Take along one or two good paperback novels. You will be spending a lot of time waiting. Wherever Westerners congregate, there are always used bookstores with plenty of English language books. I regularly swapped my collection for all sorts of used bargains. Of course, you could take your ebook reader, but that will likely disappear before you get to the end of the story. Just saying.
As far as guidebooks, I have seen more travelers with their noses in The Lonely Planet than I care to mention. It’s almost a joke. In conversation with others, there is a general agreement that this guide is good in its descriptions of how to get to places and local sights. Forget its hotel and restaurant information. By publication, these are often out of date and inaccurate, particularly in pricing. A good English alternative is The Rough Guide.
A Small Flashlight or Headlamp
The new LED lights are a modern miracle. Most areas in India experience what they delightfully call “load-shedding”, meaning frequent power-outages. It’s rather a drag when you are in the middle of an email. However, many businesses run cranky generators that spew out black fumes. A flashlight comes in handy when you want to see your way down dark streets. These are often strewn with obstacles that can cause no small amount of grief. I unwittingly tumbled into a sewer in Guhawati, Assam.
A Universal Sink-Plug
For some reason sink-plugs rarely exist in India – probably because most Indians just splash water over their faces, as running water (especially hot) is a luxury in many places.
A Good Penknife
Your trusty Swiss army knife is invaluable for cutting up fresh fruit, or stripping electrical wire to make an impromptu electrical adaptor. When you see the state of the Indian electrical infrastructure, you will understand why this last procedure is sometimes necessary. Remember to place your knife with checked luggage whenever you travel by air, or else it will be confiscated. Despite assurances to the contrary, you will not likely be able to reclaim it upon your arrival.
A Voltage Adaptor for Electrical Equipment
I usually take an electric shaver, and a digital camera on my travels. Both are universal voltage, so I don’t need an adaptor. North American equipment can be used with no adaptor (110 volts, 60 cycles), but European equipment will need an adaptor. I have become accustomed to having an Indian shave. At first glance, the experience looks hazardous; however, most barbers use new blades (because of AIDS) for each customer. At 10 rupees, a shave is a great deal.
Sunscreen and a Hat
Stay in the shade as much as possible. Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
A Compact Mosquito Net
In some parts, a mosquito net will make the difference between a good nights sleep and none at all.
For the uninitiated, the bedlam of Indian cities rarely stops, and it IS at full volume. Cotton and wax earplugs fit one’s ears quite well, and don’t fall out in the middle of the night. You will truly appreciate them if you are unfortunate enough to be trapped on an over-night video bus.
Sew up an old queen-size sheet into a "mummy" bag. Use it as an intermediate layer between your body and whatever sheets are provided by your accommodation. Otherwise, like me, you will surely catch some former occupant’s creepy-crawlies.
Water Purifier, or Lugol’s Aqueous Iodine Solution
I either take liquid iodine – two drops per litre, and wait 30 minutes – or I use a purifier. I like the Sweet Water brand. Although admittedly a hassle to purify your daily drinking needs, the effort ultimately pays for itself in peace of mind and money saved rather than buying mineral water. The process can be used on virtually any water source. There are also various UV purifiers that are portable, long-lasting and cut down on the number of plastic bottles you use. High tech purifiers and filters are available at most outdoor, hiking, biking, mountaineering shops.
Pictures or Postcards of Your Town, Family, House, Pets, Etc.
Photographs are a wonderful ice-breaker when traveling in India by bus or train. Indian people are NOT in any way shy. Wherever I go, I am asked, “Where are you from? What do you do?” On a long train journey, it’s a great way to idle away the time, doing a “show-and-tell”. A word of warning: when traveling solo, have a picture of your “husband or wife”, even if it is really one of your sister or brother. Many Indians cannot fathom why an adult would not want to marry, and this can lead to unwanted male attention, especially for women. I also take stamps and coins that I give away to amazed children. Taking along a map of your country is fun, too. I also take a map of India. A surprising number of locals have never seen a map of their own country.