South India travel advice


TIPS FROM OUR FRIENDS IN SOUTH INDIA

Cultural tips


Diana Syrett, Managing Director of one of our top suppliers, Kerala Connections: “The word Keralan doesn’t exist. A person from Kerala is a Keralite or, more commonly, Malayali if Malayalam is their mother tongue. Otherwise, when describing things, you just say Kerala food or Kerala culture. Also, it isn’t pronounced Ker-ahhh-la, but Kerra-le.”
“In Kerala, apart from three temples, non-Hindus are not allowed inside temples at all, not even in the grounds, and sometimes they have security guards to make sure you don’t go through the gates. It’s really quite strict. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are much more laid back about it, and even in major pilgrimage centres such as Madurai, one of the biggest in India, a non-Hindu can go right the way around, inside the temples and only the inner sanctum is kept private. A lot of people go to India for the culture, and if they hope to see temples, they will be disappointed if they don’t cross the border because the chances are they won’t get inside a temple at all.”
Ridhi Patel from our leading India volunteering holiday supplier, Volunteering Journeys, shares her top cultural tips: “People don’t expect Indians to speak in English, but English is one of our official languages. So, everyone generally can speak in English, especially if they are doing tourist activities. Don’t get too shocked by some cultural differences such as eating with our hands. It is totally acceptable in India but some people still get totally shocked by this. Other people find it interesting and they try to do the same. And people often don’t understand the shoe thing in India. You know, it’s just culturally unacceptable to wear shoes indoors, whether it’s a temple or someone’s house.”

Food tips


Diana Syrett, Managing Director of one of our top suppliers, Kerala Connections: “My husband and I are both vegetarian and it is one of the reasons we love south India so much, as it is the easiest place on the planet to be vegetarian. You can get meat, and because they have about 25 percent Christians and 25 percent Muslims, there is a lot of fish eaten. Interestingly, beef is eaten in Kerala; it is only one of two states in India that is licensed to eat it.“

Planning your time


Rajat Kumar, from our supplier explorIndya, lives within the Nilgiri Mountains, close to the border with Karnataka: “Two weeks is a good amount of time to gain a deeper understanding of the whole of Karnataka, although it all depends on the traveller. Perhaps 10 days exploring the south, southwest and central areas is more appropriate before deciding on a bit of time to relax in either Goa or Kerala.”

Karnataka tips


Sanjay Oberoi, from our supplier Bespoke India Travel, highlights where to meet local people in Karnataka: “Visits to city markets in Bangalore or rural markets in places like Coorg, Kabini, Badami, Hampi, and Bijapur provide some excellent opportunities to interact with local people. Aside from driving on the scenic Konkan Highway, the best way to enjoy the coastline of Karnataka is to take the train which features around 10 stations from Kerala to Goa. It really is a lovely route and a great way to have an authentic Indian experience, if you have the time.”
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Health & safety


TRAVEL SAFELY IN SOUTH INDIA

Health


  • Visit your GP six to eight weeks before departure to ensure you are up to date with any necessary vaccinations.
  • South India has a very advanced emergency medicine system. See NHS site Fit for Travel for more details. Do take out comprehensive travel insurance that covers emergency evacuation and repatriation.
  • For any emergencies, call 112.
  • Kerala and Karnataka have the country’s highest rates of dengue fever particularly during monsoon season, so good precautions such as strong repellants and nets are vital. South India is low risk when it comes to malaria, however.
  • South India can be very humid, so keeping hydrated is the key. Two great local hydrating drinks are fresh coconut water and also sweet, milky tea or chai. Another option is sharbath which is often found at roadside stalls. It’s a syrupy lemon juice, mixed with a little salt.
  • Always travel with a basic medical kit, including Imodium for stomach upsets, although these are rare compared with other regions in India. Bring your own prescription medicines along with a copy of your prescription, especially if you are planning to hike in remote areas.
  • To avoid stomach upsets, watch out for under-cooked fish or meat, salads which have been washed in unclean water, already peeled fruit and sometimes ice cream from street vendors.
  • Be wary when wandering on beaches, particularly in Goa, as there can be a lot of dog and cow poo out there.
  • Drink bottled water, and make sure it is properly sealed. However, to stop the waste of plastic bottles, think about taking a ‘LifeStraw’ style self-filtering water bottle.
  • If trying out street food, always go for something being prepared in front of you.

Safety


For adventure activities, make sure the tour operator is experienced, has a first aid expert, and that there are helmets and buoyancy aids available for water activities. In Goa there are non professionals offering surfing and parasailing, so please be very wary. There is no organisation supervising safety standards on the water in South India, so you need to do good research and use a responsible holiday company.

Houseboats have a good safety record and all houseboats should have trained lifeguards. But the backwaters are deep, so be careful, especially if non swimmers are on board. Swimming is not recommended unless there are lifeguards present.

Be wary wandering on beaches at night and never go alone.

In Goa, you need to watch out for rip currents on certain beaches, even when you are in the shallows. The mouths of rivers can be particularly strong, for example at Miramar. And be very wary when stormy. Local people only advise swimming in Goa between November and May.

Cashew nuts are very popular in Goa, originally a Portuguese import. However, be wary of unprocessed cashews as they contain an irritant, which can be toxic, called urusiol. Do not panic though. This is why cashews are already shelled when you buy them, because the irritant is found in the leaves, but also in the oil that protects the shell and the cashew.

Be careful on trains, although this applies worldwide of course. In South India, there are tricksters who offer you tea and snacks, and then pickpocket you. And be careful if you take off your shoes to sleep. They sometimes find legs.

Beware of ‘bhang’, an ingredient which is actually made from cannabis that is added to sweets and drinks such as lassi. It is not legal, but it does exist, so beware, as it can have an effect on the mind and body. It also causes dehydration, despite the fact that it is in a drink.

South India travel advice


TIPS FROM OUR TRAVELLERS

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful South India travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday - and the space inside your suitcase.
“I was admiring the giant peppercorns hanging from these trees at a farm that we visited in the Bandipur National Park. And the lovely farmer gave me one to plant at home. I did declare it at customs on the way back, as I wasn't sure if I would be allowed it and sadly I was right. But the customs person did advise me that, next time, it is best to remove all the soil, wrap it in a damp cloth and then declare it. And it might be fine to bring through then, as it is the soil that worries them.” – Lyn Hill

"If you have time, visit the area around Munnar. We stayed in a bungalow on a cardamom plantation. The views were stunning." - Alison Brookes

“Plenty of warm clothes for the top of the mountains. A torch - and maybe a few games/cards, etc., When the sun sets and you are on top of a mountain, staying on a rice boat, or simply at a camp sight/homestay with no entertainment, you need to make your own.” – Janice Eastman

“Read !! Read !!! Read !!! If you go without reading first you will be blind. Nothing will make sense. Good books on India are out there. Travel guides need to be digested before leaving.” – Joel Montague

“Take a universal sink plug – they were a rarity. Take travel wash, because although washing services are universal and cheap, one is rarely in one place long enough to employ them, and we were reliably informed that in any case the dhobi wallah will smash your buttons on the rock!” – Kate & Adrian Parker

“Take the chance with smaller hotels and homestay. It means you get to see more of everyday Kerala. Also make sure you experience Ayurvedic massage.” – Samantha Smith
Photo credits: [Culture: Vinoth Chandar] [Food: ideowl] [Karnataka: Arian Zwegers] [Tip1: deserteyes] [Tip2: Amila Tennakoon]
Written by Catherine Mack
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