India is a deeply spiritual land and its citizens are well known for their devotion. India is the birthplace of many of the world’s religions and hence boasts of an impressive number of pilgrimage or “tirtha” destinations. The journey to these religious sites is deeply rooted in tradition and the belief that good will befall people who leave the comfort of their lives to make the trip, often braving unfavourable climate and terrain. People and devotees from all over the world come to India to visit these holy shrines every year; religious tourism drives an impressive number of tourists to the country. India is a land of diverse cultures and as such boasts of shrines to a varied number of religions, including Islam and Christianity. Some popular pilgrimage destinations in India are Vaishno Devi and Amarnath, Ajmer Sharif, Puri Jagannath, Pushkar, Golden Temple, Sacred Heart Cathedral and many more.
However, undertaking an Indian pilgrimage is all a very taxing experience and can lead to serious issues if you are not adequately prepared for the tolls of such a journey. Here are ten things to keep in mind before going on an Indian pilgrimage.
1. BE PHYSICALLY FIT
Some of the most popular pilgrimage sites in India are located at high altitudes nearing the Himalayas or experience very dry weather all year around. Hence, it becomes absolutely imperative that you be able to physically cope with the strenuous activity that your body will be subject to on these journeys. Dealing with problems due to altitude and terrain cannot be undertaking with an infirm body.
2. APPROPRIATE ATTIRE
Keep in mind that a pilgrimage is primarily a religious expedition and tourism second. So be cautious and dress modestly. Wear clothes that keep your arms and legs covered. Be aware of whether you need any headgear; most Islamic and Sikh pilgrimage sites require that you keep your head covered. Keep away from controversy by adhering to the norm.
3. BE VIGILANT
Religious places are major tourist attractions and attract people in significant numbers all year around, giving rise to various jobs and industries specifically dependent on tourists, like porters, local transportation, animal transportation, food vendors, etc. However, it is unfortunate that many of the people employed in these sectors also try to deceive the tourists and foreigners who arrive here. So be vigilant: keep track of your luggage at all times and be wary of pickpockets.
4. APPROPRIATE FOOTWEAR
One of the few avenues of dressing (and fashion in general) where function trumps form every time is footwear. Carrying proper footwear that is appropriate for the climate and terrain of the place you intend to visit is absolutely imperative. If your destination has cold weather, undulating terrain or features long treks and walks, the difference is more pronounced.
5. CARRY PROPER GEAR
You should always travel light but never do so at the expense of skipping proper gear. Things like medicines, headgear, waterproofing, energy bars and drinks, eye protection, extra batteries and light sources are worth their weight in gold. Never forget to carry them with you at all times.
6. BE FRIENDLY
A large part of what makes any journey fun is the people you meet along the way and on the trip. Be affable and friendly to everyone you come across and chances are that should any trouble befall you, the same people will come forward with a helping hand. Treat people like guides and locals with respect and they will respect you in return.
7. BEWARE OF CROOKS AND TOUTS
Tourism destinations, and especially places with religious connotations, are a major hub of unscrupulous people looking to make a quick buck out of unsuspecting tourists. They frequently lead you to specific shops or accommodations with artificially inflated rated with the sole purpose of tricking you out of your money. Do your research before you arrive and be polite but firm when dealing with such people.
8. WATCH WHAT YOU EAT
Enjoying local cuisine is an integral part to any tourism experience. However one should also bear in mind that a foreign land, often lacking basic sanitation services, is not a great place to fall ill with food poisoning or diarrhoea. Ensure that you eat clean, healthy food and indulge in street food at your own risk.
9. BE FLEXIBLE
As with any plans that are drawn out in advance, unforeseeable circumstances often force you to change your plans. Be prepared for this and do not prepare tight schedules for the trip. Be flexible and plan in advance for situations that might need you to stay an extra day or something like that.
10. PLAN YOUR TRANSPORTATION
Getting transportation at an unknown place is one of the biggest hurdles that you must tackle as soon as possible. If you avail the services of a travel agent, ensure that they account for local transportation. If you are taking care of the logistics on your own, be friendly with the locals from the moment you arrive and ask for their help in arranging transportation. Build a rapport from the beginning and locals are much more likely to help you out.
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