India is full of surprises. As cliched as it may sound, every traveler comes to this conclusion sooner or later. Some take it in their stride and enjoy the surprises. Others curse and fume, and leave the country disgusted -- only to reminisce poignantly a few months later. But with a little preparation, you can ensure you fall into the former, not the latter category. Here's how.
Seriously! Plan your itinerary beforehand. This is especially important if you have a tight schedule. There are so many places in the subcontinent that are off the main tourist map, but can keep you engaged for hours or even days. End result? Your whole trip going haywire because you wanted to checkout those sculptures made from recycled building material. Yes, that actually is a place. It's the Rock Garden in Chandigarh!
Don't Plan Too Much!
There is a flip-side of course. Most of India's charm is in those little places that hardly anyone visits. The Taj Mahal, Varanasi and Khajuraho are always in the limelight. But the country is a treasure trove of temples, wildlife parks, mountain retreats and fabulous beaches. The predictability of guided tours and big tourist attractions can get a little tiresome after a while, so don't hesitate to investigate that little ruined temple by the highway, or follow a signboard to a nearby bird sanctuary.
Everything you need is available via your smartphone. Looking for good food? Need train or flight tickets? Or maybe a cab? You can book every one of these things on various apps. Uber, and its Indian competitor Ola, are present in most cities. The Indian Railways has an app as well, and their services are getting better every year. Flights can be booked through a host of apps. There's a similar variety of restaurant review apps too. Global Voices has a nice list of the many apps available to the connected tourist.
Most cities and towns in India have great mobile coverage, so the Internet is never far away. The speeds might be way below what most of the rest of the world is used to, but it still beats standing in long queues or visiting Internet cafes.
Most first-time (and sometimes second and third-time) visitors to India take a while to get accustomed to the local food. It can be quite a feat to settle down to the varied tastes of 1.2 billion people from various regions and communities, and you will have to find your own comfort zone based on your spice tolerance. As a general rule of thumb, avoid street food, no matter how delightfully alluring it looks. Roadside stalls in India aren't big on hygiene, and low quality ingredients can tax the toughest overseas stomachs.
Most cities have restaurants with cosmopolitan fare on their menus and can satisfy every palate. However, beef is a sensitive issue in a few places, so don't be surprised if you don't find it listed. Chicken, fish and mutton are not a problem though. Seafood-lovers shouldn't have any trouble satisfying their taste buds, especially in coastal areas. Vegetarians are in for several tasty surprises. Every state in India has its classics to choose from.
India will always be a package deal of good, bad and strange. This is what makes India, India. But if you follow a few guidelines, you can roll with the good, minimize the bad, and enjoy the strange.