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Travelling to India for the first time? Please read this post!

 

Travelling to India for the first time can be a real challenge (sometimes even a shock), but don’t get scared! It might be also the most beautiful and life-changing experience, especially with a proper attitude and mindset… We have hosted at Trimurti Yoga over 1000 people till now – all of them were safe, supported and happy (overall). India is not the easiest place on the Planet, but around 7 millions of people visit this country every year, cause it is One and Only. It’s good to get prepared as much as possible (and please, don’t expect  it will be 100 %), cause India is called INCREDIBLE, which means, most probably, you cannot understand it quickly and easily. First tip: stop asking WHY…

I would like to give you a few tips and answers for frequently asked questions. Here they are:

1. Search the Internet as much as you can

I bet you have one million questions! It’s totally normal. Make a list of the most important/ urgent, take a deep breath, and start looking for answers. One by one. Obviously, a lot of information can be found on the Internet. Searching your answers can be a really good beginning! It can bring you also to more detailed questions which you didn’t plan before. Except for many sites with a weather forecast, characteristics of different regions, and tips “how to get to”, you can find amazing forums, group discussions or blogs. People share nice places to visit, write about their experience, recommend hotels, taxi agencies, give practical tips. The more you read, the more you can imagine what to expect. Most of the frequently asked questions (about vaccinations, weather, transportation, visa) can be found online right away! If you google the phrase that you are looking for you will find more than you think! I don’t have ONE recommended website, as there are so many, but check  www.indiamike.com,www.incredibleindia.org and www.tripadvisor.in

Some of you tend to write to us straight away with any single question – about the weather, vaccinations, train tickets, touristic attractions, etc. We are HAPPY TO HELP! Do not hesitate to ask your questions or ask for help, however, please bear in mind we are a yoga school with limited information and professional advice’s capacity. We can help you to arrange the taxi, share our opinions, but we cannot give a medical opinion or act as a travel agency. We do our best to give you a proper comfort and support whenever you need it, but we are focused on teaching yoga and preparing you for your further profession. By making your own research before contacting us, you will help us to stay focused and serve you the best we can! During our opening meeting in the TTC we will guide you through the most important points about the place, food, safety, traditions, and formalities. One month before the course we are sending the letter with the info on “how to get to us”, “what to bring”, etc.

2. Thank God we have Lonely Planet!

Lonely Planet is the best guide to invest in. India is a huge country, so the division made by the authors really (really!) helps. You can read about every state separately, which protects you from getting crazy even before coming here. You will find all the info including prices, addresses, numbers, historical and social context. It gives some good foundation and safety that you know where you are going to. Lonely Planet keeps updating the guide, so ask for the latest version.

3. Do’s & Don’ts

Well, eventually we all make our choices, but please bear in mind you are India’s guest. Your culture and some of your personal habits don’t need to be necessarily accepted here, so humble attitude is much better than expecting anything from India. Being someone’s guest requires certain etiquette  in case you want to be polite,  kind, and respectful. It’s nice – before going to a chosen state – to read about local habits, dress code, manners, food… Indian people are very hospitable and open for Western tourists, however, we should respect their culture first. In most of the states, women should cover their knees (and upper legs), wearing at least 3/4s. Open arms are fine, but I would be careful with naked back and too exposed neck. All is fine till it’s modest. “Sexy” design can be read as disrespectful, or misinterpreted. It is extremely important while entering temples and sacred places.

The huge exception is Goa – here Western fashion is totally acceptable (within reasonable limits). Near to the beach, you can always wear a short skirt, mini dress or shorts. On the beach – bikini (topless is not welcome!!!). In Goan cities I still like covering my knees, as people are more conservative, and there is no reason (like a beach) to get “undressed”.

The Himalayas are very conservative. Showing knees is not ok here, wearing too tight tops either. Tourists still are doing it, but for me – a Western woman living in India – it is a sign of disrespect. Kissing in public is not allowed. Couples should practice patience, as private things should happen in the intimacy of a private space.

4. To enter India you will need a VISA

Recently, around 40 countries joined the list of E-VISA / VISA ON ARRIVAL. Check if your country is on the list, and then go ahead and apply for it! You will get 30 or 60 days for sight-seeing, tourism, our training, and so on. Our TTC lasts usually 26-28 days, so if you need to miss 1-3 days of our course due to a visa reason please contact us, we will help.

This visa is not extendable, so if you want to travel in India for more than 30 days you need to apply in the Indian consulate. For all the details please visit https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html

There are different kinds of  Visa to India: Tourist Visa, Student Visa, Employment Visa, Business Visa, Medical Visa, etc.

