In general, the people of India are more traditional than in the west. Typical Western behaviors can often be misinterpreted, though with a little knowledge, a bit of patience (it's India, after all!), and the spirit of kindness and adventure, you will be able to savor the deliciousness that is India. We can't wait to share India with you!
Managing Jet Lag Symptoms
The following suggestions are recommended to better manage symptoms of jet lag during your travels to India:
Adapt to local time as soon as possible after arrival
Make sure you get enough sleep during the first night in your new location (avoid last-minute, late-night
Eat food that is easy to digest and rich in carbohydrates which facilitates sleep (we often consume foods
high in tryptophan, a sleep-inducing amino acid, prior to our flights)
Eat food rich in protein which will help you to feel more alert while you are awake
Avoid caffeine (chocolates, coffees-- even decaf has come caffeine, some sodas, etc.)
Airline workers in India are very strict about luggage weights and limits, and they are quick to charge you an arm and a leg for any overweight luggage. Participants are strongly advised to limit their luggage to one checked piece of luggage and one carry-on per person for the retreat to India. Please remember-- you will be hauling all the suitcases you bring through the airports and through India, and extra luggage will slow the entire travel process for everyone. In addition, it is recommended that you pack lighter on the trip to India, as you will want to save some luggage space to carry home any items and gifts purchased in India. Packing an extra duffel bag (to use as a second checked bag for the trip home) in your main suitcase will allow you to carry the appropriate items and weigh limits into the mountains and to carry home the extra items you purchase in India. And most people wish they had MORE space when packing for the trip home. We have traveled to India many times, and having less luggage on the way over is a real boon for India travel! For luggage locks, we recommend airline-friendly TSA-approved luggage locks. They are a replacement for the old-style locks, and they allow the airline security personnel to open your luggage (they have special keys) and lock them again afterwards. Generally, it helps to discourage others from helping themselves to the goodies in your luggage. You can purchase the TSA-approved locks at luggage shops and generally at any place where you've previously purchased luggage locks. More information on packing for the mountains and packing in general will be discussed in the Group Orientation meeting (see Reservations for details).
Food Tips in India
Avoid ice and drink only bottled water, or water filtered at the ashram. Be careful even with bottled water off the streets, as merchants in India have been known to "recycle" tourist bottles and fill them with tap water! Yuk!
Eat cooked meals and piping hot foods, avoid green salads, as they are washed in tap water.
Do not consume food from the street vendors. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention clearly states: "Avoid buying food or drink from street vendors, because it is relatively easy for such food to become contaminated" with food and waterborne diseases. So don't be tempted-- it's not worth it! One lousy piece of tainted food from the street corner and your whole trip can be ruined!
We recommend that you do not eat meat-- even if it is cooked-- as it is often not stored properly and can be a health risk. (The meals on our retreat will be a freshly prepared, healthy, vegetarian cuisine.)
Eat fruits that you can peel yourself (and don't eat the peel!)
If you wish to have a soda, use a straw to drink it, so that you avoid putting the bottle in your mouth. And be careful-- if it's in a glass, request it WITHOUT ICE, as the ice is often made from tap water. Yuk!
CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES IS PROHIBITED IN PUBLIC PLACES IN INDIA
Attire on the Indian subcontinent is conservative for both men and women. Only children should wear short shorts in India, and the topless look is best left to the sadhus. While you will see westerners wearing less conservative clothing these days, we strongly prefer that our group stay as modest as possible.
MEN: Cotton trousers are usually more comfortable and allow for greater movement than jeans, though these days, young men and women are wearing more jeans and have a more "western" look. Though the traditional kurta pajamas are also worn by men (loose, drawstring pants with long tops-- very practical, cool daywear), these days men are most often seen in trousers and shirts. The kurta pajamas can be inexpensively purchased in many of the areas we will be visiting. Loose cotton clothing is recommended for both men and women, especially for our stay in Rishikesh and Delhi.
WOMEN: Avoid exposing the shoulders, back or chest, and the bare legs-- this means no shorts or short skirts, no exposed cleavage (seriously!) and no bra-less look. Women should wear long pants, skirts to the ankles, salvar kamis (two-piece cotton outfit with drawstring pants), or saris. These too can be inexpensively purchased and/or custom-made for you when in India. We realize that these days there are many more westerners in places like Rishikesh, and especially in tourist places like Ram Jhula and Laxman Jhula, and we've seen these westerners wearing spaghetti tank tops, shorts, and gauze-like see-through tops, but we highly discourage participants in our group from doing so. While you may chose (and are welcome) to wear only western clothes (such as jeans, pants, and shirts), we strongly discourage wearing body-hugging clothes or tights, or clothes that expose the back, chest, or bare legs. India is certainly becoming more and more westernized, but their culture is still much more conservative than ours, and it is wise to approach their culture with respect.
