Love story or horror story…it seems like everybody who visits India has one or the other and never anything in between. Yes, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea (though you can get a good one there). However, when I think of places I didn’t like, it’s partly because my expectations were off base. Let me try and help you avoid such a scenario by sharing things I wished somebody would’ve told me before my trip to India.
You will be overwhelmed: I know this isn’t a news flash but still, India is overwhelming and NOTHING will prepare you for this. From the smells, to being overcrowded, air pollution to noise (OH MY GOD THE NOISE!) and their traffic. No matter where you’re from, I’m not sure anything can prepare for the chaos that is traffic in India. People, cars, rickshaws, cows…it’s madness. I just never got use to the noise and worse, it never seemed to end. Since you can’t make it go away, just accept it and focus on places to go, things to do, food to try. It’ll help you tune out the noise.
Everybody speaks English: Though India is home to a LOT of languages (447 living languages to be precise), English is spoken everywhere. Yes, Hindi is the most well known native tongue, but English is like a common second language. Point here is, relax. Communication and navigation might be easier than you expect.
Wiggle wiggle wiggle: I never heard of the head wiggle. Even after I got here, and experienced it, I still can’t tell you what it was. A head wiggle can mean “yes”, but it can also mean “no”, “maybe”, “hello”, “I like you”, “okay”, “oh dear god why”, and many, many more things its very confusing. So when in doubt, just wing it!
It’s a sausage fest: The male/female ratio in India is sadly super distorted due to female infanticide and a preference for male heirs. It can be quite intimidating when you’re walking down the street, or shopping in a store, and you just see…men. I didn’t feel unsafe per se but I did feel intimidated. Where are the women? Apparently they’re supposed to stay at home so you know…(insert eye-rolling emoji here)
They will stare and ask for selfies: ALOT! Not because you’re all that, but because many Indians may have never seen someone that looks like you. It’s strange. I’ll admit, it made me feel a bit like a celebrity. But it’s just curiosity for them. Most Indian tourists go on holiday to a big city like Delhi to see the sites. Meeting a foreigner and having photographic proof is a good story for them to take home, I guess. Tourist beware, once you say yes to one, expect a crowd around you for pics.
WiFi is rarer than unicorns: How can an I.T. powerhouse like India have crappy wifi? Beats me but it sucks. Workable wifi is easy to find in tech hubs like Bangalore, but once you’re out of the (really) big cities, say goodbye to the wifi. My advice? buy a local SIM card. It should cost five bucks to have unlimited data. Unfortunately my phone was locked (thanks Sprint!), but if you can avoid my situation, the SIM’s your ticket.
Best Chai is from the street: I spent 20 days in India and everywhere I went, I tasted great chai and always on the street. Skip the cafe; stick with the nearest chai stall.
They have the best smiles: People in India have beautiful smiles. From the didis ( a respectful form of address to any older woman; dada to address men) to the young schoolboys, if you smile, expect an absolutely brilliant one back ‘atcha!
Cover up: India is modern and extremely traditional so women should cover up – if they wear something tight or revealing, it may stand out and not in a good way. Instead try something loose and comfortable. Don’t bring any expensive, delicate clothes either because traveling through India can be rough on them.
Food is AMAZING!: You may have a great local Indian restaurant that serves up a nice Chicken Tikka Masala but it will be blown away by the real thing. Sweet, savory, and spicy all at once. It’s complex in a way that beats anything I tried elsewhere. Plus there are creamy sauces with doughy breads, and tender meat and vegetables to make the slop of dreams. It’s aromatic and sophisticated yet unpretentious. Hell, you can get a better-than-decent plate for less than a 2$. I didn’t leave disappointed and trust me, you won’t either.
Bring toilet paper: I know this may sound weird but it’s hard to find toilet paper in Indian restaurants. This is because people clean with a spray bidet. This is, in fact, an easier, cheaper, and more hygienic method but let’s face it, not the norm for a lot of people.
Not everyone gets “Delhi belly”: This is true for everyplace you visit but if you want to avoid food poisoning do your research. If you want to avoid getting “Delhi belly” I suggest you book a food tour with a professional or stick to: hot foods, no ice, fruits you can peel (banana, mango, orange) and just be smart about it.
You can drink water: This was one of the most absurd things I heard from people regarding India. Of course there is drinkable water but be smart about it. They have safe drinkable water fountains in museums or in the street, but if you don’t feel comfortable just don’t drink it, just order bottle water and be done with it. No need to panic!
Not everyone is out to scam you: I read countless of travel forums on how all they want to do is scam tourists, and that’s not entirely true and it’s honestly offensive. The majority of people are honest and are expected to be paid honest pay for honest work. You will of course engage in situations where they try jack up the price, but if the hassel isn’t worth it move on and buy from another vendor. Simple as that!