There’s no substitute for the real India…..
If India was a person, I’d describe him/her as colourful, vibrant, confident, full of interesting things to tell and show you, open, honest, no pretences, bold, extrovert, in your face and proud about it.
India doesn’t try to hide its weaknesses, it wears its heart on its sleeve, which makes it difficult not to love and admire. 😊
A quote that I absolutely love, and that I think applies perfectly to India as a travel destination is this:
Some experiences have to be lived. Descriptions by the keenest observers are at best a little more than half good. Nothing beats being there. Sir Trevor McDonald
Not to undermine all the wonderful travel writers, authors and bloggers I’d read before my trip – with colourful and descriptive tales of their experiences in India. These definitely did a great job of fuelling my intrigue for India, but being there added something that’s hard to put into words, especially (I think) if you are not used to countries or cultures with any strong resemblance to India.
With all the will in the world, no words can really convey the feeling of being in India well enough for you to truly ‘get it’. All your senses are highjacked all at once, and there is an ambience that you have to absorb as well as see and hear.
Seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting and smelling is believing, India is like a world in itself, and quite surreal for a newbie visiter like me. I did not notice any strong unpleasant smells – which some writers have said they experienced.
If you’ve read some of my other travel blogs you’ll know I try to avoid listing all the predictable things you find in the guide books – so here goes, a few of my own observations and insights from India. 🧐…you might want to grab a cuppa!
The hustle is real
Make no mistake, you will be pursued by both adults and children walking around trying to sell you things, they’ll follow you as you walk, especially if they sense you’re giving them some attention or interest. 💰
When you return to your transport, they will come right up to your window and plead with you to buy from them if they can get your attention. 🚌
I even recall a man who shuffled across the ground making his way to my tour bus window, he appeared to have no legs – I was pretty taken aback by their effort and persistence.
Do not promise a seller that you’ll have a look later or suggest that you might buy later – they will hold you to it like a legally binding contract and take it quite personally if you don’t uphold your end of the bargain. “Might” buy is often understood as “will” buy. You’ve been warned! 🚨
Another thing you’ll see, is young children manoeuvring themselves in-between moving vehicles and through lanes traffic, on foot – going up to car windows, trying to sell things to drivers. I don’t need to point out the dangers running through my mind as I watched this, but unfortunately, it seemed quite common, especially during long traffic jams. 🚙
I wonder how many children simply ‘disappear’ in India.
On one occasion, a very young girl, she couldn’t have been older than 3/4years – honestly, she approached my group in the street by herself and begged persistently for money. Apparently, it was common in that area for certain immigrant families to let their children roam the streets during the day, (instead of going to school) begging, to help bring money into the household while their parent/s were at work.
My heart sank with fear for that little girl – anyone could’ve grabbed her – she was tiny, I do hope there was an adult watching out for her safety 😪
Women would sometimes point at a child beside them and then plead with you for money, not necessarily selling anything.
The types of shops I saw on some of the roads were such an eclectic mix, you’d never have been able to predict them. I remember seeing a barbers, beside a ‘fence and gate’ shop, and then another barbers, followed by a bamboo shop (selling long tubes of dried bamboo) – all side by side, tightly packed.
You never quite know what you’re going to see next 👀 …like a women in a wonderful sari, beautifully wrapped and tucked, collecting bricks from a pile of rubble.
It seems like everyone expects you to buy something….
A marble engraving factory visit/tour, was followed by some pretty heavy going pressure to buy.
Now I’m not being funny, but I don’t think many tourists go on holiday to India for the first time and then decide to buy a heavy duty marble table (large or small) on a whim…the pressure to buy seemed a bit too much – I think they expected us to just happily buy and ship home a new table, the same way you’d buy a fridge magnet. 🤔
The food is not short on flavours
If you have a very simple palette and you’re not fond of too many unusual flavours and spices – Indian food might not be for you, but I love it. That said, I would have liked to have explored the food more – maybe next time, a food tour might be in order. 😋
It’s not everyday I get served basmati rice flavoured with saffron, mace, cardamom, mint and mixed spices! Delicious. (I discovered some cardamom in my kitchen…I’m getting ideas now).
An interesting desert I tried was made with noodles, cashew nuts and had quite a ‘nutmeggy’ flavour – pictured above.
I love all the different naan breads (very filling) and it’s amazing how delicious a simple vegetable becomes with an Indian touch – like cauliflower 🍽 and from what I’ve gathered, the majority of Indian people eat a largely vegetarian diet.
Our driver pulled over during a long hot drive so our guide could treat us to some fresh guava from sellers on the road side. I’ve had guava juice many times but I’d never eaten the fruit, it wasn’t as sweet as I thought it would be and I didn’t expect it to look and feel like a small apple – I’d always imagined it to be soft and fleshy fruit. 😯
I quickly lost count of the number of fruit and vegetable sellers on the streets, all kinds and all colours, rows and rows, very neatly stacked. 🍏 🌶
Interestingly, I read somewhere that some Brahmin and Jain communities in India don’t eat onion and garlic, because they aren’t considered foods that you can offer to the deities 🤔https://www.responsibletravel.com/holidays/india/travel-guide/cooking-and-food-holidays-in-india
Lemon water mixed with basil, was something I spotted quite often at breakfast, along with other, more predictable juices.
