While a European could brag about his hike to a 10000ft peak, your Indian friend might casually mention that he visited his mother-in-law at 15000ft, the previous day. While a Westerner would be shocked to see 1 million people gathered for a religious festival, an Indian might wonder where the remaining went. While an American could talk about a 150 year historic place, your Indian friend might not even bother about the 1500 year old temple in the neighborhood.
Does India have the complete package?
It has the world’s richest, world’s poorest and the third biggest middle class in the world. It has a large number of people living in the pre-historic era (in Andamans and various jungles in the mainland) and it has a large number of people living in the cutting edge of various technologies.
You will find people fighting wars at 6000m and the people incredibly peaceful in mind numbing poverty and oppression. Unlike China which went through homogenization in the Mao era, India has managed to retain most of the heterogenity. If you want to observe people, you can’t find a better place.
Tribals of Andaman Nicobar Islands
A temple tower in South India
A study of contrasts
Our BMWs and Buggatis drive past immense filth and slums, we could get our degrees from MIT but still swear by arranged marriages, we could nod both yes and no, our traffic signals can sometimes show both red & green and we have learnt to live in immense ambiguity & contradiction that is not found anywhere else in the world. You can never understand the weight of the contrasts unless you visit an Indian city like Mumbai. You will be constantly challenged about your understanding of the world and yourself.
It had among the oldest civilizations in the world. Given the importance in the ancient and medieval world, it had seen a series of conquests that had added immense color and history. It is incredibly open (see how India has absorbed ideas from various cultures) and at the same time incredibly closed. Some of the practices we follow are inherited from literature 4000+ years old. In fact, many still chant some of the hymns of Rig Veda (Purusha Suktha) whenever we visit a temple.
Agra fort at dusk
Faith and Religion
It has the largest diversity of religions, languages and races. Apart from being the birth place of 2 of the top 4 religions in the world, it has also given birth to Sikhism, Jainism and were among the handful of places that opened arms to persecuted religions such as Judaism, Zorastranism and Christianity (before 300 AD). Even within Hinduism, you will find 1000s of different variants and can easily get lost in its immense temples and literature. Thousands of years old temples, practices and writings can leave the history buff salivating.
Meenakshi temple at Madurai
India is a massive country and unlike the top 6 largest countries of the world, its population and attractions are relatively spread around the country. That makes India bigger than its area indicates. The transportation options include rickety buses that costs a few cents to insanely luxurious trains like these:
Palace on the Wheels, a luxury train run by Indian railways
We have an immense diversity of food that varies by state. Tamils have dosas & idlies, Telugus and Rajasthanis have hyper-spicy foods, Gujrathis have incredible thalis, Malayalis have coconut flavored dishes, Punjabis have super cool lassis & Bengalis have mouth water sweets. Even within the states, there are enormous diversities. For instance, the Iyer food of Tamil Nadu is quite distinct from the Chettinad or Madurai foods of Tamil Nadu.
The Indian Thali (with an assortment of foods served in silver utensils)
It is the home of spectacular Himalayas, massive rivers and as a subcontinent has every type of landform (from the sands of Jaisalmer to the 8000m snow caps of Kashmir to deep tropical jungles to plains that feed 1 billion people). It is the only country to have natural habitats for Tiger and Lion. Along with Indonesia and Brazil, it is among the 3 most biodiverse nations of the world (3 of the world’s 32 biodiversity hotspots are in India – ) . Whether you are a hiker or nature enthusiast you can get your money’s worth.
Sand dunes of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan
Dal lake in Kashmir
Culture & Festivals
We celebrate about 300 festivals in a year – the most popular ones being Diwali, Holi and Dussehra. Apart from the national festivals, we have regional festivals such as Baisakhi (Punjab) or Thai Poosam (in Tamil Nadu) that are very colorful. We have 100s of dance forms and musical traditions.
Festival of Holi that mark the onset of Spring
Last, but not the least, India is very important to most major corporations in the world. There is still huge potential to be tapped. India’s middle class is 80% of America’s, but its GDP is just over 1/10. Thus, there is massive upward room for the middle class to grow, without even accounting for the chunk of the poor to join the middle class in the coming years.
- Pristine beaches and water activities. Check. (Suggestions: South (north Goa is over touristed), and )
- Skiing and winter activities. Check. (Suggestions: Gulmarg in Kashmir, Auli in Uttaranchal and Manali in Himachal)
- Spectacular architecture. Check. (Suggestions: , , , Chola temples of Thanjavur, Khajuraho, , )
- Understanding 5000 year ancient history. Check. (Suggestions: Lothal in Gujarat, Varanasi, Hampi, Sanchi, Sarnath).
