Like the saying goes, “Things are never as they appear to be” is the first lesson when travelling in India. Being a land of contrast and diversity many preconceived notions as well as assumptions are either overruled or intensified. There are many things that people perceive to be true about India. When you get there you don’t just know any more, but now have experienced it.
Dress like the Natives
You might think it’s unfair and backwards, but it helps to dress ‘Indian-ish.’ Like the saying goes, “When in Rome do like the Romans.” Dressing Indian shows respect for the culture and its people. It is a bit of a double-standard especially when Indian women show their bellies, but cleavage is not popular. On the flip side, take advantage of the bright coloured shawls (or pashchima.) and throw them over your shoulder. Stay away from shorts or tanks. You could be the subject of what they call ‘Eve’s teasing; the North American equivalent of sexual harassment. With many Westerners going to India today, it is not as rigid as it used to be in terms of wearing traditional saris or looking Indian. In large cities like Delhi and Mumbai, you’ll see both men and women wearing Western clothes. But don’t let this fool you into thinking their attitudes are.
Travel is Risky
Travelling does have potential risks, but don’t let fear take you away from a trip of a lifetime. In 2003, there was an escalated concern of Pakistan and Indian starting WWIII including a travel advisory not to go to India. Because of this I was going to cancel my trip. In the end, I decided to go. When I got to Delhi I learned from the locals that the situation in Kashmir was not any different than before. Down in Kerala (the south of India) people were oblivious to the situation (it was business as usual). Indeed none of the political issues are to be taken lightly. While travelling stay aware, be cautious and if you are concerned register yourself at the Consulate. In the event of a crisis they will at least know where you are.
Death by Disease or Accident
In tropical climates there are usually areas Malaria infected areas. However, with over 1 billion people and crazy drivers I am more concerned with being killed in a traffic accident than contracting Malaria. Statistics show accidents are 3 times higher in countries like India than developed ones. The rule in India is the bigger one has the right away. Many pedestrians and not just foreigners have been killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Hospitality is not a thing of the past in India. If you are lucky enough to befriend some of the locals you will be treated to a home-cooked meal. And if things go well you could experience many home-cooked meals. Nothing compares to an Indian dinner lovingly cooked by an Indian woman.
Being a customer is not the bad end of the stick either. India is full of auspiciousness. It is believed that by giving the first customer a discount it will bring good luck and fortune for the remainder of the day. Simply put, if you have friends tell them to shop there and they’ll also enjoy a discount.
One of the hardest things to deal with is the poverty. Sometimes just coping with it is the best you can do. It can get nasty with beggars following you and tugging at your clothes. Little children also appear cradling a 5-month year old baby; something equally as distressing. Unfortunately, as good as it feels to give money it usually encourages more beggars to arrive on the scene. It’s one of the most difficult things to handle as a foreigner. And interestingly enough, they always spot you first. When faced with such a situation it is wise to remember you are one who has the money to travel to India, the nice clothes and can eat.
Myths, Truths and all that lies in between make learning curve what it is when travelling in India. And I think these nuggets of how things are (or not) help clarify the misconceptions when the situation is not exactly as you dreamed it might be. In fact, India exceeds the tiny dream imagined. The writer Richard Bach once wrote, “The IS has imagined it better than you.”
More about India:
CIA Factbook on India
CDC Health Information for Travelers to India
World Heritage Sites Of India
BBC on the Himalayas
Poverty In India
Despite cell phone boom in India toilet access still lags