Northern India includes the area around Delhi, The Golden Triangle tour, and Himachal Pradesh which is the Himalayas and to Nepal. The further north you travel in India the culture changes to a Tibetan influence. The Dalai Llama has taken refuge in the area of Dharamsala with the approving grace of the President of India.
Many Tibetans have also migrated here and have created a small community where they can freely practice Buddhism. The combination of Indian and Tibetan culture is absolutely magical and harmonious. The Himalayas are always spectacular and the views while driving around this area are breathtaking. The weather is a little more comfortable than the dry heat that normally is associated with India. And if you are a nature buff, you will fall in love with the Himalayas.
The climate is much cooler in the Himachal Pradesh section of Northern India and the views of the Himalayas are quite spectacular. Some days can be quite warm, but evenings cool off and require a light sweater. This is a nice change compared to the heat and dryness around Delhi, Jaipur, and Rishikesh.
Northern India is a mecca of spiritual information for every aspect of cosmic learning you can possibly think of. You can learn things from Astrology to Yoga in a couple of days to a weekend or get certified to be a teacher of some sort. There is advertising everywhere you go for many types of Yoga schools and Ashrams with enlightened Gurus.
The culture of Spirituality in Northern India is infused everywhere your eyes see. Appropriately so, since Yoga was born in India and most enlightened Masters came from the Himalayas. From India they ventured across the ocean and eventually landed in Chicago first. Swami Vivekananda in the 1800’s shared this practice of yoga to the Westerners. Ritual is the norm and ingrained into every aspect of life here. And, “Namaste”, is the greeting and word that resonates respect for each individual they come into contact with. Here are Tips for travelling in Northern India that may make your trip a little more smoothly than just a regular over-occupied bus ride.
52 Tips for Traveling to Northern India:
1.-Plan your trip in advance. Give yourself and couple of extra days in between as a “enjoy a little more” buffer
2.-Purchase Train tickets in advance. It is very difficult to find a train with available seating in 1,2,3 A/C. which is the most comfortable way to travel. Seating in any other class or general is extremely crowded with no room for your own personal space. Also, if you are a woman, men can be aggressive. And many of the locals tend to stare as not many tourist travel in the general boarding. Book at least one or two months in advance.
3.-Get your Indian Visa paperwork going ASAP. There is only one outsourcing called Travisa and they are extremely busy so , get the paperwork started immediately. Make copies of your passport and visa and keep one copy with you always, one at the hotel, one at home, and place your original documents in a safe place.
4.-Build your immune system. There are no requirements for shots but always wise idea to take supplements and some kind of immunity defense. Most likely you will have some type of bowl sickness. I suggest Oil of Oregano and for upset bowel Papaya Seeds which can be found in tablet form at a natural food store. As careful as I was I still had some digestion distress.
5.- Never drink the water out of the tap. There is quite a bit of pollution in India. Take a water bottle such as Grayl Quest Grayl Water Filtration Bottle or only drink purified water.
6.- Pack light! Take light comfy clothes for your afternoons as India is quite hot during the days even in the Himachal Pradesh. For women, always cover your shoulders to avoid stares, any form of aggression, and as a simple respect for the culture. I suggest a light shawl.
8.-Exchange money in advance. Money Exchange at the airport is horrible so I suggest at your own bank before you leave and while there, Western Unions are safe and I used ATMs as well. My bank had a great exchange rate.
9.-Add a currency exchange app on your phone. This will let you you know exactly what you are spending and what the merchants are trying to negotiate. I found when they saw me use mine they quoted much more fairly and when I compared later with friends, I actually paid much less for the same item.
10.-Get a prepaid taxi when you arrive at the airport. When you arrive there will be many taxi drivers bombarding to take you to your hotel. Go to a booth for a prepaid taxi to get the most fair price for a taxi or else you end up paying too much.
11.- Indian driving is absolutely mad. This is their norm, just relax and maybe video it for memorable driving times.
12.-Carry a Lonely Planet India Travel Guide or other travel book for the area that you are visiting. I found that it really helped with what direction I was heading along with places to stay.
13.-Pick hotels wisely. Most Hotels are not very expensive and I found that you have to ask for A/C. Find a hotel that will be somewhat close to the sites you will be seeing or else you spend a lot of time in a car trying to communicate with the driver.
14.-Plan on staying in an Ashram. Check the requirements in advance. Many are extremely inexpensive but you have to wake up before dawn and meditate or do some chores as part of cleaning your karma.
15.- Get a prepaid phone or a prepaid SIM card to make calls.
16.-Always carry some travel bathroom wipes or tissue as they rarely carry any. Paper products of this nature including napkins at restaurants are rarely available.
17.- Do the “The Golden Triangle” tour. Book one through an agent. Price compare though, there can be considerable price changes between tours and ask if it includes entry ticket and guide. You’ll get to see these highlights of the Rajistan area before heading up north. This is a good way to see the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, and other temples and sites. If not, go on your trip by train instead of taxi. You will save more money this way.
