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India: 10 things you need to know to love India

Guest Post. Traveling in India means traveling among garbage, exhaust fumes and cows and under constant observation. That doesn't sound like a love letter, but India is my favorite travel destination. Before you can love India, there are a few things you should know about the country.

Guest contribution Doreen Schollmeier from the Fernsuchtblog

Incredibly beautiful buildings like the Taj Mahal, women in colorful saris, colorful clouds of color at the Holi Festival or the kitschy Bollywood. These are all things that define “Incredible India” and that we as travelers want to discover there. But in order to really see the beauty of India and not to be taken by surprise by the "Queen of Chaos", you should deal with the country well before traveling to India.

In conversations with other globetrotters and travelers to India I keep repeating the sentence I.I'll never do it again!“ belongs. The phrase has now become something of an acronym for INDIA. But why is India one of the most popular travel destinations in Asia despite the many criticisms from backpackers and the negative headlines?

Very easily! In no other country can you experience such incredible stories and fascinating scenes. Sometimes you end up in the middle of a jubilant wedding party. Sometimes the colored powder is knocked around the ears on the open street. Sometimes a cow hit by a car is taken away in the ambulance under blue lights. Sometimes you become spontaneous from a director as an extra for his latest BollywoodHired stripes in the streets of Mumbai ... Traveling in India has many faces, but also dark sides.

My report is not about begging children, traffic accidents, pickpockets or the unimaginable smog bells over the Indian cities. You already know all of this. Rather, I would like to prepare you for the peculiarities of traveling through India. So what can you expect as a backpacker in India?

10 things you should know about traveling in India

1. Travel like a celebrity

Anonymity and loneliness - you won't find that in India. Indians are very interested in foreigners. And especially off the beaten track, travelers still stand out. If you stroll as a foreigner through Indian streets, numerous heads will turn around to look at you. There is whistle, whispering, laughing and staring, paired with the unmistakable sound of mobile phone cameras. In India every tourist becomes a popular photo object. It is not uncommon for you to get an Indian baby hugged in your arms without a preamble and to pose with it. Soon more and more interested Indians join in to be photographed with the foreigner. And before you know it, a pack of 50 has gathered around you.

From my own experience, I can confirm that this immense attention and the thunderstorm of flashing lights can be very stressful, especially if you really just wanted to drink a lassi in peace. You almost feel like a celebrity, only that you haven't made any contribution to this status. How to deal with the attention and the photography is up to you. Personally, I have found that the easiest way to find peace again is to bow to your fate, smile in a friendly manner and have yourself photographed for the Indian family album. But vehement ignoring is also a way of reacting to the distress.

2. White people as a status symbol

Sounds strange, but that's how it is! It is anything but unusual for a “fair-skinned” tourist to be invited by total strangers to dinner, a wedding or other celebrations without much preamble. What seems strange are mostly just nice gestures and a sign of hospitality. In addition, it is a kind of status symbol for many Indians to be seen with white-skinned foreigners, because many Indians envy Western tourists for their casual, comfortable life. It is up to you whether you accept such an invitation. The motto here is: trust your own gut feeling! I have personally attended a few family dinners and weddings, and mostly those fantastic moments have made India my favorite travel destination.

In the age of global networking and social media, the exchange of contact details with foreigners also plays a major role. As soon as you are spoken to by my Indian, he soon asks for the traveller's Facebook name and mobile phone number. The exchange of contacts is usually limited to a Facebook friend request or an "It was nice to meet you" SMS. Long conversations or long-lasting friendships are very rare.

3. Peel it, boil it, cook it? Forget it!

Our well-protected European stomachs are simply not prepared for a country like India. And no matter how hard you try to adhere to all hygiene rules and not get sick, almost every traveler to India will eventually get diarrhea at some point. Accordingly, you should upgrade your first-aid kit with appropriate means against diarrheal diseases or seek advice from a pharmacy on site. Anyone who cannot pronounce the English word “diarrhea” for diarrhea any more than I can, is helped with appropriate gestures. To do this, simply move your hand back and forth at the level of your buttocks - every Indian will know how to interpret the symptoms of the disease.