- Hiking/trekking in 5000-8500m. Check (Suggestions: Sikkim, Himachal, Uttarakhand and Ladakh)
- Opulent palaces and forts. Check. (Suggestions: Jaipur, Mysore, Gwalior, Agra)
- Majestic ancient paintings and art work. Check. (Suggestions: Ajantha and Ellora caves in Maharashtra)
- Understanding religions. Check (suggestions: Hinduism – Rishikesh, Kanchipuram, Somnath in Gujarat, Puri.Sikhism – Amritsar, Buddhism – Bodh Gaya, Dharmashala, Rumtek in Sikkim and Lumbini — actually in Nepal, few miles from Indian border, Jainism – Mount Abu and Islam – Ajmer, Bahaii – Lotus Temple, Delhi)
- Desert and massive sand dunes. Check. (Suggestion: )
- Immense variety of Flora and Fauna. Check (Suggestions: Asiatic Lions: Gir forest,Indian Elephants – Mudumalai, IndianRhinos – Kaziranga & Manas in Assam,Tiger – Corbett and Ranthambore, Birds –Bharatpur in Rajasthan).
- Ultimate Relaxation. Check. (Suggestions: backwaters of Kerala, Udaipur in Rajasthan and Coorg in Karnataka).
What does India not have?
The people who are complaining about the filth and public restrooms are on the money. Those are the things that India is really bad at and is the main reason that visitors are frightened away. So, when it comes to cleanliness expect for the worst.
The restrooms in the new malls and good restaurants are of good standards and try using them instead of public restrooms. Drink bottled water when you are outside and prepare to turn away from certain things. Always use A/C facilities (in train bookings, hotel rooms, restaurants, buses) wherever possible. In India, A/C not just means climate controlled but also stands for cleaner and better amenities.
I visited the north – Delhi, Jaipur and Agra – for a little under two weeks in December 2012 with my boyfriend. For any women considering visiting India, I’d highly recommend a male companion. Bombay might be a little different – check with someone who’s been.
We structured my trip around a friend’s multi-day wedding in Jaipur.
We flew into Delhi and stayed at an Airbnb with a documentarian and her policeman husband who went to university at Cal. We had some common ground, but still very many different life experiences to share with one another over dinner.
Our Kingfisher Air flight to Jaipur was cancelled because the company went out of business days before my trip(!) so we took a train instead. It was incredible – for $8 I was assigned a seat on a rickety old train where they served me a water bottle, a newspaper, lunch and two rounds of chai. Walking to the restroom meant jumping over a small gap in the open space between train cars, but what is travel without a little treachery. 😉
Once in Jaipur we visited the old walled Pink City and various forts and markets with stops at mango lassi stands and bindi shops. We used the subway (insanely crowded with separate cars for men and women so ladies don’t get groped), rickshaws and tuk tuks (know the distance and negotiate!) and also did a lot of walking which blew the minds of the locals. One man asked us, “Why ever would you walk if you can pay to ride?”
The wedding itself was a pretty special experience – all night blessing sessions, traditional “get to know you” games between the bride and groom, dance parties/parades in the street and the groom on a white horse riding up to his heavily bejeweled bride. We were fortunate to know the bride and groom, but it’s common for random strangers to join the public parades (totally cool) – and then to eat of the wedding buffet during the ceremony (discouraged). December is wedding month in Jaipur so go then and you’ll see multiple wedding parades most nights of the week.
After the wedding we rented a car with a driver to take us to Agra, by way of a bird sanctuary. The highlight of the bird sanctuary was renting a bike (it was huge!) and seeing the enormous and colorful juvenile storks standing up in their huge nests – they weren’t strong enough to try flying yet, but they were getting close.
Agra is home to the amazing Taj Mahal, but there’s not much else to see or do. Arrive in the evening, stay just one night and visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise. It’s so early, but so worth it – the white stone looks amazing with the atmospheric morning pastel sky. Head back to your hotel for breakfast, shower and get the F outta there.
From Agra we went back to Delhi to stay one night with a friend we’d made at the wedding! That was another great local experience in a multi-generation family home. We visited a night market for fresh tandoori naan and peanut snack (ask around!), and after dinner our friend’s mother taught me to make stovetop chai masala with fresh cardamom and a specific tea leaf.
One of the most amazing things that I saw in India was entrepreneurship. As you drive around in any part of any town you might see a chair sitting on the side of the road. Look a little closer and you might see a mirror hung beside it. Walk over and a man will appear with scissors to give you a haircut, a shave or a nose hair trim. All over town you’ll notice people starting businesses with few resources, but a lot of creativity and confidence.
There’s a lot more to say, but rather than telling you more about my experiences I suggest you go and make your own! Enjoy!
I spent most of my time in Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Mumbai. India is enormous and I barely skimmed the surface. Also, I’ll admit that I spent a lot of time in traveler heavy spots vs. getting off the beaten track.
I’ll talk about the rewarding and challenging parts of traveling in India from my perspective.
I’ve also traveled/lived in Latin America (16 months total) and traveled around New Zealand (4 months). I realize those are entirely different places but I can’t help but draw comparisons between traveling there vs. traveling in India.
India is an incredibly diverse, interesting, and affordable place to backpack around. Most Indians are very welcoming and helpful. It’s quite cheap to be there and you’ll practically never run out of things to do/see.
However, India can be extremelychallenging for many travelers. Most travelers will have to deal with many hassles, annoyances, sicknesses, and cultural differences. India is definitely not for everyone(and perhaps not for most).
