10 Tips for Travelling in Rural India

30.03.2010 In: Travel tips

India is the seventh largest country by geographical area, the second most populous country in the World with over 1.12billion people. 70% of this population live in rural areas while the other 30% although in recent decades migration to larger cities has led to a dramatic increase in the country's urban population.

Traveling to rural India is an experience in a great number of ways. It best shows the way of life of the most common people and the roots of all Indians. The way of life is simple and at times difficult. So traveling these areas can be quite an experience and vastly different from other European or American Countries.

To ensure sweet memories, it is a good idea to eliminate some aspects of the overwhelming experience by remembering a number of small but important details to make your trip memorable for the right reasons. The tips are not meant to scare you away from visiting rural pats of India either, it's just precautionary as these things are not unheard of. And these travel tips are not all the things you need to consider, but it's a good start towards making your experience better.

Here are 10 Tips for Travelling in Rural India:

Always Wash Your Hands and Drink Safe Water

Wash your hands carefully before eating to avoid ingesting all the bacteria stuck on your hands from the change you received from the shopkeeper, from the fruits you purchased, from the railing you leaned on, and so forth. A common source of diarrhea is touching items that were touched by someone other who had diarrhea and who didn't wash their hands. Wash your hands after eating, too - many locals, especially cultured and religious Indians, will love you for that.

One of the most common reasons for diarrhea and a horde of other diseases is bad water. Don't drink from taps or wells - purchase bottled water to stay in good health. Look out for an ISI mark (Indian Standards Institute) that looks like this and check the seal of the bottle carefully before purchasing bottled water. When possible stick to known brands like the international Kinley (Coca-cola co.) Aquafina (Pepsi co.) or big local brands like Bisleri, Kingfisher, Himalaya, Oxyrich and so on.

If your living at a fixed location, 25 liter containers of bottled water are often available. Purchasing a bigger container saves you over 50% in expenses, and avoids producing a pile of plastic garbage - that mighty curse of the Indian environment. Remember to drink enough, drink a minimum of two liters per day. Sufficient water is very important to keep up your health and stay hydrated, particularly during the warm season.

Eat With Discrimination

If the place you're about to eat at doesn't look hygienic, it most likely isn't - not for your Western stomach, anyway. Don't buy ready-made food from the streets, they're a health hazard. Eat at clean and reputable restaurants even if the cost a bit more. Avoid dishes with cream, sea food (in inland areas- coastal regions get fresh produce) or ingredients which spoil easily. Factory produced snacks packed in sealed wrappings are generally safe. But don't eat beyond your limits! The bacteria your tummy faces in rural India is not off your friendly home-town eco-system, what you'd digest back home isn't what you can handle in India! The best recipe for staying healthy is to cook yourself is possible. You can get a gas-bottle and a burner for less than $10, and a set of pots and utensils for another $5.

When purchasing food, keep all foodstuffs well packed and sealed, lest you risk their being infested with ants and flies. Ants in particular, in all sizes and shapes, are very dedicated to finding your food. Especially the sweet flavor! Sometimes you may need to pack foodstuffs into air-tight containers or to hang them with thread from the roof to keep them outside the greedy ants' reach. Discard foods that smell bad or even a bit suspicious, they're a risk to your health.

Watch Out for Pick-Pockets of Different Species

When you purchase fruits or vegetables from the market, keep them in a cloth bag or a back pack. To use a transparent plastic bag is to invite a band of monkeys for a meal. They'll come and grab it before you had a chance to say "monk...". Keep a watch on your camera, glasses and the rest even if the place isn't reputed for pick-pockets, for there generally are the local monkeys who'll do a meaningless pick-pocketing job with formidable skill. If the monkeys become a constant nuisance, you may want to keep a stick with you to keep them at a distance. Beating the ground with force is generally enough to keep away an approaching monkey - though one needs a good deal of attitude to scare away the big, grumpy male.

Don't carry large quantities of money, your passport, flight ticket, or other such valuable or important items with you. Keep them somewhere safe and locked away. Most cities will have ATMs you can use your credit card or Visa Electron if you need more cash. Remember that the sighting of a white man on a dark alley means money and electronics are one knock away - be aware of thieves! Be discreet in displaying anything of value. Avoid lonely places after dark, and this applies especially to ladies who should never be walking around alone in the dark, or too lightly dressed even in bare daylight for that matter, for a foreign woman draws a great deal of attention and the possibilities of sexual assault are very real.

The Weather

Don't spend much time outside in the mid-day heat unless it's unavoidable. Mind this especially in the hot season from May to September - which by the way isn't your ideal travel season! If you need to be outdoors when it's blazing, always cover your head with a piece of cloth. "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun" they used to say in the 1900s when the British drank their whiskey, ate their beef and roamed around in the blazing sun, dropping dead like flies left and right.

When the nights are cold, be sure to wear a hat or a warm shawl over your head, covering your ears and possibly your throat to avoid getting cold. In the warm season, don't sleep directly under the fan, and don't keep the fan running too fast either to avoid getting cold. Air conditioning systems often work erratically with the fluctuating electricity, and an over-speeding setup can give you a serious cold. Take woolen socks and a pull-over with you for the winter nights.

Avoiding Insect Bites and Malaria.

Your best bet for avoiding malaria is using a mosquito-net at night to avoid being eaten up alive.There are mosquito creams that are quite effective as well as coils you can burn to get rid of mosquitoes in the evening time - between 6.00 PM and the time you take rest.

