10 Conscious North India Travel Tips
For starters, decide which part you’ll be visiting; Indian cities pack a great deal of excitement into small spaces, and if you’re constantly moving you’ll fail to fully absorb what this country has to offer. To truly be one with India and experience this unique land in every pore of your being, it’s important to limit your visit to just 3 to 4 places so you can explore them to the fullest. Mystifying, alluring, chaotic, overwhelming, sometimes squalid, and straight-up crazy! India is a country that is often described using all these adjectives. As such, traveling to this part of the world can be a daunting experience, and you’re probably wondering how to prepare for such a trip.
In this article, we will be focusing exclusively on North India tips and how to travel ethically and consciously through this geographical region.
Here are a few tips:
1. Choose Where You Want to go
North India is a blanket term used to include the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim, and the cities of the golden triangle - Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur.
Schedule your trip based on where your inner voice is calling you, your budget, and how long you’re planning to stay.
Delhi, Agra, Jaipur
These are tourist hubs and host some of India’s most iconic buildings, like the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Fatehpur Sikri in Delhi, and the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur. These cities are approximately 3-hours away from each other by car.
Uttarakhand, Himachal, Sikkim, Jammu & Kashmir
These states are home to the mighty Himalayas, and if you love fresh air, pure glacier water, and the outdoors in general, you should definitely include one of these in your travel itinerary. As you journey up north you’ll notice Indian culture merging with Tibetan culture and this harmonious fusion makes Northern India one of the most peaceful and spiritual places in the world.
Suggestion: If you’ve got a month in India, try combining the city life with the outdoors. You can start with a hectic two weeks in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur and then take a bus to Himachal Pradesh or Uttarakhand, where surrounded by the breathtaking Himalayas, you’re sure to find absolute peace and tranquility.
Sikkim and Jammu & Kashmir are further away from the cities and lie near opposite ends of the country. If you’re planning to visit either of these places it’s best to plan a separate trip for them.
2. Carry Some Cash
As you travel through the more mountainous regions of this country, you’ll notice that ATMs are few and far between. This is not to imply that there are no ATMs, but you want to have a sizable amount of cash in hand, just in case.
And it’s not just the mountains; sometimes ATMs in the city tend to give trouble and most small shop owners do not possess card machines. You may catch a glimpse of some unique tablecloths or traditional scarves being sold by a vendor in the city streets. Having cash at that moment will save you the trouble of searching for the vendor again, who, in all probability, will have moved shop. If you’re planning to tip waiters or drivers, be sure to carry notes or bills. The reason being that waiters, drivers, and other service providers may get offended if you tip them in coins. So to be conscious of their feelings and leave behind a couple of ten rupee notes when tipping.
This being said, ATMs can be found all over the city, and you can bet that a few of them will work. If an ATM doesn’t work, however, don’t panic, and refrain from immediately contacting your bank. In all likelihood, it’s just that one ATM; move on and look for one that works.
3. Go Vegetarian
The majority of travelers switch to a vegetarian diet when they’re in India as it’s the most surefire way to stay healthy throughout your trip.
Most small restaurants and eateries in the city have poor food safety standards. But if you’re traveling a lot you’ll be eating out most of the time, and it’s a lot safer to eat badly-cooked vegetables than it is to eat half-cooked meat. Conscious travel also involves being aware of the feelings of the people you interact with. In North India, most people are vegetarian and treat animals as sacred. Eating the flesh of another conscious, innocent being is considered morally wrong here. On the plus side, India is a primarily vegetarian country and you can taste a variety of delicious and healthy foods without feeling like you’re missing out.
4. Stay with Locals
Avoid staying in Indian hotels as they dilute your experience of this country, and instead, stay in an Airbnb in cities like Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra. They’re a lot less expensive and you might even have the opportunity of living in a traditional home.
Further up north, in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and the other mountainous regions, you can find lodging in what Indians call guesthouses or homestays. These establishments are run by Indian families and consist of a large home with plenty of rooms for travelers. The people running these secluded guesthouses live in harmony with nature and are much more conscious of their surroundings. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to observe the daily routines of a traditional North Indian family and they’re sure to help by giving you advice on the best places to visit in the area. These families also tend to be extremely kind and offer great company during your stay.
5. Beware of Bargains
While walking through the marketplaces in Delhi and Jaipur, you’ll notice shops with unique cuff bracelets, handmade unique scarves, unique kitchen linens, sustainable jewelry boxes, and many other unique handmade gifts being sold at unbelievably low prices.
But be aware, often, these products are bought from rural artisans who are paid a petty sum for their hard work. Many of these rural workers earn too little to support their families and have to sell their handicrafts at incredibly low prices just to make anything for a living. But if you see the actual artisan making items streetside, buy-up, and pay them a fair price!
