I received a question from a concerned grandmother about her granddaughter, a university student visiting India for a month working with poor people.
My granddaughter is going to be in India for 4 weeks with a group of other college students and a few professors. It is not going to be a tourist like visit, but a learning experience that will involve traveling to many parts of the country and working with mostly poor people. They will eat the local food and stay in non luxurious lodgings.
She has been told that she should wear Indian style clothing. We want know what clothes and other personal items will she need?
The cotton salwar kameez is the tradition women wear in the Indian subcontinent. If you are going to be working with “mostly poor” then its best advised to wear it. Most countries of the world would have an Asian shop where you can try and buy some of these Asian clothes. Alternatively, you can buy them online; EBay and Amazon (listed a few here) have a lot of Indian clothing. Remember if you are European/American, then I would advise you to buy one size up, Indian women tend to be slightly petite.
There is no harm in wearing jeans/trousers or khaki/combat browsers and shirts if you feel that they would be the most comfortable for you. Just make sure they are not very tight and you wear shirts that are long, preferably to the hip covering the bottom. Another option would be to wear a “kurta” also known as “kurti” over jeans. The kurti acts a shirt. This will give you the best of both worlds; western and Indian.
You could also have a “dupatta” also known as “odhni” worn across both the shoulders and resting on the chest. The role of the dupatta is to cover the cleavage and contours of the chest. Many Indian women wear the saree, but personally I feel the saree would be over the top. Here’s more about the saree and what Indian people wear in India.
All in all, the best advice would be to wear the Indian clothing mentioned above while working with the poor and while travelling, there is nothing wrong with wearing jeans/trousers and tops.
Although you can buy everything in India, some of the other personal items you will need:
Toilet paper: Indians don’t use toilet paper but you will still find them in hotels. If you are going to be staying in non-luxurious lodgings then you might wish to take some with you. When you are there or if you run out of them; find out from the locals where you can get some more. There will always be a shop where you can find them but don’t take my word for it. Shops in remote areas might not have it and you will have no choice but to use your hand and water. Remember, India will have the basic swat toilet - here’s how to use the Indian toilet.
Medicines: You might wish to take some pain killers with you as Indian ones may not be “suit” you. You can bring some vitamin C tables with you if you get a cold. You might wish to bring some antiseptic cream/lotion with you. Check where you are going and what you will be drinking as you might have to take water sterilization tablets if you are not drinking bottled water. Here’s a guide to drinking water in India.
Handkerchief: These are very handy especially during the hot summers. Here’s guide to climate in India.
Antimalarials: There is a risk of malaria so you should also take your anti-malarial drugs such as Chloroquine. You should take some mosquito repellents or a mosquito net if you can get one. (You are best advised to have your immunizations such as the cholera, typhoid and hepatitis B). Read more about mosquitoes in India.
Shoes and sandals: Take good comfortable shoes with you if you are going to be doing a lot of waking. Sandals are very comfortable in India due to the hot weather.
Plug converter: India uses 3 pin plugs so if you are planning to use electrical appliances, then you must bring a travel plug adaptor/converter for the Indian wall sockets.
Safety items: You could also bring some personal safely items such as flash lights and pad locks.
Money: Bring your credit cards, travellers cheques and make sure you convert money at the airport.
Female urination devices: These can come in handy but not necessary. You can read about using female urination devices for your travels here.
Most other items such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, sanitary pads, moisturisers etc are readily available.
Have a safe trip and let me know if I can answer any further questions.