The rewarding parts of traveling in India
India is alive
Here’s the way I will try to describe India if someone asked me. Imagine your senses are a bunch of analog volume knobs. Volume is used to describe sound but let’s imagine you have volume knobs for your other senses as well.
India turns the volume up on all of them. I feel that could help someone understand what it feels like to be there. The smells, the density of people, the stares, the rickshaws, the saris/turbans/burqas, the flavors, the honking, the bells, the animals, the crazy driving, the temples, the smiles, the monkeys…everything is on full blast. Imagine full blast in your head phones, then transfer that to your other senses.
I just got back from my trip and I was in Seattle on a cold December day. I’m left wondering ‘Where is everybody?! Who turned the volume down? Where did the animals go? The vendors? The honking? The garbage? The shouting and smiling?’ I’m not going to hate on Seattle (too easy) but it just feels so white, organized, lonely, and quiet compared to India.
I have this urge to walk around with a boombox held above my head blasting salsa music just to wake everyone up and to feel alive again.
India’s sensory volume can be very overwhelming (in a negative way) but it’s often exhilarating and fascinating.
India is roughly 30% the size of the US but has 1.2 billion people who speak nearly 1600 languages in that land area. Around 30 of those are spoken by at least a million people. A majority are Hindu by religion but there is also a large number of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and a couple others.
India has 20000+ ft mountains ranges next to Jungles, coastlines, and deserts. As you travel through it, the terrain changes fast. Many regions of India have their own distinct cuisine as well.
Coming from Washington State, I felt home in many parts of Kashmir
It’s very hard to say the phrase “Indian Culture”. The singular “culture” doesn’t do India justice. I feel you could maybe get away with “Mexican culture” or “French culture” and generalize ok. In India, much less so. We should say “cultures”. There are entire swaths of people who don’t speak a common language. Hindi is probably the only language most non-Indians know about and they’re often surprised when I tell them that only 41% of Indians speak it as their native language. In addition to the language differences, there are people are living so drastically different from one another that it’s hard to say they have the same culture.
As a traveler, you can sometimes feel like you’re entering a new country when you take a 12-15 hour bus ride between places. This opens up new places to see, new words to learn, new foods to try, new terrain, flora/fauna, etc.
When I’d talk to other travelers there, it’d blow my mind how many things there were left to see. X caves here, Y temple or fort there, this swimming hole, this beach, that festival, and so on. You’re never done in India.
Traveling in India is very affordable. Granted, in 2013 when I traveled, the rupee was quite low at approximately 60 to the dollar. But even when it was at 45 ish to the dollar, India was cheap. India is simply very affordable for most UK/US/EUR/AUS/CAN travelers.
Here are some costs of things (in USD) in late 2013:
Delicious Potato Paratha on the street (my breakfast in Mcleod Ganj) = 30 cents
Chai (tea) on the street = 10 – 15 cents
Decent Room with my own bathroom in touristy Udaipur = $4
16 hour train ride = $7
Meal in a clean healthy restaurant = $2 – $4
Bollywood Film in fancy theatre = $2 – $3
Starting fare on a rickshaw ride in Mumbai = 25 cents
30 minute cab ride in traffic in Mumbai = $2 – $2.50
2L of Water = 50 cents
Mountain Bike ride down world’s highest pass. $16.
Haircut and Shave. $1.20
Food, Water, Lodging, and Transportation are the bulk of your costs when traveling. You can travel quite easily in India on $500 per month. You could push this down to $300 if you ate more street food, avoided touristy spots, and shared rooms with others.
What the fun?
People usually think of SE Asia when they think of cheap travel. Thailand and Vietnam would be considered expensive compared to India. From what I’ve heard from other travelers and looking on Hostel Booking sites, a dorm bed in many parts of Thailand goes for around $9-$12. In India, you’ll get your own room for 30%-50% of that.
I haven’t heard of any other popular backpacking destination that’s as cheap as India. Tell me if there is one.
I loved it and found most travelers felt the same. There’s so many delicious things to try. There are a plethora of plates, breads, beverages, and snacks that we don’t get in Indian food in the US. I would try dishes at random on the menu in many restaurants and like them almost every time.
Perhaps the best Dosa I’ll ever have
The majority of my very limited Hindi describes food. I don’t like much spice and I rarely found the food to be too hot. I ate meat only a handful of times in those 10 weeks.
Learning how to make some of it
There is too much sugar, fat, and starch in some dishes. I almost always had to remember to tell restaurants to put less or no sugar in my tea. The sweets in India (imo) are gut bombs of sugar and fat. Indians eat a lot of carbs/sugar and not a lot of protein. Also, the portions can be quite small.
Those are minor gripes though. Most of the food is delicious, nutritious, cheap and vegetarian by default.
Helpfulness of average people
Many Indians believe that “guest is god”. It constantly surprised me just how helpful average Indians would be to travelers in their country. If I got stuck somewhere or was confused doing something, average people would really take their time to really help me. I thought no one could beat Latin hospitality but Indians just might have.
