Fears about travelling India & why you should visit anyway
When planning our backpacking trip we were very sceptical about visiting India. We’d read about other people’s experiences and advice about travelling around India and thought it’d be too overwhelming for us first timers.
Skipping India would’ve been one of our biggest mistakes.
The common fears:
There are a hell of a lot of people in India, as we all know, so even the simplest things like popping out for water becomes a mission. You have to push your way through crowds, dodge tuk tuks, cows, bikes and dogs. Plus, you can forget about the usual British queue etiquette, you will have to hold your own and work in a few elbow jabs.
It’s pretty obvious that India will take any Westerner by surprise. If you visit India, all your senses are in for a shock. In particular…
Sight – The many many people, poverty, endless traffic, obscene amount of rubbish and stubborn cows.
Smell – The obscene amount of rubbish, car fumes, urine and fresh animal shit.
Avoid public toilets at all costs! As previously mentioned there’s plenty of cow dung, open sewers and public urination so it’s hard to avoid poor hygiene. Just make sure you’ve got PLENTY of hand sanitiser as the cleanliness of your hands is about all you can control.
Ok so it may be true that Delhi belly is unavoidable but this is true of anywhere you travel to in Asia. You can try to follow every rule on how to avoid Delhi Belly but it’ll find you. And it hit Luke hard during our time in Delhi!
The poverty in India is heartbreaking. But should it be a reason to not visit a country? Should we try to stay naive of the real issues that are prevalent in other countries other than our own? Definitely not. Of course, there’s not anything we can do individually to overcome the problem so it takes adjusting and doing what feels right for you regarding donations etc. Keep in mind that for various reasons, tourists are recommended to not give money to the children who beg. This is a short article about children forced to beg on Save the Children.
The poverty in India and thinking about what you should and shouldn’t do will be the most difficult thing when you visit unfortunately. But by no means should it be ignored.
Sometimes it feels like your constantly bargaining to avoid being ripped off and it gets really tiring! But it’s all part of the experience. It’s a brilliant test of your patience, especially when you just step off a 13 hour train journey, severely dehydrated (to avoid using the toilet), carrying 16kg on your back under the scorching sun and all you want is a easy tuk tuk ride to your hotel.
We actually spent about an hour with the owner of a fabric shop that sat us down with a cup of chai tea and went through the process of the scams used by the locals. He let us know the order of questions that they will ask tourists and the process they go through to get you to buy something.
A few examples –
Where are you from?
If you say England, they say they have friends in England and will follow up with – where abouts? – If it’s London, they say they have friends in Norwich. If you say Manchester, they say they have friends in Liverpool. And so on. Get you talking etc.
Where are you staying? & How long are you here for?
This is used to judge what they should try to sell you. Once they know where you’re staying. they’ll estimate how much money you have and what category of tourist you fall into, whether it’s holidaymaker or backpacker. If they know you’re from England staying in a nice hotel on holiday, they will try to sell you their more expensive items and may try to compare their products to English brands. However, if you’re a backpacker, they’ll take a different tone and advertise local ‘authentic’ goods.
How long you are in the particular city indicates whether you have the time to attempt to return the purchase.
So those are the negative things that often spring to people’s mind when they think of India.
And here are all the best things that make it all worth it!
You’ll never get bored
A trip to India is a real adventure. Just walking down the street can be a task but there is always something to look at. You’re constantly dodging something: tuk tuks, cows, dogs etc. And you’ll definitely have to feature in a local’s photo at least 3 times a day. And with so many people around, there’s almost always some kind of odd behaviour to see.
We spent the majority of our trip in Rajasthan, ‘the Land of Kings’, so we were in no short of fairytale palaces and stunning forts. The architecture is absolutely stunning and the details are superb. The interior of every palace is so grand and colourful.
Of course, there is the Taj Mahal. So beautiful it made ‘the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes’. The Taj Mahal is considered to be the most remarkable architecture in the world (close rivalry with Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque). The giant dome is made up of white marble, with the technique known as pietra dura, flowers inlaid with semi-precious stones can be seen on the marble. PHENOMENAL.
People in India
We were almost always met with smiles. And if not smiles, then stares. Lots of stares of curiosity. These curious stares will more than often lead to lots of questions.
Hayley would get a hell of a lot of questions regarding where she’s from. France was usually people’s first guess. Or they’d just show confusion, stating that she looks Indian apart from the hair *pointing at the afro*. During a long and painful train journey, after receiving the answer that Hayley is from the UK, a man asked, ‘Are there other people in the UK that are your colour?’. That was quite an interesting question.
On the other hand, Luke’s pale pale skin received a lot of attention which sometimes turned into laughter. If we received £1 for every time someone asked to have photo with him… All in all, our experience with locals was usually always one that left us smiling.
You can’t talk about the locals in India without mentioning the endearing head wobble. Does it mean yes? Does it mean no? Or even maybe? For those of you that aren’t familiar with the head wobble, it’s as you guessed, just when the head moves from side to side but in India is a very popular gesture and it will leave you confused. However, by the end you’ll take on the gesture as your own without even noticing. It’s that infectious.
You will surprise yourself
India will take you out of your comfort zone. That is for sure. It will most likely be like no other place you’ve been before so it will take you by surprise. This allows you to gain a new perspective and appreciation for your own life, improve your patience and understand different social norms.
Just a few examples.
As we mentioned previously, the poverty you will encounter will break your heart and make you question what you can do to help the situation. But you will also leave India thankful for your own life and that you even had the opportunity to visit the country.
You will be forced to embrace the chaos. The streets are always jam-packed and there are never-ending traffic jams filled with people that insist on needless honking. Your patience will improve drastically as a result.
We found ourselves being extremely cheap. It was our second country and we knew we needed to abide by a strict budget. So although you have to barter in India, when you keep arguing over 50 rupees difference, you soon remember that 50 rupees is equivalent to 60p which is very little to us but can help a man feed his family.
Varanasi itself, for us, is a reason to visit and love India. This is the place where your senses will be assaulted. This is where you’ll have that serious culture shock. This is the place that you won’t forget any time soon.
As one of the holiest places in India, visiting the ghats is a special experience. The most talked about occurrence in Varanasi will undoubtedly be the burning ghats where those that have passed away are cremated. The Ganges are sacred to Hindus and so they believe if the deceased’s ashes are placed in the Ganges, their soul should escape the cycle of rebirth. It’s raw and of course different to funeral proceedings in the West, however when we witnessed the cremation ghat we weren’t absolutely shocked, it’s just more interesting than anything else to see how a different culture *handles* their dead.
The sunrise/sunset boat trips along the Ganges are gorgeous and interesting if you’ve got a talkative guide.
Every evening, hundreds of people gather to watch Ganga Aarti, a Hindu ceremony. Ganga Aarti is performed by a group of priests that are dressed the same and move synchronised with incense sticks and large lamps while chanting. We decided to watch it each night that we spent in Varanasi. There was just an incredible energy there. It’s an absolute must see!
India has so much to offer, more than we could fit into a reasonable sized blog post. It’s certainly one of our favourite destinations for all its ups and downs. India left us feeling uplifted and humbled and with the hope that everyone we know will visit one day.
If you want to see where we visited exactly, take a look at our 3 week itinerary.