A surprising thing – a different kind os breath freshener. I first tried it on the flight to Delhi, it looked like lots of tiny coloured ‘hundreds and thousands’ (tiny ball -like sweets) but they’re actually fennel seeds mixed with coriander, sugar, menthol flavour and a few other things.
Interesting taste – but I don’t like aniseed, and that’s what it tasted like, overall.
Finally, fast food lovers – for those who cannot be without their home take away comforts, I did spot a KFC, McDonalds and Costa here and there 😉
A few Indian proverbs and wise words
Listen to the wind, it talks
Listen to the silence, it speaks
Listen to your heart, it knows
Under the mountains is silver and gold,
But under the night sky, hunger and cold.
If you live in the river you should make friends with the crocodile.
Garlic is as good as ten mothers.
You can often find in rivers what you cannot find in oceans.
Do not blame God for having created the tiger, but thank him for not having given it wings.
To control the mind is like trying to control a drunken monkey that has been bitten by a scorpion.
Keeping it real – streets scenes
English is Top Dog
Our guide pointed out that Indians who can speak English are treated with greater respect than those who don’t….and as if that wasn’t enough, Indians who speak English are regarded as (I kid you not) ‘scholars’…based on the mere fact that they can speak the language.
He told us about a time he went to the bank on a day-off work, dressed casually, he spoke in Hindi.
Long story short, the bank cashier was rude and disrespectful to him for quite a length of time until the guide switched from speaking Hindi to English – at which point the bank cashier magically turned into a wonderfully helpful professional, who couldn’t apologise enough and offered undivided attention – our guide said he made a complaint to the manager.
Inequality in India is a subject in itself, but this is a less well known example of how Indians continue to be discriminated against.
Per J Anderson’s book The Amazing Story of the Man who Cycled from India to Europe for Love, gives a really good insight into some of the caste related aspects of discrimination in India – it’s a beautifully written book!!
Other day to day life – random things
More than half of the Indian population live in rural villages, not the big cities. 🌾
Cricket is the sport of choice, tea (Chai) is the beverage of choice and dogs seem to be the most popular pets. I even saw someone with a pug!! 🐶🏏 Despite the popularity of dogs, I did notice a lots of stray dogs , especially around some of the monuments we visited, they’d be laying there, flat out in the sun.
In the mornings I noticed a lot of people walking up and down the streets wrapped in thick blankets – it was pretty chilly first thing, I’m not sure whether this was as well as or instead of a coat.
Indian people seem very strong with fantastic balance – I can’t tell you the number of people I saw walking with what looked like a good 20 kilo load balanced on their heads. ⚖️
I have to mention the traffic again…
If you were non the wiser, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was some almighty traffic incident taking place most of the time you’re on the road.
Traffic in the cities is pretty hectic, especially during rush hour. 🚦
I saw buses with every inch of the roof covered with people, zooming by, but my camera would never have been quick enough to capture it.
My jaw absolutely dropped, they must have had something to grip onto up there, but one false move and it could end very badly, especially at the speeds they were going at. 🚍
Motorbikes seemed to be the most common mode of transport – don’t quote me on that statistically, but based purely on observation, bikes are way more popular than I imagined they would be. This made me think of a book I read about a man touring India on a motorbike Hot Tea Across India by Rishad Saam Mehta. 🛵 🏍
Hands pressed together during a greeting is customary – shaking hands is not practised, to avoid spreading germs. 🙏
Some tourist attractions had separate queues for men and women – so did airport security when scanning hand luggage and walking through the body scan machine – followed by a personal body scan in a cubicle.
All the sellers in the streets and shops that I can remember, seemed to be men. I can’t recall any women trying to sell me things.
At one restaurant, our waiter actually said “and tip please” as he gave me my change!! Well I can’t remember if he even said please but he was letting me know not to forget his tip. 😏
Now this was a testing topic throughout my India trip because I don’t believe in tipping for tipping’s sake. I tip if I feel the service was above and beyond the basic or if it felt like a very pleasing standard – polite, timely attentive etc… (like most people).
So this sense of entitlement to tips was a bit of a sore subject 🤨I discussed this with my guide and he understood. I’m happy to respect customs and ways, but not when it comes to taking my money – that’s a step too far….needless to say I didn’t always leave a tip.
I know a lot of workers rely on tips and I’m not mean – but there were times when I didn’t think it was necessary. Don’t be played.
Note: try and change some small denominations like 50RP and 100RP – this will make tipping a lot easier.
Marriage and Divorce
During Hindu wedding arrangements its the bride who decides on what the vows will be!! Yes, the bride decides and the groom agrees to them – the groom vows to keep them.
