India – 12 things that I was astonished or shocked about
December 30, 2018
Visiting India was on my bucket list since my teenage years. Its buildings, colours, people, stories and mostly the world of “difference” amazed me on every picture or in any documentary.
Many years later I found myself buying a flight ticket to the Budapest-Delhi route and I started concretely planning my trip. According to the original plan I would have traveled with a friend of mine, who at the end didn’t have the time. Then another friend backed out. Finally I was alone for the escapade. Now I definitely can say that for me this trip was a big adventure.
I lived through huge heights and depths: I was happy and sad, I laughed and cried, I opened up to new friends and spent time by myself, I saw countless of miracles and I experienced some disappointments, I was positively amazed by certain things and many times I flinched, I felt safe in general but sometimes I felt bit of fear, I ate delicious and less tasty food, I’ve tried out all forms of transport except traveling on live animals, I spent a few days on the island of peace and emerged in incredibly hectic places. During the most exciting journey of my life I have experienced the greatest cultural shock (although I have already been around some places).
Now I have collected some things that I’ve found a bit odd or shocking. These are totally based on my personal experiences and feelings, nothing else. The order is completely random.
1) Beach time a bit differently
It is well known that in Hinduism the cow is one of the sacred animals. It’s not only that Hindus don’t eat beef, the animal is being divinized (my Indian companions, whom I met in Jaipur, then went to Agra and Delhi with, said that cows are basically considered gods). Cows in India do what they want and when they want and as a result of it it’s absolutely normal that they chill on the beach in the sand in the evening enjoying the sunset and watching the marveling people in full peace with their big boo-eyes. Of course cows can be seen anywhere, not only in an idyllic setting like this, but it has been the most eye-catching thing for me as I have seen cows wandering around in Sri Lanka, but them having some full-on beach time, I first experienced in India.
2) What makes us having chills, it’s part of the everyday life there
Less people know (I admit that I have never heard of it before…) that there are a few sacred animals other than the cow in Hinduism. The rat is one of them. So if it is not enough to see cows walking around everywhere, no worries, there are places, parks where we can observe whole little, “cute” rat families just hanging out all day being fed by humans. For us something like this is inconceivable (at least the feeding part)… But hey, as the picture below shows, it is absolutely possible to live with the little rodents together!
3) What ought to be taught – queuing
I’ve noticed that people in India are very good at lining up. Concretely at queuing. Honestly, I’ve never seen before so many people waiting at a gate or cashier registry standing so nicely in one line, so close to one another that they breathe in each other’s ears. For me, this was super annoying at first, and of course I let them know my displeasure, trying to move back a few steps. Also I have often looked over my shoulder and tried to pass the message with my eyes. Then after a while I gave up on my effort trying to keep my private zone private. I realised that if I’m not standing on someone’s back, they think I’m not even waiting in a line, so they came in front of me.
4) Food is spicy – all of it
I’s not a big surprise to hear that Indian cuisine is extremely rich in seasoning and Indians love to use chilli to prepare their meals. The truth however is that even if they say it’s not hot at all, it still will be at least a little bit. In addition, in many of their dishes you’ll experience the hotness twice, if you know what I mean… Even in hotels. Where – as a waiter says – they cook for tourists, so there is nothing to worry about. Well, there is! I went into a McDonald’s in Delhi (I was so hungry and I didn’t dare to eat on the street for several reasons) in Chandi Chowk Bazaar and ordered a cheeseburger. Guess what? Well, I was hoping for the best, but the green sauce in it was of course spicy.
5) What’s (not) proper in India and at home
The normal habit of an average everyday life is burping (loudly with open mouth!) and spitting. After meals they express with burping that they liked the meal. Well, the burping itself is not so strange or astonishing as it happens at home too – though not used as a signal, and in many cases we try to keep it as private as possible. What is more irritating is the spitting. Imagine walking on the sidewalk and the merchant who is sitting in front of his little shop spits right in front of you. It did happen to me and thank God I wasn’t walking faster as I would have received some of it for sure. Unfortunately I can’t add a photo to this one 😀
6) “A picture, please?”
It is quite common in India that a white person can only walk through the streets feeling the eyes of the locals drilled into their backs. Sometimes they were even pointing at me while they were whispering, of course knowing that I was acknowledging that I see them and I know they are talking about me. But they didn’t care.
For many, however, this was not enough. They wanted me to smile on their pictures that they can put in their family albums and show to relatives and friends. Often I felt like I was Heidi Klum (here I apologize immediately to Ms Klum – obviously we are not the same calibers…). Obviously this photo things is not so surprising, happens in many countries. What I found interesting was that mostly women asked me for a picture, or children were pushed into my arms (in spite of any of my efforts, they were not at all enthusiastic), and the elderly were very brave. Younger boys were taking selfies of themselves with me in the background, pretending as nothing was happening.
In India, before getting into a taxi or a rickshaw, we should agree in advance on the price. On top of that it’s also best to have the change to pay the exact amount to the driver, otherwise we can get into some conflicts, despite the agreement. It happened in Delhi that I had to get to the hotel from the train station. As it was dark already I didn’t want to take the public transport by myself so I hired a taxi. I told the driver that the hotel is near XY Square and I also showed him on the map the exact location. He said, of course, no problem, he knows where the place is and also how to get there. We agreed on the price (obviously he was overpaid anyway) and when we arrived, the gentleman didn’t want to give me back the change, saying that he’d taken me much further than we agreed. By then he forgot that I showed him the destination on the map. At first I behaved as a well-raised girl and I tried to explain him that a deal is a deal but at the end unfortunately I had to raise my voice against him. It wasn’t about a big amount, I didn’t do it for the money. I argued because we agreed on something. And if I let him do what he wants he’ll do the same with others (well, obviously he does it anyway). Finally he gave me back my change.
