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The warning nobody gives you when travelling to India and Nepal

written by Lizzie Mulherin February 18, 2019

When I told people I was travelling to India and Nepal by myself, I was met with a lot of hazardous looks and subsequent “don’ts”.

Don’t eat the street food, don’t take public transport, don’t take taxis, don’t wander the streets, don’t draw attention to yourself, don’t make eye contact with people – it went on.

The Taj MahalGranted, some stemmed from religious and cultural norms, which should absolutely be respected when visiting any destination. But most of the wide-eyed warnings came from people who’d never actually ventured to either country themselves.

Most of them came from fear.


A man sitting outside his houseCall it a millennial cliché, but travel has always been a non-negotiable in my life. The compelling quest for ‘experiences over things’ has shaped my consumer behaviour, career path, countries of residence, relationships, perception of people and identity, really.

I’ve been privileged enough to familiarise myself with a lot of unfamiliar places, the best made memorable by relationships forged along the way.

But none quite like India and Nepal.


A cow standing in the window of a restaurantIn the two weeks I spent exploring villages, street markets, national parks and iconic monuments on Intrepid Travel’s Real Delhi to Kathmandu for 18 to 29s, I realised there are a few things those hazardous “don’ts” fail to warn about.

They don’t warn that you might not be ready to leave when the trip finishes. That after your local leader takes you to the best secret spots, daal from your favourite Indian restaurant back home will never taste as good. That hearing the chaotic orchestra of car’s horns as they weave around free-roaming cows from the back of a rickshaw will make you forget your Spotify playlists. That you’ll be so preoccupied by the contrast of frenzied cities to tranquil rural regions, maintaining your Instagram will feel like a chore.


Girl on a boat in VaranasiYou should be warned that by travelling in a small group, you’ll make connections – with locals, fellow travellers, and the destinations themselves – which expand your mind in a way you can’t quite prepare for. That your leader’s insider knowledge of the places you visit will make you feel more like a local than a tourist. That the generosity, kindness and contentment of people who have so little will make you question the way we do things in Western culture.

Holy men in Varanasi


In the two weeks I spent sipping chai and testing my spice tolerance in India and Nepal, I did eat the street food – multiple times. From a local market in Delhi, thirteen different kinds, at the recommendation of my local Urban Adventures guide Shrishti (standouts were Pao Bhaji, Paneer Shawarma and Rasmalai – in case you’re interested). From an unassuming street vendor in Jaipur known by our Intrepid Travel leader Ajay, freshly blended Lassi, uncorrupted by artificial flavours. From the stall of a rickshaw driver we befriended during a free afternoon in Agra, the best masala tea I would have, with the perfect cinnamon to ginger ratio. From a hole-in-the-wall stall in Kathmandu, momos that would put all future dumplings to shame.

People eating street food in IndiaIn the two weeks I spent replacing headphones with conversation, I did take local transport – in many forms. A dusty, air-con free bus from Jaipur to Agra, which arrived at the depot almost an hour late but was far more comfortable than its decrepit exterior had us anticipating. An intense but memorable overnight train ride from Agra to Varanasi, on which I realised how bad my poker face is during Uno. A canoe across a riverbed to enter Chitwan National Park, where we took a private jeep in search of Rhinos and Bengal Tigers. Rickshaws of varying sizes, speeds and sturdiness, in pretty much every place we went.


A rhino in Chitwan National ParkIn the two weeks I spent avoiding maps and maxing out my camera’s memory card, I did wander the streets – and make eye contact with plenty of people, accompanied by new friends from Germany, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. We were invited into the homes of proud residents in a remote 16th-century village in Rajasthan. We got lost in narrow alleyways on a free day in Varanasi, only to discover the refreshing power of icy cold nanas (a mint-lemon drink, local to the area). We stumbled upon a rooftop overlooking the Taj Mahal at sunset, surrounded by the chorus of call to prayer.


A man laughing in the back of a jeepWhen people tell me they’re considering going to India or Nepal, my only warning is this: don’t let fear-driven perceptions discourage you from a destination before you have experienced it for yourself.

Do keep in mind that “don’ts” can be subjective.

Two men lighting candles in VaranasiDo expect these places to get under your skin, and leave you wanting more.

Most importantly, do know that you’ll encounter people who will alter your perspective, and make you question the hazardous “don’ts” from now on.

Don’t let fear hold you back. Check out India – and beyond – on a small group adventure with Intrepid now

Feeling inspired?

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Piotr January 20, 2020 - 3:31 pm

Inspiring! As a World Traveller since 1965 often off the beaten track Laos Cambodia Thailand Sumatra Indonesia and too many exotic islands to mention. I’ve touched on every continent swam the sevens seas and oceans and all of theses places before the heavy influx of tourism.Revisiting India This Year with Excited anticipation and Wanderlust.I’m 67 going on 25 and with my partner of nearly 40years We will still see things through new eyes and be filled with Wonderment and Humility

TravelEscape May 3, 2019 - 1:03 am

Hello Lizzie,

This is a nice piece of article on India travel, being from India I can feel what you have written in your article, very nice and keep it up , I too have a travel blog to document the authentic Indian experience

Thanks- Nilabh

Coral March 7, 2019 - 5:48 am

I’m off to India on 8 March to join an Intrepid tour on 10 March. I’ll be 60 when I’m out there. And so looking forward to it. My children are convinced I’ll hate it. I won’t.

