You will never be alone.
This might seem logical given the
population of India, but in the whole time I was there, with the exception of
having my own hotel room, I was never alone. There are people everywhere!! All
day and all night you will be completely surrounded by people. It is loud and
boisterous and you can hear the constant sound of horns beeping all night. From
the moment I stepped on the plane at Heathrow I knew that this was going to be
a hectic trip!
Even in the nicest of hotels the level of
cleanliness will not be up to the standard you’re used to. This means stained
bed sheets, grubby towels and grimey bathrooms. But you just have to go with
it. I suggest bringing your own towel and a sleeping bag liner for the more
“itchy” beds and you’ll be fine!
As well as this you may find that your
hotel/hostel does not have hot water or indeed you may find that hot water
comes from the cold tap!
You have to look EVERYWHERE
When walking on the street in
India you have to look in ALL directions. Left and right to avoid traffic, down
to be careful of the uneven footpaths, up to avoid low swinging monkeys! Even
though I had no experience of pick-pocketing, eyes in the back of your head in
the busy tourist areas would also be helpful! This is a skill that is not easy
to master when you are too busy being completely enchanted by the magical
temples and opulent forts and your every other sense has been hijacked by
the scents of fresh spices and flowers.
There is a big tipping culture in India and
besides restaurants and hotels, you will be expected to tip everyone from taxi
drivers, to bathroom attendants. It is so ingrained in the culture that waiters
will come back to you and remind you that there is no service charge if you
haven’t left a tip. Try to keep small notes and coins handy to avoid both
embarrassment and given too large a tip!
Shopping is somewhat different
In India you will find some of the most
amazing souvenirs you could ever imagine. But shopping for them is not what we
would be used to! In Europe and the US, we expect to walk into a shop, see what
you like and then buy it! Not in India. You tell the salesman what you are
looking for and they proceed to show you everything in the shop in order of the
poorest quality right up to the highest. This can be very overwhelming and
leave you wanting everything in the shop, so you need to be firm about what you
had come to buy. If you are looking to buy something in particular, it’s best
to purchase it close to where it is produced, for example Pashminas in
Varanasi, Saris in Jaipur. But if you can’t get close to the area, remember to
haggle! Shop owners can be pushy, but always very respectful. One man saying
“Please M’am, it would be my humble pleasure to show you my goods so you can find
something beautiful for your Mother”
|Shopping for Flowers in Jaipur|
If you are travelling by train, remember to
leave plenty of time. Trains are often delayed and I don’t mean by minutes, I
mean by HOURS. Our overnight train from Jhansi to Varanasi was delayed by 4
hours because another train derailed after it hit a cow (seriously!). We were
told that the train the day before was delayed by 7 hours, so if you are using
a train to catch a flight, it is probably best to leave the day before, just to
be on the safe side. I also recommend that you bring lots of food!
Dogs and Monkeys and Cows, Oh My!
You may be aware that the cow is a sacred
animal in India. What you may not know, is that they are EVERYWHERE. They walk
through the streets paying little attention to humans, they eat from bins and
sometimes from food stalls, I even had one stand beside me as I waited for a train
at the station. Since Hindus believe that harming a cow leads to the ultimate
bad Karma, they are very much left to their own devices and you will have to
step out of their way if they want to pass. I would certainly say that there
are more cows roaming free in India, than people in Ireland! As well as cows,
you will also find an abundance of monkeys and stray dogs wandering the
Food in India vs Indian food.
If you like your chicken Balti or a good
Tikka Masala, you will probably be quite surprised. Many of the dishes we have
come to know as Indian were actually anglicized versions of the cuisine. That
is not to say that you won’t be absolutely blown away by the amazing flavours
and spices and the love that is poured into every Indian dish. Try the big chunky samosas, delicious butter chicken and the
cottage cheese with spinach, accompany these with an Indian sweet lime soda or
a creamy lassi, you won’t be sorry! You
will also be surprised at the distinct lack of meat in many places as many
Hindus follow a vegan diet. You will certainly not find beef easily anywhere in
India, so a visit to McDonalds is also quite interesting. Be careful of street
food, in many parts of south east Asia, this is a go- to, but I met a group of
young travellers who had all been shot down with food poisoning! Food in India
is delicious and pretty cheap so find a good place and go nuts!
|Typical Rajastani Food |
The people are amazing!
The people I met in India were the friendliest
and most kind hearted people I have ever met. Every person was so happy to
talk, practice their English and listen to where I came from and what it was
like there. I was also very honoured to be invited into a wedding party and be
treated like a guest of honour, dancing, eating and talking to the family. I
also had a few funny experiences of people asking if they could have their
photos taken with me or handing me their babies!
|Local women in Alipura|
While begging is a problem in the larger
cities, in the smaller villages, the children have not been exposed to this.
They are happy to play with you and ask you to take their photo. You hear
choruses of excited children shouting “Excuse me Miss, One photo please!” I was
also blown away by the respect paid by the people towards people of other
religions. Communities of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist people live side by
side, respecting each other’s beliefs and traditions.
It will change your perceptions
Anyone who travels to India will tell you
that it will change the way you think. Visiting a Hindu temple and taking part
in their rituals has to have an effect on you and challenge your own beliefs
|Making a wish to Ganesha in Galta Ji Temple|
India dispelled the myths that it was a
dangerous place, unsafe for female travellers. It wasn’t a dirty, smelly place
over run with rats. I wanted to
disbelieve that a Hindu Guru could predict my future, but somehow I believed. I
didn’t get “Delhi belly”. I unlearned all of the perceptions I had about the
country and learned so many wonderful new things about it and myself.
|Going Solo in Delhi!|
Over the coming weeks I will be writing about
my time spent in India, the people I have met and experiences that I will
cherish forever. If, by the end of the series of posts, you do not want to book
a flight, then I won’t have done the country justice and you should see it for