1) Trains are a backpacker’s best friend : It is advisable to travel by 2nd A/C sleeper class for long distance journeys (although on a budgeted backpacking trip). For starters, you will arrive fresh at your destination but even more importantly it is much safer than the regular non-a/c sleepers as there are instances when people just barge in the compartments and claim the seats without reservation.
This is particularly true for trains transiting central India. Not to say that this doesn’t happen in 2nd A/C coaches too, but it is not as bad and you will not be compelled to share your berth with every “ Tom, Dixit or Hari” …:-)
2) Arrive Early : Plan your travels such that you arrive at the first town or city of your destination state early in the mornings. This puts you on an advantage when you go scouting for hotels or when doing you initial recce of the town .
It is much safer to head out of the railway station or airport during the day and go scouting for rickshaws, taxis or buses. This is important specially for single travelers or women travelers.
3) In a country which has so much to offer, it is advisable to get a good guide book and plan your trip well in advance.
I highly recommend ROUGH GUIDES INDIA
4) Don’t be too possessive about your personal space. In a country of 1.2 Billion places, you will be hard pressed for your own private space. People will ask seemingly intrusive personal questions that you may find intimidating. Remember that this is a wholly different culture and the questions are merely indicative of the locals’ polite interest in you.
5) Taxi!! – Avoid booking taxis from the hotel. Your best bet is to ask around at the local shops or from passing drivers, especially if you are planning a long trip.
6) Slow Down – Too many people try to cram too much into a visit to India. Don’t be one of them. Seeing one place slowly is so much more rewarding than seeing many places in a flash. You’ll be less stressed, gain a deeper understanding of where you are and have more time to build relationships with the people you meet.
7) Climate – Plan your destinations and travel routes depending on which time of the year you are visiting. India is a huge country and the climate is very diverse.During the monsoons (July – September) on the West Coast it rains relentlessly so be suitably geared.
8) Religion- India is a country with a multitude of religions, beliefs and customs so dress appropriately, especially when visiting holy sites.
9) Local Language : A few Hindi phrases will definitely help “Namaskar” (hello), “shukriya” (thank you), “aap kaise hai” (how are you), “kitna hai” (how much) and “naam kya hai” (what’s your name) is enough to get you started!.
Try this free app for translations available on Amazon : http://amzn.to/1FOoNhc
10) Enjoy – Most of all, enjoy the diversity of the country. You may get overwhelmed at first but give it some time and the country will start winning you over and you might just end up planning a returen trip to continue where you left off.