Unfortunately, everyone warned me, even locals, that we have to be careful with the taxi and the rickshaw drivers, so please be aware of this!
8) Where and how
Sometimes drivers (whether rickshaw or taxi) don’t exactly know where the passenger is to be taken. Despite this fact they agree to the ride as they need to make money.
It happened in Jaipur that one of my two new Indian friends organized the rickshaw ride for me in the evening with a young man around his middle twenties. We started off nicely in direction, and of course I was tracking the ride on my GPS (I did this in India all the time) to see if we are definitely on the right track. First it seemed that everything was fine and I didn’t have to worry. But suddenly the driver started moving in another direction. I admit that I was frightened, my pulse doubled and my heart was beating in my throat. Immediately I screamed at him (the ones who know me are aware of the height of pitches I can hit and how scary that can sound) that hey, this is not the right direction. The guy suddenly pulled aside, turned back at me (I saw the fear in his eyes) and thanks to my GPS he finally took me to my hotel. So ladies and gentlemen, use your GPS, wether you travel with someone or by yourself.
In Delhi I also had to navigate the taxi driver to the hotel through my GPS.
I would like to say that I am convinced that they were not deliberately taking me in a different direction, simply they had no idea about the exact way. But because they grab every single opportunity to make money, they take almost any kind of ride. Please, in every single case make sure to be careful and always move around with eyes wide open.
9) Walking in the bustle
Crossing the road on foot can look like a very well-designed suicide attempt. Gliding across cars, hundreds of rickshaws, trucks, bikes, carriages, carts is very brave. However it’s necessary as if we don’t do it, we’ll just stay in one place. There is no right of way for pedestrians in India. Not even on the zebra. In fact, not even if the lights are red for drivers. In Delhi alone I found the situation a little better. It turned out later this is because the police checks in the capital are much more frequent and serious and so are the sanctions. It’s good to be super attentive even in Delhi as well though! I figured that when crossing a road, in some cases the basic steps of the Hungarian folk dance can be practiced quite well.
10) Those damned amounts
I knew that they would try to sell everything to tourists at multiple prices, let it be a service or anything tangible (even food), but I wouldn’t have thought in my boldest dream that for example the Taj Mahal entry ticket for foreigners will cost 22x !!! more than for Indian citizens. The situation is not too different in case of other sights either, there is a 10x higher amount than to the locals. Of course, these entry fees are still not horribly expensive, though there were sights where I was surprised and I rather skipped the visit. Such was for example the Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi where they asked for 300 rupees (4 EUR). And for the Red Fort I found the 600 rupees (8 EUR) too much, though I only realized that when I visited. The Agra fort is much more beautiful and enjoyable and very similar to the one in Delhi.
11) Life and its circumstances
Those who are not too much into the masses, chaos, dirt and smog, and who cannot bear the sight of people having cruel lives, including children, should not travel to India because they will return home with great disappointment.
India is a huge country and I saw only a tiny part of the north, where perhaps the situation is somewhat worse than in the south (based on the stories of my Indian travelers). There is an extra overpopulation in the country, a lot of people do not have a job, they can hardly survive on day-to-day basis. There is a tremendous misery in many places, great poverty. It is so difficult to describe it by words. It can be felt when looking into the eyes of an old bicycle rickshaw rider or an old man who has been crouching over a sewing machine on the street for years. Or an old lady who walks through the beach in the heat with her heavy bags every day and tries to sell some fruits for a few rupees. Even though she always had a smile on her face, I knew that the tiny wrinkles around her eyes are not the result of constant happiness.
12) Life is beautiful when not alone
An Indian friend of mine after my return asked me if I would go back to India. I immediately said yes, absolutely. At the same time I admitted that if I wanted to be honest with myself and my fellow females, I would not go back alone. And not because I found it particularly dangerous. But because I found the moments much more enjoyable when I wasn’t walking alone, when I didn’t need to follow the GPS, when I didn’t weave conspiracy theories in my brain. Indeed, all the admonition about the country got into my head (I think it can happen especially to solo female travelers), so I was much more alert and tense and I was less able to live through the moments. That is why I am grateful for my fellow travelers who I have crossed paths with and then shared some amazing moments together!
Based on the above, it can seem that India has not stolen my heart. It is indeed true that I’ve lived trough a lot of shock factors that I didn’t calculate with, now I know though that I did like India a lot! But I do not think that one can get prepared for India – I don’t think so. If I had to describe India in one word, I would say: colorful. In every way it’s more colorful than all the shades of the rainbow. And that’s exactly what’s so beautiful and interesting about it. So who embarks it with an open heart and a recipient mind, will have the experience of a lifetime. And it does not matter if at the beginning we feel bittersweet about what we see and experience, because after all the swirling feelings are settled, the beautifully colorful world that characterizes India will be fully revealed. And we’ll want to go back and get more of her.