I have friends who say alcohol is only thing they need to ward off illness in India. For the rest of us, precautions are not a bad idea. Each time I visit India I make sure everything, including vaccinations is up to date: cholera, hepatitis A, malaria preventative antibiotics, Japanese Encephalitis.
Better to be safe than sorry. I’ve travelled with people who have got very sick, and there’s nothing worse than being laid low, or searching for a toilet every five minutes, when you’re trying to have a good time. And toilets in India are in short supply. About 70 per cent of the population just squats in the fields.
Here’s some basic tips for travelling safely in India:
- Don’t drink water from tap or roadside vends. Drink only boiled or bottled water. Also, buy water from respectable and decent looking outlets. Check the seal before buying the water to make sure that it is intact.
- Never eat cut fruits sold by the roadside vendors. Always eat fruits you can peel. Wash the fruits properly with water well before eating them.
- It is advisable to keep a mosquito repellent ointment with you always.
- Always carry a kit of the basic emergency medicines you might need. Especially medicines for upset stomach, vomiting, dysentery, fever, etc. Also, keep some band-aids, antiseptic ointments, etc with you.
- Avoid fountain drinks and ice cubes.
- Avoid eating food from the roadside vendors. If, by chance, you eat from there, make sure that the food is well cooked and is served hot.
As for tipping, it’s widely expected in India, as basic wages are low.
- While it’s not mandatory, it’s worth remembering that the basic wage in India for a casual laborer is only 180 rupees ($A4) a day.
- Many hotel employees will earn about 18,000 rupees ($400) a month, and on one trip our minibus driver, who navigated the dodgy roads and unpredictable traffic with considerable patience and skill, earned only 4000 rupees ($A90) a month.
- We tipped him 100 rupees ($A2) each a day, for each day he was employed to drive us around. In hindsight, that sounds pathetic!
- Tour guides also expect a tip, of about 100 rupees per person, a day.
- It’s worth keeping small denomination notes and coins on hand.
- The best hotels, including the Oberoi group, recommend not tipping staff individually, but leaving an amount for collective gratuity when you check out. This will be divided among the staff who served you.
- Tips are not included in tour-package prices.
- In the monsoon season, the rain and water lying around makes it easy for mosquitoes to breed and increases the risk of mosquito transmitted infections, including malaria and dengue fever. Wearing light colored clothing, long sleeved and long pants, wards off mozzies which are attracted to your bare skin and bright colors. A salwar kameez – long shirt and baggy pants – is perfect.
- Temples require modest dress, and that also means long sleeves and in some cases, including visiting mosques, women will need a scarf to cover their heads.
- Women are less likely to be harassed if they wear modest clothing. I wore what Indians wear – a kurta and baggy pants, or a salwar kameez. Indian cotton is light and cool to wear. Clothing is very cheap to buy. And you will look exotic and beautiful!
- Wear closed shoes, to protect your feet from the possibility of fungal infections.