India: Expectations vs Reality

Hopefully you are reading this because you are thinking of travelling to India… Take my advice, book it now and read about it later! Travel blogs will invariably tell you travelling India is a number of things, many of which I did not find to be true. 

After travelling India for a month (The Golden Triangle/Goa/Kerala) I realised that some of my expectations were not the same as reality. So I have written below about some of my preconceptions and how my experience compared. I hope this helps anyone who is thinking of visiting!

 

1. You will experience culture shock:

‘Culture Shock’ is defined as ‘the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes’. Now, I must admit that until I googled this about 30 seconds ago, my definition of culture shock read something more like, ‘touching down in a country and having a full-blown meltdown because it’s so crazy and different your body gives up entirely’. But even so, I had come across this idea of ‘culture shock’ in many of the blogs and sites that I read beforehand.

And do you know what? I waited, and waited. And it didn’t happen.

India is a country that is unlike anywhere I have ever been before… It’s loud, bright and in your face. At times I was exhausted, confused, frustrated, but at other times I was inspired, excited, in awe and relaxed, and at some stages, I was even bored. A lot like most of the other countries in the world I have visited! 

My tips for avoiding culture shock:

  1. Try not to let things get to you. Train delayed by 12 hours (this happened to us!)? Paid too much for a sarong? Overwhelmed by the traffic/noise/pollution? Take a deep breath and stay calm. Remember only you decide what value you place on things!
  2. Stay connected to home… If you want to! You don’t have to cut all ties as soon as you land to enjoy the full experience. I’m not advocating sitting on your phone all day! But if you’re missing home then sometimes half an hour of Instagram or News (OK, maybe not this one) will be enough to pick you up.
  3. Push yourself to have new experiences, but know your limits. You don’t need to eat/visit/see EVERYTHING and if you don’t feel comfortable with doing something, just say no strongly and firmly.

 

india-queen
It’s the little things that make you feel at home…

2. You WILL get Delhi Belly

‘Touch down in Delhi and your stomach will fall out the bottom of you’ is the common belief everyone holds about India. But this is NOT what I experienced at all, and I ate only Indian food the whole time. I ate vegetarian and only fish in Varkala in Kerala (it is always freshly caught that day) as this is my usual diet. Follow the traditional advice and you’ll be fine to eat local dishes. Don’t be scared of trying new things, the food is delicious.

There are heaps of medical sites out there who are far more qualified than me to advise on this, but the basic rules we followed were:

  1. Only drink bottled water, make sure the seal on the bottle is still intact!
  2. Eat where the locals eat or where is busy. If somewhere is busy, you can be more certain food is prepared freshly. We once ate in a completely empty restaurant and were promptly served a bowl of rice with ants in! This was enough to make us follow this advice in future. Also you know the food tastes good!
  3. Eat vegetarian. We found there were just as many (actually more) amazingly tasty veg dishes during our Golden Triangle travels which suited us fine as we believe it’s harder to get ill from veg than meat.
veg-food
Remember: Vegetarian food is the ONLY way out!

3. Men will hassle female travellers:

So, if you’re anything like me you have read 100 blogs about what you can/can’t wear in India; a country in which reports of ill treatment of women are frequently circulated. As a result, I was convinced that I had to go out in baggy trousers, baggy t-shirts and a scarf (this blasted scarf was heralded in ALL the blogs I read) to cover all these baggy clothes up too. But what I didn’t bargain for was everyone (Indians/tourists alike) were simply wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I would only suggest wearing a long t-shirt or jumper to cover your bum, but let me tell you, men will stare whether you are wearing a tent or a pair of skinny jeans.

Having read reports of sexual harassment and even sexual violence in India I was quite nervous about what treatment I would receive there. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this one because I had mixed experiences.

On the one hand In the North, men stared non-stop at me, but I didn’t experience any harassment and most of the time the staring was fairly non-intrusive, and only annoying if you let it get to you. A couple of young boys asked for selfies, I said yes once but later read that some of the boys put the images on social media and pretend that you’re their girlfriend or a prostitute. Sooo… Probably won’t do that again.

