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India Travel Stories

A practical packing list for your trip to India

Hello travellers,

We’ve curated a shortlist of things that may not necessarily be on the top of your list of things to have on hand while travelling. We are certain that these items shall prove useful—whether you’re in accessible or remote areas, travelling in a group or solo, irrespective of your situation.

Charcoal tablets:
We swear by these pills that have, many a time, been life-savers for inopportune/ unfortunate stomach bugs caught on the road. Just take one or two and within a few hours, you’ll be feeling just fine. The charcoal binds to toxins and pathogens so that they get flushed out of your system quickly. They are also affordable and widely available.

Mosquito repellent:
These buggers are everywhere, whether you’re travelling during monsoon season or dry season, up in the hills or in the bustle of cities. Ensure to apply repellent generously, to prevent yourself from catching Dengue fever or from scratching yourself silly. From our experience, the strong kind (not the natural oil-based repellents aka citronella oil) work the best.

Hand sanitizer:
Sometimes you’re in a hurry, sometimes you’re somewhere without full toilet facilities. Especially if you’re eating with your hands, it’s essential to carry some form of hand sanitizer. Maintaining hygiene shouldn’t fall on the back-burner while you’re travelling.

Toilet paper:
If you’re planning on taking public transport, long bus rides, train rides etc, carrying a roll of toilet paper will enhance your sense of comfort. You’ll be hard-pressed to find toilet paper in public washrooms; if you don’t fancy using a bucket of water to cleanse yourself, then just do it! (Wet wipes are also a practical option.)

Appropriate attire:
This may seem like a no-brainer but we’re giving you a gentle reminder about dress code in India. India is home to temples, mosques and religious sites galore. Hence, we recommend travellers to err on the side of caution and dress modestly, to ensure you can visit places without hassle. Ensure to bring scarves, shawls, long sleeved tops, and long pants to cover up when needed (also to fend off mosquitos!)

We know this is not the most enticing of packing lists, however, it is a valuable checklist for those “you-never-know” or “did-not-think-this-would-happen” moments. So without further adieu, happy packing!

What is it like travelling solo as a female in India?

“Wait, you’re all alone? I could NEVER travel all by myself.”

I can’t relay the number of times I’ve heard people say this to me, a solo female traveller. And every time, I return their question with a smug smile and respond: “but of course you CAN!”

India can be a daunting country to visit: the disorienting traffic and number of people, the (at times) overwhelming smells, the astounding beauty, the hospitality and warmth, the sheer diversity. It is nothing short of an exhilarating and rewarding hodgepodge of experiences.

But is it truly safe? Yes it is—partially because there will always be people around; you’ll find that you’re actually hardly ever alone.


SURPRISES AND KINDNESS

As a lone female traveller, I’ve found that time and time again people go out of their way to point me in the right direction. Several strangers have taken me or dropped me off exactly where I needed to be, out of kindness and concern. Strangers will offer you food and snacks on trains and public waiting areas. Meandering about the streets of different towns, you’ll likely get invited by families to join them for chai and a snack, even homemade mealswhich are always authentic.

I remember while I was travelling solo around North India, in the pink city of Jaipur, I stopped by a popular neighbourhood chai stall. Only locals were milling about, shouting their orders from all corners of the space. I was staring up at the menu painted on a board and could not read a thing.

A kind man with his family noticed me and quickly stepped in, taking me under his wing. Before I could protest he had ordered tea along with a plate of buttered bread for me. Standing in front of his family, I sheepishly obliged. When we had finished off our chai and bun-maska (a buttery, creamy centre enveloped by a warm soft bun), I thanked him profusely, and he scoffed at melooking almost insulted that I had even thanked him. “Enjoy the rest of your trip around India,” he replied.  Then he walked off with his kids in a hurry. This is just one of several examples of benevolence I encountered.

SELFIES AND STARES

Yes, you’ll be stared at and approached by all sorts of people. Staring can be responded in two ways: smile or ignore. I find that smiling opens a window of opportunity for conversation and connection. Ignoring is effective if don’t want to engage. Do draw attention if their stares make you uncomfortable. Making a scene is always effective at warding off unwanted action.

