbai High Court, until you have arrived at the sea.
- From here, walk for a few minutes up the popular pedestrian path next to Marine Drive, then hop into one of Mumbai’s vintage black and gold taxis and tell the driver to take you to Haji Ali Mosque.
- As you ride, admire one of the world’s greatest collections of Art Deco architecture that passes by you on your right as you wind up Marine Drive.
- Tip your driver, and hop out to join the others streaming onto the causeway that leads to the islet of the Haji Ali mosque.
- Buy some delicious snacks, and shop for colorful jewelry, clothing, and souvenirs that are offered by the numerous vendors that line the entrance to the causeway. Make your way over to the mosque, and explore this exquisite example of Indo-Islamic architecture. Stay and relax until sunset, as here you’ll have a perfect view of the sunset.
- Take a taxi back to Colaba for dinner in one of the neighborhood’s many fine restaurants, where you can sample spicy and savory food from all over India.
- To finish off the day, leave the restaurant and make the short stroll over the renowned Regal Cinema, where you can catch the latest Bollywood blockbuster with throngs of enthusiastic fans.
Ok, so that’s the end of this two part series about a trip to India. Wasn’t it incredible?
If you’re interested in previewing and purchasing Adam’s book, go to his website, where it’s available in hardcover, paperback and e-book (which includes the free How to Plan a Trip to India supplement).
Again, I have no affiliation with Adam’s book, I just want to share his amazing work.
Now you tell me, did you think you knew India before?
Have any of these questions contradict what you thought was true?
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