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 liked about India (don’t forget to read about the dark side here):
1. Incredible diversity
There’s a reason India is often called (sub-)continent – it describes the scale much better than just ‘country’, although some might even consider it a world of its own.
Whatever you prefer, imagine admiring vast sand deserts with camel caravans from the top of an ancient fort, boarding a train to sun yourself on palm fringed white sand beaches, next stop are Himalayan glacier peaks and icy river valleys, then deep green jungles and rainforest where tree roots form mighty river bridges, a boat arrives at secluded, coral reefed tropical islands, then dive into the madness of a bustling supercity.
Converse with Hindus in Varanasi, Parsis in Mumbai, Bahai in Delhi, Muslims in Kashmir, Jains in Gujarat, Christians in Mizoram, Jews in Kerala, Sikhs in Amritsar, Buddhists in Ladakh, Animalists in Nagaland or potheads in Goa. Cover the distances in between by car, jeep, bus, train, boat, bicycle, tricycle, motorrickshaw, motorcycle, plane, horse or ox cart.
The whole spectrum from deepest spirituality to craziest materialism, stunning natural magnificence to despairing pollution and destruction of nature, ultimate silence and solitude to maddening crowds and suffocation.
Did the point come across?
2. The power of a smile
Without a doubt India will ask a lot from you and many moments will absolutely test your limits. But over and over again it appeared, that the whole course of a situation can be directed by something as simple as a smile.
When once more the center of attention, confronted with the many persistent stares from complete stranger to whom you are certainly the bigger stranger try to overcome possible discomfort and just send a wide smile over, in best case even waggle your head slightly, Indian style. In 99% of such scenarios all tension will vanish and counter smiles of all varieties will fly back to you. While a smile causes good things in all places, we rarely perceived it as such a powerful instrument – as possibly the only feasible measure of control in an otherwise uncontrollable place.
3. English eases the traveler’s life
Whoever has been to countries where the language differences create massive barriers can imagine the unbelievable advantage of being in a country so strange, encountering people with lives so different but being able to exchange thoughts in a common language: English!
We expected and looked forward to this advantage, but were still surprised about how widespread English language skills are. Sure, don’t discuss Modi’s new economical policies with any chai wallah – but enough of them tell you about their joy in family life and the daily hardships of work in the streets. If you need directions there’s nearly always somebody around who explains well enough – if you seek deep discussions about complex matters, there’ll be enough people from young to old who gladly join.
A downside of this situation: It doesn’t exactly increase motivation to learn the local languages – which is tough enough already, considering how frequently those change when traveling through the country.
4. Culinary craziness – Indian food
Alright, that’s an obvious one but can not be omitted. Some people travel to India just because of the food and it’s possible to understand that. In the very first place it shall be pointed out, that India is nothing but the very heartland of vegetarianism. You’ll manage to dine in all diversity and quality for a long time in India without ever tasting a bit of meat. Then, the combination of creativity and simplicity in the way how the variety of specialties is prepared, is as tasty as it is fascinating. The use of spices, vegetables, grains, fruits and other products varies from east to west, from north to south. Still, even in the Himalayas it might be possible to find your favorite south Indian dosa.
Restrictively it has to be mentioned, that what a traveler actually finds daily in simple eateries, especially in rural areas often is not too various. The definite mainstays are clearly either rice and some veggie curry or chappathi with the same. Although if you are sensitive to greasy or spicy food, you’re in for a tough time.
5. The price is nice
Another pretty obvious one. India is without question one of the world’s top budget traveling destinations. Like there are people coming just for the food, even more are coming only for the prices. For long term travelers who manage to stay cheap in different countries, India is a place where one can offer him- / herself a few more ‘luxuries’. If you are tired of hitching for a while, just take a train for a bigger jump; if you don’t feel like camping, it is possible to find very affordable rooms and most importantly: India offers diversion from your simple camp fire cuisine with incredible affordable delights that are often in fact cheaper than buying the ingredients yourself.
But also here an restriction has to be made: Prices are on the rise, like everywhere. Especially in some busy and touristy places, don’t expect to get all you want for just 3 dollars a day! Furthermore, often enough you’ll face the foreigner overpricing that can drive certain things up and your mood down.
6. A festival for the senses
While it was explained extensively in ”here” how this festival frequently turns into a real fucked up drunken disco – this is about the beautiful side:
Especially coming from a rather monotonous and for our taste often too empty place like Oman, our first days in India woke all our senses up like a shrill fire alarm and even tired us from just using them that much! There are all possible colors everywhere, so many very different smells accompany them, too many languages spoken with so different voices. The rich vegetation and the ever moving animal world interferes everywhere with the crazy enough human world. There are certain patterns we will never forget: Like the colorful Saris of Keralan women in contrast to the golden beaches and green-blue sea. The smell of freshly brewed cardamon-cinnamon masala tea around some grubby street corner. The perpetous yells in India’s great railway bazaar calling: “Chaaaiii…chaaaiii…garam chaaaiii”; “Saaaammmoooosssaaa…..Saaaammmoooosssaaa” or “Bollywood DVD, phone chargers, lady mirrroooors… Bollywood DVD, phone chargers, lady mirrooooors!!”
7. The worlds greatest railway
India’s railway is one incredible, crazy, joyful, maddening machine that seems to be continuously on the very verge of blowing up completely but in the end runs and runs and runs. You can nearly travel everywhere in India by rail. And in fact traveling by rail in India should not be considered as a mean of transportation to a destination – it is a destination in itself! Imagine crossing the whole vast country from the northern mountains to the southern tip where the seas meet in one train, bridging over 3700km in around 75 hours for just about 15$ in sleeper class. The trains are a place where the country and all it’s people come together more or less voluntarily and one has no choice (if not booking fancy AC class) to be right in the middle of it. Yes, it is often a pain in the ass to book tickets, yes, 2nd general class is worse than any European cattle transport, yes, even sleeper class can be crowded, cramped and frustrating…but like any great adventure, traveling India by train attaches beautiful memories to each scar.
8. Everything is possible in India
Eat in restaurants that would comfortably fit in your grandmothers closet. Sit in a teahouse and observe a cow entering and nobody blink an eye. Watch characters walking down regular streets side by side that could be cast in a variety of movies from Pirates of the Carribean, over Matrix, to Flintstones and Star Wars. Stare at Bangalore’s traffic for a few minutes and try to understand how it comes nobody just died. You want to buy something…anything? You’ll get it…cheaper. It is broken? Don’t worry…there’s somebody to quickly repair your new shoes…your notebooks internal HDD…your leg…or your mind. You laugh and don’t believe this bus still drives and could tackle that road? Better jump in, it’s moving already! Don’t mind the door…it always falls off! Oh and now those 30 people should fit in as well – no way! …you exlaim before a charming old man sits on your lap and some baskets on top of you two. Expected anything unexpected in India – but don’t you dare to expect the expected!
Now try to see the half empty side of the bottle here!