Hygiene in India is undoubtedly a difficult issue for backpackers. This applies not only to food, tap water or toilets, but also to accommodation. Let me describe my worst guest room in India figuratively: In a musty, dark room, two rickety beds were put together, the sheets of which were covered with undefined stains. Flies were formatted in the shape of a head on the pillow. The pale pink painted walls were smeared with various liquids, the origin of which I don't want to think about any further. The window panes were broken, the door with its peepholes looked like Swiss cheese.

Admittedly, I am describing the “worst case scenario” that overtook me in a small village in the Himalayan mountains near the Tibetan border. In fact, you can stay overnight very easily and cheaply in India, especially in the more touristy areas. Still, it doesn't hurt to pick up a few more rupees every now and then to avoid stained sheets and bed bugs. If you still have to watch your money, I recommend always having a silk sleeping bag or a ticking sleeping bag in your luggage for your own well-being.

4. The nation of yes-men

Classic situation as a traveler in India: I wave a rickshaw at the side of the road and tell the friendly driver my destination. He nods, we negotiate to the core about the transport price and then I get on the rickshaw. But after 30 minutes of driving it slowly dawns on me: We're going in circles! Because of course the rickshaw driver doesn't know where I'm going. Didn't he nod?

“Yes, no problem” or an affirmative nod does not always mean “yes” in India. Saying no is not particularly popular with Indians. If you ask for directions in India, you will always receive directions, regardless of whether the person asked really knows him. Saying no is frowned upon in India and you are always friendly, helpful and obedient to guests. It is therefore always a good idea to use a map with Indian script to illustrate the destination.

5. Indian English

What's your name?" Answer: Doreen. "Where you're from?" Answer: Germany. "Oh, Germany, good country!" This is roughly how every conversation begins with a local in India. And most of the time it is over after this short geography crash course. Of course, the monotony of conversations in India can be a bit boring for an English-speaking traveler, but not for an Indian. Because the name is very important in India! It provides information about the caste, origin or religion of the other person. The Indian cannot know that this is not the case in Europe.

In the “tourist areas” around Goa, Kerala and Rajasthan, communicating is usually not a problem once you have got used to the Indian accent. English, a remnant of the colonial era and alongside Hindi, is the official language of the country. Off the beaten track, conversations will mostly be limited to a brief exchange of information.

Communicating in India also means communicating using hands and feet. Where we are on the subject of gestures. Yes? No? Maybe? It takes some practice to understand the gestures of an Indian. If the Indian shakes his head from left to right, this gesture cannot be equated with our usual head shaking. The dangling of the head is rather an affirmation. And this gesture comes in a wide variety of forms, from a slight nod of the head in one direction to a horizontal wobbling dachshund head, depending on the intensity of approval. A no, on the other hand, is symbolized by a brief nod of the head towards the shoulder and is often supported by a click of the tongue. The confusion becomes complete when you consider that a brief nod of the head can also mean “Come with me” or, combined with a wink, “Carry on”. But don't worry, with a little practice you will see the difference. You can find more tips on communication here.

6. Men holding hands and the taboo subject of sex

It could hardly be more contradictory: While the exchange of affection between men and women is taboo in public, in India you will repeatedly come across couples of men holding hands. Holding hands with men or caressing each other are considered a gesture of friendship in India and have no homosexual background. Male tourists are also happy to be hugged and touched, so be careful of hasty fallacies!

Women play a subordinate role in India and have to bow to social principles. If a woman is seen too often in male company, she quickly falls into disrepute and is even branded as a whore. Female tourists, who are often classified as permissive and easy to get, also have to grapple with similar prejudices. If a fair-skinned woman walks past a group of teenagers, she is often confronted with whistling, laughter or clicking noises. Ignoring and avoiding eye contact is the best behavior here. In general, as a woman, when traveling through India, you should be careful to dress appropriately and avoid rash physical contact with men.

Sex is also an absolute taboo subject in India and should be avoided in conversations with locals. For the traditional Indian, sex only takes place in marriage, and the rate of sexual education is correspondingly low. Even in Bollywood films, amorous scenes are faded out or symbolized by small flowers and long, intimate glances from the protagonists.