For yoga and meditation classes, wear looser fitting outfits, such as the cotton loose pants/kurta pajamas (men) and salvar kamis (women). Leotards and exposed tight leggings are not acceptable in India. Sandals are okay, though it is recommended that you bring shoes for trekking along the hillsides and through towns, as streets are not as tidy as they are in the US. Durable sandals that can be worn in rain or shine are priceless in India!
For the mountain portion of the trip, you will want something cooler for the day, and plenty of layers at night. For the colder weather, for example, we would recommend non-cotton long underwear (top and bottom) as the first layer, a turtleneck as the second layer, a zip-up fuzzy layer for insulation (if needed), and a wind jacket for the outer layer. As the day heats up, you will take off layers, and as the day cools down, you'll want to add layers back on. A few extra pair of long johns are nice to have as a "change" of clothes during our stay in the mountains.
The day temperatures in the mountains at Leh Ladahk will be in the 68-72 °F range and the night temperatures will be in the 48-54 °F range, so you will want to dress in layers. The sun definitely feels brighter in these mountain regions, and it will warm you during the day. In Delhi and Agra (for the Taj Mahal), temperatures at this time or year will range from low 90's during the day to mid 70's at night. Rishikesh will be a few degrees cooler, but similar temperature ranges for this time of year, so dress with light cotton attire to stay cooler.
High altitudes demand special respect and preparation (see Wikipedia info: Effects of High Altitude and High Altitude Advice. We recommend good fitness with good diet and full hydration. We will be traveling into regions at 11,000 and up to 17,600 feet elevation, and participants are advised to consult with their physicians prior to registration and travel for any preparations and conditions that may limit their participation in this Retreat, including ailments such heart disease, blood pressure, asthma as well as medications that will be affected. In additional, Participants are advised to consult physicians to obtain prescribed medicines for altitude sickness as a precautionary measure. Retreat Organizers strongly advise working with a physician who is familiar with travel to these higher elevations. The experienced GIO Mountain Team will be our guides and support throughout our high mountain travels. Here are a few high altitude tips:
(1) Don't push it-- due to the decrease in oxygen, it is recommended to take it slowly for the first few days at high altitudes and to gradually build activity levels;
(2) Drink up-- dehydration can decrease the body's ability to acclimatize. Travelers often arrive to destinations after long plane flights. About one week before a trip begins, it is recommended to start drinking between 60-100 ounces of water per day. Keep one liter (33.8 oz) water bottle with you while traveling and sip frequently. Reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol consumption before and during your trip will decrease chances of dehydration
(3) Eat Small, Eat Often-- the body takes longer to digest food at higher altitudes, so the best bet, according to REI Adventure's Amy Hardie, is to eat a good breakfast, graze throughout the day, and eat a light dinner. That strategy provides ample energy during the day, while allowing for a better night's sleep.
(4) Ups and downs-- if you do start feeling altitude sickness (nausea, headaches, etc.), stop, rest, drink fluids and get a bite to eat until symptoms subside.
ACUTE MOUNTAIN SICKNESS: It is normal to have some headaches when you are first above 8,200 feet. Rest, drink and medicate as you would at sea level. Breathlessness is normal on exertion at altitude – but above 9,800 feet, watch for breathlessness when resting. A cough; a severe, persistent headache; nausea; loss of coordination or disorientation are all are signs of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), and this potentially fatal condition demands rapid descent.
Social norms are important in India, and they are quite different than the US. To dress outside the social norm gives the appearance of being a "loose" westerner-- not only does this cause a loss of respect, it invites lewd behaviors from the men. Really! For women-- if you are walking with a man, it is assumed that he is your husband or brother. What is considered normal in male-female relationships in the US is often viewed as unacceptable in India. Public affection is discouraged (holding hands, kissing, etc.), and men and women don't often touch in public, even if married. Likewise, there are some things that are "normal" in India that are outside of the standard norms in the US. For example, you can see same-sex individuals (including men and military officials) walking hand-in-hand in India.
Suggested/Useful Items to Bring to India
Once you register, a list of suggested items will be sent to you with your confirmation receipt. In addition, we recommend taking a look at our packing list that we've posted online.