The type of Visa you should apply for depends on the purpose of your visit to India. The documentation / process and the paperwork can be very different for each of these cases. To keep this relevant, I will talk below only about Tourist Visa as it is the only right choice when you come to us! (if you already have your visa or if you apply for a visa on arrival you can skip this paragraph): 

Yoga Teacher Training programs that we offer are recognized internationally and are accredited by American organization “Yoga Alliance” (for details about YA, please see www.yogaalliance.org). They are not accredited by the Indian Government! So for Indian Government we are a private company, not EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTE (you don’t get any licence recognized by Indian Government here). You should not apply for a student visa then, cause according to Indian regulations, we are not any big educational institute.

Yoga Alliance accreditation gives you the rights to teach yoga all over the world, but formally – just from the visa perspective – we are a private company, so it is not EDUCATION that you are coming for, but aTOURISM.

Instead of EDUCATION your aim to come to us are holidays with yoga – let’s say – formally & as a benefit you have a certificate accredited by the USA organization that you are qualified to teach all over the world. Besides, student visa is a far too complicated process followed by local registration in FRO (Foreign Registration Office) which will take your nervous system to the limits with the local bureaucracy (and will eat your time).

SO…Most of our students come to us on Tourist Visa treating this as a yoga retreat (in a visa formal sense). It is like visiting Germany for tourism and finding a 4-week private massage course –  it is not any formal education recognized by German Government, but  just a hobby, and therefore, it is legal as a touristic attraction event. Please see a nice explanation here   http://blog.yoga.in/2012/11/10/yoga-visa-india/

US citizens can get a 6-month, 5 year or 10 Year Multiple Entry Visa under a bilateral agreement. However, non- US citizens are only eligible for up to 6 months tourist visa. The visa validity duration begins on the first day of issuance (unless it is E-VISA). Therefore, a 6 month visa issued on July 1st would be valid till 31st December.

Regardless of the duration of the valid visa, the maximum duration of stay in India is usually limited to 6 months (180 days) on each visit. Extension of stay is not granted on tourist visas & it cannot be converted into any other visa.

5. Visit your Doctor

 It is important that you visit a travel medicine specialist or a doctor who is familiar with a travel medicine/tropical medicine to answer any questions that you may have. They are the best to make recommendations, and only they can take responsibility for their advice. The most often asked question that we’re getting is about anti-malaria drugs and vaccinations. Well, I have never met malaria in India, but I stay only in Goa and Himalayas, and what’s more – never in the Monsoon, only in the peak time…. I do not vaccinate myself.  I do not take pills. I live here for the last 6 years. There are ups and downs, but I never have faced any serious illness mentioned on the list of “risks” here. Saying that – please remember –  I am not a doctor or any other medical professional!

Sharing all  the details regarding your travel plans to a doctor who is qualified to evaluate the situation is the only advice I have. The answer can radically change with factors like:

  • Where you are travelling within the country – for example in Indian waterlogged regions like Kerala there are more mosquitos as compared to the Himalayan Region. So if you make just a trip to Dharamshala or other cities in Hills, there is no need of anti-malaria drug.
  • Time of the Year – travelling during The Monsoon in India means more mosquitos and bigger risk for malaria. Monsoons in India are in July and August. This becomes irrelevant if you travel to the hills (again) – it is too cold for malaria in this region, and there are no mosquitos that spread it out.
  • The length of your trip – the more you stay in India the more prone you are to certain issues, but on the other hand – the more your immune system is prepared to handle local challenges.
  • Other personal factors such as your current medical state, age, current medical & vaccine history.
  • There is no obligation for any vaccination in India, in some parts Typhoid is recommended, andHepatitis – like all over the world

Medicine stores are easily accessible in India and most commonly used drugs are sold over the counter without any recent prescription from a doctor. Also, a visit to a doctor is very cheap in India (unlike in the West), it just costs about 500 Rupees / 7 Euros at maximum. Next to our centers there are good doctors and hospitals, including Ayurvedic and Tibetan.

6. Landing in India:

Landing in India can be overwhelming… It is a country of 1.25 billion people (yes, can you believe it?), which is one-third of the world population. Well, fortunately for us, we picked nice locations that are a little more private while being close enough to towns and markets. Both Dharamshala & Goa are beautiful places allowing to meet Indian culture but in a safer and easier way….

In Dharamsala we are at Lower Dharamkot located on the hills which are almost at the end of the road with no major traffic and peaceful hilly village around. Walk to the main market takes just about 10-15 minutes.

