India is now one of the top ten destinations for Australian tourists, with a 200 per cent increase in travel there over the past decade, and thanks to the many festivals that happen in March, it is high season for travel to India.
Upcoming Indian festivals:
- Mar 1-7 – International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh
- Mar 11 – Chinakkathoor Pooram elephant pageant in Kerala
- Mar 13 – Holi Festival of Colour, nationwide
- Mar 20-30 (TBC) – Myoko festival of the Apatani Tribe in Arunachal Pradesh
- Mar 24 – Malanada Kettukazcha temple festival, Kerala
According Claudio Saita, deputy CEO and executive director in Australia for Tokio Marine, underwriters World2Cover travel insurance, while India is growing in popularity, it is not without some unique challenges as a destination.
“Figures show India was the tenth most risky destination for Aussies in 2016 for serious injury, illness or hospitalisation incidents abroad, including some surprising issues. For example, while traveller’s diarrhoea affects up to 70 per cent of visitors, many are unaware that March is also chickenpox season, which can severely affect unvaccinated adults and people with weakened immune systems.
“Having the right vaccines and insurance policies in place before you go to any country is crucial. India is also a land of contrasts, with the quality of medical care varying greatly between hospitals,” said Saita.
- Monkey business – Rabies is present in almost every country on earth, but most human cases occur in South Asia. Monkeys are the second most common animal bite risk to travellersin India next to dogs, so take care not to pat or engage with any wildlife or stray animals and seek medical attention immediately if bitten.
- Avoid burnout – One of the most common complaints of first time visitors is travel fatigue. India is vast, beautiful and addictive, so make sure you are realistic about how much you can fit into your trip. Take the time to wisely plan and organise transport and your route of travel to ensure you don’t miss out on your must-dos.
- Mosquitoes – Many of Australia’s top ten tourist destinations, including Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Fiji and India, are dengue endemic countries, and 10 per cent of recorded global malaria incidents also occur in South East Asia. Both of these illnesses are transmitted through mozzie bites, so be sure to wear long, loose-fitting clothes and top up with DEET-heavy spray and plug-ins for your room.
- Money matters – At the moment, there is a nationwide cash shortage and withdrawals from ATMs are subject to a daily limit of 10,000 rupees ($200), although some ATMs run out within hours. Paying via bank or credit card wherever possible is advised, and ensure you take ample currency with you.
- Language barriers – With numerous languages spoken and a lack of literacy across the country, it is often difficult to ask for directions. Download and utilise apps such as Google Translate, which can give you oral translations in languages such as Hindi, Bengali, Tamil and Kannada.
- Temple etiquette – Always take your shoes off before entering a place of worship and as tempting as it is to wear shorts in the hot weather, it’s crucial to keep your shoulders and lower part of your body covered when visiting a place of religious importance.
- Risky rickshaws – Petty theft is common in crowded areas as well as on public transport and even rickshaws. Thieves on motorcycles commonly snatch shoulder bags and jewellery so limit the items you are bringing and keep your valuables securely stored and out of sight.
- Hands & feet – Hinduism beliefs involve a hierarchy of body parts. Feet are considered dirty, so always take your shoes off before stepping into someone’s house. The left hand is customarily used for cleaning oneself, so never pass on anything in your left hand or use it to eat food.
- Deadly driving – Road accidents are commonplace in India and the number of traffic deaths is high. Buses and trains are also often poorly maintained and pose fire risks, so consider booking a driver through your hotel or reputable agent where possible.
- Take cover – Make sure you’re covered for the full duration of the trip, including the days you leave and return to your home address. Also ensure you’re covered for l activities like motorcycle riding. There are often exclusions or special conditions for activities with heightened risk, so always read your policy to check the limits and terms and conditions.
Image: Decorated elephant at the annual elephant festival in Jaipur, Rajasthan in India.