Anonymous March 6, 2019 - 3:32 am

Totally agree. Just come back from 3 weeks with Bamboo including 5 days volunteering at Wildlife SOS just outside Agra with elephants and sloth bears (and I am 66 years old in 3 weeks. Aaaaagh!) But i still have fire in my belly for ‘experiences’ in amazing places. I did loads of the ‘don’ts’ too. Never got Delhi Belly nor suffered any chest infection from the appalling air pollution. I wouldn’t have cared anyway – was too busy ‘experiencing’ !! I had already decided that I want to do Intrepid’s Vietnam Food Adventure trip next. (I have already been on the Sri Lankan one 18 months ago and was wowed).

Rohini March 6, 2019 - 2:24 am

I’m so glad you shared your experiences. This is a true reflection of India, Nepal and Itrepid travel.

Tina March 6, 2019 - 12:10 am

So much wisdom from a two-week group travel with tour guides between India and Nepal? Wow! Yes, travelling can do miracles…

Mariellen March 5, 2019 - 10:57 pm

Ha yes. Actually I’ve been warning people about the compelling beauty of India for 10 years on my blog Breathedreamgo

Anonymous March 5, 2019 - 8:17 pm

A fantastic description of INDIA I 74 this and travelled to Indroupia 3yrs. ago on my own to meet up with a small group
I had a yearning to see tigers in the wild and I wasnt dissappointed. The people ,the food ,the buildings are amazing I never felt uncomfortable and every day is an adventure. Sleeping on trains riding in rickshaws seeing beautiful buildings and scenery. I enjoyed it so much I went back again the year after with Intrepid it was amazing margaret

Sara Clark March 5, 2019 - 2:03 pm

Why is this trip ages 18-29?

Anne-Marie March 5, 2019 - 11:25 am

Nepal got me. I booked a trekking holiday there a few years back and absolutely loved it. Didn’t want to come home at the end. Every time I book a holiday now I am drawn back there. I’ve been twice now, and still want to return. Both times I haven’t wanted to leave.

Anne April 8, 2019 - 5:31 am

Anne-Marie – we had exactly the same experience. First time spent in Katmandhu, Chitwan and trekking the Annapurna foothills. Returned 18 months later to do EBC. Every time we look at going away we still look at Nepal trips first. North Vietnam also had the same effect although are yet to return (but I know we will!).

Anuradha March 5, 2019 - 9:44 am

Very well written – can’t agree more!

Anonymous March 5, 2019 - 9:20 am

Couldn’t agree with you more. India is the most amazing country, it has the most generous people in the world, many of them have very little, but a smile is the most affordable gift anyone can give. We travelled to India and Sri Lanka with intrepid, would recommend this country to anyone who travels with an open mind and heart. Have returned since indepedantly,and will again when a few more ticks have been made on that bucket list. Btw, I am almost sixty, not just for the young

Sophie Shoults February 24, 2019 - 11:18 pm

Hi Lizzie, sounds like you had an amazing time! My wife and I are interested to go to India next year. The warnings we have had, though (from people who have been!) are around the attitudes to women. Two separate people have told us they felt ignored and marginalised as women there and either had to kick up a fuss to be heard, or simply didn’t have a great time as a result. Did you find this at all on your travels? As two women together we often have ‘interesting’ experiences while travelling in other cultures. Thanks!

Nick Condon March 5, 2019 - 9:23 am

I’ve recently lead a trip of five women and they’d tell you they didn’t feel ignored at all. There were times when they went exploring themselves or asked for something at the hotel and they received just as much attention as I did. That said, it is a completely different culture and what we see as urgent or a priority, they can be quite a bit more relaxed about it, which can leave even the male travelers feeling like they’ve been ignored. All five of the women I took had a fantastic time despite all the little things that didn’t go as expected. Hope that helps. Enjoy your trip.

Maryjo Polodna March 6, 2019 - 4:41 am

Hi, just got back from a two week trip in India, I’m a 61 year old women, I look younger though, I did not experience what you suggest at all, in fact the men where very helpful, kind and even practiced chivalry towards me.I went prepared though, I dressed in traditional clothing, and I learned about 10 Hindi words. I also watched a couple of You Tub channels to really get a sense of the real India. Not sure what the difference is that I experienced a very different India then that of the two women you and your wife talked to. Good luck on your trip and have fun!

Jane April 8, 2019 - 8:53 pm

Hi I did two separate tours in India about five years ago (in my mid sixties) that necessitated staying in Delhi on my own for four days. I travelled by train and walked around on my own. On crowded trains I was always offered a seat by young people. I did experience curiosity especially from children. What’s your name? How old are you? Where do you come from? I was also asked to be in countless family photographs!! I felt like a celebrity! Occasionally children wanted to touch my skin to see if it felt the same as theirs. But I never felt uncomfortable or marginalised. Be as aware as you have to be travelling around your own country (we are not immune to pick pockets, scams etc) but also be open to brilliant new experiences. I can’t wait to go back.

Amrita Bhattacharya February 19, 2019 - 6:19 pm

Hi that was really nice of you to say so. I would only tell you that you write really well and do come back to India again. You have perhaps missed our central South and North East India. .Padharo mare desh


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