In Goa we are in the South, in a beautiful and more private region between Agonda and Palolem. (Our location is much more peaceful and quiet than the North Goa which is more touristic). We reside in the forest, 2 km from beaches: Agonda and Palolem. It is easy to get there at any time with a bicycle, scooter, tuk-tuk or a taxi. It takes a few minutes:-)

7. Arriving in Dharamsala:

The closest International Airport is Indira Gandhi  International Airport (New Delhi International Airport, DEL) named after the most  famous Lady Prime Minister of India. Most international destinations are connected with it being the capital of India. So you land up in Delhi and then you can take a domestic flight to Dharamsala.

Most of the international flights arrive in Delhi in the night, so expect the connecting flight to Dharamsala on the next day – you can choose two to three flights per day depending on the season (April to June which is the peak season has 3 flights quite often). You can use the following websites to make cheap flight reservations in India – www.cleartrip.com or www.makemytrip.com. Please bear in mind your departure to Dharamsala might be from a different terminal, which is around 10 minutes from the one where you have arrived. You might need a taxi or bus to get there. Always ask for help at the airport, they will guide you!

There are 2 operators having flights to Dharamsala (airport also called Gaggal, DHM) – Air India (Government airline) & Spice Jet (private company). Though both are equally reliable we suggest Air India flight since you will not be required to change the terminal after you land. For the Spice Jet flight, you will be required to move from International terminal to Domestic terminal also called 1D in Delhi which is connected by Bus Transfer (from outside of International Airport) or taxi service. For all kinds of taxi service we strongly suggest going to Pre-Paid taxi booths at the airport which are located within & outside the airport. You can ask the security for directions to reach them. Pre-paid means paying a fixed price for a taxi ride to your destination without being cheated or getting into a ridiculous negotiation (might happen in India… have fun if it happens to you!)

The taxi drive from Dharamshala airport to our centre will take about 40 minutes.

In case if the flight is full to Dharamsala the other closest airport is Amritsar which has an International Airport connecting selected routes like Frankfurt/New York with airlines such as Air India/Qatar or multi-airline flights. The taxi drive from Amritsar to Dharamshala (our centre) will be for 5 hours & cost approximately Rs 5000 or 72 Euros.

In case you are required to stay a night in Delhi we would recommend staying in recognized hotels close to the Airport. The area is called Aero City which is just 3 to 4 km from airport & easily accessible with many hotels like – Lemon Tree, Red Fox, Ibis, Marriot, etc. For economy accommodation we recommend to check forums, but we do not know and do not recommend anything but Aerocity.

It is always a good idea to arrange everything before you arrive if you are a first-time traveller. Large cities in India are hectic and overbooked. Besides, you can be disoriented after you land up from a long distance flight in an unfamiliar place.

Other options to reach Dharamshala include taking a bus from Delhi which takes 10 to 12 hours and is an overnight ride. You may check the website for bookings online www.redbus.in  (you need to check if this works with international credit cards for the payment). You can buy a ticket once you are in Delhi, many students choose this option too. The buses leave from a place “majnu ka tilla” in Delhi which is close to Tibetan Colony. The buses arrive at McLeod Ganj which is 20 minute by taxi from our centre. Most of the buses arrive at about 6.00 am in the morning to McLeod Ganj leaving Delhi at 5:30 or 6.00 pm in the evening.

8. Arriving in Goa is much easier since it has International Airport also called Dabolim Goa International Airport (GOA). It is well connected with many international destinations being a popular touristic holiday pick, including charter flights from Europe in the season (which is October to March). Our centre is located in South Goa which is about 1 ½ hour taxi ride & 60 km.

If you cannot book your flight directly to Goa we recommend Mumbai as a transit, or Delhi which works too!Please check if you apply for E-VISA which airports are able to realize your application!!!

Please note that we can send a taxi to both the airports – Dharamsala & Goa for a hassle free arrival to our centre.

9. What to Pack:

Just a few suggestions:

