8 Reasons to Put India on Your Bucket List
So you’re thinking of visiting India but you’re not 100% set on it yet? Maybe because of the heat, poverty, pollution, or the fact that you’ve heard stories of it being unsafe for women? Well let me tell you: it IS unbearably hot; poverty, uncleanliness and pollution ARE prevalent; and solo women travellers should DEFINITELY be cautious – just as we should anywhere else in the world! BUT the pros of visiting India outweigh the cons by a landslide, and the ideas that make you squirm now might just be the very reasons you’ll treasure your India experience the most. The shock and discomfort you might feel in this country are immensely humbling, and the people, culture, food are incomparable to anywhere else on the globe. I guarantee that on your way back home, you’ll look back and count the days until you’ll get to visit India again!
India is a myriad of people of different backgrounds, faiths, religions, customs and even ethnicity. Did you know there are even something like 22 different languages originating from India? Not dialects, languages! A country that’s only 3.3 million km² is home to 1.35 billion people, and each state/union territory is very different from the next. Traveling from Punjab to Delhi to Maharashtra to Goa will feel like crossing borders of different countries. Where you’ll find many mosques and chicken biryani in the northern states like Uttar Pradesh, you’ll be greeted by Hindu temples, roaming “sacred cows” and vegetarian dishes in Delhi, and countless churches, beaches and meat galore in Goa!
2. The Food
It’s safe to say that most of you LOVE Indian food, which is probably a big motivator to come to India. Well Tandoori chicken and various curries aren’t all that India has to offer! As mentioned above, going from state to state, city to city, you’ll find yourself on a culinary journey. What’s popular and adored in one region might not be on the menu in another. Finding myself amidst amazing dishes with pork and beef in Goa was quite the change from eating substantially delicious vegetarian dishes further north. Indian food is heavily influenced by religious traditions which is why you’ll see certain foods be used predominantly in some states and not in others. Indian cuisine is one of the top in the world to use the most spices and herbs, and will tingle your tastebuds in all wonderful manners!
India tip #1:
Be extra cautious when eating freshly cut fruits and vegetables, even in upper class hotels and restaurants. Remember that your immune system might not have gone through the same things as a local’s! If you want to indulge, give your food an extra wash to be safe.
3. Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable
One important trait you’ll have when visiting India is the idea of becoming more self-aware and being able to adapt well to your environment. Though on a hot, humid and sunny day back home, you might think to put on a pair of short shorts and a tank top, or a cute sundress without a thought in the world, in India you’ll need to be a little more careful in how you dress. Trust me, this was hard when there were many days of bathing in my own sweat, but after a while, I got used to wearing pants, t-shirts and a shawl. You don’t have to be wearing jeans or a sari like many of the locals do! A pair of loose elephant pants will keep you covered and breezy at the same time. This’ll help you deal with the sweat that keeps on giving, keeping you cool despite the beating sun, and it’ll give you protection from any lusting or offended eyes.
This brings me to my next point. If you appear to be a foreigner, someone who has different ethnic features from the majority of India, you will get lots of stares! It’s important not to get offended by them as they are only curious and intrigued by you. Sometimes they’ll ask to take your photo. If you’re not comfortable with this, you can politely decline and walk away.
You might be forced to use a public washroom one day when you’re out, and it might be the last time you ever chug that bottle of water before heading out for the day! Seriously, some restrooms will make you gag and cry a little, so try your best to time things out for yourself! I know it can be nearly impossible to know when you’ll need to go, but make time for a stop at a restaurant if need be. The washrooms there are always in good condition. Being in India gives you so much appreciation for the small things, like a clean toilet!
India tip #2:
Bring wet wipes and tissues wherever you go! And always resort to drinking bottled water, never tap.
Another thing about India you’ll get used to but might shock you at first, is the roaming of stray animals (dogs, monkeys, you name it) and the idea of “sacred cows”. In Hinduism, cows are considered to be a sacred symbol of life and are protected as well as revered – just like deer in Japan. They walk the streets and roads, which might take you by surprise as you’ve probably only ever seen cows in pastures before!
India tip #3:
When visiting areas that have wild animals, like Elephanta Island in Navi Mumbai, be sure to keep your jewelry and food tucked away and a tight grip on your purses/bags! The monkeys there are mischievous. My dad was just carrying his bottle of Sprite when we got to the island and in a split second, a little monkey snatched it from his hand, climbed up the branch and in plain sight, started chugging the bottle!
India tip #4:
Be sure to visit your local travel clinic before heading out to India. You’ll want to make sure you have the proper vaccinations like hepatitis A & B, typhoid, yellow fever, rabies, etc. A consultation will also tell you whether you’ll need malaria pills depending on your itinerary, and for how long you’ll need to take them. All the instructions from your health provider will be super straightforward!
4. Gorgeous Beaches
The Indian subcontinent meets ocean on all sides but one. The Indian Ocean wraps around the country with the Arabian Sea on the west, Laccadive Sea on the south and Bay of Bengal on the east. Nine states and 4 union/island territories touch ocean out of 28, so just about half of the regions have beaches and tropical weather! The vibe here is a complete 180 from the hustle and bustle of the heavily populated cities in India, which makes the country even more culturally diverse. Be sure to make some time to visit some coastal regions for a better full India experience!