As for the rest of the poisonous lot, though snakes, scorpions and the rest are not an every-day occurrence, it is good to be aware of their possible existence. Don't go to dark places, such as the bathroom, without having light and seeing what's ahead of you. It is also a good idea to check your bed sheets or your sleeping bag before jumping in - those places are ah-so-cozy for these little to crawl into. Keep your suitcases and other bags closed, too.

Should you have problems with your health - and most people at least get diarrhea once! - be aware that there's a great deal of variety among the doctors. There are many people out there who cracked a book or two and opened a reception and clinic, and even if they're doing a decent job with basic problems, they aren't properly educated doctors! What's more, you'll often find that the clinics and the pharmacy are together, which easily contributes to excessive prescriptions. You'll find Ayurveda and Homeopathy all around as alternatives to allopathic medicine, which is something I personally prefer as the last choice. Antibiotics - and yes, in India they'll give you antibiotics for any damn problem!

Friends and beggars.

If people come to beg from you, use good discretion on when to give and when to not. If you see a flock of kids around and give a coin to one of them, you'll not get rid of the rest for a while. On the other hand, donating to temples, holy men and single beggars is of course a noble thing to do - our little means much in their world. Many will want to make friends with you, and you'll often find that the bulk of your Indian wannabe-friends have very sound reasons for this...

At the holy places of India, you'll commonly meet priests and guides who are enthusiastic to show you around or to engage you in worship. And rarely is it a free treat. Do remember that you have the freedom to choose to not have their services, and always be tactful when dealing with them. Do not get angry or try to confront them - this rarely leads to anything good. A silent exit is the best strategy, and anything short of that will likely be used against you to exhort a donation - they know their trade well and have a big bag full of tricks to capture your precious American dollars. Even if you have a bad experience or two, don't let that ruin the rest of your trip - forgive and forget.

Electronics

If you take equipment using batteries with you, be sure to also take along a battery charger and some spare batteries. Average Indian batteries last about five to ten minutes compared to several hours of power you can get with Western batteries, and rural areas in India experience frequent electric outages that may hinder your charging possibilities. And don't show your gadgets around unless you want to have a circle of 20 curious observers staring at you!

Electricity is erratic in rural areas. It's not a constant 110V or 230V. It fluctuates as low as 30V and as high as 500V - which fuses just about anything. So you want to be really careful plugging in expensive electronics. Always have a spike protector and keep your gear unplugged when not in use, especially if you're not in the house. If you're in a fixed location, get a voltage stabilizer - a $15 purchase - to ensure the safety of your equipment.

Going to the Bazaar

Before going to a shop to purchase anything, ask around to get an idea of the price level. If you are new in the area, you'll be an easy target. Sometimes there's a sign saying "fixed price" on the wall, meaning you aren't allowed to bargain. Many a times this means that the price is fixed to whatever the shopkeeper chooses to tell you and not a pre-printed price tag- which sometimes means an outrageous over-quote. The walk away method helps best to get them to come down on the price.(For some real bargaining tips read:Shopping the Streets of Mumbai) When people learn to recognize you, usually the prices start coming down to near-normal levels.

Most factory-produced and packed goods in India come with a MRP, a Maximum Retail Price, printed - inclusive of all taxes. It means no buts, no excuses and no other stories on why one ought to pay more than it says. Hold your own! Even if it might not seem like a big deal to you on your short visit, please remember others visiting and don't let the locals get comfortable with the bad habit of exploiting the silly, rich Western tourist!

Things to Take Along

If you need toilet paper or tissues, bring some with you - they are pricey and often of low quality in India. Take some antiseptic liquid with you. It's important to immediately disinfect and cover any wounds you may get, for you'll find them infected in no time at all if left untreated.

Carry along a Torch which will really be handy in the frequent power cuts and buy some candles available everywhere to keep with you wherever you intent on staying.

Tooth-brushes, washing powder, towels and the such are easily available all across India, don't bother bringing in too large a stock if you'll stay around for a while. In general, you are better off traveling lightly, especially if you need to move around. Most of the things you might need are locally available for a low price - unless somewhere really remote, in which case you may not even find bottled water! In villages with populations 10,000 and upwards, you should be able to find most day-to-day things you need.

Moving Around in India

If you want to travel with a tight budget, you can use tempos - those enormous three-wheeled scooters with up to 30 passengers onboard - and buses for moving around short distances. Trains are unbeatable for longer journeys. Generally a tempo will get you to your destination for around 10% of the price you would pay for a taxi or private a rickshaw, the junior brother of a tempo. Don't rent a car unless you want to kill yourself in a traffic accident, the roads of India are infamous for reckless driving. Some rent scooters and move around, if you do rent something, be sure to carefully read the rental terms.

You better off not using your best air-cushion hyper-fashion sandals or shoes while in India. Whenever you go into a temple, or into many stores for that matter, you'll need to leave your shoes outside. This is a very convenient way to ensure you'll never see your dear old shoes again. You can purchase a pair of simple Indian slippers for $2. Otherwise, you'll need to stuff your fancy shoes into a bag to ensure they'll stay with you. In general, it's best to dress simply to draw less attention. Blend in with the locals and you'll have gone a long way towards gaining the best and most authentic experience of rural India. And learn a few words of the local language, they'll just love you for that...

Keeping these few tips in mind is just a way of improving the quality of your trip. Try talking to people who have traveled your destination before to get learn more about the place and what you need to take along or not. Don't go with high expectations and make the best of what you get to enjoy your Rural India Experience!

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