As our first Young Opportunities Australia group prepares to depart for New Delhi, in early February, I am often being asked about what to pack. This question got me thinking about what items I could not live without when I am travelling around India, especially as I am a women. Admittedly, I have only travelled in the northern states and during the cooler months of October to February, so my advice is a little biased. In India, appropriateness of clothing varies depending on where you travel to and what time of year it is. Use the following as a general rule, and adapt it for wherever you go. For men, either western or Indian long pants (trousers, jeans) and a t-shirt is acceptable. For women, your clothing should cover your shoulders and knees. Preferably, you should wear local clothing as it reduces the 'male gaze'. Here are my five essentials for when I travel in India.
1. A shawl. I can not live without a shawl in India. Buy one that is thick and warm for the cooler months. You can also throw it over your hair in conservative areas (such as the Golden Temple in Amritsar), and pull it up over your nose and mouth to protect you from pollution or unfamiliar odour. Also known as stolls and dupattas (depending on the style and outfit), you will notice that most women wear one, and it adds to the conservative form of Indian clothing.
2. Sunglasses. These are my number one for confidence and privacy when travelling around India. As someone who may look a little different to the locals, people will often stare at you for a little longer than is comfortable. If you have a pair of sunnies to throw on, you can easily avoid making eye contact. I have blue eyes and very fair skin; my sunnies give me that extra layer between me and those wandering eyes!
3. Havaianas. I love leather shoes and sandals, but before you prioritise those over your Havs, pay attention to this. Havaianas are cheap, light-weight, flexible, and easy to clean. Not only can I walk around in them all day, I can wear them in the shower at night to protect my feet from any nasties that might be lurking from the previous guest. I can shove them into my backpack without fear of them bending and breaking. I carry a pair of Injini socks, so I can wear them at night and still keep my feet warm. On the plus side, Havs look awesome with baggy pants and other Indian clothing.
4. A warm fleece. Shell optional. As I said before, my advice is biased towards the north and winter months. I always carry a warm layer, whether it is my Kathmandu fleece designed for trekking or my token university branded jumper; you will need a warm layer in the winter months. Try and find something that is easy to dry, and lightweight, which is why I prefer my Kathmandu fleece over my uni jumper. I always carry my North Face shell, which can go over either as a layer or as wet weather gear.
5. A long skirt or baggy pants, to be combined with the above, no matter how daggy it looks. Why? Squat toilets.
Tell me, what are your five essentials for travelling in India and beyond?