7. Acute lack of toilets

This headline sounds very mundane at first, but it was often a big problem for me when traveling through India. Public toilets are rarely found in India, not even in restaurants or at tourist attractions. Accordingly, you have to "plan" your toilet visits as best you can. While the local men often without hesitation simply stand / crouch on the side of the road to do their business, many Indian women prefer to drink as little as possible.

The low hydration at 25 ° C and above is of course very worrying and just recently I read an article about women in India who collapsed due to insufficient hydration. I myself have often searched desperately in India for a toilet and have found that hotels, guest houses, museums or authorities and ministries have the best chances of a quiet place.

8. German punctuality? Not in India!

Anyone who travels through India as a backpacker needs one thing above all: time! Because as much as we complain about Deutsche Bahn, traffic jams and strikes, India tops everything many times over. If you want to travel cheaply through India, you prefer to use bus and train. However, the following two rules of thumb generally apply. First, the train never leaves on time. Second, the time of arrival is uncertain. So it can well be that you spend several hours on the platform before departure without receiving any further information about the whereabouts of the train. Wait and drink chai is the motto.

It is much worse, however, if the train suddenly rolls into the destination station faster than expected while you are still sleeping peacefully on the wooden cot in the Sleeper Wagon. So that you don't miss your goal, it is advisable to ask other Indian train travelers for help. They will be happy to inform you shortly before your arrival at the destination station, as there are no announcements.

While Indians prove to be incredibly patient while waiting for the train or at the cash register, chaos breaks out as soon as it comes to boarding the drawn-in train or bus. There is pushing and pushing regardless of losses. Queue in line and wait? Not in India! Regardless of whether you are at the ticket office or at the vegetable market, you can push and jostle a lot here.

9. Nothing is free!

Especially not for western tourists in India. No matter whether hotel staff, taxi drivers or tour guides, everyone expects an appropriate tip for their service. In temples or historical buildings, you are often approached casually by locals who accompany you unsolicited through the sight and provide information about it. Shortly afterwards the hand opens and a donation is expected. For this reason, as a traveler to India, you should equip yourself with enough change or reject such services from the outset.

Sightseeing is never free either. On the contrary, as a tourist you pay for almost every stone you look at. And not even a little! While an Indian, for example, only pays an entrance fee of 20 rupees (approx. 25 cents) for the Taj Mahal, a tourist has to pay 750 rupees (approx. € 9.50). There are also fees for cameras or video cameras. So India is not quite as cheap as many travel blogs suggest.

10. Chewing tobacco and spitting

Then there is the spitting thing. Indians love their chewing tobacco and betel nut. And those who are addicted to betel chewing can easily be recognized by their red discolored teeth and damaged gums. Packed in small, colorful plastic bags, there is chewing tobacco practically on every corner and helps many Indians to cope with hunger.

The problem with the thing: Both chewing tobacco and betel stimulate the flow of saliva. If enough tobacco saliva has accumulated in the mouth, the red saliva mixture ends up everywhere with a loud throat and spit noise. It is spat out of the moving car, it is spat in the bus, it is spat in the narrow streets between the crowds.

It is of course unfavorable when the betel and chewing tobacco lover misses his goal. It was not uncommon for the red betel mixture to simply land on my calf. Not particularly tasty and handsome! What is worse, however, is that many Indians are unaware of the negative effects of their betel addiction. Chewing betel not only stains teeth and gums, it is also extremely carcinogenic.

My recommendation: Take it easy!

Opinions about India vary according to mood, tolerance and travel preparation. A package tourist will certainly experience a different India than a backpacker. While some flee the country after less than two weeks, others fall in love to the core.

India is different. India is dirty. India is chaotic. And yes, traveling in India is often exhausting, crazy and nerve-wracking. But if you are aware of all the peculiarities of India, accept them or even take them with a smile, you will soon learn to love India and look behind the chaotic facade of this fascinating country. So for me, INDIA is not an acronym for "I.’Ll Never D.O I.t A.gain ". For me, INDIA stands for "I.Nearly D.ied I.n A.doration ”.

The guest author
This is a guest post by Doreen. Since October 2014 she has been reporting on her travels on her fernsuchtblog.de under the synonym "Isolde MaReisen". In her blog you will also find useful tips for backpackers, outdoor experience reports and delicious soul food recipes from all over the world. Follow her or her trip on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter.

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// Note on image rights betel nut //