Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What not to take on your India trip

Tip of the hat to IndiaMike.com

What not to take on your India Trip
photo by babeinthewoods
Once, whilst in Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh) I decided to shed some of my baggage. For three months I had been carrying around two ridiculously heavy sports bags and now one of them had to go. I resolved to fill one of the bags with my surplus items and unload the unwanted goods upon some grateful beggar. Strangely enough, on that particular morning I had difficulty finding a beggar, I must have been the only foreigner on the subcontinent wanting to be begged from – yet for hours none were forthcoming. When I actually encountered one, her hand extended in heartfelt supplication, she became strangely annoyed as I handed over my entire bag. Before the woman could remonstrate with me, I turned my back and fled.

My weighty predicament had, in part, been caused by bogus advice from a supposedly authoritative guidebook. It had instructed me to take such things as a spare sheet and a mosquito net – even a sink plug.

  1. Mosquito nets: should have been fazed-out in the early 20th century, along with wind-up gramophones and Penny Farthing bicycles. In one hundred Indian hotel rooms, from Goa to Guwahati, I rarely found anything to hook the thing on to, and when I did, I found that it obstructed the much-needed cool breeze from the ceiling fan, creating an uncomfortable pocket of warm air. I have visited over a dozen Indian states, and have never encountered mosquitoes in such numbers that they would interrupt my sleep (unlike my experiences in South America) and as for malaria prevention – there are better ways! Mosquito coils cost a pittance and are available everywhere. They can sometimes leave dryness in your mouth upon waking, but this is a small price to pay. Do not buy the fancy plug-in electric repellents from home as they do not work during power cuts.

  2. Sheets: A small minority of Indian hotels lack sheets and just provide mattress coverings. On the plains and coastal regions during most of the year, it is usually so hot that sheets are unnecessary anyway. Whilst in the hills and mountains, you don’t need sheets – you need blankets or sleeping bags.

  3. Sink and Bath plug: As for the lesser matter of a one-size-fits-all sink and bath plug - it’s equally pointless. People don’t take baths in a tub in India so, customarily, your hotel room will not be equipped with such a decadent foreign item. As for the sink, if there’s no plug – so what! In budget guesthouses it’s unlikely you will get a hot water tap (sometimes even if you pay for running hot water, you may not get it), so just let the cold water run. If that’s not good water conservation, blame it on the hotel.

  4. Expensive Lighters: Do not take an expensive or treasured lighter to India. They are not allowed on board Indian planes (unless in your suitcase) and Indian customs officials usually confiscate them - and probably do a profitable sideline in foreign lighters. If the customs officers don’t get them, a petty thief will, either that, or you will accidentally leave it in a bar or hotel room. One way or another, India will be the last place your good lighter ever goes. Buy local disposable ones instead, but don’t throw cheap Indian lighters around, as they can explode on impact. I discovered this in Goa when a Scottish friend threw one at a house gecko.

  5. Shampoo and Conditioner: Invest in sun cream but don’t bring large or even medium sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Indian products will do just fine and can be purchased in sachets from most Indian kiosks.

  6. Perfumes: Good perfumes or colognes are also a waste of space. You tend to sweat more in the tropics, so fragrances do not permeate into the skin.

  7. Pillows: An inflatable pillow is an exquisitely useless item. If you travel by train in the AC classes, you will receive pillows. On aeroplanes, you get pillows. If you use one on the beach, you will look like an idiot. In hotels, yes, they have pillows as well, if they prove too hard, just roll up a towel and use that. If it is an unpleasantly dirty hotel pillow, you can simply wrap it with a clean lungi or dhoti. So, just where are you going to use an inflatable pillow? OK – buses, but it’s unlikely that you will travel far by bus – and if you do, then stop it! It’s more comfortable and safer to go long distances by train or plane.

  8. Beach ball: – another inflatable piece of garbage. You cannot play soccer with it; one strong gust of wind, and suddenly it’s half a mile away. Even a slight breeze will skew any lengthy shot or pass. For a bit of fun on the beach take a Frisbee – at least this can double as plastic plate when reversed.

  9. Full size Swiss Army Knives: and other multi-function pocketknives, are great for outdoorsmen - and only outdoorsmen. If you are not going camping, don’t bring one! It will be a little white elephant: an unused expensive piece of kit that somebody is going to filch. Wine is rare in India, so you won’t need a corkscrew. Tinned food is scarce, so you won’t need a tin opener. If you need a Phillips-head screwdriver or pliers, just borrow one from the hotel. Toothpicks are free at restaurants, and you won’t need a fish scaler. If you are going to need a nailfile and tweezers, pack them individually – you’ll save on room and money. As Eddie Izzard said of the attachments: "I don’t know what this one is for. I can open a can of beans with this one...in a week."

Aside from the unnecessary weight of these items, you must also consider the cost. In your home country, they could quite easily set you back the equivalent of five thousand rupees: a senseless sacrifice of good travelling funds.

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