They say, you either love it or hate it. There´s no middle way. So they say. And even though I agree with this on one side, I always like to say that where there is a plus there is usually a minus as well. And despite my instant love at first sight with India, there is also something about it I like a little less. Still, I gladly accept those minuses and the positive lovely side of India prevails. I don´t like the word “hate”. It is so strong and kind of violent so I´m not using it here on purpose. I wrote this post mostly for those who are off to India for the first time, but it might still be interesting to read for those who know it also. So, here´s why I love India and why I love it a little bit less.
INDIA, THE ONE AND ONLY
Every country surely is somehow unique in its own way, but I´ve never discovered any other destination which could compare to India. There´s just something intensely memorable about it, almost as if it secretly creeps under your skin like some kind of harmless virus and you still feel it long after you return home. I can´t really explain it any other way, sometimes it´s hard to describe it with words.
Who didn´t have any stomach problems in India? Well, if you really didn´t then consider yourself a lucky unicorn. I can really brag about having quite an insensitive stomach and I practically never get stomach flu and similar illnesses – not at home and not while travelling. But I sure did in India. It wasn´t that bad and it only lasted about 3 days, but yeah it was not a pleasant moment to be honest. Might be due to eating with my hands from day 1 without obsessively disinfecting them (which I never do), but it also might just be simply bad luck. This happens to and it´s all part of the travel fun sometimes.
Yeah yeah I hear you and it´s true that many countries have a little bit of everything and especially those big ones are extremely diverse as well. But it just seems that in India this diversity is even more intense, more powerful and present. From mighty Himalayan mountains with peaks over 7000m, to riding camels in the deserts, diving in the Andaman sea, walks through rice fields, elephants, holy cows, Bengal tigers, Ganges, thousands of temples, festivals, palaces, caves, ashrams, yoga centres, modern cities, the rich and the poor, tasty food, amazing architecture, so many religions, languages and cultures all under just one country. Yes, India is all this and much more. It is huge and diverse and you will not be bored.
POVERTY AND BEGGARS
There are some scenes in India you just can´t escape or close your eyes pretending they don´t exist. Whole families living on side walks. A man without legs, a woman with six toes. Street children. Stray dogs. Rats and streams of pee. Piles of trash. It is heartbreaking and you can feel as bad as you want but there is no way to help them all. Realising this might lead to an even bigger heartbreak, especially if you are a sensitive soul. But no, throwing coins and banknotes at those kids will not help them in the long run, so better not do it only because it will make you feel better about yourselves. Take it all in, think about it in peace, reflect on how you live and what you can do to help in the long run.
TASTY INDIAN FOOD
Of course, everybody´s taste is different, but I simply love Indian food. Since I prefer salty and spicy to sweet and vegetarian to meat every bite of Indian food was a dream for me. Well, except those three days of my stomach bug. My favourite dishes? Masala dosa, aloo gobi, fish curry, thali plate, biryani rice, idly, palak paneer, uttapam, hrustljav naan, paratha and chapati bread and basically anything with lentils. Oh yeah and a salty lassi of course! A hot cup of Indian chai tea in the mornings (otherwise I´m a huge coffee drinker but I really didn´t miss it in India). What I did miss occasionally is a huge bowl of green salad and a glass of good wine, but I survived just fine without it as well.
THE SMELL & THE TRASH
Yup, India often smells good. It smells of flowers, turmeric, coconuts and chillies, incense sticks, sweet chai tea and other things. But at the same time, India also smells bad. Streets smell of urine and trash which too often end in piles on side walks simply because there are too many people and way to less garbage dumps. All those holy cows also do their business on the streets. Sewage systems are not the best everywhere. Plus dead rats. In large cities there´s a big smog problem. This interesting mix of smells might make your stomach turn here and there.
THE COLORS OF INDIA
Oh how I love all those colours! Be it the saris, facades, flowers and veggies in the markets and street stands, jewellery, the dessert sand, orange turbans, a rainbow of Indian spices or the famous Holi festival. It is just very attractive and all this brightens up the days.
Crazy traffic and wild, often dangerous driving on pretty bad roads might be a part of daily life in some other countries too, but it seemed quite extreme in India. I´ve witnessed at least three rickshaws and cyclists accidents which all ended up with a fight about who´s fault it is, but of course there are much worse accidents with dead outcomes happening much to often as well. There also seem to be endless traffic jams and a taxi ride might just equal three hours of people watching through the car window, so plan good in advance if oyu have somewhere to be at a certain time. In India they drive on the left, but anything can come from any direction in anytime. Mostly animals, so be prepared and on alert while walking around.
There are 22 official languages in India but because it used to be an English colony English is widely spoken. Therefore travelling and communicating in English is fairly easy compared to some other countries. Even the Indians themselves often speak in English, especially when they travel to other states in the country.