It is recommended that participants consider purchasing travel insurance for this retreat, to cover any unexpected loss, accident or emergency. The Retreat Organizers will take utmost care to ensure the safety of the participants. However, in the case of any unforeseen mishaps, Retreat Organizer cannot be liable for any injuries caused or for loss of life. All disputes rising due to the above are subject to the jurisdiction of the courts in Milwaukee, Wisconsin only. To read more about travel insurance, participants may wish to visit www.insuremytrip.com, a non-profit informational website on travel insurance.
Important Paper Tips
Make three photocopies of your travel documents, especially your passport, and keep one in your checked luggage, one in your carry-on bag, and leave one at home. It will save you a lot of trouble, should your original be stolen or lost. Keep the copies separate from the originals. In addition, you may wish to keep copies of the following travel documents:
Personal medical information
Personal medicine prescriptions
Emergency Contact information (bring yours with you for the Retreat, and we will also give you contact information for our stay in India, should you need to be reached while you are in India)
In addition, you will need to make a photocopy of your passport to send to the Retreat Organizer. It is also recommended that you send the Retreat Organizer copies of your travel insurance paperwork, in case they need to be contacted on your behalf.
There will be plenty of opportunities to bargain in the local bazaars, where you will likely find some unique items. As a general of thumb-- NEVER accept the initial price from the local shopkeepers! Prices will be inflated, and especially inflated because you will look like a foreigner, and foreigners are assumed to have more money (and often we do). Generally speaking, offer 40% or so of the initial offer, and let them inch their way down in price. It's definitely a skill, and you must be prepared to walk away from some items. Shop keepers have been known to chase after you, if you walk away, especially if you know that you are offering a good price (that part takes a little more experience). Bartering is definitely a skill worth developing, especially in places like India, where it is the expected practice among merchants. And the satisfaction of a barter well done can go a long ways for minimizing haggling when you return to an area for additional merchandise. At the end of our trip, we'll visit the government shops, where the prices are good and they are fixed, and you don't have to worry about the bartering. NOTE: Some places we will visit-- such as Ram and Laxman Jhula-- now have many shops which advertise "fixed prices" and do not accept bargain. Still, we've found that most all of them DO bargain, so long as you offer a good price. We'll offer you some tips and tricks once we're in India, as Ragani is known far and wide for her bartering talents! Over the several few years, however, India has had a definite rise in prices, especially in the bigger cities like Delhi. Still, there are plenty of good bargains to be found!
Some of the Indian gestures and body language can be initially confusing to Westerners. There is a "figure of eight" waggle of the head, which generally means "okay" or "yes". For example, if you are bartering for items at a local bazaar and the clerk gives you this expressionless waggle of the head, it means you have a deal (and you've likely done a good job bartering). A hand gesture that resembles waving to the ground is an indication of "come here", and it's one of the ways you can "hail" one of the rikshas and put-putties for a ride.
In addition, when handing something to someone in India, it is proper etiquette to use your right hand. This is especially important at meals, when passing food, etc. Even if you are left-handed, you should always use your right-hand for accepting or passing food to others, shaking hands, etc. In India, toilet functions are performed solely with the left hand (a good practice to remember!), so the left hand is not used for passing food, etc.
The electric current in India is 220/ 215 volts and 15 cycles. It is AC practically everywhere. Do not forget to bring converters and round tip socket. Best to have a surge protector in your converter too, as the surges can destroy your electrical items! We used these items on previous trips: surge/converters on Amazon.
Money and Currency Exchanges
The units of Indian currency are the Rupee and Paisa (100Paisa equal 1 Rupee). All major credit cards are accepted in most hotels, restaurants, government and hotel shops, and so are the travellers cheques as well. It is advisable to change your money through authorized banks and hotels. Always keep your receipts as you will need them at the end of your trip if you wish to convert your rupees back to your own currency. Avoid anyone in the street who offers to change your money at a temptingly high rate of exchange, as this is illegal, and we do not want our Participants landing in jail!
All Retreat itinerary travel is covered in the Retreat Price. However, if you ever decide to take a cab on your own, it is best to settle the fare before you set off. That will avoid any confusion over cost after you arrive at your destination. Be aware too that if you ask a taxi driver to take you to a destination and, after asking what you are shopping for, he suggests or insists on taking you someplace else (to get a better deal), the only deal will be the one he has made with the shopkeeper. Be firm and persistent in having him take you to your original destination. Persistence usually works.
If you have diabetes, allergies, asthma or any condition that may require emergency care, always carry some identification (tag, bracelet or card) indicating so and prescriptions of the medicines. (Please also see the notes about health conditions in the "High Altitudes" section above.) It is advisable to also carry a letter from your physician. Though we will be staying within 40 minutes of a hospital complex during our Rishikesh portion of the trip, modern medicines are not always available as you may find in the US. Be sure to bring sufficient medicines with you, especially if you have physical disorders that require regular use of medications. See the packing list for general suggested medications and remedies for India. Also, please consult with your physician to know what effects high altitudes may have on any medications you are currently taking.
