ON TOUR TIPS FOR FLASHPACKERS
Customs and immigration
There are various rules regarding duty-free allowances — there are differing rules for Indian citizens, foreign "tourists", citizens of Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan, non-citizens of Indian origin and people moving to India. Cast a quick glance at the website of the Central Board of Excise and Customs for information about what you can bring in.
Importing and exporting Indian rupees by foreign nationals is theoretically prohibited, although in practice there are no checks. Indian nationals can import or export up to INR 7500, - maximum, but on trips to Nepal, this cannot include INR 500 and INR 1000 notes.
For domestic flight arrive at least two hours before departure if traveling from the major airports. (For domestic flights from minor airports, one hour before is fine.) The new rule dictates that check-in closes 45 minutes before departure time and boarding gate closes 25 minutes before departure.
Bring a print-out of your ticket and a government-issued id. If you forget to bring a printout, you can get one at the airline office outside the airport.
1. Do not purchase antiques, carpets or jewellery unless you are absolutely sure of what you are buying. Price is not always an indication of value and authenticity.
2. Bargaining is very much part of the Indian shopping experience especially when shopping in local markets. You should be aware that unless it is a government emporium where prices are fixed, you would always be quoted prices much higher than the value of the goods.
3. Do not bargain if you see the “Fixed Price” or “No Bargain” sign in the shop
4. Always take time to read the charge slips for credit card purchases before you sign them. You should know that for any purchase returned against a credit card payment, refunds could take up to six months to process.
5. For purchases, which are, being hand carried all sales receipts must be retained with you to produce for customs on arrival at your destination.
Cuisines / restaurants
Indian cuisine is superb and takes its place among the great cuisines of the world. There is a good chance that you'd have tasted "Indian food" in your country, especially if you are a traveler from the West, but what India has exported abroad is just one part of its extraordinary range of culinary diversity.
Indian food has a well-deserved reputation for being hot, owing to the Indian penchant for the liberal use of a variety of spices, and potent fresh green chilis or red chilli powder that will bring tears to the eyes of the uninitiated, and found in unexpected places like sweet cornflakes (a snack, not breakfast) or even candies. The degree of spiciness varies widely throughout the country:
To enjoy the local food, start slowly. Don't try everything at once. After a few weeks, you can get accustomed to spicy food. If you would like to order your dish not spicy, simply say so.
Indian restaurants run the gamut from roadside shacks (dhabas) to classy five-star places where the experience is comparable to places anywhere in the world. Away from the big cities and tourist haunts, mid-level restaurants are scarce, and food choices will be limited to the local cuisine, Punjabi/Mughlai, Chinese and occasionally South Indian.
The credit for popularizing Punjabi cuisine all over the country goes to the dhabas that line India's highways. Their patrons are usually the truckers, who happen to be overwhelmingly Punjabi. The authentic dhaba serves up simple yet tasty seasonal dishes like roti and dhal with onions, and diners sit on cots instead of chairs. Hygiene can be an issue in many dhabas, so if one's not up to your standards try another. In rural areas, dhabas are usually the only option.
In Southern India, "Hotel" means a local restaurant serving south Indian food, usually a thali -- a full plate of food that usually includes a kind of bread and an assortment of meat or vegetarian dishes -- and prepared meals.
Although you may be handed an extensive menu, most dishes are served only during specific hours, if at all.
Learn & Experience
There are many things to learn that interest foreigners all over India, but there are a few destinations that become known for certain things:
Yoga is popular in Haridwar & Rishikesh
Ayurveda is popular in Kerala.
Learn Hindi in Delhi and Varanasi
Classical musical instruments in Varanasi
Classical vocal music and classical Dance forms in Tamil Nadu
Buddhism in Dharamshala and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh as well as in Bodhgaya in Bihar
Religion and rituals
In mosques, churches and temples it is obligatory to take off your shoes. It may also be customary to take off your footwear while entering into homes, follow other people's lead.
Books and written material are treated with respect, as they are considered as being concrete/physical forms of the Hindu Goddess of Learning, Saraswati. A book should not be touched with the feet and if it has accidentally touched, the same gesture of apology as is made to people (see above) should be performed. The same goes with currency, or anything associated with wealth (especially gold). They are treated as being physical representations of the Goddess Lakshmi (of Wealth) in human form, and should not be disrespected.
Avoid winking, whistling, pointing or beckoning with your fingers, and touching someone's ears. All of these are considered rude.