How to get ready to visit India

Photo Naga Sahdu, Kumbh Mela, Haridwar India 2010, photography

Photo of Naga Sahdu, Kumbh Mela, Haridwar India 2010 by Jean-Pierre Muller

India is a mirror: start polishing

Have you longed to go to India — but were daunted by not knowing where to start, what to bring, how to prepare or where to go?

India deserves its reputation for being both the most potentially transformative travel destination on earth — and one of the most challenging to newbies. There is magic in learning how to be in India: how to deal with the chaos, crowds, seemingly inefficient methods, bizarre contradictions, extremes of every kind, lower hygienic standards, heat, dust, and feeling that you are a target for every con artist, tout, tuktuk driver and shyster in the country.

But if India was just a nuisance and a challenge, it wouldn’t be India. Because India is also full of joy, celebration, devotion, colour, spectacle, kindness, warmth, openness, trust and beauty. Many foreigners — myself included — go to India prepared for the difficulties, and then find themselves surprised by how much India moves them. If you let India affect you, as I did, you might “fall in love” with the people and the place. And you might find yourself radically transformed. Notions once held dear are abandoned. Fears once harboured set sail. Narrowness is replaced with perspective, and judgement with compassion.

The trick to being in India is to be prepared – but not TOO prepared! Read on to find out the number one thing you need to know before visiting India. And also about a free information session I am holding on September 14, 2011 in Toronto.

Photograph of the evening aarti in Haridwar, India during Kumbh Mela 2011

Evening aarti in Haridwar, India during Kumbh Mela 2011

Attitude is everything

The first time I went to India, back in 2005, I took a suitcase full of medications for such things as malaria and diarrhea, a complete homeopathic kit, a mosquito net, an emergency medical kit that included gloves and syringes, a book about staying healthy in Asia, guidebooks and all kinds of other paraphernalia I found I didn’t need. The travel medical clinic in Toronto, and other sources I had consulted, had whipped me into a fear-frenzy!

And then I landed in India and found it to be a very civilized place. The medical centre I went to in Delhi was frankly superior to what we have in Canada; and the Indian family I was staying with (rightly) laughed at all my stuff.

After five lengthy trips to the subcontinent, I’ve learned to get the basics in place — and then just let India flow. Visas and vaccinations are important, but just as important is attitude. Going to India with the right attitude is the single most important thing you can do to prepare.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: India is a mirror. Whatever attitude you bring with you will be reflected back at you. If you bring fear, scary things will happen. But if you travel with a non-judgmental attitude, and with openness, trust, respect and genuine curiosity, you will have wonderful and life-changing experiences.

Photograph of Mariellen Ward with temple elephants in Tamil Nadu, 2006

Getting blessed by temple elephants in Tamil Nadu, 2006

Getting ready to go to India

To get you ready to go to magical India, and find out what you need to know, do and bring, I’m holding a free information session, along with travel and tour expert Deborah Peniuk of AYA LIFE.  You will be treated to some tasty Indian snacks, such as bhel puri, samosas and pakoras – the same types of foods you will see served in India.

The information session will cover:

  • what you need to know about getting a Visa for visiting India, and passport requirements
  • how to prepare your body and your mind: recommended vaccinations, suggested homeopathic and herbal remedies and cultivating a successful attitude
  • what to pack, what to bring and what you can expect to buy in India
  • all things money-related: how much to bring, how to change money, the currency system in India and exchange rates, etc.
  • a briefing on what to eat and drink – and what to avoid – while in India
  • what to expect in terms of transportation, sites, street life and people
  • how to visit temples and perform rituals

DATE: Wednesday, September 14, 2011  ~  5:30 – 7:00 p.m.
PLACE: Kama Indian Restaurant, 214 King St. West, Toronto

So please come with all your questions and I will answer them to the best of my ability. I have traveled for more than 14 months, alone, from one end of India to the other and I have amassed a wealth of experience to draw upon. If you can’t make it to the information session, email me at mariellen [@] breathe dream go . com or ask a question in the comments, below.

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16 Responses to How to get ready to visit India

  1. Preena @ A Teaspoon Of Turmeric August 19, 2011 at 9:46 pm #

    Very nicely written Mariellen – it is so true about India being a mirror! Going to India always has such a profound effect upon me and usually takes me about three months to unpack my thoughts, memories and experiences of people I met and places I saw.

  2. Satu August 20, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    Your preparations for your first trip to India remind me of mine. A full medical kit, lots of vaccinations… these days I go with very little. I buy my medicines in India now, they’re so much cheaper than the brand name products in the West. People worry so much about getting sick in India but sometimes I think it’s part of the process. I used to get sick quite a lot in India, even when I lived there, but most of the time it was just a food poisoning or a cold and it didn’t kill me. Sometimes I visited my local doctor and for about 2 dollars got the most comprehensive and friendly consultation I’ve ever had. (And I’m sure the 2 dollars was an inflated Westerner price!)

  3. ashok gupta August 20, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    thanks mariellen jee

    you are an honorary ambassador of indian culture for the world.

    we the citizen of india thanks you a lot for accepting this.


    ashok gupta
    indian representative
    hindustaan heritage council
    new york

  4. Mariellen August 20, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    Hi Preena — I know what you mean about taking a long time to process all of the experiences you have in India. It’s a very stimulating place!

