Tips before Travel

Take a pill

Remember to take your antimalarials, especially if you’re heading to rural areas or backwaters such as those in luscious, green Kerala. However, even large urban areas are prone to mosquitoes. Visit a travel medicine clinic at least two months before you leave to learn what drugs and precautions you should take. Most will advise you to take the antimalarial at the same time each day and with food. Do not, however, pop the little orange tab while sitting at a beachfront bar in Chennai. Not only does this look suspicious (and will get you a tap on the shoulder from security), but taking it without food has been known to make people vomit. So pack a few protein bars.

Rails: check details

You haven’t experienced India until you’ve hopped on a train. Think back to the Owen Wilson/Adrien Brody flick, The Darjeeling Limited. Most signs are in English, however, pay attention if you see signage with the words “Ladki” or “Auratein” or variations thereof. Gentlemen, these indicate, in Hindi and Urdu, respectively, a “ladies only” car, so do not board. (Besides, that sea of saris should be your first tip-off.) Also, don’t assume that two trains departing City A (say Bangalore) will take the same amount of time to reach City B (say Kochi). Routes vary and there can easily be a 10-hour difference in travel time. The longer the train rides, the more you pay. Solution: study the Indian Rail Time Table at Indian Rails

Go Ayurvedic

Bumpy rickshaw rides and long-haul flights from North America can do a number on your lower lumbar and nerves. Solution: an ayurvedic massage. Ayurvedic medicine is the ancient, holistic practice of soothing aches and pains and rejuvenating one’s body and soul, usually with a mix of herbs, oils and steam. But this isn’t Bangkok. In India, men get a massage by a male, women by a female. If you get the coconut oil treatment (gobs of it poured on your head), understand that you’ve just become Club Med for mosquitoes, so relax for an hour with a cup of chai while your skin absorbs the restorative oils, then shower and go.

Footwear in temples

Many temples, such as the Chamundeshwari Temple in Mysore, rightly insist that you remove footwear before entering, which gets tiresome if you’re forever lacing up and unlacing your hiking boots. Pick up a pair of sandals that are easy to slip on and off (a couple hundred rupees at most markets). If you have images of those shoe-pilfering lads in Slumdog Millionaire, carry your shoes in a day pack, or give a few rupees to a temple attendant to guard your footwear. Since sacred cows and other animals frequently roam some temple grounds, you may want to avoid walking barefoot, so stocking feet it is.

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