The bride on the other hand, does not have to agree or vow to anything. 👰🏽 🤵🏽
I repeat, the woman chooses the vows, but she doesn’t have to agree to any vows – only the groom takes vows. 🧐
“Love Marriages” as opposed to arranged marriages are generally frowned upon, but are more common than they were 20+ years ago. The educational status of the man should always match or exceed that of the woman for the marriage/relationship to be given serious consideration. 🎓
When a wedding does take place – the bride and groom are anointed (separately) in rapeseed oil and turmeric (for their cleansing and anti infection preparation) in order that their bodies will be acceptably clean for the marriage consummation. 💞
The bride moves in with the groom and his parents. 🏡
Our guide explained that although it is possible to divorce (legally speaking) there is no word in their language for ‘divorce’, traditionally, since they do not believe in the concept.
Happy to see tourists
Although tourists probably weren’t everyone’s cup of tea, there was a good amount of visible welcome from locals.
Children in particular, would wave at us when driving by. Sometimes they’d be squeezed in tuk tuks (about 15 at a time its seemed lol) – all craning their necks to wave as we passed each other in traffic. 👋👋
School buses full of waving children would drive by, with all their school bags tied up neatly on the roof of the bus.
One things that really struck me about India was it’s affinity and harmony with animals. 🦚 🦜
People and animals had a very visible mutual respect, living side by side, sharing the same spaces as equals – none seeming to be higher or more important than the other.
You see it in every street and gathering of people – it made me wonder whether we (other parts of the world) had lost some of this connection.
India’s tiger population is said to be on the rise, thanks to conservation efforts, and seeing them close up in Ranthambore National Park was a very moving experience. 🐅
Whenever I go abroad, there’s usually a strong presence of either cats or dogs. In India, this was overshadowed by the presence of cows, goats, camels, monkeys, pigs, dogs, parrots, squirrels…..
I noticed quite a lot of monkeys in Agra, usually sat on a brick wall waiting for food – but not around the Taj Mahal.
You’ll probably see more cows than anything else, just roaming free – and while we’re on the subject, bulls/males can still be made to work – but not female cows, oh no…they’re too sacred for that – and female cows cannot be eaten either. 🐮
I’d never seen camels being used to pull carts/loads down the road before, that was a first. 🐪 🐫
The architecture is never understated
What to pack – anything in particular?
Team ‘travel light’ might want to turn away now.
None of the hotels I stayed in had a shop that sold toiletries (just souvenirs), but they all provided toiletries in your room – shower gels, soaps, creams etc…so if you’re particular about what you put on your skin, make sure you bring the things you need because you probably won’t be able to find them on a whim if you forget anything. 💡Get them at the airport if you’re tight for Kgs.
I always pack heaps of first aid products whenever I go abroad, and India was no exception, in fact I took more than usual – just in case, especially travelling solo. I took a lot of upset stomach tablets and hydration salts – plus a good supply of hand gel, lots of antibacterial and antiseptic products and a mammoth amount of insect repellent. 🤒
Even though I didn’t need most of it (thankfully), I’m glad I had it with me, and left it all behind in a hotel before leaving for the airport – I’m sure it will all have gone to a good home! 👍
Take a travel adapter – I took two, in case one stopped working 🙈 🙉 🙊
Initially I planned to pack summer and winter clothes. Why? Because I’d read somewhere that Jan-Feb can see freezing temperatures that spread down to Delhi from the Himalayas.
Jumpers, thermals, woolly hat and scarf and snow boots, along with light floaty cotton things insect repellent and and flip flops….were all on the list. 🤪
However, the weeks leading up to my trip were showing progressively warmer temperatures, to the point where I felt happy to leave the winter gear behind – but you still need a few warm things for early in the morning/evening when it gets a bit chilly.
Farewell India 😘 x
A random thing I noticed at the end of my stay was that all the hotels I stayed in had doorbells on the room door – I don’t think I’ve ever come across that before anywhere else – nice touch!
Another thing about the hotels – they all seemed to have very generously sized rooms – which is always a huge plus!
Delhi airport is very big, modern and you’ll be spoilt for choice for souvenir shopping, plus it has everything else you’d expect to see in duty free, brand name clothes, food, books etc.. they took sterling as well as cards once I’d spent all my left over rupees.
Thank you for having me, India!! It’s been exciting, enlightening, thought provoking and an absolute pleasure to have been your guest for a short but sweet time. 🙏 💛
Would I go to India again?
Yes, India is so vast and varied, with a lot more to see and experience so how could I possibly say no.
I got talking to a local seller, (who persisted to no end, trying to get be to buy a bag of about 20 elephant key rings that I didn’t want) and started asking him questions to make him stop talking about the key rings.
He suggested I should come back in November for Diwali – he said it’s a beautiful time to be in India, to witness the festival of light, and that I’d enjoy it, especially seeing the candles and light displays at night.
I didn’t get his name, but when I asked if he had visited any other countries – he proudly declared that he has spent time working in Columbia, and that he enjoyed it, he said Columbia is a nice place and he also speaks Spanish as well as Hindi.
Not surprisingly, when asked which country he preferred, he proudly declared that as nice as Columbia was, “India is the best”. 😉