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India has so many things to offer a traveller.
You can visit the tourist hotspots like the Taj Mahal, India Gate and the Palaces of Rajasthan, BUT with a little deeper digging and a peeling back of her layers, you’ll discover so many more enriching experiences.
5 tips to experience the REAL India
1.Stay in Unique Properties including Bed & Breakfast
India has some amazing property options available. Bed and Breakfast style accommodation are becoming quite popular, especially in the major cities.
Some may be on the commercial side and are run more like hotels. However, you will find many are run by families, or couples that love to host travelers.
It’s a great way to taste local cuisines (sometimes with a touch of home-made motherly love), find out the hidden gems in the area, and learn to cook an authentic Indian meal or enjoy an Indian breakfast.
- Delhi – Check out Colonel’s retreat or Indee Home in South Delhi. Colonel’s retreat offers spa services as well as yoga classes and cooking classes.
- Agra – Garden Villa is a good basic B&B option outside the hustle and bustle of Agra.
- Rajasthan – Why not stay in a traditional Haveli style or Fort Palace? We recommend Neemrana Fort Palace a 15 century fort restored with rooms for all budgets. Or Splash out and treat yourself to a luxury Haveli stay at Alsisar Haveli in Jaipur. This group of heritage hotels are owned by a sub clan of rajputs started by the grandson of the Maharaja Udaikaran of Amer.
- Northern India – Our Himalaya Elements experience is a 10-night experience in the foothills of the Himalayas which include hand-picked exclusive B&B properties, plus some hotels and lodges along the way. The highlight is definitely Vanghat Lodge in the middle of Corbett Tiger Reserve. Also experience a beautiful heritage Bed and Breakfast property 2,500m above sea-level and inside Binsar Sanctuary
2. Visit Local Markets Outside the Tourist Traps
Let’s face it, to the locals, western tourists can stand out like a sore thumb.
It’s for this reason that the tourist shopping areas near popular
monuments like the Taj Mahal can be a little overpriced, and a little on the tacky side.
It can be a bit overwhelming when you’re being coaxed by a tout or guide shop hopping from one place to another looking to make a quick commission, a regular experience in Jaipur.
Do a little research before you travel or use a reputable travel company to help you find those little local gems that you’ll be telling your friends about and remember for years to come.
If there was one place we would call the ‘One Stop Shop’ it would be Dilli Haat. Dilli Haat is located in South Delhi and has that traditional market ambiance, with vendors represented from all corners of India.
Prices are reasonable and you can bargain till your hearts content without being hounded by vendors, you might even have some fun with them while you’re at it.
The vendors rotate their stall positions every 15 days to keep the peace and make it fair for all the stall holders. It’s not just a place to buy your handicrafts, clothing, shoes, fabrics, jewellery, but it’s also a place to tantalise your taste buds with delicious authentic cuisines from all over India. We recommend momo’s from Sikkim, but there is just so much to choose from.
If you are doing the traditional Golden Triangle (Delhi – Agra – Jaipur), why not add in a 2-night safari experience at Ranthambhore Tiger reserve, then make your way to Dhonk Craft?
Dhonk craft supports tiger conservation by
providing sustainable employment opportunities to the local community, in particular, a community which is currently in the process of moving away from poaching endangered species like tigers, deer, leopard, and moving towards sustainable, responsible tourism.
Spending a couple of dollars here is your way to support them in this transition from exploitation to conservation of both animals and environment. Their handicrafts and clothing are pretty awesome too.
3. Put Away Your Guide Book and Listen to the Local’s
Guide books are great and they have a time and place, but it’s ok to occasionally put your guide book away, and just follow your intuition and start exploring.
I bet you can remember a time you did this and ended up not only with an awesome experience, but a great story as well!
Stop at a sweet shop where you see locals congregating. If you buy something from a shop, ask the owner for a recommendation for dinner or lunch. You’re likely to go where the locals go rather than where the tourists go. (This is one of our favourite ways to explore a region – Caz)
If you’re staying in a homestay, don’t forget to ask your host family as well. They’re always grateful for the opportunity to be of service. The best experiences are always those where you are present in the moment, connecting to people.
4. Connect with the Locals
A little similar but different to point 3 in that when a street vendor approaches you to make a sale, most people recommend no eye contact. Just keep walking.
This is good advice, as they can be pretty tenacious characters and just a glance in their direction, to them says ‘I’m interested in what you’ve got to sell’.
Try this instead – make a joke, or ask
him a personal question like where is his family from? Does he like cricket? Who is his favourite batsman (9 times out of 10 the answer will be Sachin Tendulkar!). The point is to do something they aren’t expecting to disrupt their ‘sales flow’.
The next thing you will notice, his selling will stop and he will connect with you, and most likely a big smile will form on his face for having met someone who responded a little differently than the rest of the tourists he met. (By the way, this can also lead to a killer deal if you’re actually interested in what he’s selling.)
The thing to remember is that ‘annoying vendor’ is a person like you and me at the end of the day. They are often in a personal situation where pushing for the sale could mean the difference between food or no food on the table for his kids that night, or medicine or no medicine for his sick mother.
This doesn’t mean you become a push over; it’s just something to keep in mind. Keeping this in mind can help you connect to the locals on a deeper level than you ever would have.
5. Forget Everything Your Friends and Family Have Ever Told You About India.
My clients will often tell me about how their friends and family are so shocked they are travelling to India.
“Oh my God, you will get Delhi belly” “Be careful, it’s not safe, women are getting raped over there!” “Oh the poverty, it will make you sad the whole time”, “so many beggars on the streets”…and the list goes on.
Here’s the deal, everyone has an opinion and it’s none of your business what they think.
Family and friends will often have the intention to keep you safe. India is a place of contrast and contradiction. India will be challenging and it’ll force you to step out of your comfort zone. However, the journey will be life changing leaving an imprint on your soul forever.
Smile and say “thanks for that, I’ll keep it in mind” and be open to the journey that will come to you personally. I’d like to leave you with this quote from Mark Twain, which sums up India so well:
[yquote cite=”Mark Twain, Following the Equator, 1897″] This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterday’s bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.” [/yquote]
Worried about travel to India, especially as a solo female traveller?
Check out this webinar with tips on travelling to India safely
What other tips can you offer to have a unique and authentic travel experience in India?
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Check out these helpful travel guides:
Lonely Planet Discover India (Travel Guide)
- Enjoying India: The Essential Handbook
- G adventures tours to India