I am not the first person to go to India and this wasn’t my first trip to India. I have never written much about my time there unless you’re on my Instagram but in my travel to India, I wish I knew some things to stay safe, move about and get work done.
As a foreigner, on the outside looking in, India is the most incredible place on earth. If you let it, India will chew you up and spit you out, but if you embrace India, you’ll fall in love.
In order to embrace and thrive in India requires you to be wise. Undoubtedly the pani puri from the food stall outside of the train station tastes delicious but do not let your hunger fool you into making silly decisions that you likely will regret later on.
I have compiled a list of tips I wish somebody told me when I went to India.
Avoid the chutney, chopped onions, limes etc.
In India, vegetables are chopped in the quiet time, chutneys are made the day before. Just like any other restaurant in the world the mise-en-place is done in quiet times.
India differs to the UK by the fact that it’s hot and bacteria breeds fast. If the chef prepares a cucumber earlier in a day, do you know if it has been kept in the fridge? Was the cucumber taken out of the fridge before it was served to you?
Indian tap water isn’t considered safe to drink, can you tell by looking at a tomato if it was washed in tap water? You really can’t.
Learn to use an “Indian toilet”
I’m being serious. Not all of India has Western toilets. Learn to use squat toilets with the jug of water before you get sick and you have to. Indian trains will have both styles and you’re likely to find both styles at the airports.
I have made this mistake only once, I went to visit a freind who took me too Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar. My health was not 100% and I got a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. The only toilet I could find was a squat toilet.
Packaged water only
You should be fine at peoples homes, but at restaurants just buy bottled water. Crush the bottle after.
Go to peoples houses to eat
An invite to somebodies house means you’re going to eat very well and you’ll eat safely. You will likely have food from a different part of India so if you’re in Gujarat do not expect Gujarati food.
As an Englishman growing up I had to eat the food on my plate otherwise I couldn’t have dessert. In India, an empty plate signals “I’m still hungry”. Either say no early (the first 3 or 4 no’s are unheard usually) or leave a little something on the plate.
You will love the food and the experience, it might be a big family affair (they might not get foreigners in their house very often).
Remember to check if you need to take your shoes off, wash your hands before you eat and after and don’t be afraid to ask of something or say no to something.
Plan for the festivals and religious celebrations
If every religion in India observed every religious event as a day off, India would most likely never do a days work.
When you’re planning a trip to India to do business, check if you’re going during a religious festival. Look up Hindu, Muslim, Parsi, Christian festival calendars and public holidays. Diwali, Independence day, Ganapati, Ramadan, Eid, Christmas, Raksha Bandhan, Holi, Uttarayan etc.
Some dates a different every year and you might find a Tuesday is a Hindu festival, a Wednesday is Independence day and Thursday is a Parsi festival.
It can mean that some people are off on one day and some others are off the next. You need to plan for this and the duration of your trip. Something that should take 1 day could easily extend into 4 days.
Be careful of the meat. Goat is a wiser choice.
I go to Gujarat when I travel to India, it’s a mostly vegetarian state but there are people there who are “non-veg”. Certainly do not eat meat from unknown sources (refrigeration, washing water etc are all the usual risks) but if you can, avoid anything other than Goat.
Unless you know the Chicken was alive earlier that day, it’s probably best to give it a miss. Don’t eat pork and you’re probably not going to find much Beef and Buffalo.
I don’t eat fish, chicken, pork or any other meat, You should only eat Goat, you can’t fool a goat into eating shitHosi
Goats are resilient animals, and they’re picky eaters so you know they get a good diet. Stick to Goat if you can, but always exercise caution when eating meat in India.
Unsure? Gujarati thali is your friend.
If you’re hungry and want something safe to eat just ask for a Gujarati Thali. Personally one of my favourite thing to enjoy while in India.
Need something made, or something fixed but not sure where or who?
Gary Vaynerchuck champions the “niche” business. He talks about that Instagram account and podcast dedicated to Black Panther. Gary, you need to check out India.
India has pioneered the niche business and it means that anybody who needs a nut and bolt, goes to the nut and bolt guy and the nut and bolt guy knows people and can make referrals.
Do you want a nut and bolt? Visit the nut and bolt guy. Need a hammer? Visit the tool guy. Do you need a sheet of 8×4 aluminum? Visit the aluminum seller. Did the motor fail in your leaf blower? Visit the motor repair guy.
I’ll give you a real-world example, it was quite late at night and something I was working with failed, I needed to fix it quickly. I need a simple rod with a hole in it. I thought I could go to the nut and bolt guy, buy the bolt and then find a guy with a drill to put the hole in it. A hack, but it might get me another day.
The shop owner I saw with a drill only sold drills but he made me follow him on his scooter (I was in an Ola) to a guy with a lathe who made a custom part. The problem was solved.
In short, find the nearest person who might do something related to what you need and ask them. If you’re buying Sari fabric, going to a person who sells Sari’s is a good place to find where to buy material.