Man with kind beautiful smile who helped me with Mumbai trains
I told my dad about times where average working class people would take me on impromptu tours for 30 minutes – 2 hours and he was like “Really? And they didn’t want anything?” If they aren’t in the tourism business, they don’t. They truly just want to be helpful. Experiencing this made me ashamed for how little I’ve done for tourists in the US. I’ve taken a couple couchsurfers around and made some people’s days, but I’ve never just seen a backpacker on the street in Seattle or San Francisco and been like “Hey stranger, I’m going to take you around for the next 2 hours to make sure you have an excellent time here.”
Rickshaw driver who saved me my ass when I rolled in Chandigarh sick as a dog and almost every hotel was full.
I knew of other travelers who got invited to stay with people in their villages or homes. The people who were extending this hospitality were mostly of limited means. It’s nice to be welcomed and taken care of. Especially when you’re traveling by yourself and overwhelmed by India.
Very cool travelers
India attracts a certain type of traveler and I liked most of them. They tend to usually be a little older and more experienced in life than many of the travelers I meet in Mexico(though I like them too). They are often open to a certain type of adventure, personal growth, and occasional difficulty. Some are there specifically for yoga or meditation. Many are the types of people you’d meet at Burning Man or hippie-esque music festivals.
Astrophysics students who like to dance in hotel rooms
They are educated and interesting with strong spiritual and liberal roots. You do find a some of the holier than thou hippies as well, but most were very down to earth. Though I also like the early 20s travelers, it was nice to be a slightly older crowd. I heard travelers in their 30s say they felt a little more comfortable in India vs. SE Asia (because of age).
So many fun nights and conversations with these ladies
You don’t get the drug/prostitution travelers that you sometimes get in Colombia or the child prostitution travelers you hear of in Thailand/Costa Rica. Outside of Goa or Mumbia, India isn’t much of a party destination so you don’t get the party travelers either (though I ain’t hatin’).
I met many interesting cool travelers in India. We had great conversations in restaurants and on rooftops. I wish I could have known them longer.
Friends made on night out in Mumbai
Little physical violence
Compared to Mexico and Colombia, you’re very safe from physical violence in India. The people who rob you in India do it smiling and shaking your hand. In many parts of Latin America, you have to legitimately worry about getting mugged or beaten up. In India, many tourists walk around with their expensive DSLRs dangling from their necks. I never thought twice about having my debit card or iPhone on me. In many parts of Latin America, you’d be really asking for it by doing that. I’m sure muggings happen but I didn’t hear of it happening to any travelers I met.
I also worried less about pickpockets and bags getting ripped off in India. I never heard of a tourist/traveler getting their bag simply ripped off while they were sitting in a rickshaw (for example). If they had rickshaws in (more of) Latin America, you’d hear of a lot of bags being ripped off in traffic. They’d nab your stuff and bolt the other way. It was nice not having to sweat this so much in India. I hardly ever looked over my shoulder.
You can get by quite easily with just English. Enough people speak it fluently or ok enough to get your necessities taken care of. This makes it harder to learn a local language but more convenient to get around.
Very easy to get off the beaten track
Outside of a few popular areas, it’s very easy to find places in India with few tourists. I’ve never felt burdened by being around other tourists in Mexico or Colombia but I’ve heard travelers in Thailand sometimes feel overwhelmed. In India, it’s very easy to find that ‘authentic’ locals-only experience that some travelers really covet.
It’s very different than the US
With the right attitude, India is intensely interesting. It’s just so dang different to where I’m from. What a cool thing it is to witness (a bit of) the other side of the world. I caught myself sometimes checking the moon and sun and thinking “Ok, same planet.”
I’d never seen a movie where people break into song and dance routines every 20 minutes. Or camped next to families whose goats are their livelihood. Or ate on the floor with a Muslim family. Or hung out with a couple thousand Sikhs. Or had a group of monkeys run by me when I’m having my morning meditation on the hotel roof.
His goat got attacked by a bear and had to be put down
It was only 10 weeks and this list goes on.
I left with a richer understanding of what the world is up to.
It’s one thing to read or hear about India. It’s something else to take it in with your own senses.
The challenging parts of traveling in India
A lot of things don’t work how they’re supposed to work in India. You can have your bus get cancelled at the last second or have your hotel owner switch something up on you. You’ll find your door doesn’t close, your bathroom smells like sewage, your bus breaks down the middle of nowhere or your food doesn’t come with what you agreed on. India has extremely variable quality in many things. You can’t trust in much there.
Visas and Vaccinations
Getting an Indian visa can be quite time/energy consuming. In the US, they’ve contracted visas out to a firm that isn’t handling them well. I had to go to the office 5 times to get my visa. I heard of many people having to change or miss flights because they didn’t get theirs in time.
Thankfully, in 2014, many countries will now get visas on arrival.
You need to get many vaccinations for India. Mine cost around $240 total. This is an added expense and hassle.
India’s sensual volume can be thrilling and interesting but it can also be tiring. It’s hard to find quiet and solitude in India. There aren’t many negative spaces (in the design sense) where you can recharge and rest your nerves. You’re often being looked at or sold to. The sidewalks and parks are full of activity. India can be extremely overwhelming and exhausting. Sometimes you just want all the noise to stop for a second so you can catch your breath.
It’s pretty normal to get woken up in the night by dogs, cows, horns, fireworks or sometimes prayer calls.
