I left India 2 days ago after spending 5 months exploring this enchanting country (maybe with a couple of sneaky side trips to Nepal and Sri Lanka too) and I can honestly say, that no country has ever left such an impression on me. India is nothing short of amazing. Its people, like its landscapes and cities are as magnificent and varied as anywhere else in the world. Love it or hate it, everyone who visits India comes away with something to think about, and doesn’t forget about it in a hurry.
Since I have been thinking so much about India and the effect is has had on me, I decided to write this list so that anyone who is thinking about visiting India can get a good idea of what they are up against and then decide if you want to go.
So here it is:
1. Poor hygiene standards leading to travellers diarrhoea.
This is one of the most difficult things about travelling in India. Like most developing countries, hygiene standards are different in India than they are in the west. Hand washing is very optional for locals and there is almost never soap available. Toilets are like a hole in the ground and use water instead of toilet paper, generally with no soap at the washbasin and no facilities for drying your hands. You need to carry toilet paper with you if you want to use it. The ground is also extremely dirty thanks to all the animals (and often people) who wander around everywhere doing what they do naturally.
I have never met anyone who has travelled in India without getting sick, it’s just a matter of when. I was sick a few times. The best thing you can do is to wash your hands far more frequently than you would at home, carry hand sanitiser and try not to think about what the kitchen might look like behind that curtain! The water in India should also never be consumed by foreigners. Bottled water is the safest option, even though it creates a lot of rubbish.
2. It’s difficult to get around.
Travelling within India can be a nightmare. The train is the only reasonable way for budget travellers to get around and to get a seat reservation you need to book in advance, which is not an ideal practice for the long term traveller who likes to travel day by day. Even booking a train ticket when they are available can be very difficult. Sometimes you have to travel down to the train station because the online booking system can be challenging to set up and figure out. I would say that buying train tickets is one of the most difficult things for travellers in India, especially when travelling short term. When you can’t get a train, you have to get a bus. Be sure that you will be sharing it (maybe even sharing your seat) with all kind of interesting locals and the bus has probably never been cleaned.
3. It can be difficult to find food you like.
Before I came to India I didn’t have a lot of love for Indian food. I didn’t mind it but I had never tried anything more adventurous than butter chicken. If it was ever my choice for the restaurant I would go somewhere where I could get some good steak or seafood. Well, you can forget about that India let me tell you! Cows are holy so you can’t eat them and you can’t make them into a steak. Sorry meat lovers! Chicken is available everywhere but other types of meat can be of questionable quality.
Western food is only available in very touristy areas. I can say that after months of curry and other Indian delicacies I am now much more prone to (and tolerant of) spicy foods than I used to be, but for the first two months it was really tough. The other thing is, if you are unfamiliar with Indian food, you don’t know what anything is on the menu which makes it even harder!
4. It’s an extremely tiring country to travel in.
Most parts of India are not relaxing. With the exception of some hiking, anywhere you go in India there will be many other people around you. Sometimes only a few, sometimes hundreds or thousands. Indian people do not have the same sense of spacial awareness as me and you and constantly walk in front of you, or don’t step out of you way when they see you coming towards them along a narrow lane way. It’s tiring just walking around in India.
On top of that almost everywhere you go people will try to rip you off and charge you a much higher price than is fair, avoiding this is one of the most tiring things about travelling in India and tends to drive people to the ends of their wits.
Anytime you need anything out of the ordinary to happen with anything, it is a huge hassle. First you have to communicate what you need, then you will be refused and told it’s impossible. You then talk to the person you are dealing with a bit more or ask for his boss and eventually (sometimes) you convince them there is no reason they can’t do whatever it is you need. Its tiring, I tell you! Especially when you are in a hurry or it’s something really important.
5. There is a lot of poverty and a lot of beggars and they are in your face all the time.
It’s extremely confronting to be approached by someone asking for money, who obviously has very little of it in comparison to you. When travelling in India this is an everyday occurrence, especially in religious places or places with a lot of tourists. Every time this happens you end up looking at that person and then you have to decide for yourself whether to give them what they ask for. You can do hundreds of hours of research online to decide whether or not to give to beggars – the general consensus is no, it’s not sustainable practice in the long run. It still broke my heart every single time I walked past or ignored a very dirty old lady or a child as skinny as a rake asking for money for food.