On the other hand, in Anjuna I was pretty relaxed and wasn’t worried about men at all. I was on the beach and went into the sea on my own, and an Indian guy swum over to me and after a brief introduction offered his hand to shake mine. But as he did used his other hand to brush over my chest. Shocked, I said ‘don’t touch me!’ And moved away from him and out of the sea asap. I was left feeling extremely self-conscious and untrusting, and a couple of days later a guy grabbed me on the arm and stroked down it while I was in a crowd of people. Again, extremely annoying and he disappeared before I could make a scene.

It was weird that these things happened in Anjuna, I had heard that Goa was the most Westernised place in all the whole of India! I can only speculate that as Goa is a place that other people in India come to holiday,  their  attitudes towards women may not be reflective of people who are used to Western women in bikinis. Needless to say, these men are not reflective of all, even most of Indian men… In the less touristy Agonda I had no hassle at all. I must point out that nearly all of the time I was next to my boyfriend, whereas girls we had met travelling without males said they had experienced more hassle. So, my revised opinion is that India is a place that women are safe, you just need to be aware of your surroundings and make a scene if anything happens to make you feel uncomfortable.

I don’t want to write ‘tips to avoid being harassed’ as clearly the only people that can stop you being harassed are the harassers themselves… If you experience any inappropriate behaviour this is in no way your fault! But this is my experience of what made me feel comfortable:

  1. Wear what you feel comfortable in, apart from if this so happens to be a mini skirt and bra… Maybe think again… If it’s tight and low then it’s more likely to draw attention. But, like I said you will be stared at regardless of what you wear so don’t worry about it too much. Wear the fabled scarf if it makes you feel more comfortable!
  2. Make a scene if someone touches you inappropriately- cause them to feel uncomfortable as they have you!
  3. Go by your instincts, have your wits about you and avoid being isolated in public. If I could go back I would be slightly less trusting when I was on my own.

 

taj-clothes
I call this outfit ‘horrendously baggy covered by scarf’. This was not necessary!
 

4. You will be constantly fending off scammers

When we booked our very first hostel in Delhi they emailed us before we landed with an exciting array of potential scams we could face in the airport and a set of instructions on how to avoid them. Even by their own admission, it did sound a bit ‘Bond-like’. We had our minds set on fending off these dodgy characters and protecting every last rupee. In reality, we sat outside the airport and were left completely alone for an hour, not even a taxi driver approached us!

The rest of the time in India we did not come across any obvious scams (people claiming landmarks/hostels/ tourist offices closed/burnt down/full etc etc) but did feel that there was a constant slight over-paying of almost everything. This we expected and haggled where possible to reduce costs. You will almost always pay different rates to locals at attractions, which we considered fair. Ultimately, we took the approach that haggling over a few rupee was not always worth it, and when we felt we had been slightly ripped off we shrugged it off as ‘spreading the wealth’ (a barely concealed attempt at retaining pride).

Tips to Protect Your Money:

  1. Familiarise yourself with popular scams but don’t obsess over them, they do happen but don’t let them make you scared!
  2. If you don’t know how much something should cost, ask your hostel or homestay. We always ask as matter of routine how much a tuk tuk/taxi should cost from our arrival port to our destination.
  3. Haggle, but try not to get too worked up if you spend more than you intended, and think about it as helping to spread wealth. Work out what you could have spent the equivalent money on in your home country. The average glass of wine costs around £6.50 around where I lived, which puts things in perspective!
india-fabric
I have never wanted anything as much as an occasion to wear a sari!

I’m not saying none of these things happen: They do. But don’t let it put you off going or make you scared. We had read so much about how crazy it was going to be that we assumed that we would need extra beach time to recover. This was completely unnecessary and we actually became bored spending time on the beach! Although, I did get to read loadsss of books, which I’ll discuss in my next posts…

India is an amazing place and so much more than the worst stereotypes you read about!

Have you been to India? I would be really interested to hear what your expectations were and whether your experience matched them!

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