Love me a good mosque but could do without the 5am prayer call
You somehow get used to it.
I haven’t heard or been to a place with as many scams as India. In most places I’ve heard of, there are a scam or two. You’ll know a friend of a friend of a friend whose dad got scammed in X country.
In India, it seemed like 30-50% of travelers got scammed in some form.
The hardest scam is the one that gets you when you’ve just gotten to the country. Many fly into Delhi. You grab a cab at the airport at 1-2am and then the cabbie takes you close to where your hotel is. On your way to your hotel, the driver either “calls the hotel” (his friend), tells you they’re full, or says the street is closed or something is blocking the street. They are so good at what they do and you’ll actually be convinced the guy is on your side. Then they take you to a different hotel that costs between $75-$150 dollars a night (when your hotel cost $10-$15). They also find interesting ways to strong arm you into booking their tours by lying to you or scaring you about booking things on your own.
Welcome to India!!!
What a terrible way to treat newcomers. This didn’t just happen to the friend of friend of friend. This happened to so many people when they come into India.
The other common scam are the ‘Incredible India” tour offices that operate around the backpacker spots. You’ll find people everywhere who will tell you trains or busses are full or unsafe. They’ll tell you anything to get you into their tour office (to book a package). You’re jetlagged, confused, scared, overheating, and many of the guys are very good about seeming trustworthy. Only later do you realize that you’ve been had. I met so many people later who were laughing/crying about how well they’d been had.
In case they read
I fell for the Srinagar scam(long story). In Srinagar, after you realized you’ve been had, you’d run into other travelers and you laugh “you too?!” “Yeah, they got me too, hahaaha!” You’d laugh and just try to roll with it. What are you going to do at that point but laugh?
I heard other stories of people taking tours and then have the bus driver refuse to drive them to places until they spent a certain amount at each stop.
Ok, enough scam stories. The scams really don’t cost you THAT much. I got scammed for a couple hundred bucks. Oh well. Most people don’t lose much.
But scams do suck because they undermine your trust in everything in India. You stop trusting people who might just be trying to be helpful (as per my point in the previous section). It takes longer to get from A to B or book tours because you’re constantly on the look out for scams.
Touts are people who are aggressively trying to sell you stuff in India (is that a UK or Indian word?) In some places, they are everywhere and they stop after you’ve basically said no 5 times and walked off.
It’s especially frustrating when you can’t tell the difference between a tout and an Indian who just wants to hang out. It makes you distrustful and limits your ability to connect. You’ll get these guys who are hanging out for a bit with you and then drop their sales pitch out of nowhere.
Mostly it’s just plain annoying and exhausting to not be able to walk in peace. You’re almost always getting sold to.
I resorted to interesting measures to ward off touts. I started just not saying anything to them while making strong eye contact as I walked by. Other times, I would just start shouting gibberish as I walked by to get them to stop. Sometimes I would shake my head and face around like a rabid deranged dog as a confusion tactic. My thinking was “Either laugh and have fun with this or be annoyed”. You’re not harassing me if I harass you back.
A Dutch girl said a bow with hands in prayer position worked well too but I prefer gettin crazy.
The Indian stare is intense. They don’t do the non-chalant glance. It’s a long stare that is held. You can stare right back and they won’t look away. They don’t get that it’s annoying. Colombians stare at foreigners as well but they’ll usually back down when you meet their eye contact.
Most of the time, it’s fine. You get used to it. If you act natural and don’t stand in the middle of empty spaces, it calms down. Most Indians are extremely friendly and curious and just want to know where you’re from.
But it’s wild when you get a group of people 15-25 deep staring at you and taking pictures. If you sit in a public area in a place that’s not used to tourists, people will come up and take your picture from 3 feet away without asking. A crowd of papparazi will form and you’ll have to move on.
Papparazi rolling deep
It’s worth pointing out that while India has 1.2 billion people, it only has 6.5 million tourists per year. By comparison, China has 1.4 billion people and 57.7 million tourists. Thailand has a population of 66 million and has 22 million tourists(in 16% of the land area of India). Most Indians aren’t used to seeing foreigners.
It’s challenging for foreigners because we do want to be friendly. We don’t mind posing for the occasional photo. But after you’ve done 15 photos in an hour, you’re spent. It’s too much. You just want to relax in peace.
Wild eyed mountain kids
When I was at the Golden Temple (awesome Sikh holy place), my travelmate and I would stake out a spot where we weren’t visible. We could relax and take in the scene. But in 20 minutes, tops, we’d be discovered. People would show up and start wanting photos. “They’re here, covers blown, ” one of us would say. We’d pose for a bit and then move onto a new hiding spot.
I can tell it’s not done with ill intent. When you see people post the pics they took with celebrities on Reddit, it’s not done with malice. They’re just stoked because “hey, I saw Bill Murray!”
Sometimes it’s fun to be talked to and treated like a celebrity. But when you want to explore or be out in peace, it’s really exhausting.
Sorry. I can’t pull punches on this one. Indian service, by US standards, is mostly horrible.