This also means that you shouldn’t be surprised when asked to take selfies with groups and strangers. I find that most people who do approach, do so out of curiosity towards foreigners. Some have rarely if ever seen a lone female travellerlet alone a foreigner.

Again, two things can happen: you can accept their request and share a few laughs. However, if you’re uncomfortable or tired of it, don’t be afraid of refusing with a polite “nay.” People will respect your wishes.

As in any other country, any other city, any other community, take note of behavioural norms and safety precautions. General safety precautions include being wary of how you’re dressed (cover up or dress according to where you are), avoiding being out alone at odd hours in an unknown neighbourhood (common sense, no?), letting people know where you are (always).

For example: in a city like New Delhi, unfortunately reputed to be an unsafe city, make a point to dress conservatively and avoid venturing out past a certain hour alone. Even if you do, be sure that you have safe and reliable means of travel, that people know where you are going and can reach you.

Do your research, know your options:

On that note, these days ride-sharing apps like Uber and Ola make travelling around cities simple: just book a ride and you’re on your way. No need to haggle, no need to worry about safety, a straightforward solution to ensuring you get to where you want to go.

I know, you’re thinking “I can just take Uber everywhere?” The answer is a resounding, “yes!” I find that cities in India are at times more technologically savvy than other places in the world. You can order anything to be delivered to where you are. Everything is now at your fingertips: you’d likely have connectivity in all cities and even in remote areas up in the mountains.

But don’t shy away from taking trains and public transportation! In New Delhi, the metro system is an absolute life-saver. Air-conditioned, cheap, reliable, it makes travel easy (especially if you want to avoid traffic). There’s also a women’s only compartment, which is heavily enforcedby women within the compartment and officers alike.

In Mumbai, riding the local trains is an experience every visitor needs to partake in. This way, you circumvent the city’s notorious traffic, making getting around faster. Moreover, auto rickshaws in Mumbai run by the meter, at any time of day (note that you can’t take an auto down South).

Lastly, hiring a local guide is an amazing way to navigate and explore a city. You’ll get insider information and the security of being guided by someone from the area: all the contextual details to enhance your adventures and exploration.

What are you afraid of?

Sureyou may get caught, as in any other part of the world, in an uncomfortable situation. In these cases, don’t be afraid to reach out to security or policemen. But trust that people in India will treat you as a guest, always ready to lend a helping hand.

Follow your “gut” feeling and err on the side of caution. Be wary of scams, be wary of your surroundings, but ultimately be open to new experiences. Take an auto-rickshaw, learn to haggle prices, fend off shop vendors. Be open, but be firm.

Travelling alone will teach you to learn the art of balancing being kind and open, to being assertive and brave. It’s an artful dance between adventure and sensibility, a life skill that travelling alone as a woman in India will also impart.

So come ready to be taken spontaneously through the streets by a well-intentioned stranger, come ready to be treated to copious amounts of food, come ready be asked to take a selfies.

Come ready to be swept away by the nation: teeming with love, with historical and natural beauty, full of contrasts and contradictions, but consistent cups of sweet masala chai.

Further Reading – Six Books To Help You Understand Slums

Salman Rushdie once wrote that “to understand just one life you have to swallow the world“. In Dharavi there’s an estimated one million lives. In Sanjay Colony, there’s a not inconsiderable 50,000.

As we try to convey on our educational tours, these communities are incredibly complex. Whilst the word ‘slum’ evokes a negative view (The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition runs to ‘an area of a city where poor people live and the buildings are in bad condition‘) the reality is not so cut and dry. Yes, the challenging conditions show a lack of fairness in our societies and a failure of government  but there are also positive aspects; a strong sense of community, rents which make a rural urban migration possible and the potential for residence to play a part in shaping and moulding their environment.

Slums do not conform to a simplistic Dickensian definition of dirt, squalor and crime; neither should we assuage our sense of guilt at all that we have by romanticising the lives being played out there. The reality is it’s far more nuanced. To that end, here’s a few books straight from the Reality bookshelf which might help shape your understanding of what is an incredibly complex topic.

