India Travel Tips
If you can put up with spicy food,you can try almost most of the south Indian foods.But approach with caution:some Andhra variety of mutton masala 'fries' can 'burn' your tongue off.For the uninitiated, it would be better to stick to Idlies,Parothas,plain rice with rasam in the case of vegetarians.
For non-vegetarians,approach only City-level hotels for Biryani.Most of the Tourist spots offer crude, ill-cooked food at unearthly prices. In some of the distant regions food usually remains a problem.Stay with bread,eggs and plantains, which will be available anywhere.For a western palate,the abovementioned suggestion would hold good too. Most cities have Chinese restaurants which offer comparatively 'milder' food.
I once stayed in Periyar Sanctuary (in a nearby hotel) for about 10 days and lost about 5 kilos body weight. I had little appetite for the Kerala type coarse rice. You have regional variations in food here:Tamils and Andhra cusines depend on chillies and spices for their flavour ,whilst Karnataka and Kerala offer a 'blander' food. If you have a stomach lined with steel, experiment at will.Restrict your adventure to items consisting of 'land lubbers' and not sea food in particular.
You will do well to buy mineral water in 1 or 1.5 litre bottles in sufficient quantities from cities.Never consider buying water in cans,because of increased risk of contamination.
Although most of the cities are well connected by rail,road and air,I would invite you to travel by road.I have been travelling by road for the past 15 years and have covered all the southern states,I am still amazed by every different route which takes me through 'unexplored territory'.
Arrange for a 'Tourist car' ,mostly an Ambassador car with little pretension to modern creature comfort.Hire an airconditioned car always,unless you travel in a season of deluge in a remote kerala jungle.This way you can plot your own itinerary without being a puppet for some arm-chair travel bureau executive,whose idea of 'Holiday in a Tropical Paradise' might be worse than a 'guided-tour' of a nuclear facility in Russia during the soviet rule.
Plan your route,using a road map (obtainable from any of the offices of the Tourist Development Corporation of the individual states) and chart your way around important towns,where you can stay.
For example, if you travel to Munnar,a hill resort in the Kerala western ghats,include Thekkady and Periyar Sanctuary (notable for its elephant herds and rare migratory birds ).Shop around in Kambam ,kumuly region for Spices.Even if you can't name them individually,the shops offer almost all the spices grown in that region in neat little packs with suitable english names.Add spice to your life.
There are 3 types of Roads:Bad roads,worst roads and Indian roads.However,you have to learn to live with things you can not change.So stay mostly with National Highways and State Highways (in that order) to avoid a visit to orthopedic surgeon.
Just last January, I went on a 'routine' pilgrimage to Velankanni Shrine of Our Lady of Health,12 km from Nagapattinum.On my way,from Mayilam to Pondicherry,the idyllic port town still clinging to the French way of life -I had strayed into possibly the worst 'road' on earth ,where the pot holes were so deep my car's wheel 'fell ' into a pit and the front end hit the road,resulting in a broken Fan (?) blades which severely dented my confidence.
If you plan to foray south,use the 'East coast' road which will take you up to Cuddalore.The road was recently opened to the public and well laid,barring a few 'hill' sized speed breakers.If you visit India for the first time,amongst other things,one thing is sure to irritate you :The presence of speed breakers in all the roads.
Unfortunately,most of the highway engineers seem to labour under the ridiculous notion that Indian roads are 'autobahns' where maniac drivers drive cars of Germanic/Prussian origin to the limits of sound travel.They fail to see the truth- that almost all the so-called roads are dirt tracks and with the prevailing traffic conditions and the roaming cattle/families on the roads,you can't even notch up 30 km per hour.
Even if you subscribe to the Gandhian philosophy of 'Ahimsa' (Non-Violence),at the end of your travel ,you begin to harbour thoughts of grinding the highway people to the pulp to be spread over the dirt they have laid.
Careful planning is always essential before you turn the ignition switch.On the positive side,you can travel to any nook and corner of the subcontinent on wheels and most of the time the experience would be a pleasant one.Surprisingly, the cost of such touring can be amazingly low. Believe me !