What to Expect on a Trip to India
A year ago today Amy and I were twelve days in to a month long journey through India. Our travels took us north, south, east and west to the cities of Delhi, Amritsar, Jaiselmer, Varanasi, Cochin, Mumbai and more. Before leaving we had a few reservations, as many people had warned us that traveling to India could be difficult and that we should expect the unexpected. They couldn’t quite put it into words but they always said that it would definitely be a challenge. After spending a month there, we now understand what they meant. India is a beautiful country steeped in history with deep religious roots, countless languages and customs and rituals dating back thousands of years. It is sensory overload simply walking down the street. Bright colored clothing, a multitude of markets, dust so thick you can taste it on your tongue, tuk-tuks barreling down the street, spicy aromas that tickle your nose and the constant scent of incense wafting through the air are some of the things that you can expect to experience. The poverty, corruption and pollution are everywhere yet there are times where pockets of beauty peak through, confirming why people love it so much . That being said, anyone traveling from the west will definitely go through some culture shock during a visit to this enchanting country. Here are a few things to expect, if a trip to India is in your near future.
It is said that 40% of tourists that travel to India get sick or as others like to call it “Delhi Belly”. I unfortunately was one of those victims. There is no rhyme or reason as to why one gets sick. Amy and I were very careful with all of our meals and always ate together but she came out unscathed where I was on my deathbed for 48-hours and not fully back to normal for 10 days! I’m not going to complain though because I’ve met many people in my travels that were sick for 3-6 months after a trip to India- so I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. The doctor I met with while I was there said that it’s impossible to know why some people get sick while others don’t. It could be from a fly that lands on your food to unhygienic food preparation or eating off a fork that wasn’t washed properly. Because of these fluke incidences there isn’t much more you can do if you are already being careful and staying hydrated on bottled water (remember don’t eat raw fruits or veggies and skip the ice in drinks). So don’t sweat it and enjoy your time with the mouth-watering delicacies. And if you really want to try street food, which I totally recommend, ask your guides to recommend some of the stands they eat at or take a food tour.
Price variations for Indians and non-indians… aka tourists
It has to be expected that as a tourist, locals will try to get as much out of you as they can. This is true for all developing countries and not just India. Make sure to do your research and shop around to get an idea on what things should cost. When I was there I bought postage stamps four different times and each time I was charged a different amount. I finally found the answer to my question but it would’ve been a lot easier if I’d done my research beforehand.
Also be weary if someone tells you of a “cute little shop they know of that has exactly what you are looking for“. Anytime you are brought to a store with a local, they are getting a cut in whatever you buy so the price quote automatically goes up and is drastically higher than if you were shopping without their so-called help.
Many temples and restaurants have different prices for people that are not of Indian decent. The price for entrances into temples are usually free for Indians or tourists are charged double the price. They do not try to hide this, the signs will actually read: Fee for Indians– “x”, Fee for tourists– “xx”. At restaurants they go as far as to give tourists a completely different menu with different prices. This is India so don’t let it bother you, it is what it is!
Cows are everywhere!
Cows are queen in India. They are everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE. They roam the streets and highways freely. If you decide to drive while in India- which I don’t recommend, you will get fined an astronomical amount if you hit a cow (especially since you are a tourist- read above heading). Many times our driver had to slam on the breaks for an unassuming cow who decided to cross a road as we were driving 50mph. It’s odd to see the cows roam city streets and one day we asked our guide if they were owned by anyone. He explained that they do in fact have owners but they walk the streets freely during the day to find food and then they return to their homes each evening. Oh India!!!
India is one of the poorest countries in the world so it’s no surprise that tourists are bombarded by beggars. One of the most prominent hangouts for beggars are stoplights. When we were stopped at a red light, people would rush our car or tuk-tuk and pound on the windows or touch us asking for money. Kids will perform in the street doing cartwheels or backflips just to make a few rupiah while you wait for the light to turn green. Some lights seem like they will last forever and we found out that we weren’t imagining this. Our guide told us that the begging system is similar to a pimp system. Beggars have a boss that they pay a share of their earnings to each day. These people are in cahoots with cops or other city officials who fix the lights to remain red for dreadfully long periods of time (10 minutes sometimes) so that they can collect as much money as possible. It’s hard to stare out of your fancy car when 8-year olds walk up holding infants or people with missing limbs crawl up to your windows, however our guides told us not to give as begging is a very lucrative business in India and giving only encourages them. This is up to you but I will say, that if you give to one, your car will be rushed with 10 more people. It’s really quite sad.
Unrecognizable Traffic Rules
If there are traffic rules in India they must have escaped me. No one and everyone has right-of-way and there aren’t nearly enough traffic-lights. Not only do you see cars and buses on the busy streets but you will also find pedestrians walking in the middle of heavy traffic, bikes, tuk-tuks, wheelbarrows full of everything imaginable, goats, camels, dogs, cows, cows and more cows!
Train tracks (and sidewalks) used as toilettes
Much of India’s population lives in slums and most don’t have working toilettes. During our third day in India, Amy and I were on a very long train ride and I was surprised to see all the people hanging out on the train tracks. There were hundreds of people staring back as we zoomed by. After a few hours I realized that they weren’t hanging out for the fun of it, they were taking their morning $#i+S! This was probably the most shocking thing I saw during my time there.Yes, culture shock is expected in every country but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw in India. That being said, India is a magical place. Amongst the filth, and dirt there is a history older than you could possibly imagine and kind people that are always happy to return a smile …just be open!