I started writing a post on 'how to pack for India', but it very quickly became a post on what NOT to pack, so here you go... my recommendations on what (not) to pack for India...
The fact is that you can find almost everything you need in India, and usually for a lot less money, especially for things like toiletries. The fact that things are cheaper here does not mean they are lower quality; you can find many of the same brands you know at home that are sold at local prices here.
Wondering what to pack and what not to pack? Here are the things you DON'T NEED to take with you to India:
1. Clothes. Indian clothes are comfortable, elegant, and cheap. It's easy to find light cottons suitable for the climate here. Not only that, but wearing Indian clothes helps you blend in and feel less out of place. Also, in my experience, people often treat you differently. Indians pay a lot of attention to appearances, and you'll earn locals' respect if you dress neatly and modestly, especially if you're wearing Indian clothes.
2. Sandals and flipflops. Sandals are called 'chappals' in India, while flipflops are often called 'slippers'. If you have a comfortable pair of walking shoes, do take them with you, but there's no need to buy a pair of those fancy travellers' sandals. Sandals and flipflops are easy to find here, and are cheap; and they do the job!
3. Medication and vitamin tablets. Ever wonder why things are so much cheaper in India, including medication? Well, that's because those always-looking-to-get-as-much-profit-as-possible pharmaceutical companies charge you as much as they can get away with. You can find all kinds of medication in India for much cheaper and for only a few rupees a tablet. So there's no point in taking things like paracetamol or anti-diarrheals with you. Buy them in India if you need them.
4. Toiletries. All your favourite shampoos, facial cleansers, shaving creams, toothpastes, and mouthwashes are available in India – and they're often cheaper! So save your money and luggage allowance by buying everything you need once you get here. You will probably arrive in a big city and pharmacies are found on almost every street, where they sell toiletries as well as medicine and the other usual pharmacy stuff.
5. Mosquito repellent. This is a must-have because mosquitoes are hard to avoid in India. I also recommend buying this here, because they're not only a lot cheaper, but also more effective. Just last week I had a discussion with a French women about repellents... she was telling me that her 'spécial zone tropical' repellent did not seem to work! This is the reason why there's no point buying them at home... the ones sold in India seem to be more effective probably because they're developed locally. They also smell a lot better... the local brand here called Odomos smells like talcum powder, while that horrible stuff (OFF!) I used on camping trips as a child smells vile. There are many natural repellents available too. I use a natural one with lemongrass and it works great. Mosquito nets are also easy to find in market areas and very reasonably priced.
6. Sun creams. Again, there are a variety of brands of sun creams available here, many of which you'll be familiar with. Save your money and space in your luggage and buy them here.
7. Antimalarial medication. Many first-timers to India take these because their doctors scare them into thinking they're a necessity. Anti-malarials are not 100% effective, and they do not protect from other common mosquito-born illnesses like chikungunya and dengue. There is a risk of being infected, especially during monsoon time, but the risk is low. Long-term use of these drugs is not recommended – they're bad for the liver! If Indians don't take them, why do you need to? And no, people here are not 'naturally immune', but also at risk. Better to try to prevent mosquito bites and immediately seek medical attention if you get any of the telltale symptoms.
8. Towels. I also recommend buying lightweight cotton towels in India. They look more like a piece of light cotton fabric. What's good is they dry fast and take a lot less space than those big fluffy ones. Another must-have!
9. A few other things like flashlights (torches), padlocks, and ear plugs (!) can be handy to have and again easily found in India.
10. Finally, things you SHOULD consider taking: There are a few things which are worth taking from home. Indians don't tend to wear sunhats, and sunglasses are worn more as a fashion accessory than as protection from the sun. You can find them of course – but they may not be high quality, or there may not be much variety. So do bring these from home!
What did I forget? What do you always pack for India? What do you not take with you? Let me know!