You’ll order something in a restaurant and get it 40 minutes later (after asking 3-4 times). Hotel owners treat you like you’re a complete nuisance. People don’t listen when you ask for something to be done in a specific way. Guys will walk into your dorm and starting cleaning out the bed at 8am. Bus station attendants don’t even try to help you out when you’re obviously confused by Indian’s byzantine bus system. Waiters regularly do your bill wrong (to get more). Hotels will claim you didn’t pay for a night you did. Ticket booking agents hang out on Facebook while you wait and watch.
How hotel owners look at you when you try to pay
If average Indian people are about as helpful as can be, the people who’s job it is to help are as unhelpful as can be.
There are exceptions to this but Indian service is often laughably bad. If you don’t laugh, you’ll start crying. I’ve never seen so many foreigners tearing their hair out.
You learn to roll with it or let it ruin your day.
It’s worth realizing that there isn’t much tipping and the service is often getting paid 3-6 dollars per day. There just isn’t the education or incentive to provide good service (my guess).
Health and sanitation issues
India doesn’t mess around when it comes to bacterias and viruses. Most travelers have to get several hundred dollars in vaccines done before going there. Most travelers will get sick, sometimes seriously so. I heard of people getting Hepatitis B or Typhoid. Some travelers forgo malaria meds (their fault) and get that.
People tell you that “You’ll get sick once for a couple days and then you’ll be immune.” I didn’t see that. I heard about people getting sick for a week at a time. I had bad Diarrhea for 25% of my trip. There were common stories of the good ol 2 exit evacuation sicknesses and people getting sick all over their hotel rooms. There were stories of people being sick for the entire duration of their trips.
One sick tired lonely mofo
Many Indians don’t understand proper sanitation (and they are using their hand in lieu of toilet paper). I watched people wash their hands in various places and I’ve only ever seen 1 Indian use soap. In restaurants I was eating in, I’d commonly watch employees just coughing and reaming all the mucus out of their nose right into the sink people use to wash their hands. And then not wash.
Antibiotics are so overprescribed in India that many of the basic ones no longer work. So you could catch a bug that’s more resistant to antibiotics that your bugs back home.
I’m not trying to scare people but I do think it’s worth being honest about. Most travelers get quite sick in India. This does make it challenging to travel by yourself.
There are very few backpacker hostels in India. I only went to a small part of the country but I’m relying on other traveler’s accounts. You stay in cheap hotels or guesthouses. Overall, this is fine. My only gripe is that it’s harder to meet other travelers this way. The common areas and kitchens in hostels is usually where you do this. In India, it can be tricky to find the hub for connecting with other travelers. This made for some lonely days in new places until I found the meeting spots.
No talking with the local women
In the other places I’ve traveled, you can often chat or flirt with local women. This is fun and makes for quick language learning. In most parts of India, you just don’t talk to the women. It doesn’t feel appropriate to. You don’t see them out and about very often.
In the 10 weeks I was in India, I spoke with Indian women for around 15-20 combined minutes. If someone asked me what Indian women are like, I’d shrug. If I had spent more time in the more liberal metro areas like Mumbai and Bangalore, perhaps this would have been different. Maybe I read it wrong or navigated it wrong. Hey, it’s all good. I didn’t go there for that.
Didn’t want to talk to you either, Deepika!
Foreign women will definitely get talked to by local guys. Often more than they care to.
I won’t dig into this too much since I didn’t directly experience it. I talked to several women who experienced some form of sexual harassment. Pinching and groping of foreign women happens fairly often in crowded areas. I heard of women who woke up on sleeper trains with guys fondling them. One woman said that a man on the lower bunk was reaching up and grabbing her indiscriminately.
One woman had a guy say to her “It seems like your root chakra is blocked. Would you like it opened with some divine sex?” I know sexual harassment shouldn’t be funny but it’s hard for me not to laugh at that one.
Some women who got a massage from a renowned Masseur in Udaipur had him ask them when was the last time they had sex while he was sitting on their legs working on their bare ass.
A straight guy with a lip ring got a dozen or so propositions for sex from Indian gay guys. The lip ring must mean something different there.
Sexuality and expressions of it work pretty differently in India. I sense there’s a lot of confusion around sex (well, more than in the US). Some (too many) Indian men have very distorted or misguided ideas for what’s acceptable to say or do to Western women. Most of the women seemed annoyed with it but weren’t letting it ruin their trips.
Crowds and Availability
As a backpacker, I often travel on a whim. I decide where I’m going to go at the last minute. It’s freeing to rock up to a bus station with 3 options in your mind and go with the one you’re feeling at that moment.
It’s hard to travel spontaneously in India. You often need to book things in advance, especially in popular areas like Goa or Rajasthan. There are tens of millions of people traveling in peak season and things fill up easily.
It’s not the end of the world but it does make your trip feel less free. You do need to book ahead in many parts.
It’s a different level of crazy. You basically play a lot of chicken with the oncoming traffic. You’ll see a lot of near misses (and some crashes).
Most Indian drivers don’t care at all about pedestrians. They’ll zoom right by you and miss you by 6-12 inches. Motorcyclists are even worse.
You get a bit used to it but it’s still unnerving.
