We asked Carol Dimopoulos, president of Perillo’s Learning Journeys—which helps yoga and meditation teachers lead retreats in India and other destinations around the world—for her best advice on where to start.
Tip No. 1: Decide when to go
Most experts say the best time to visit India is in winter (from November to March), when cooler temperatures make travel more pleasant, but Dimopoulos says the only time she avoids is late June through mid-August. “After that, you can get great value,” she says. “For example, mid-to-end of September is just after monsoon season and rates are fantastic. And, I always love visiting India during festivals—whether Diwali, Holi, or another—as it’s an incredible way to really immerse yourself in the culture.”
Tip No. 2: Decide where to go
India is vast. It’s also a country where you can find everything from snow-capped mountains to tropical beaches. If it’s your first visit, Dimopoulos suggests focusing your trip in the north. “From a yogic perspective, this is where you’ll find the places that are most important to your understanding of the practice,” she says.
See also India Yoga Travel
Tip No. 3: Get a tourist visa
At least one month before you take off, log on to the government website (indianvisaonline.gov.in), where you can pay for a visa that’s good for six months of travel. If you think you might return to India or want to stay longer, Dimopoulos recommends applying for a 10-year visa: “It’s a better value for the money if you’re like many yogis and India calls you back.” If you’ve left applying for a visa to the last minute, you can use a private company such as iVisa, which will help you save time but will likely cost you more.
Tip No. 4: Get vaccinated
While this is a personal choice, and you aren’t required to show proof of vaccinations to get through customs in India, Dimopoulos recommends checking the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) website for vaccination recommendations. “Depending on where you’re traveling, the CDC’s recommendations will be different,” she says. “Talk to your doctor or a travel health specialist about what’s right for you.”
See also Yoga Journal’s Pilgrimage to India
Tip No. 5: Buy travel insurance
This is a must, Dimopoulos says: “Not only does travel insurance cover medical issues that might arise when you’re far away from home, including extreme situations where you might need to be air-evacuated from a location, but it also covers expenses you might encounter due to flight delays and lost baggage.” There are many options when it comes to travel insurance companies. Leave time to do research so you can find a plan that works best for your trip.
Tip No. 6: Book train travel well in advance.
Using the wide-reaching Indian railways network is a convenient, budget-conscious way to travel. However, keep in mind that trains are often booked weeks or even months in advance, which means it’s a good idea to secure train tickets ahead of time. Dimopoulos adds that doing this on your own—as well as trying to find your seats and handle your own baggage—can be daunting. Her advice: Use a licensed agent to help you book train tickets and organize porters to help with your baggage.
Tip No. 7: Know what to pack
Be prepared—and show your respect for Indian culture. There are a few essentials Dimopoulos always brings when she travels to India:
- Lightweight shawls.
“You’ll need to cover your shoulders when you visit temples and participate in ceremonies,” Dimopoulos says.
- Comfortable, easy-to-slip-off footwear.
“You’ll also need to take off your shoes before going into temples or homes in India,” she says.
- Warm layers.
Even if you’re visiting in summer, cities in higher elevations in the north will get chilly at night. “Not to mention there’s a chance you’ll encounter an over-zealous air conditioner at some point,” she says.
- Hand sanitizer.
This is smart for any travel, but it can be especially important in India, where many people eat with their hands and you won’t always find running water or soap in bathrooms.
- Pocket tissues.
These can easily double as toilet paper when needed.
- Ginger chews (or anything else that settles your tummy).
“If you’re driving on winding mountain roads, even those who don’t usually experience motion sickness can get pretty queasy,” Dimopoulos says.
Tip No. 8: Mentally prepare yourself for India
While nothing can really prepare you for traveling to this country for the first time, reading about the culture and learning as much as you can will certainly help prepare you for the shock and sensory overload you’ll likely experience, Dimopoulos says. “India is the kind of place you go to feel with all your senses,” she says. “And while the smells, sounds, tastes, and colors may feel a bit chaotic and overwhelming at first, it’s all part of the experience. Stay open to all of it, and you’ll be able to fully enjoy this incredible country.”