18.-Train information. Until recently (May 2016) you had to use third-party agency websites Cleartrip.com or Makemytrip as IRCTC didn’t accept overseas (non-Indian) credit cards, other than Amex. You can now buy train tickets direct from Indian Railways at the IRCTC website www.irctc.co.in as it now accepts overseas (non-Indian) credit cards. Simply select International cards at the payment stage.
All three sites also have bus information and schedules. You can book from here and if need be you can cancel your ticket and still get an amount refunded.
19.-Be aware of panhandlers. You can be bombarded by them, I made the mistake once of giving them money and a few minutes later was surrounded by so many, it was uncomfortable. So, instead, whatever I didn’t finish at a restaurant, I had it packaged and donated that instead. All this is optional.
20.- Pack light and leave room for shopping. It is very inexpensive to shop in India and you’ll want to leave room in your backpack or luggage to bring back gifts. Many times I wore the same t-shirts, loose yoga pants, and hiking shoes.
21.-Take a hat or cap as protection from the hot sun afternoons.
22.-Visit Rishikesh when heading up north to Himachal Pradesh.
23.- In Rishikesh, stay in an Ashram for a night or two. There are many here and in some of these you can wake in the morning and take a Yoga Class and it is extremely inexpensive. The food is also good and inexpensive.
24.-Visit the Sadhu’s in Rishikesh. You will see a different aspect of the spiritual culture.
25.- Visit the Ganga River, it is considered holy and the river that brings life to India.
26.-Make arrangements in advance to see the Dalai Llama in Dharamsala. You must do this in writing to his secretary. You can go to www.dalaillama.com to see his schedule and where his teachings are held. If interested, you can also make an appointment to see the Karmapa which will succeed the Dalai Llama and ask questions. If you are interested while in Himalaya area.
27.-If you are an outdoors person, go Paragliding. This is spectacular, especially with the mountain view in the Himalayas
28.- Visit a Tea Estate. There are many large Tea Estates that are wonderful to visit and sit and have some afternoon Green Tea.
29.- Visit Mcload Ganj. It is a Tibetan Settlement community and there are many temples to visit here, classes to take, plenty of shopping, and Tibetan food
30.- Please try Tibetan Bread while in Mcload Ganj. It is absolutely delicious with honey
31.-Visit the Tibetan community of Norbulingka. A wonderful place to visit and learn. You can see how the community raises money by making meticulous hand crafted buddha dolls, paintings, and woodwork. www.norbulingka.org
32.- Eat at the café in Norbulingka
33.- Stay a night at Norbulingka. It is a bit more expensive but its worth it and so very peaceful. You will get a good night’s rest here. You must book in advance, they book quite quickly.
34.-Visit the shop at Norbulingka. They have the best hand stitched clothes you can possibly buy.
35.-Negotiate Taxi’s. When touring around by taxi, it is best to negotiate your price, especially when going to 2 or 3 places.
36. Take a Tuktuk for transportation to some places. It is a motorized rickshaw and very inexpensive and an experience to be had.
37.-Visit the Dalai Llama’s temple in Mcload Ganj. It is also still a school for monks of all ages.
38.- Visit Bhagsunag. A brisk walk from Mcload Ganj on Temple Road. A Tuktuk can take you there for about 40 rupees too.
39.-Go to the waterfalls in Bhagsunag. You can also take a refreshing dip to cool you off.
40.-Visit Dharamkot. It’s a steep road that takes you more into a forested area town.
41.- Take little hikes around Dharamkot and Bhagsunag areas. There are trails and a couple of small temples along the way. Being in the mountains is beautiful.
42.-Do not feed the Monkeys. Although they are fun to watch, they can become aggressive when competing for food with other little monkeys.
43.-If you are an outdoors person, plan a hike to the Himalayas with a Sherpa. There are tour hikes that provide a Sherpa with cooking food campfire.
44.- When possible stay at a guesthouse while visiting Northern India. First check them out and make sure they have private bathrooms. They are family owned and cost about $4/nt. And many are cleaner than hotels. Hotels can range starting at $18/nt. and up. This helped when I extended my stay.
45.- In Mcload Ganj eat at The Green Hotel.
46.-Visit Moonpeak Café for omelets.
47.- Visit Gaiyaki for Vegetarian food. This is a Tibetan owned little place.
48.-Visit Manali for more outdoor nature activities and to see Beas River Valley.
49.-Negotiate when shopping. One of the merchants told me that they raise their prices on the weekends and that since they are hardly have any people during the week they negotiate more.
50.-Get a Massage. Relaxation Treatments are very cheap there and you can also get a Pancha Karma which is a 7 day cleanse for very little. Afterwards your skin looks amazing and you feel extraordinary.
51.-Go to a Hot Spring while in the mountains. There are many and you just have to look at some travel books to find out where.
52.- Enjoy every minute of your trip to Northern India. Immerse yourself in the culture and have a great experience. After all, you are on vacation!
Namaste, Tamara J. Cortez– Avid Traveler