Before we arrived in India over two months ago, I wrote about our excitement and reservations about travelling to one of the world’s most populated countries. I can say now, that in that post, I was being polite – Mike and I were actually shitting ourselves at the thought of seven weeks in India.
After the first few days in Delhi, I again wrote about how impressed we actually were with our time so far – that up to that point it was nowhere near as bad as we thought it was going to be – the fear we expressed in that previous post was put to rest.
Now that our time in India is over, we can wholeheartedly say that most of the negative things that you read and hear about India are exaggerated hugely. We came here expecting one thing, but leave knowing what India is really like – and so much more.
We thought we’d share some REAL facts about what India is really like to travel, and what you can expect if you ever have the wonderful opportunity to visit this fascinating country.
- Everyone speaks English. With so many local languages, English is the one language that unites all of India – everyone knows a little, some speak it very well, and most are fluent. You should never really have a problem communicating with anyone.
- Indian people are some of the friendliest people we’ve met on our travels. They are a very happy people – even though the majority have so little, they still wish to share with you what they do have – it’s incredibly heartwarming.
- Not everyone is trying to screw you over. In fact, I don’t feel like we got screwed over once. Bargaining is part of the culture, and you can usually get what you want for the price you wish to pay, or near enough.
- The ‘Indian head bobble’ is most definitely a thing! It will leave you both confused and bemused – even by the end of our trip we didn’t know if it meant yes, no, maybe, ok – and everyone does it!
- School groups and buses full of children shouting “Hello hello!” is probably the sweetest thing ever – say hello back, you’ll make their day.
- Just like most cultures, Indians love to take selfies. You’ll be overwhelmed with requests for “one selfie please?” and feel like you’re a celebrity, but oblige – it only takes a minute or two.
As a Female
- I’ve never been so respectfully addressed anywhere else – both men, women and children call me Miss or Ma’am or ask my name and use it.
- After being told that men would not address me, I can safely say that’s not the case – every greeting or thank you I would give with was returned with a warm smile and a “Goodnight Ma’am” or “You’re welcome Ma’am”. Sometimes I’d notice that when I was with Mike that they’d often address him first however any question I’d ask was always responded to politely.
- I always make an effort to dress modestly in countries such as India, so I can’t say I experienced any leering or stares or rude comments. I’m sure that some people probably did stare – after all I look different to them – but no more than the stares I’ve received in other countries.
- On reflection, I’d say that if you are a female and want to travel India by yourself, that if you keep your wits about you that you shouldn’t really encounter any problems. I never felt unsafe, but I would probably come back with a girlfriend at least – just because I get lonely!
- Cows really are everywhere – from the bustling roads of Delhi, beach side in Kerala and outside monument gates. They’re harmless though – just step aside as they pass you. Lots of cows means lots of cow pats – watch where you walk!
- Goats, pigs and sheep are also very common, but more so in quieter cities and residential areas than bustling roads. Once again, they are harmless too – more preoccupied with eating than they are with you!
- Dogs vs Cats: We’ve not seen many cats around at all, but dog lovers, you’re in for a treat – they’re everywhere. They’re very used to humans – we never came across any that weren’t friendly. They love a good pat, so give them a scratch when you can. Lots of dogs means lots of puppies – finding them has been one of my highlights!
- Rodents – thankfully, we never had any in our rooms but it can happen. The place we’d see them the most was train stations – if you’re not a fan of them, don’t look onto the tracks – it’s the stuff of nightmares!
- India is dirty, that’s for sure but its not as bad as we were expecting. People tend to keep their personal areas – their homes, shops – free of rubbish, sweeping it away. It will accumulate in piles and is unsightly, but they do what they can considering the lack of waste disposal systems. We found the north dirtier than the south. Do your bit and keep rubbish with you to dispose in bins.
- Public urination is definitely a thing, and you will likely see this happening more than once during your travels. Public ‘urinals’ tended to be the only places we found that smelt bad, but it lasted only a few seconds as you’d walk/drive past. We saw it happen much less in the south – there were actually lots of posters and signs asking people to use toilets rather than go outside.
- Security is pretty full on at both major sights as well as places like major shopping malls and cinemas – metal detectors, bag checks and frisks are very common.
Traffic is mad in India, especially the bigger cities. However, most bigger cities have public transport systems in place – try out the metro – it’s not scary to use and super efficient! For getting around short distances, try auto-rickshaws – they can weave in and out of busy situations better than a car.
- Trains are the way to go for any long distance travel. We found trains stations easy to navigate, trains fairly on time and comfortable, and safe. Always keep your belongings with you and lock them up overnight.
- Bring snacks for long journeys – only the Shatabdi trains include food, and all others will rarely stop long enough at a station for you to jump off to make a purchase and get back on before it takes off!
- Whilst accommodation can be dirt cheap in India, you also get what you pay for. India is a place where if you can spend a little more – it’s well worth it. The cheapest room we got was $15 a night, the most expensive was $70, but on average we paid around $25 a night. Rooms were clean, linen was fresh, had private bathrooms, were centrally located and had free wifi – not bad at all.
- Showers tend to have either good water pressure or hot water – never usually both together. Hot water is quite rare so make good use of it when you have it!
If you’re like us and have lots of gadgets to charge at night – two phones, two laptops, a camera battery and GoPro battery – this can be somewhat difficult. Most rooms tend to only have one power point and this is usually always positioned somewhere awkward like a metre off the floor. The charging points tend not to hold your adaptors either, leading to a careful stacking of all your belongings to create a ‘charging surface’ for your gear… #firstworldproblems #butseriouslyitssoannoying
- Toilet paper is your best friend in India. Always have some on you – nearly every store on the street will sell you a roll for about $1. Public bathrooms and restrooms on transport rarely have any toilet paper.
- Don’t drink the water. As much as we are advocates of keeping plastic bottle usage to a minimum (we have filtered bottles), the water can be quite discoloured, and tastes very different. You can get 2L bottles of water for about 50 cents.
- Try different food and be adventurous – its part of the fun! It’s hard to say whether you will or won’t get sick – I was struck down once by pasta in a 5 star hotel, another from a vegetable curry – but never by meat! Our tip would be if you’re trying something ‘adventurous’ to not do this before a long travel day as this is never fun. Always have some sort of anti-diarrhoea medication on you, and also some antibiotics if it doesn’t appear to be getting better.
These are just a few points that give you an insight of what travel to India – its people, its environment, things us travellers take for granted – what it’s really like. India is not a country that you visit for a 5 star luxury vacation – you come to experience a culture and way of life completely alien to the western world, you come to challenge yourself, to be humbled, to understand how totally and utterly lucky we are to come from where we do, with the opportunities and systems that are in place to ensure we all have the best chance at life.
You come to India to become a different person, not better, not worse, just different, The things we have seen, the people we have met and the experiences we have had during our time here have definitely left their mark on us, in the best possible way.
Have you been to India? What did you discover that was different to what you expected, or was completely exaggerated? Let us know in the comments below!