5. The People
There are tons of people everywhere you go in India! They are one of the most laid-back and resilient group I have ever encountered. Life isn’t easy for the majority of the population, most of whom live with no electricity, no running water and with very little opportunity to gain a better life, often due to the caste they’re born into. Imagine spending 16-hour days working your butt off just to scrape by or barely having enough food to put on the table for your family. Parents will also do anything to give their kids a good (paid) education so they could get out of poverty. But often times, kids are also left to beg on the streets. In big cities, you’ll find yourself amidst big groups of children and very young women holding infants, gently pulling at your clothes with heartbreaking eyes, asking for change. If you give to one, a swarm of others will follow and you know you can’t give to every single one of them. They’ll also come knocking at your car windows and you’ll have to turn your eyes away from them with a sense of shame. This was one of the hardest things to deal with in India, as you come to understand the unbearable truth of what life is like for over a 100 million people in the country. But it makes you reflect on the life of privilege you have and encourage you more to help others.
Because of their hardship, you see the resilience in them, their hardworking spirit and their abundance in gratitude. They have a very “Yes Man” mentality, always saying “can do” to requests you would never imagine anyone doing in your home country – like driving you across the nation! And as I said before, they are incredibly full of joy and laid-back – sometimes to the point of recklessness, which will give you a wild ride like you’re in a Hollywood movie car chase! Yes, our driver has driven 80 km/h in the opposite direction on the highway before, no joke!
Family and unity are, generally speaking, the top most important values to the Indian people. They strive for harmony within their communities and you see a lot of this with how culturally diverse they are. I think we can all learn from them in how they care for their family and community!
India’s architecture is deeply rooted in its history of colonialism, its cultural traditions and its religions. Palaces and forts are prevalent throughout the states and union territories: the White Palace Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib, pictured above) in Amritsar, Punjab, the palaces and forts of Jaipur, also known as “the pink city”, and countless others. They all show a time in history of great prosperity, much like the grandiose mausoleums and tombs, such as the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb (pictured above). Different faiths have also graced the nation with its gorgeous and wild architecture: the mosque of Jama Masjid in Delhi (pictured below), the Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur, or the crazy yet symbolic church architecture in Kerala. History and architecture snobs, this one is for you!
India tip #5:
When visiting different religious buildings, make sure to be dressed appropriately. That means shoulders and knees covered for women, long pants for men and hats taken off. When we stood in line to enter the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Goa, people were turned away for not having proper attire.
7. The Chaos
The sacred cows roaming the neighbourhoods are quite a sight to see! But they can certainly cause traffic on the busy city roads. With no one to clean the streets, excrements from stray animals are left on walkways and roads.
Wild webs of power cables hang perilously over busy streets. This is due to local residents and businesses wanting to illegally get electrical power from the City, and the more people do it, the easier it is to take advantage of the entangled wires and steal electricity from the properties who pay for it. The strides that people take to save money is pretty incredible.
The use of plastic bottles is heavy in India when most don’t trust the cleanliness and potability of the domestic water. Once, my dad had an empty bottle he wanted to throw away in a nearby garbage or recycling bin but couldn’t spot one. Our driver, who was walking with us at this point, asked my dad to give him the empty bottle and he threw it on the ground, by the roadside drain. Properly disposing of garbage and recycling hasn’t fully hit India yet and there is quite a bit work to go!
I’m sure you can imagine the traffic jams in cities with tens of millions of residents, when roads haven’t been modernized enough or upgraded for adequate capacities. More and more people in developing countries are now getting their own vehicle and use them to commute every day. In big Indian cities, there are still major intersections that don’t have proper lanes which causes some major confusion, and everywhere in the country, traffic lights and signs are violated or ignored because they’re mostly seen as suggestions. As a tourist, you’ll build a lot of excitement every time you cross the road. It’s like a game of Jumper Frog! Except the vehicles will just go around you with no issue.
India tip #6:
When crossing busy roads, take things slow and don’t make any abrupt movements like running or stopping suddenly. Just follow what the locals do, and the cars and mopeds will just drive around you!
8. Sensory Overload
In India, you’ll see everything: from extreme wealth in high class hotels to extreme poverty in the city slums in a matter of a 10 minute walk. You’ll experience different scents: from the strong and mouth-watering dishes, curries and spices to the smells of undomesticated animals roaming the streets – and even the smells of bodily fluids and excrements as you walk the humid streets of big cities where there are no public washrooms (yikes!). The sounds of prayer resonate in the open air early mornings, and hours later on the busy roads your ears will be filled with honking and running motors on old vehicle.
India is still a very impoverished country and that’s something to remember when visiting the country. It’s not always going to be clean streets and fragrant odours. It’s not always going to be groomed hedges and luxurious landmarks. Visiting India is about experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly: the wonders you marvelled at on TV as well as the sights you’ve recoiled at or your heart breaks for. There will be things you’ll experience in India you never have before, some less welcomed than others (like the time I caught a glimpse of monkeys going at it while I was trying to enjoy a tour!). But all these memories will be reasons you’ll always cherish your India trip. Ugh, just writing this post already makes me want to go back! TAKE ME PLEASE!!!