While the visitor is encouraged to travel and explore this vast country, a few areas are restricted for security and other reasons, and travel in them requires specific permission (from Indian diplomatic missions abroad or in some cases from the Ministry of Home Affairs). These include the states of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, parts of Kulu and Spiti District of Himachal Pradesh, the border areas of Jammu and Kashmir, some areas of Uttaranchal, the area west of National Highway 15 running from Ganganagar to Sanchar in Rajasthan, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and the Union Territory of the Lakshadweep Islands.
The quality of hotels has improved dramatically during the recent past and unless one is staying in the really cheap hotels, cleanliness and service should not be a problem. Take a quick tour of the hotel before deciding to take a room there. Before paying for a room, make sure to look at the room first.
Quality of air travel in the country is comparable to the best, and in the case of the private airlines like Jet Airways and Sahara Airlines, the service is arguably better and more genuine than what one is used to overseas.
Indians are a genuinely warm and friendly people and service is a part of the culture. In most places the service is genuinely friendly and not a mere facade.
English is widely spoken and language should not be a barrier to travel.
If you have medical or travel insurance, do check whether the company will make payment overseas or will merely reimburse you later. Most Indian hospitals and doctors will insist on payment on the spot.
Vaccinations and health precautions
Do check out vaccination requirements before travel. Carry vaccination certificates with you. This is mandatory if you are coming from or arriving via a Yellow Fever infected region.
As a rule most water is unsafe for drinking. The better (equated to more expensive) hotels and restaurants will serve safe drinking water. Elsewhere, well known brands of bottled water are recommended. Make sure the bottle is sealed and do not accept opened bottles. Otherwise, stick to drinking carbonated drinks or hot tea/coffee or treat water with iodine drops/chlorine tablets.
Traffic safety and road conditions
Traffic moves on the left in India. Also many roads will be in poor condition and have poor traffic discipline. For anyone coming from abroad, hazardous road conditions and safety norms can seem appalling. Prepare yourself mentally for this and take necessary precautions, wherever possible.
In places where there are taxi queues available, don't hire a taxi that is not part of the queue.
In most unorganised markets, or in case of unbranded products, bargaining is acceptable and practiced. Treat it as part of different cultural norms, and you may even enjoy it. If it bothers you, restrict yourself to shopping at standard outlets.
Indians are an exceptionally friendly people, and can be somewhat overly curious and inquisitive and pushy in their overtures. If you would prefer not to subject yourself to over-friendliness, which can, in tourist destinations, sometimes be a guise to take advantage of the gullible tourist, keep a polite but firm distance. As everywhere, your body language will convey your preference for company or not.
As a foreigner to a different culture, do display a degree of sensitivity to your host country. If you would not take photographs of people, their lifestyle and their homes in Western countries, without making a specific request, do refrain from being trigger happy while in India.
You are advised to dress conservatively, if you would prefer not to draw attention to yourself. This is particularly applicable for women. Indians are status conscious, and the scruffy tourist can generate an appropriate response!
It will make a big difference if you learn a few phrases in Hindi or the local language of the state you are travelling in, such as "Thank you" and "yes, please". Using the local greeting "namaste" for hello and goodbye is always appreciated.
At a restaurant a tip of 10% of the bill is considered adequate and can be reduced to 5% if you run up bills of Rs.1000 or more.
Visit authorised foreign exchange dealers and banks and keep the encashment certificates.
Valuables and petty crime
Cases of petty crime, like theft of personal property, are often reported. This is best tackled by not leaving your belongings unattended and preferably by avoiding travelling alone. Do not keep passports, money and other valuables unattended. Do chain and padlock your luggage when travelling in trains and do not keep valuables within reach of the window.
Keep a small amount of local currency separate and handy for daily anticipated expenditure. It is not advisable to keep reaching out for your entire stock of cash and cheques each time you have to make small payments.
What to carry
Travel light. A hard suitcase is preferable to a soft topped one, as it better withstands wear and tear, is water proof and can be used to sit on at railway stations and bus stops! Do include your anti bacterial creams, sun screen lotions and, if you are travelling to remote areas, water purification tablets. A flashlight and a Swiss army penknife will always come in handy. A padlock will be useful if you are staying at budget hotels. Remember to carry your personal medication and a handy medical kit.
The power outlet in India is 230-240 volt. Most sockets are 3 pin sockets.
Do keep photo copies of important travel documents. One set can be left behind with someone at home and the other can be kept on your person or in a different bag/article of luggage, from where you keep the originals. Photocopies should be made of your tickets, credit cards and passport, visa and travellers cheques. Carry extra copies of passport size photographs.