Actually I think all the time about this. Should I have given money to some of the people I didn’t? Would it really make things worse for them in the long run? Some of the people who come up to me are obviously professional beggars playing the game, but others… This was the most difficult thing about travelling in India for me.
India is polluted. I have never been anywhere as polluted as India. There is rubbish everywhere. Parts of the country are the most beautiful places I have ever seen, but I know that just around the corner there will be a pile of rubbish somewhere. It’s not entirely the people of India’s fault – there is no garbage disposal system which takes all the rubbish away so it just piles up. I am also guessing there is not a lot of education about it.
The only way to get rid of rubbish is by burning it, the consequence of which is that the air often smells of burning garbage. There are also a lot of animal leavings. Anywhere people live, cows, goats, donkeys and chickens surely live too, and not just in country towns. I’m talking Delhi and every other big city in India – full of animals who seem to roam around unchecked.
7. It can be difficult to meet other travellers.
This can be a good point or a bad point depending on the type of experience you are after. Personally meeting other travellers is one of the best things about travelling so I like to go to places where I can easily meet other people. India does not have a great hostel culture like South America or Europe and often the only option is to stay in hotels or guest houses in a private room.
If travelling in low season (like I did in Rajasthan!) you could be the only person at that guest house and not meet any other travellers for a couple of days! Fortunately there are still lots of social hostels you can stay in to meet people, you just have to know where to find them.
8. You can’t escape from it.
For all of the points above, these things are all there, in your face, 24/7. It doesn’t matter where you go in India you cannot escape the poverty, you cannot escape the pollution. When you just want a rest, a moments respite, you don’t have that option. You can’t relax at a train station because it takes all of your effort to make sure you don’t miss your train. Maybe they have changed the platform or the train is delayed. There are no signs telling you – you have to pay attention 100% of the time. You have people talking to you enthusiastically who can barely speak english and you are already tired but you don’t want to be rude. People will photograph you without permission with their phones. Sometimes this is great but sometimes, more than anything, you just want to be left alone – and it’s simply not going to happen.
I know what you are thinking now. How could I love a country so much which is so dirty and so difficult to travel in? How could it be my favourite?
Well here it is. My compelling list of awesome things about India which will make you want to go there, despite EVERYTHING written above!
1. India has more interesting things to see than any other country I have ever travelled to.
It doesn’t matter where you go in India, there are tonnes of interesting things to see and do! From the moment I stepped off of the plane in Mumbai to the moment I boarded it in Delhi I was almost never bored. Every city and town has interesting attractions and cool things to do. I would say that there are as many exciting must see destinations in India as there are in all of South America.
India has 29 states and each one has its own different customs, culture and a total of over 1600 different languages are spoken throughout the country. India has a rich history spanning thousands of years and there are ancient buildings, monuments and relics EVERYWHERE you go, each with its own story attached to it. Religion is huge in India and as a result, there are many significant sacred sites that can also be very interesting as a tourist.
2. It is one of the most beautiful and colourful countries in the world.
Yes, despite all of the pollution, I still classify India as one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. In Rajasthan you can swelter in huge deserts with rolling sand dunes one day and chase tigers in Ranthambore National Park the next. In the North you can explore the Himalayas and go on some of the best treks in the world.
My favourite place in all of India (and possibly the most beautiful) is Hampi in the state or Karnataka. The climate is pretty much tropical so rice paddies dominate the landscape with palm trees galore. Huge piles of boulders which look like they were stacked up by giants shape the skyline and make for some great rock climbing and some excellent views. I always think of Hampi as a place where Dinosaurs roam.
The people of India, especially the women, seem to wear the most colourful clothes imaginable. Everywhere you go you are surrounded by fresh fruit, colourful buildings and colourful people. It’s simply a colourful country which makes for some great photo opportunities for the budding photographers out there.
