In the first part of my article about India you got to know the essentials about what to eat in India, how to deal with different kinds of transportation, whether to get vaccinated before your departure and many more.
This article aims at important lessons about Indian culture, tips about what to wear and how to behave, and plenty of other useful information that will for sure come in handy while wandering India. I feel like I should repeat the most important piece of advice that I gave you last time because in general, that’s all you need to know:
Try to suppress your ego as well as western way of thinking, and adapt to the environment without constant complaining that nothing works properly, everything is dirty and stinky. If you start looking at things from their positive side at every cost, India will show you its most amazing side and you will have the time of your life.
Information for women
North India is a testosterone-ridden area which means that as a woman you don’t mean much. What you can experience in reality is that a man won’t look you straight in the eye while you’re talking to him or he will answer your question to a man who is standing next to you. I am used to this cultural trait and don’t mind it at all but some of you might get offended. Well, don’t. There’s not much you can do about it so just try to deal with it.
I am really tall compared to the local women and men as well so I’ve never really had any problems while traveling alone. There are some horrendous stories I’ve heard from my female friends about broken bones, rape attempts, and one of my friends even got stabbed to death. As a rule of thumb, I’d say don’t go out late at night or at least avoid quiet creepy streets. When taking a train, travel in lady’s compartments where you will feel more secure and you won’t have to test your patience while Indian men shamelessly peer at you.
Rules for both men and women
To be honest with you, if you keep smiling at people, greet others politely with namaste (ji) and if you try to be nice in general, everyone else will treat you the same and maybe even better. The Indians will invite you to their homes and will try to treat you with the best food and tea they can find. In 99% of the time, they’re not doing it for money but in order to make you happy. A lot of them may not have ever seen a foreigner in their lives so you’ll also be a bit of a spark in their otherwise poor and monotonous lives.
Also, be very patient. I know, I know, it’s something rather impossible to ask for but… The saying “time is money” is certainly not known in India where time is regarded as a relative concept. Hours fly by and the life is as miserable as always. No one will work fast and efficiently because wages are so small that they’re not worth hurrying for.
Did you book a cab and the driver arrived 45 minutes later than he was supposed to? Yelling at him won’t help you at all. It is better to take tardiness as a fact and count with it from the very beginning. If, however, you book your cab with a travel agent, the driver might be more punctual than you. 😉 Did you buy a souvenir and it fell apart the next day? Try exchanging it or jus buy another (ridiculously) cheap one. Has your train been delayed? I know people who had to wait for 21 hours for their train to come! What I’m trying to say is keep repeating to yourself: things could always be worse. Take a deep breath and try to put up with it otherwise you won’t enjoy your vacation and you might even curse India forever. Also, if you start yelling at the Indians, they might yell back angrily or worse – show you their backs, walk away and you’ll be doomed.
This advice is mostly for women. I am sure you have noticed that most Indian women are clothed from top to bottom except when wearing a sari. I understand that it’s difficult for a Westerner to even conceive the idea of wearing something other than shorts and sleeveless shirt at 110F. It’s not such a big faux pas to be dressed like this in the south but believe me it is a big deal in North India where being dressed in this way partially borders with disrespecting Indian culture. For an average Indian, seeing a girl dressed in tiny shorts and a mini T-shirt is as if you saw a girl in lace lingerie strolling downtown with a backpack on her back. Moreover, I’m certain I don’t have to remind you of all those raping cases that India is famous for…
So please, ladies, be smart. Pack only things that will cover your legs completely (or at least a little below your knees) and some loose T-shirts without any plunging neckline. If you want to wear a sleeveless T-shirt, wrap a light scarf around your shoulders and even head – serves as a great protection from the sun, too! Please, especially respect covered shoulders and legs while visiting temples or mosques. If you don’t have such clothes at home, never mind. You can buy very cheap and comfortable clothes in India. Even better – buy some nice fabric and get a bespoke Indian-style clothing! You won’t find a more authentic souvenir than this!
Oh those eternal lies…
Lying is an Indian national sport. Most of the time, they will lie to you just to see that their answer satisfied you. In worse cases, the lie was meant to get rid of you. Let me give you an example: you’re looking for a hotel names Shakti but you can’t find it anywhere. So you ask the first Indian you see (a taxi/ rickshaw driver would be a great choice) how to get there. He will pause, think for a moment and then will apathetically wave his arm in the direction of the hotel and say 2 minutes. You will take the lane and 500 yards later you will realize that the hotel can’t be there. So you walk back while cursing that Indian driver. You ask again someone else (who looks more intelligent and speaks better English) who will give you directions without a slight hesitation. Guess where this will take you… So before you believe someone, ask a few more people. If their direction matches, you should be all right. If you keep taking various streets back and forth at 110F with a huge backpack on, you’ll start hating India sooner than you could have imagined.