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What The Dabbawallahs Of Mumbai Can Teach The World About Sustainable Business

Freshly cooked dalokra, rice and roti are packed safely into a metal tiffin when the doorbell rings. A white capped dabbawallah is anxiously waiting for the lunchbox but he is sure to flash a smile before he speeds away on his bicycle.  At the local train station, he adds six more lunch boxes to a wooden plank that is hoisted onto his colleague’s head. It weighs 65 kilograms (143 pounds). Fighting the remainder of rush hour commuter traffic, the second dabbawallah steps into the luggage compartment of a Mumbai local, sets his cargo on the ground with the help of two colleagues and chats idly as the train pulls out of the station.
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Five TED Talks We Love, And Why We Love Them

Since 1984 ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design’ (more commonly known the world over as ‘TED’) have been sharing ‘ideas worth spreading’ relating to all things, from education to business, science to development. In the last 30 years, they’ve shared over 2,400 talks in more than 100 languages which have been viewed 500 million times.

These talks are a regular source of ideas, information and inspiration here in the Reality Group office – here are a few we love, and why we love them. (more…)

Ganesh & The Story Behind Maharashtra’s Favourite Festival

India is a very diverse country and every city has its own rich history and culture. A particularly striking aspect of this is the range of different festivals celebrated throughout the country.

One of the biggest festivals celebrated around this time of the year in Mumbai is “Ganesh Chaturti”. Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. He is one of the most famous Hindu Gods and easily identified by his elephant head. He is known as the God of Wisdom and Intellect, but also as “Ek Dant”- one tooth – and “Vighnaharta”- vanquisher of obstacles. (more…)

What I Learned From Two Years in Dharavi: Reflections From Our Former Marketing Director, Nick

For the past two years, I have had the privilege of working in Dharavi: the heart of Mumbai, its center of small scale enterprise, and “one of the largest ‘slums’ in Asia”. Dharavi is an incredibly unique area that outsiders rarely get the opportunity to work in and learn from for such an extended period of time. It is an organically built neighborhood comprised of over 80 different communities that was born out of necessity and now houses up to one million people (who speak over 30 languages and follow six religions) and 15,000 small scale industries. (more…)

Life Lessons From An 8,000 Kilometre Train Journey Around India

Earlier this year our Operations Executive, Mayur Parmar, had the opportunity to join Jagriti Yatra, a 15-day, 8,000 kilometre journey around India. The trip brings 450 young Indians together on a train to learn about our country. The journey is punctured by stops to learn from local leaders who are building India through innovative enterprise.

Last year, staff members of Jagritri Yatra came on a tour of Dharavi and Mayur met them and learned about their program. They encouraged him to apply and he did just that. When Mayur arrived on the train earlier this year, he quickly realized that coming from Dharavi and working for a social business made him unique among the 450 yatris, the majority of whom were studying to become engineers. Mayur took it upon himself to teach everyone about the unique community he is from and the company he works for. By the end of the journey he was a minor celebrity on the train and was selected by the Jagriti Yatra staff to address the group on the final day.

What follows is the speech that Mayur delivered to the 450 Jagriti Yatra participants and staff. (more…)

[Interview] What Two Dharavi Youth Learned From An International Leadership Program In Rural India

Kaveri and Hasnain, two graduates from Reality Gives’ Youth Empowerment Program, recently joined youth from the French NGO Global Potential for a four day leadership course in our partner village, Chinchoti.

Global Potential is an 18 month leadership and entrepreneurship program for youth from underserved communities. A key aspect of their program is a 45 day service-learning project in a rural village. During the month and a half immersion, program participants learn from local youth and cultures, carry out internships, and support community projects in health, environment, education, and media.

This year, they came to India for the first time to explore potential partnerships and partner villages with our co-founder Krishna. They also took the opportunity to host an abbreviated version of their leadership course with their students, and invited Kaveri and Hasnain along too! (more…)

Dharavi, The Dalai Lama, And Striving For Abundance Without Attachment

 Asim, our Operations Manager in Mumbai, traveled to Dharamsala along with three Dharavi businessmen to sit with the Dalai Lama on a panel discussion about enterprise and poverty.


I was recently invited to Dharamsala along with three entrepreneurs from Dharavi to sit on a panel discussion organized by American Enterprise Institute. Abundance without Attachment was the theme of the program. They wanted to discuss about enterprise and poverty, and how to lift people up. There were around 50 people present in the room and they were interested in hearing our stories from Dharavi. (more…)

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