3. Travelling here will probably change your life for the better.
India certainly has a way of putting things into perspective. I had never seen poverty like that before and now I have a much greater appreciation for the people in my life and for my home country, Australia. I find one of the best ways to grow is to experience lifestyles that are completely different to your everyday life back at home and no place I have ever been is as different as India.
Its heartwarming to see how some of the Indian people are able to make a living doing so many different jobs and tasks that I never would have know are possible or even necessary back in Australia. Visiting India has also made me more conscious about environmental issues, especially those relating to animals… Which leads me to my next point:
4. There are animals everywhere!
I just can’t decide what my favourite animal is now – goats, cows or dogs. Goats are frickin hilarious (google any youtube video with a goat in it and you will know it to be true), Dogs are your best friend (even street dogs!) and cows just look cute and nothing seems to phase them. They lull me in with their huge eyes. These staple domestic animals will be everywhere that you go in India, and if you are an animal lover like me, you will thoroughly enjoy it.
Another animal you will never be able to avoid is the monkey. There are several varieties in India and they are seem to thrive in urban or natural environments. Some people love them, some hate them. They can be cute and they can be aggressive.
India has a LOT of great national parks and is the best place in the world to see Tigers in the wild. You can also see Leopards, Elephants and hundreds of other native animals in their natural environment. Many of the national parks are actually ex British hunting reserves which have been turned for conservation use. It’s also much cheaper to go on safari in India than in Africa.
5. The people of India.
Indian people are like no others. You are never far from a friend in India and I met loads of local people while I was there. I was invited many times to visit locals in their small villages (though I never had a chance to go) and I was even invited to several weddings! I feel that you could live there for years and years and still be continuously surprised. People really can go out of their way for you (when they want to). As a foreign tourist you will sometimes feel like a celebrity.
With so many people crammed into one country it’s amazing some of the ways the Indian people come up with to work together and live in harmony with each other. Like any large population, you get many, many different types of people. When you come to India you get to meet all of them (whether you want to or not) and it is a big part of the magic and enchantment that is India.
6. You get more bang for your buck.
Yup, India is as cheap as everyone says. When I arrived there it became immediately apparent that India was the cheapest country I had ever travelled to. Afterwards, Nepal turned out to be even cheaper, but we aren’t talking about Nepal here. Travelling on a budget had never been easier than when I was in India. Accommodation is cheap, food is cheap and catching the train around the country is cheap.
I flew to Paris from India 2 days ago and I am trying not to pass out as I remember how much more expensive the rest of the world is to India. If you have time and you don’t splurge toooo much you can spend around $15 a day quite comfortably. If you want more “luxury” accommodation and to eat lots of western food you can double that and still have change.
7. The food.
I know, I know. I just wrote about how difficult it can be to find food you like in India. The plus side of this is that it forces you to try new foods and, in my case, end up liking them. Most “normal” people I meet seem to love Indian food before they get there anyway. If you are one of those “normal” people then India will be food heaven for you. India boasts one of the healthiest diets in the world and is paradise for vegetarians. It can be a bit tough if you are a vegan though since ghee (like butter), eggs or cream are used in many dishes.
Once you get a handle on the names of the food and try a few things, you can hone in on what you like and then order it how you like it, gradually increasing the spiciness as your taste buds adjust. My favourite curry is Chicken Sagwala (try it if you get the chance) and I am pretty sure I drank at least one Lassi every day.
8. India is like nowhere else on Earth.
After all, isn’t that the whole point of travelling? To discover new places, people and cultures? As I mentioned earlier, nowhere is more different or unique than India.
Don’t be afraid by the first half of this list. It may be too much for some people but I have seen ALL kinds of people successfully travelling in India. The fact that is has some difficulties just makes it more challenging and therefor more rewarding as a travel destination. When I have asked people their favourite country, more travellers have answered “India” than any other country. This is not for no reason.
India is one of the greatest countries in the world for any kind of traveller, so step out of your comfort zone and start thinking about heading to India. You will never regret it.
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