Since I am back home from 10 months traveling through 9 different countries in Asia most friends and family ask me how I experienced India. Before I went to India I either heard stories about people totally loving it, or tales of friends who never want to go there again. I have been in India for one month, way too short for a complete impression. But I can say India, I hate it and I love it.
The photographs we shot of India mostly show the unbelievable beauty of the country. I have seen the most magical palaces and fortresses, gorgeous colorful dressed people, marvelous temples, sophisticated architecture and of course I have tasted the most delicious curries and thalis. But India also has a less magical side, which is one of the reasons why we were for months in doubt whether we would go or not. In the end our curiosity for a spiritual adventure made us take a leap of fate and our tickets were booked.
When we decided to go, I was wide aware of the fact that India is the most polluted country in the world. That woman can’t wander the streets at night alone and are advised to wear a wedding ring at all time to prevent of being harassed by men. We prepared ourselves for the worst, we even questioned ourselves rather we would bring pepper spray or not? But India didn’t shock me like I thought it would and I recommend everyone who still is in doubt to go.
Slowly getting into it
Honestly arriving for the very first time in India we were a bit nervous when we walked out of Delhi airport. I felt relieved to be welcomed by a smiling Indian man. Delhi is one of the most chaotic and overwhelming cities of India. From the backseat of the taxi, I saw gypsies sitting underneath a tent made of branches and plastic. There were traffic jams in either direction of the road, it’s a chaotic sight full of cars, rickshaws, cows, kids selling fruits and dogs. So many dogs. Some people sleep next to the road, others are looking for food in the garbage, transporting heavy goods on their back or begging for money. The nonstop sound of klaxons dazzled me. It took me a while to believe I was actually in India. At our hotels we are welcomed by bowing and always smiling porters, with impressive curly mustaches, enormous turbans and dressed in a uniform. But India is full of contrasts. When we walk through the gates and enter the slums we pass massive piles of garbage. A huge pig lays in the middle of it while a lonely little girl grabs a half eaten sandwich she finds in between the mess. I feel embarrassed looking at her, but I can’t help it. To her, this is a daily routine while I wonder what would have become of her if she was born in another country. Although I see it with my own eyes, I still find it hard to believe how our world is divided. When I compare this India trip to Japan, I just can’t believe both countries are on the same planet.
What to expect when traveling in India?
In India, you have to get used to some weird habits and standards that are very different than you are used to. First of all, prepare your ears for the non-stop sounds of India. It is never quiet. Indians love to use their horns when driving even when it doesn’t make any sense. In the middle of a conversation people burb right in your face and spit on the floor all the time. You always get a ”yes” when you ask something, but it often means yes and no because most Indians are too polite to say no. It’s the same as the typical ”head nudge”. They leave it up to you to judge if it is a yes or a no. To prevent a misunderstanding be as clear as you can until there is no doubt anymore. Chaos is the best word to describe Indian roads. Drivers weave all over the road and overtake from both sides. To actually cross a road the best thing to do is follow everyone else and keep your arms wide to stop drivers. They are used to this and will stop. Let go of the idea to be anywhere right on time, because this is a true challenge in India. When you book a bus trip, be prepared for the worst, don’t ask too many questions, close your eyes, bring nausea pills, listen to your favorite music and be ok with arriving whenever. Locals are very eager to become your friend and want to have their picture taken with you. Remember their intentions are good, but it is ok to say no. In India, there is a saying that ”guests are Gods” and tourists are well treated. Within one minute you”ll find a couch to crash on Couchsurf. Although it is safe, you have to do your research. Being two women we checked all the reviews. Don’t take the words ”spacious” and ”comfortable” too serious and be aware that not everyone has a shower. But showering with a bucket –from my own experience – can be quite refreshing as well!
My best advice is to always keep in mind that In India the impossible is possible. When you think the bus will fit 20 people in India there will fit 40 people and a cow and two sheep.But, if you’re in doubt, just go and experience the country for yourself. India is overwhelming, chaotic to the max, intoxicating, squalid, exasperating, daunting and beautiful at the same time. I have only seen a small part of it. The hottest one, Rajasthan, I immediately fell in love with. In the coldest and cleanest province, Himachal Pradesh, I was amazed by the snowed mountain peaks of the Himalayas. I am blessed that due to Meet You at the Bridge we could stay in beautiful royal villa’s and former palaces. But that we also experienced living with locals. We spend our last night on one of the million rooftops of Delhi with our couch surf sharing a home cooked meal. Walking around in the blue city Jodhpur people invited us in for chai tea and a little tour in their small but cozy homes. Always welcoming us with a gentle bow with their hands pressed against each other. Namasté.
My first encounter with India is definitely not the last. There is no doubt about traveling to India anymore. Although I kept my fingers crossed until we reached our next destination, I am glad we finally went. We captured our most beautiful and interesting photographs so far and I am tempted to explore the rest of it!