You’ll breath in a lot of dust and smoke in India. In most towns I was in, they simply burn their garbage, plastic and all. You rarely get a clear view of mountains or surrounding areas because of all the smoke everywhere.
You’ll see rivers that have turned black and soupy with pollution in many places.
Most people just throw their garbage out wherever they please. Hiking high in the Himalayas I’d still find plastic out in the middle of the woods.
This is profoundly depressing to see.
Finding lodging information
When you travel in Mexico, Colombia or Thailand (I’ve heard), it’s very easy to figure out which hostel to go thanks to the hostel booking sites. It’s quite easy to find where the gems are. In India, you need to talk to other travelers to figure out where to stay. Trip Advisor and other review sites don’t know about the good cheap places. Wikitravel and Lonely Planet often don’t either. This took getting used to but once you know, you start taking good notes from other travelers.
Winter was coming in Leh
India is a very interesting place to travel if you have the right attitude and resourcefulness to deal with some extreme challenges.
I’m very glad I traveled there (in the end) but there were some very challenging moments.
Next time, I want to do more treks in Kashmir, party more in Mumbai, and chill out in Kerala.
Soaking it up
Before going to India, I was honestly wondering if I would be able to answer such a question positively. I had a lot of doubts about the trip, wondering if I would be able to cope with a month in India. I had previously spent 3 weeks in , and found it a great experience, but India didn’t seem to offer the same sort of world famous destinations that I would be interested in. Then, a few weeks before leaving, I started to research where exactly I was going (I was going on a World Challenge trip, so I didn’t have a great amount of say in where we would be going). Manali sounded half decent. Dharamsala had that Dalai Lama guy living there. Jaipur looked like it had some half-decent sights as well. And then there was the Taj Mahal, which seemed to be slightly overrated.
Anyway, having consumed a fairly large amount of caffine in Singapore airport, thanks to , I managed not to sleep for the whole of my plane flight over to India and even through the 20 hour bus trip to Manali. That came to my advantage, as I got to see a lot of the Indian country side through the windows. My thoughts that the Midlands Highway in Tasmania was dangerous were quickly eliminated, as I realised that India has virtually no road rules.
Waking up the next morning, Manali was simply amazing. Huge snow-capped mountains in the background, a bustling market, tea, cricket, pretty much everything you needed. I would honestly have stayed the length of my visa in Manali. Perhaps even longer.
But that would mean that I wouldn’t be able to visit Dharamsala and Mcleod Ganj, which is even more amazing. The HPSCA ground looked amazing, although I was unable to visit it. Mcleod Ganj is full of pretty much every touristy shop you could want. And, there’s the . I managed to get within about half a meter of him. He even nodded towards me. Simply amazing. (Not to disregard that managed to get a handshake. Eternally jealous of him).
Despite only spending a bit over 24 hours in Shimla, it was pretty amazing too. A bustling city perched on a mountain, it is really worth visiting. The whole of is worth visiting.
Jaipur is really worth about 2 months of time. 3 days just wasn’t enough. The Amber Fort, Water Palace, Palace of the Winds, the Pink city, all of it is amazing. and completely worth it. Jaipur is somewhat overshadowed by the fact that Agra and the Taj Mahal are bigger attractions.
After reaching Agra, four weeks later, you can probably tell that I had found the trip pretty alright. Other wise, it’s unlikely that I would be (sort of) smiling. The Taj Mahal is pretty damn spectacular as well, and a must visit destination.
The thing about India, as with every other major tourist country in the world, is that it is so conductive to adventure. You don’t want to leave. I nearly missed the bus to Delhi airport so that I didn’t.
It’s just so damn spectacular and amazing. Food, people, places, experiences, the lot. It’s all amazing. 20c chai in the street before catching a train. A dim-lit dinner with friends in a backstreet restaurant. Cricket with the locals in the temple grounds. It’s all such an amazing experience.
Anyway, yes, India is an incredible (excuse the pun) travel destination. Visit as soon as you can. I’ll be back.
Before I begin the answer from a travel enthusiast perspective, just some insights to share about Asia and India in general, might give you some perspective pertaining to the question you have asked.
Travel Facts – Asia & India
Some interesting facts about the travel Industry in India & Asia in general.
Over the next few years, Asia — mostly China and India — and Latin America will drive world economic growth, contributing up to 75% of global GDP from 2010 to 2012.
The 2012 outlook for Asian outbound travel is positive. 6 to 8% increase in this year’s expected 14% growth.
In particular India appears to be set for strong growth with 43% planning more outbound travel next year. IPK’s travel confidence of India is at a high 113 points.