Most cities have Beggar Homes to look after indigent persons and to teach them a trade, but professional beggars find begging more lucrative, and they often are driven to approach foreigners. Begging is not an accepted way of life in India, except for specific situations with sadhus and in some socially approved situations. Charity can encourage children to beg, and you are advised to avoid giving charity to anyone on the streets. Beggars can be persistent. If you give money to a beggar, don't be surprised if you are harrassed by numerous others looking for donations. If you wish to help them, do so through a recognized charitable organization, not by giving them alms on the streets.
The Indian Wildlife (protection) Act bans all forms of wildlife trade. Violations of the provisions of the Act are punishable with heavy fines and imprisonment. Foreigners are, therefore, advised not to buy any wildlife or wildlife products or derivatives -specially ivory articles, fur and skin articles derived from wild animals such as Shahtoosh.
Foreigner should not buy, sell or use psycho-tropic drugs or any other narcotic substances while in India, as their purchase, sale or possession is a cognizable offence punishable by imprisonment.
Health & Disease Prevention Tips
Protect yourself from mosquito and insect bites: wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats when outdoors.
NEVER eat food purchased from street vendors, and avoid food that is not well cooked to reduce risk of infection (i.e., hepatitis A and typhoid fever).
Good to carry hand sanitizer for a quick clean up if needed
Do not drink beverages with ice.
Avoid dairy products (i.e. yogurts, milk), unless you know they have been pasteurized or cooked well.
Do not swim in fresh water to avoid exposure to certain water-borne diseases such as schistosomiasis.
Do not handle animals, especially monkeys, dogs, and cats, to avoid bites and serious diseases (including rabies and plague). Consider pre-exposure rabies vaccination if you might have extensive unprotected outdoor exposure in rural areas.
For more information, advisories and government information on travel inoculations and vaccinations, visit: www.cdc.gov (The Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
Tips or "baksheesh" with meals and drivers are included in the cost of your trip, so issues around tipping should not arise. If you are exploring on your own and find yourself in a situation where a tip is requested, 10 or 20 Rupees is an easy quick tip, though you may give 50 Rupees if there was much more effort involved. You might not think of yourself as wealthy, but in India (where a full-time laborer or servant may earn Rs.700/month, or about $15), you are definitely viewed as wealthy, especially in more rural areas such as Rishikesh.
Airport in Delhi
Last, but not least... the airport in Delhi:
ARRIVAL: When you arrive, we will check through customs, and proceed to the luggage carousels. At this time, we will also be changing money at the bank tellers at the airport. In the past, we have recommended that you change all your money into Rupees, as it is a challenge to have your dollars changed once we are up in the mountains and foothills of Rishikesh. And you'll get the best exchange rates at the banks (and Traveller's Checks give you the best exchange rate, even better than cash!). Once everyone has cleared customs, got their luggage, and exchanged money, we will proceed out of the airport into the crowds that await us outside, to our Holiday Inn transportation.
DEPARTURE: Prior to departure, you will want to change all your money back into US dollars (the hotel is a good place to do this on the evening of our departure). At the airport, luggage carts at the airport are free to use, so take one (or two) for your luggage-- it will help move things along faster. You will want to have your e-ticket and passport to show the guard at the door (they won't want to let you in without it!). Once you are in the airport, you will need to have your luggage scanned at security (they'll put a security sticker on it). These days, there are people trying to make a buck (or Rupee) at the airport selling plastic "wraps" for your entire suitcase (they literally take your suitcase and wraps layers and layers of plastic around it, like a coccoon!), and you can just walk right by them. No need to pay for that (unless you wish to). After security, you can proceed to the airline check-in counter-- usually there are long, long lines here. We have heard (from some of our prior year's tour participants) that two of our tour ladies were able to bravely bribe the airport officials with Rs. 500 each (that's about $10) to move through the line faster. It worked, and they were able to avoid the lines and rest at the departure terminal areas. That's India for you!
OUTSIDE THE DELHI AIRPORT: Upon our arrival (and departure) just outside the airport, you will frequently encounter many boys and young men who will quickly try to walk with you and to put their hand on your luggage handle and try to "help" carry your luggage for you. These boys are wanting tips from you, and while you are welcome to let them "help" you (and to then offer them a tip after our bus arrives), we highly recommend that you just shoo them off and roll your luggage by yourself.