Thankfully, Fair Trade organizations like Sustainable Threads, Mira Fair Trade, CFM, Asha Handicrafts and WorldFinds are working towards providing these rural workers access to fair wages, larger markets, and more secure and sustainable livelihoods.
You can help these organizations by supporting conscious consumerism through ethical gift purchases, so more rural workers can be hired as Fair Trade artisans. If you aren’t sure of the source, don’t want to carry it, or forget an item while traveling India, you can purchase them online at a fair price instead.
6. Be a Little Cold-Hearted
The most difficult aspect of traveling India is coming face to face with abject poverty. You’re sure to see thousands of homeless people in rags begging for money. Most of these impoverished people are forced onto the roads by large crime syndicates who keep all the money that they make from begging.
While it’s heartbreaking to stare extreme poverty in the face, it’s imperative that you refrain from giving beggars money as it only contributes to the exploitation and is more harmful in the long run. Supporting the local craftspeople and purchasing Fair Trade will provide jobs that have a positive long-term impact.
7. Dress Modestly
India is a far more conservative country than most parts of the western world, and people here tend to stare at women a lot. So if you’re walking around the streets of Delhi or Agra in a tank top and shorts you’re sure to get a lot of looks and even a few nasty comments. This doesn’t mean you have to cover yourself from head to toe; a top that covers the shoulders and a bottom that goes below the knees is good enough. So pack accordingly. And instead of looking at this conservative society as something negative, embrace the colorful culture and deck yourself in kurtas, churidars, and patiala pants. Put on a pair of bangles and earrings to give yourself that authentic Indian touch and blend in with the society. You’re sure to enjoy your trip a lot more if you’re dressed like an Indian.
Additionally, it’s best to pack some warm clothing for when you’re traveling through the Himalayas as it tends to get chilly in the evenings. Nothing too heavy though; just a thick sweater and cargo pants should do.
8. Know Your Transport
India boasts the world’s largest railway network and train travel is an extremely affordable way to get from place to place. It gives you the opportunity to see the beautiful countryside while interacting with random Indians and Indian families. The railway network connects every city in India and is the most accessible mode of transport. Besides, it’s a more sustainable mode of travel and leaves a much lower carbon footprint than an airplane.
When traveling within the city, it’s best to get around using the Uber or Ola taxi app in India as you will get a fair price for your journey. Auto rickshaws are an option too and a rickshaw ride is certainly an experience in itself. However, rickshaw walas (the drivers) tend to charge foreigners exorbitant amounts of money to travel small distances. Unless you’ve got an Indian friend with you who understands the local language and is able to haggle with the drivers, it’s best to stay away from rickshaws as much as possible. While exploring the more mountainous regions in the north, you’ll find air-conditioned buses and fixed-price taxis willing to take you to otherwise inaccessible places.
9. Don’t Forget Toilet Paper!
Indians use water instead of toilet paper to clean up after their bathroom business. This is why most toilets and bathrooms in India are completely devoid of toilet paper.
So if you’re a little queasy about toileting the way Indians do, you can buy toilet paper rolls at convenience stores there. But if you’re adventurous and up for trying the Indian way of using the loo, be sure to carry a bottle of hand sanitizer.
As a general tip, try to be less fussy about going to the toilet in India. In big cities, you’ll find a few clean toilets (yay!) and they may even stock toilet paper. However, up in the Himalayas toilets are often going to be a hole in the ground with a bucket of ice-cold water and a mug lying next to the hole.
10. Learn To Let Go
Perhaps the most important piece of advice you will get while traveling through India is to let go of all your judgments and complaints and simply dive into the tumultuous beauty of this land.
There will be things you want to change in the society and times when you feel frustrated, angry, and suffocated by the intensity of this culturally-rich atmosphere. But simply take a deep breath and bring yourself back to the present moment. When you do, you’ll remember that it’s just a unique experience and that there’s a peaceful coherence in all the madness. That’s when your inhibitions will start to dissipate and you can actually enjoy yourself. India is a land inhabited by 1.7 billion people with traditions as old as the country itself. Religions from all over the world live in confused harmony and people from different cities often have a lot less in common than people from different parts of the world.
You’re bound to lose your sense of self with all the overstimulation and diversity here, but all it takes is a little conscious effort to bring yourself back to reality.
On this journey, you’ll realize that India is a land full of contradictions and its people thrive in this topsy-turvy environment. And after just a few days, once you’ve soaked in this atmosphere, you’re sure to revel in the chaotic harmony that is India.
Have a great trip! And be sure to keep a journal to record this amazing journey!
Unique World Inspirations is a social enterprise online shop, selling Fair Trade gifts and products inspired by the people and cultures we’ve encountered on our travels. By providing crafts to you that are handmade by artisans around the world, we are making the world a better place, one product at a time.