Oh, my favourite – a rickshaw driver will swear that he knows how to get you to the hotel, you will agree on a price and then 20 yards later, he will stop to ask a shopkeeper or a friend for directions! 😀
Don’t get too mad at them for lying, though. Sometimes they really mean well. It’s just that they’re shy to say that they have no clue. So remember – don’t automatically believe everything you hear and take all the answers with discretion if you want to keep some of the peace of mind that you have still left. 😉
The famous Head tilt
Just as the Italians have their famous gestures, the most known one for the Indians is tilting their heads accompanied with a slightly bored I-don’t-care attitude written all over their faces. Even though we might find it strange, this tilt means YES. Don’t look too much into their facial expression nor take it personally; it’s just the way they do it. It’s also infectious and I’m sure that by the end of your stay you’ll be doing the same! 😀
SIM cards, phone calls, and data
Getting a new SIM card isn’t difficult. Go to the first stall where you can top up your phone. In order to get one, you will need a photocopy of both your passport and visa and one passport-size picture. There’s nothing easier and cheaper than getting a new set of passport pictures in India so you don’t have to bring any extra ones from your home. You will have to fill out a form, pay around 200 rupees for your new SIM card and that’s about it!
Calling as well as data is very cheap in India but if you do plan on travelling around the country, be sure to activate roaming (around 30 rupees for 30 days) otherwise calls will cost you way more.
Pick pocketing and waiting in lines
Unfortunately, I don’t have much to say about this topic. I always go with my instinct which sometimes allows me to leave my bags in the middle of a train station, go for dinner, come back, and all the bags will still be there waiting for me…
I’m sure there will be many people who got robbed but generally, I believe that India is not that bad – at least not in the countryside. I also think that the Indians tend to treat us nicely and with respect since we are visitors in their country: some paperwork will be done for you faster than for others, you won’t have to wait at the counter for too long, or you’ll be given a better seat… Yes, those are small things but you can tell the difference. I guess that the only thing where you might not be served before everyone else is in shops. Actually, if you keep waiting for your turn, you might as well extend your visa because you’ll be in that line forever… As soon as you enter a store, you need to say “ba-ee” (literally brother) to get the shopkeeper’s attention and then immediately tell him what you’re looking for. It doesn’t matter that there are people waiting to be served, really. It’s just another Indian custom. (Frankly, I’m not very fond of it as my mom tried to teach me some manners… If I’m not in a hurry, I do wait for my turn. If my turn never comes and I’ve been in the shops for some 10 minutes already, the shopkeeper usually sees my despair, and asks me “Yes?”)
There is this new “trend” among beggars which I absolutely loathe: mothers drug their toddlers so that wouldn’t cry while standing on a street and begging tourists to buy some milk for them. And that’s not all. The milk that you buy at the nearest store with –of course – good intention will be returned once you leave. The mother will get some change from the shopkeeper in return. I’ve recently read an article on this topic and the author said that many babies actually die while their mothers are begging for money. Since these mothers apparently have their “pimps”, they need to keep begging till her “working hours” are done – with her dead baby in her arms.
I only give money to the handicapped and not always because – let’s be honest – there are so many beggars in India that I would have to be a Rockefeller to satisfy them all. Another problem is that when you give some change to a small kid, another twenty of them will appear from nowhere. And they won’t let you go easily…
Don’t be a hero
I know exactly what it’s like when you’re full of enthusiasm while traveling: you want to try new things, taste every dish you’ve never had before… Not only is India a country of diverse cultures, but also of diverse bacteria you might have never come across with. This being said, our Western bodies don’t really know how to tackle Indian bacteria which usually results in diarrhea. If you, however, underestimate them, you might end up in the hospital. So use your common sense, don’t eat at street stalls unless you really know your body can handle it, keep yourself hydrated (buy electrolytes in sachets which really help) and never strain yourself too much. If your body gets exhausted, your immunity gets weaker and you can deduce what could happen next. You are visiting a Third World country after all.
As I mentioned before, your mental state is very important too. So try to stay calm, adapt to the way things “work” in India, live in the present moment, forget about your problems and let yourself get carried away by Incredible India.
Do you have similar stories to share? Or maybe some questions? Don’t hesitate – I’d like to hear them all! 🙂