    Thanks for comments Satu. I feel the same way – I do usually get a touch of “Delhi-belly” but it’s not serious at all, and part of the process. Very cleansing actually! But I think with the right attitude, you might not get sick at all!

    And I also agree about buying medicines there and seeing doctors. There are medical centres in Delhi that are better than what we have in Canada — and very inexpensive by our standards.

  5. Mariellen August 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    Thanks so much Ashok! I really appreciate your support. Hope to see you soon!

  6. Mike August 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    Your mistake was packing a homeopathy kit. Even placebos wont work in India!

  7. Mariellen August 20, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Hahaha, Mike! It’s true – you can’t fool Mother India 😉

  8. mark August 22, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    Namaste Mariellen, all true what you wrote, and did smile with your article after arrving home the other day and looked at all my so called Essentials I never used that was a lot of carrying weight. India has most things one would need to cure..the one thing I took that I needed was a a cipro antibiotic for stomach issues and if I walked to a pharmacy would have found that too…some Indians laughed at me for taking malaria pills (even tho it does exist) and were kind of insulted, “we’re not africa”, they said.

    Ah well, I always enjoy your posts and suffering through a severe case or RCS* at the moment and a sure cure is going back!

    Your fellow Indiaphile, Mark

    *Reverese culture shock

  9. Mariellen August 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    Hi Mark, welcome home! So nice to see you on my blog, thanks. I was following your trip, and I know you had an amazing time. I hope we can be in India at the same time one day. What was your favourite place / experience this time?

  10. Faith August 23, 2011 at 3:19 am #

    India is the one place I can think of that i’m never sure if I’d like to go or not because people either tell me it’s magnificent, or hell on earth. My guess is that it’s one of those “love it or hate it” places, but I see your point about how it could just be that you get what you give. Anyhow… the colors always look so magnificent, I don’t think I can say no 🙂 I’m too curious, now, not to go.

    That photo of you with the elephants is excellent 🙂

  11. Mariellen August 23, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    Hi Faith, India is much more than a travel destination. It is immersion into a rich culture – in a way, the opposite of a vacation. You don’t escape reality, you come face-to-face with it. And also with yourself. I think people who are afraid of India are afraid of what they will see – both within and without. I suppose you have to be ready for it. But when you are, it blows you open, in a good way. Go when you feel ready.

  12. Sharon March 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    Hi Mariellen,
    Im so happy I came across your site. Love to chat with ppl who have been there done that when it comes to everything India.
    Im leaving next month for 3wks and will be visiting the following
    Delhi,Amritsar,Lahore,Jalandhar,Kashmir(Srinagar,Gulmarg,Pahlgam,Sonamarg,Jammu),Dharamshala,Dehradun,Rishikesh,Haridwar,Varanasi,and Agra.
    My question, do you have a link to the following questions
    1. what to pack, what to bring and what you can expect to buy in India
    2. all things money-related: how much to bring, how to change money, the currency system in India and exchange rates, etc.
    3. a briefing on what to eat and drink – and what to avoid – while in India
    4. what to expect in terms of transportation, sites, street life and people how to visit temples and perform rituals
    It would greatly help. I work with India everyday and feel the ppl are like my extended family, and so looking forward to meeting.
    Its those little things that play on my mind thou, like how do u say I don’t like the food or the smell in close contact bothers me.
    What were some of your first negatives, and what did u do to overcome. I think Im getting overwhelm by friends asking me why India for a vacation. Call it a calling, I just feel so connected Spiritually.
    I look forward in hearing from you, and thanks in advance for the tips on 1-4.
    TC, Sharon

  13. Mariellen March 29, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    Hi Sharon,

    You can find a lot of this information on my site — checkout the blog called Planning to go to India? It’s a great starting place.

    Also, I do offer a service to help people plan their trip and get ready to go:

    It is a good idea to be prepared. India can knock you off your feet. The right attitude is the most important thing you can bring with you.


  14. Diane Hildebrand September 18, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Loved reading through your many articles and visiting your facebook page. I will be taveling to India late October into November on my first trip there. As it is a year past the time of your class in Toronto my last curiosity is “What to pack?” I’ve traveled a bit, so do know what to bring and what to leave behind, as long as I know the climate. I’ve read through a few descriptions, though thought it best to ask the expert.

    I know it will be warm, though is it very humid? Will the nights be cold enough to need a jacket, versus a light sweater? We will be in Delhi, Agra, Ranthambhore, Jaipur, Deogarth, Udaipur, Kumbhalgarth, and down to Mumbai for a few days. Any little tidbit will be most appreciated. Thank you so much, and thank you for the wonderful blogs. Am very excited about this trip.

  15. Diane Hildebrand September 18, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    Well silly me. I guess I should have looked at the comment above my own. 🙂

  16. Nikki March 12, 2013 at 12:55 am #

    I am traveling to India for the first time in a few months. Any help or infor in regards to packing, eating, things like that would be a huge help

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