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She Packs for India

Mariellen Ward is a freelance writer, yogi, and Indiaphile based in Toronto, Canada. You can read all about her love of India and her travels on India by visiting Mariellen writes...

We all have small secret areas of expertise, and one of mine is packing for India. While I have only actually packed to go from my country (Canada) to India twice, I am claiming this expertise based on two facts:

1) I did a LOT of research before I left on my first big, six-month trip to India — and brought a LOT of stuff I never used,

2) I have packed for about a dozen domestic trips within India in the many months I have spent in the country.

So, if you will accept my qualifications, you can confidently print this list before you go. Even in the few years I have been traveling to India I have noticed you can get more and more of the things we North Americans have come to depend on. But there’s still a few things you probably want to have in your backpack — yes, backpack — just in case.

A backpack. It doesn’t matter if you’re basically middle-aged and your motto is “mid-range” — unless you are going 5-star all the way, you will be happy you can carry everything you brought on your back. There are going to be times when the taxi can’t get closer than a 10-minute walk to the train station because of the crowds and you have to get out and hup it.

Very comfortable sturdy shoes. India just doesn’t have the money to spend lavishly on infrastructure. The roads and sidewalks are a jagged obstacle course, and there is often an open sewer spilling its gruesome contents across your path.

Flip-flops. For the beach, in the shower, around your hotel and in other predictable settings. Don’t go barefoot in India.

Small bottles of hand sanitizing gel and small kleenex packets. I don’t walk out the door without these in my bag. You will find out quickly why they’re both integral.

Deodorant, hair conditioner, tampons, sunscreen, Deet mosquito repellent, skin oil (eg almond) and condoms. I don’t know why, but I can never find these in India (not good enough quality versions, anyway).

A sheet sleeping bag. For the train and questionable hotels.

Good quality suitcase locks and cable. You will need to be able to use the cable to lock your bag to your train or bus seat.

To keep as healthy as possible on the road, take heat-resistant probiotics (one per day), either oil of oregano or GSE (grapefruit seed extract), rehydration salts, tea tree oil and homeopathic remedies for digestion and respiration issues (Indian cities are highly polluted).

Get professional advice regarding vaccinations, antiobiotics and anti-malarial medication.

Earplugs and music player, such as iPod. You will need them, take my word for it. Don’t forget your electrical adapter.

Digital camera. Ditto electrical adapter.

Quick dry towel. I found 101 uses for this. Also useful is a sarong or piece of cloth.

Money belt. I didn’t use it a lot, but I was glad I had it.

A daypack and/or a small-ish bag you can carry very safely. Here in Canada, MEC makes one that’s got a wide strap and fits under your armpit and it’s perfect for crowded situations such as bazaars and railway stations and, well, just about every where in India is crowded!

Water bottle and small thermos cup.

Mesh laundry bag.

Underwear. Ladies, I do not like the bras in India. I will always make sure I have a lot of comfortable cotton bras to choose from when I go. And let modesty be your guide.

Modest clothing. It is not really a good idea to wear scanty clothes in India. I know some people do it, but I personally think it is unsafe and disrespectful. When in Rome and all that. In fact, I recommend bringing very few items of clothing and making a beeline for Fabindia (the Gap of India). Indian clothes are inexpensive, colourful, comfortable and they suit the climate and the culture. Indians will appreciate your attempt to bridge cultures and show respect and they will be even more open towards you.

Womens words on India...

Once you have felt the Indian dust,
you will never be free of it.
(Rumer Godden, 1975)

India always changes people, and I
have been no exception.
(Ruth Jhabvala, 1975)

India was ... a country filled for the most part with
people who live so close to the necessities of existence
that only important things are important to them.
(Santha Rama Rau, 1945)

It is in the oral traditions of the villages that the arts
of India are really alive. The brief Western immorality of
museums is pointless to people who have seen eternity in their earth.
(Santha Rama Rau, 1945)
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