After four month in the country, we can safely say that India left a deep impression. Before we arrived, many travelers told us: ‘You will either hate India or really love it – there is not much in between.’
It was different for us – we had many wonderful moments when we truly loved being in India and then enough moments, when we felt like being in the very wrong place. We feel torn in between strong emotions as we experienced both sides – the beauty and the beast India can be.
Following the rather superficial and subjective collection of aspects we didn’t like about India (don’t forget to read about the bright side here):
1. It is so madly crowded!
While India does not even have the highest population density of all countries (ranked 10th among territorial states), it sure felt like the most crowded place we’ve ever been. It might be the relatively uneven distribution of people, with some urban centers growing like mangoes in may and other areas, like the vast mountains in the north or the desert in the west comparably sparsely populated. We sometimes felt just suffocated by the masses, mostly in cities but even smaller towns. Not to mention in the trains, buses and sumos!
2. The traffic is just crazy!
Combine the population factor with an ancient, insufficient infrastructure and a reckless driving attitude maybe connected to the firm believe in reincarnation, traffic in India is the worst we have seen anywhere. At it is more than an optical illusion: For example 2013 India accounted for over 19% of all global road accident fatalities! But it is not just a question of life and death, more a daily thing. The traffic takes away all pleasure of strolling along the streets, prohibits conversation at normal volume and tires the hell out of you when spending a day out in a city or town. We just wished there would be at least some pedestrian / traffic calmed areas, but even in the smallest alleys motorbikes are darting and honking past you.
3. It is so damn dirty – the pollution factor
Without a doubt directly connected to the two previous aspects, India is not alone by any means when it comes to failing full fledged in the management of all kinds of possible pollution. But once more, from our experience India is the peak of this very issue. Again statistics support our impression: for example this year India has the dubious honor of owning 13 of the worlds 20 most polluted cities! And it is really everything, kilometer long mountains of plastic along roads and railway tracks, the ocean surf carrying loads of trash ashore with each wave, rivers so dirty that they cause skin diseases and worse, streets and alleys reeking of piss and feces, air pollution that lets people die many years earlier in major cities and lastly a noise pollution that is many times above the mandated limits. And what hurts the most: It is not exactly a major discussion in the country – and even pretty educated individuals make a sport out of throwing all their trash out of train windows. More than once we had to fight our tears…
4. A place of no silence
Like mentioned already, noise becomes one’s most loyal companion. If you are not far away from everything in nature or some expensive apartment, expect to be woken up in the morning early enough by harrumphing and spitting men, screeching horns and howling engines, the generator coping with a power cut or just people shouting and talking over three blocks. Your lullaby in most cheap lodges or night trains will consist of the same spitting concert, full power mobile phone music, crying children and quarreling ladies. It took a while to understand, that people don’t mean any harm, but living in a place like India gives no chance to develop any consciousness.
5. Human behavior testing tolerance
Surely just as well another result of the countries crowdedness, in no other country we got pissed off by peoples behavior as much as in India. The permanent staring is surely not meant as an offense and to a certain degree you get used to it. But what directly influences your comfort are people managing to turn a sleeper class train to a semi dump in a matter of one afternoon, the completely uncontrolled mass behavior, e.g. creating war-like scenes at the opening of a subway door or those times when you have to result being stern and rigorous to archive anything. We probably never will get used to the constant sights of men just peeing in front of all public at a wall or children shitting right on the sidewalk with the parents watching the process from their house entrance and not even removing the product afterwards.
6. Racism reversed – being ‘white’ in India
You are a white ‘Sahib’ in India, no matter how ragged your clothes, how humble your behavior or your actual origin and personal background, more often than not it creates the following idea in the head of people: There’s a person from a wealthy place being on holiday with pockets full of dollars waiting to be spend as they are easily re-earned once home. Given, like in many stereotypes, this one does carry some truth as well. But it is frustrating being reduced to this concept many times over and over again. It means being in the absolute focus of begging persons, even with a whole group of well dressed Bangalore business men just next to you, it means being exposed permanently in half way touristy places to the frenzy of touts and furthermore we felt looked up to by regular people of our age often, just because we were from Europe. Well, in short: We felt perceived like pure holiday making tourists a lot. Consequently, when it comes to money often enough you have to pay ‘white tax’ – don’t expect the rickshaw driver to ask you the price he would ask a local for. Some bargaining is fine – but sometimes we were sick of being asked four times the regular price and being deliberately lied to that this is actually the normal price.
7. Being a female in India is not easy
While the media focus on all the rape stories definitely creates an exaggerated and expended image of the dangers as a female traveling in India, it is not the easiest place to be as a girl. First off, we didn’t have any severe trouble personally, but Maria was most of the time with me – so not traveling alone. But we heard enough credible stories of men using chances in crowded spaces (enough available!) to grope, guys watching girls sleep in a train while touching their dicks or just annoying exchanges on otherwise great websites like Couchsurfing about having a date instead of hospitality. But here we have to mention very critically the other part of the story: We couldn’t believe how some western tourists were walking around in a dress-wise highly sensitive place like India – in Amsterdam’s red lighted showcase windows the fashion is not much different. India is no Mallorca – but with some mental strength and sensitivity should not be taboo for single female travelers.
8. Traveling simple = traveling stressful
Usually the aspects of traveling we enjoy the most contain hitchhiking, camping, couchsurfing, random interactions, random places. While it is definitely partly our fault, in India it was immensely tough to stick to those principles and still enjoy it. Why? Hitchhiking means fending off the countless rickshaws and taxis, hoping that one of the few private cars or a truck stops. In general, we found road travel exhausting in India, due to that mad traffic, the road conditions and the fact that the surrounding of main roads nearly never is too pretty. We mostly moved long distances by train. Camping worked fine in nature places – but on travel days it would have meant crashing in some dump, potentially bothered by stray dogs, the smell of trash and feces or people who get curios to the point that the tent will be just opened. Furthermore, we didn’t feel too good about leaving our stuff alone even for a while in most places in India. Regarding Couchsurfing, unfortunately many places in India just have a handful of real active Couchsurfers – and in big cities Couchsurfing likely means being stuck in a suburb and consequently lots of commuting to the city center. We quickly realized that the average Indian small town is a dusty, uncontrolled grid of crowded streets and noise, framed by the usual piles of trash – thus we didn’t fancy much ending up in such random places at night (..or even day). For those reasons we used public transportation too much, slept too many nights in hostels, planed our directions too much and partly lost the spirit of free traveling.
Now try to see the half full side of the bottle here!