There are a number of things you should do before you travel to India, but where to start with it all? These steps and information will help you get your trip planned and organized in no time at all, and hopefully take some of the stress out of your preparations.
Decide Where You Want to Visit
Deciding where to visit in India is probably the one thing that causes people the most headaches and indecision. India is so vast and varied, it really is difficult to decide where to go, especially if you've got time constraints -- which most people unfortunately do have! Therefore, a guidebook can be invaluable in helping plan your trip to India. A good guide book will provide you with information about each area, as well recommendations about what to see and do.
Book Trains and Flights
Many people prefer not to make advance reservations for transport in India as they don't like to be constrained by set itineraries. However, the number of people traveling on Indian Railways has increased a great deal in recent times, as train travel is a cheaper alternative to expensive flights. Some trains can fill up months in advance on popular routes during holiday times, making early bookings a must. Advance reservations for flights aren't as necessary as for trains, however many airlines do offer discounts for 14 or 21 day advance ticket purchases.
While it can be possible to get great deals on hotels by walking in and negotiating the rate in many places, it's a good idea to book your accommodations in advance for major cities, particularly Delhi. International flights often arrive at night and it's easy to feel disorientated in an unfamiliar place. Plenty of people prey on unsuspecting tourists by taking them to inferior quality hotels where they get paid a commission for doing so.
Visit Your Doctor
As India is a developing nation, health is an important concern of travelers. You should visit your doctor well in advance of your trip to India to find out what precautions you need to take against certain illnesses. The medications and immunizations that are necessary will greatly depend on the regions you intend to visit (for example, some areas are particularly malaria prone, while others have very little risk of infection) and time of year (during and straight after the monsoon is the riskiest time for health problems).
Get Your Visa
All visitors need a visa for India, except citizens of neighboring Nepal and Bhutan. Your Indian visa must be obtained before arriving in India as there's no provision for the issue of visas on arrival. Visitors staying in India for less than 72 hours can obtain a Transit Visa, otherwise an Indian Tourist Visa is necessary. The Indian Embassy has started outsourcing the Indian visa application process to private processing agencies in many countries to make it more efficient.
Familarize Yourself With India's Culture
If you're visiting India for the first time, you're probably feeling a bit apprehensive, not knowing what to expect. The risk of culture shock can be overcome to a certain extent by reading as much as you can about India, as well as watching documentaries and other programs on India. In order to to be as prepared as possible, you should also familiarize yourself with as much information as you can about scams, dangers, and annoyances.
Decide What to Pack
When packing for India, it's important to take into account the country's conservative dress standards. Some people prefer to take very little to India and instead buy what they need to over there. Others choose to bring as much as possible with them from home because the quality is better. Some of the things that you should give consideration to are the type of luggage (backpack or suitcase) to take, clothes, shoes, medicine, personal care items, money (ATMs are now widely available in India), and other useful items such as plug adapters, flashlights, and padlocks.