All that diversity I mentioned above also includes different customs and rituals, which are not always a “good” thing in our more Western perspective at least. One of these is definitely spitting. And loud burps but mostly spitting. Not only in the streets but also in trains for example. It can be rather “funny” in a sleeper train.
If the colours are everywhere, the flowers are as well. Not only all those tropical bushes, also markets are full of them, they decorate the temples, memorials, buses and trucks, they are donated to the gods, they come on your food plates, in the south women put loads of white jasmine flowers in their hair (smells soooo good, I´d wear them every day too haha). In Indian spirituality flowers symbolise purity, strength and selflessness, besides jasmine the holy lotus flower is the most important one. I´ve never seen so many flowers as I did in India and they really just make you good mood somehow.
But all the flowers in the world can´t help with some of the streets smelling like lakes of urine. Because yes, in India men pee in the streets and they are not even hiding it especially. Usually it´s against the walls but it can be literately anywhere, I´ve seen one in the middle of a roundabout, so be prepared. Honestly, form a woman point of view this is just disgusting, but I just read an interesting article about how some states are doing much lately to help revent this behaviour, like building more public toilets and even putting on huge mirrors to the city walls and facades. So let´s hope this gets better with time.
INDIA IS (STILL) A CHEAP DESTINATION
India is (still) a very cheap destination. From Europe you can fly to Mumbai for around 300-400 € return and if you sleep in cheaper rooms without AC, eat street food and choose your transportation wisely plus use some bargaining skills travelling India will be very accessible and wallet-friendly.
MARKETS & SHOPS
I believe visiting local markets is always an adventure of its own and often the best way to get to know the place. This definitely goes for India as well. Crowds, sweating in the heat, bargaining, all those smells and noise. Yeah, it´s great. And you can find anything you want on India´s markets. From fresh vegetables and flowers, to clothes and beautiful fabrics, flowers, fruits, electronics, jewellery, toys and more. I usually don´t buy loads of stuff but I admit, I did went a bit overboard in India. Oops. But in my defence, I´m still wearing those two pashmina shawls and I´ve used most of the silk I bought. Have to admit though, some of those 73 shiny bracelets have mysteriously dissipated during the years. Oops again.
INDIA IS (TOO) LOUD
Many associate India with spirituality, inner peace, meditation, yoga and taking a journey into our souls. But is it always like this? You bet not. India can be SO loud it makes your ears hurt. But you have to listen to it whether you like it or not. I´m not even so bothered by this but I can imagine some are. Car horns and beeps as if it´s a competition who can do it better and more often, loud music from the speakers as it the driver is deaf, all the commotion at the markets and streets and much more. There are a lot of people in India and sometimes it just feels like none of them think others have ears too. But, you can of course find very peaceful places as well. It will just not be in the cities, so don´t expect that.
THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING GOING ON
So many different cultures and people and religions results in the fact there is something going on every day in India. You might want to check the events calendars online, but there´s a good chance you will just bump into some random, events without planning it. Some of the most know festivals include Diwali, Holi, Ganesh festival, Onam and the camel fair in Pushkarju for examples, but then there are also the weddings, temple festivals, Bollywood movie sets (check it out, you can get a part if you´re lucky), local yoga festivals and and and.
So, India can be very loud, hot, shocking, chaotic and wild. Five minutes it smells bad, the next five it smells great. You can love it one moment and dislike it the next. But luckily there is a great way to balance out all that loudness and chaos. Because India can also be that peaceful spiritual place everyone is so raving about. You just need to find your inner peace and / or a perfect place to get into this mode. You can try out one of the meditation centres like Auroville, Osho, Isha Yoga, Sivananda and others, spend some time between the holy cities and temples, attend Ayurveda therapies and go into yourselves.
Last but not least, the people of India. They are somehow special. They are reserved and shy on one hand but they can be over-curious on the other. Staring at the tourists is really not so unusual, some might wave and smile on top of that, some might be also too pushy. I´ve heard some stories with a more negative tone, but I really can´t say noting bad based on my own experiences. We were 3 girls travelling for a month from the south to the north using public transportation including night trains and we had no troubles really. Except for that one or two times we might have paid a bit too much for that rickshaw ride but that´s basically it. One of us has been to India times before though so we knew how to travel and what to expect and this might have helped to our overall good and positive impressions of the country. So besides other things, the people we met played a big role on our trip.
So much from my side about the positive and negative sides of India. I´ve mixed the titles a little bit so that it doesn´t turn out so black and white. As you see there are quite some minuses as well, but despite this, I adore India and take everything that comes with it. It is what it is and everything, the “good and the bad” makes it so special for me. I would not mind a few weeks of India every year, but as always, opinions are different and this post was written based solely on my own personal experiences while travelling India.
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