  • Not too much! You don’t need much. Please limit your luggage especially if you share the room… Yogic life is modest. Take only what you need, plus most of the tourists buy in India a lot of new clothes (cheap and nice!), so it is better to have some space.
  • Backpack Vs. Suitcase – backpack comes very handy especially when arriving in Dharamsala since we are in the hills and it is easy to carry
  • Conservative dress standards – most of India is conservative for dress standards unless you happen to be on the beach in Goa. Besides you are free to wear whatever you like in our yoga shala, we recommend comfortable, light and stretchy clothes. This means that when you are moving around in a marketplace you need to be conservatively dressed unless you wish to get a lot of eyeballs on you with so much population, so covering your shoulders, butts & knees is a common habit in India. Also, India is cheap to shop for cotton wear in the local markets.
  • Cash – there are exchange counters at Airports & in most marketplaces in Dharamsala & Goa both, so you can arrive with any popular foreign currency like USD, Euro, Australian Dollar, Pound etc. Buying Indian Rupees abroad is not allowed. Also, ATM are easily & widely available across India in most places. Travellers checks are not popular and not economical.
  • Plug Adapters – these are a must especially if you arrive from the USA or UK.
  • Flashlights – India faces power shortage sometimes, so this is absolutely necessary & besides comes handy for the wonderful treks in the Hills in Dharamsala.
  • mosquito repellent – yes, we live in Nature, mosquitos happen in Goa, in Himalayas – less. We provide mosquito nets, but for the yoga practice in the evening you might need mosquito sprays. We recommend natural, citronella or lemon tree based sprays of essential oils (available to buy at the place).
  • Padlocks – comes handy when you are on the move.
  • Medicine –in case you are already on some & based on your doctor advice. I take probiotics, they keep my belly happy!
  • Yoga Mats – you may carry your personal mat if you are attached to one, otherwise it is easy to buy one here for as little as Rs300 to Rs500 on arrival (5 to7 Euro).

10. Food & Water:

Very sensitive subject… as sensitive as your stomach! One needs a strong palate to explore local food, especially  that being sold on the streets of India. Indian immune system is different, let’s remember that! Being humble – as I said before – can help you to avoid really unpleasant moment in the Indian toilet! As a traveller &  being in intensive yoga program we need to be aware of what we eat & drink. It is the most important to keep yourself healthy during the course so that you can benefit from our program.

At our centre both in Dharamsala & Goa we serve hygienic satvic vegetarian (vegan on request) Indian Food (lunch, thali), continental breakfasts (muesli, fruits, porridge) & soups/ veggies in the evening. We take care of our students for any food allergies or special diet needs like gluten free, dairy free  or vegan, these are treated as a special case. We do not serve non-vegetarian food on our premises, however, eggs can be ordered on the side from our restaurant in both the locations. Besides one can order extras like cakes, pan cakes, coffee (yes!), lemon sodas, lassi, etc.

You need to stay more careful with water which is easy to infect the stomach, so it is strongly recommended to consume only bottled water / mineral water which is easily available at our centre & the markets across India. Since India suffers from the lack of trash management we suggest plastic or metal multi-use bottles to refill (available at the place).

There are heaps of good restaurants which serve good & safe food that we can recommend after your arrival; however we would always recommend taking care for any raw food & water in all places.

11. Staying connected with your loved ones: It is easy to get 3G SIM card for your phones in India which are issued upon copy of Passport & local address. By experience it is easier to get this in Dharamsala Vs. Goa. Most SIM cards are valid for a period of 3 months.

WIFI is available at both our centres in Dharamsala & Goa, may not be the best (far away from the Western quality) but it works fine for WhatsApp/Facebook to just stay in touch. Besides, most of the restaurants in India have free WIFI.

12, Personal Security:

Not to deny some incidences do happen in India, like in any other country (in the West too! Actually New York city has more crimes per number of citizens than India!),  but being conscious & mindful of surrounding helps in a great way!

India is a safe country & population works for the advantage here since one is never alone:-) Most touristic places like Dharamsala & Goa are very safe since they largely depend on a tourism. Loud voice, by which you can get an attention from people around, helps as a way to avoid any odd situation. There are more chances of getting cheated when arriving at any airport by a taxi driver on travel fares than any other issue of security. To remind you – we do send the taxi for you on request!  Almost all pre-paid taxis are registered with the police here.

Most of our students are women & often first-time travellers to India. Over the years, we have hosted many of them. They all were safe completing the course with us & reaching back home. Some of them decided to travel alone after TTC. Our youngest student was 17, our oldest 67.

Finally, after all the research, preparations, planning and packing sit down for a while. Take a deep breath. We do learn the most when we leave our safety zone, when we open the door and the heart for a new adventure. Getting prepared is a must, but just right after try to leave all the expectations, projections, imagination… and just let it come. India is an amazing teacher. It is part of this journey. It will be alright. And we will help you to go through this as best as possible! ENJOY this madness, enjoy this unpredictable flow… it will give you more than you think right now… if you allow it to!

I hope the article helped you with some of your concerns & we look forward to meeting you on this journey of Yoga! Just in case if you have any specific question please do write to us, we will be more than happy to answer☺

karolina@trimurtiyoga.com (about Yoga) uttam@trimurtiyoga.com (about an organization, formalities, help, logistic).

Namaste!

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