Incredible India – Travel Galore
I began exploring India truly about five years ago and I’d say despite traveling to a lot of parts, I hae hardly touched 1/4th of the country so far. An endeavor that makes me want to go on and on till I have set foot across each and every state at least. One of the reasons why I enjoy doing so is cause of it’s geographical and cultural diversity with of course significant historic and mythical relevance to various places. Adds to it’s mystery in its own way. To such an extent that every different place that you travel to within India is a completely different landscape and a cultural expose of sorts. There is a great sense of encompassing travel experience that yuo get when you explore various parts of India. From the beautiful mountains in the Himalayas to the amazing temples and the beaches down south. From the most diverse religious and cultural places across the four corners of the country to the much modern and very well built cities in various metropolis. From the multiple Indian languages spoken in different parts to the very familiar tour guides or audio guidebooks that you’ll get at various heritage sites to help understanding places in the country much better for yourself. India has it all. If you are the type who loves adventure and mountain climbing then you can explore various destinations across the Himalayas which span across the Indo-Nepal-Tibet and Pakistan border you’d love every bit of it. There are practically every kind of geographically diverse landscapes in Leh and Ladakh. If you are interested in culture and meeting new people of ethnic and traditional origin then a trip to Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and some remote villages in Harayana, Punjab and some parts of South India would do the trick. Archaeology fans might really enjoy The Ruins of Hampi, various parts of Gujarat and some across India-Pakistan border where Indus valley civilization ruins exist and of course Madhya Pradesh for it’s beautiful terrain and charismatic caves depicting ancient lore of Kama Sutra and love in Khajurao. Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore are the metropolis you might want to go to, best serve as connectivity to various different parts and mostly flights to any place in the world or other part of the country are available here. South India give s you a lot of insight on the Hindu cwith it’s various temples and also a great escapade towards nature in God’s own country Kerala will enchant you with it’s beauty. The North East has it’s own charm with various landscapic mountains, monasteries, Buddhist culture and an eye awakening spirituality towards nature and this planet. Then there are the beautiful islands of Lakshwadeep and Andaman and Nicobar which are a place in itself. Secluded from most parts of India they lie within the terrains of water a world within their own these places must not be missed. And last but not least, there’s no place like Goa! If you come to India, Goa is a must visit for….
Of course there are pitfalls when it comes to hygiene, beggars, lots of crowd, the problem of communication at times in certain parts. The potential risk of being duped by locals or overpriced at various destinations are certainly there… But if you are aware and well educated about your destination with some planning and research, yo can get along well with any of those situations. Plus that in itself is an experience for you so to speak. Overall, India tourism is trying to create infrastructure and overall awareness for its tourists and travelers. You’ll find a lot of information on this website and also if you carry the India Travel Guide book, which most tourists and travelers from the world carry with themselves you should be good to go. In most places local authorities, police are quite helpful, sometimes you may have issues with the bureaucratic ways of the cops and local authorities, but if all your paper work is good then mostly there are no worries.
So overall I’d say, India is certainly a good travel destination. One thing I’d recommend to watch before you start your journey to India is an interesting six part documentary series by BBC and Micheal Wood called ‘The Story of India.’
You can also check out my Travel Blogs to give you some idea of what places to visit across India &
Lastly here are some of the places that I’ve visited and shortlisting them for you to show you what I really mean when I wrote this answer. For the detailed answer refer to this: Would give you quite an answer to your question and my explanation to why India is a good travel destination 🙂
P.S If nothing else, there’s the Taj Mahal to come to India for! 😉
What are the Places to travel to?
Trek towards Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Saheb (Glacier may not be always there…)
Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand HImalayas
Paragliding in the Solang Valley
Spiritual Quest at the Dalai Lama Temple in Dharamsala/McLeodganj
Shey Palace in Ladakh
Shanti Stupa in Ladakh
Leh Palace in Leh, Ladakh
Nubra Valley in Ladakh
Disket Temple in Nubra Valley in Ladakh
Ride a Bullet to Khardung La in Ladakh *Highest Motorable road 18380 ft
Alchi Gompa – Oldest Monastery in Leh, Ladakh
Indus River Valley in Ladakh
Pangong Tso Lake across Ladakh and China Border
The serene Om beach in Gokarna
Rameshwaram Temple and it’s 1000 Pillars
Chinese Fishing Nets in Fort. Kochi
Boat to Allepy from Kottayam in Kerala
Buland Darwaaza of Fatehpur Sikri
Hawa Mahal in Jaipur
Jain temples of Jaisalmer
The Vintage car museum in Udaipur
Matri Mandir in Auroville
Pondicherry & Auoroville Beach
The Garden City – Bangalore
Visit the Ruins of Hampi – A must visit if you are a fan of archaeology and historic ancient culture.
Stone Chariot in the Vittala Temple
Hazara Rama Temple – Carvings from 10th-13th century of Rama
Lakshmi Narsimha statue
Lotus Mahal in Zennana Enclosure… Ancient air conditioned palace
Monolithic Bull, carved out of one Stone
Mythical Lions called Yalli inside Krishna Temple
View the Marina Beach Sunrise in Chennai
Conquer the Mahuli fort during rains in Maharashtra – The Sahayadaris
Charminar in Hyderabad
The Buddha Statue in Lumbini Park in Hyderabad on the Husain Sagar lake
Be part of the Kala Ghoda Festival in Mumbai
Lenayadri Hills in Maharashtra – One of the Ashtavinayaka Temples
Ajanta Ellora Caves in Aurangabad
Badrinath Temple in Uttarakhand
Mana Village and Vasudhara Waterfalls – The last indian Village on Indo Tibet Border
Haridwar for it’s cultural and spiritual expose.
Lakshman Jhoola and the Parmarth Temple in Rishikesh