My India trip has come to an end, so while I’m waiting 12h for my flight to Thailand, reflections seem in order. I’m summary, I’d recommend anyone to give India a try!
I’m just going to list off items as they come to me. Of course there will be broad generalizations, so take everything with a grain of salt. If the majority of them seem negative, then that must be because I’m a whiner ;). My overall feeling is definitely positive, I wouldn’t hesitate to come back.
The biggest culture shock for me was no doubt the lack of hygiene here. Trash is not something to be put in a bin here, you just throw it away, literally. That means the streets are full of it, as are rivers, the countryside, … For example, in the train ride down from Matheran, people just threw their empty water bottles into the forest. And these were educated people who could afford taking a vacation in a posh 5-star hotel…
Rivers are basically an open sewer. What makes it worse is that people use those very same rivers to bathe in, wash their clothes and go to the toilet. I’m also not convinced by the “use only your left hand” for the toilet thing… Which is why I stocked up on heaps of toilet paper every time I got the chance ;).
Hotels, at least the budget ones I stayed in, are in general rather dirty. In Europe places looking like this would be bankrupt within a few months, but here it seems to be the norm in such hotels never to clean with water and soap. Or to use efficient laundry detergent. Not too much of a problem if you know what to expect and are prepared for it though.
People are extremely friendly in general, and will try to help you if you have some kind of problem. The only issue is that it seems to go against Indian culture to say no or admit you don’t know/understand something. In those cases people will tell you something completely wrong or just say yes for the sake of it and then stand there and look at you. So, if you have any doubt whatsoever about what someone has just told you, better ask someone else again!
Another weird thing is the “head wobble”, which is used to indicate yes and no. I was never able to tell the difference between the two. Combine this with the fact that no one will ever admit to not understanding you, instead saying yes, and you can imagine how some conversations turn frustrating extremely quickly :).
Then there’s the staring, which I mentioned in an earlier post. People won’t do this in Delhi or Mumbai, but as soon as you’re out of those cities it’s stare-fest. Especially in train stations, where some men will even walk up to you and stare, all without saying a word, as if they have just discovered some alien lifeform that needs closer inspection.
All the staring goes hand in hand with taking photos. In the beginning this was rather amusing, but it quickly turned bothersome. It really makes you feel like a monkey in a zoo. It’s not as if these picture-takers have never seen someone with white skin before…
Nature here is really beautiful, especially Hampi which is simply gorgeous. There’s tons of very pretty birds here, which I unfortunately couldn’t photograph with my simple camera. The many temples are also very nice. I especially liked the ones at Elora and Ajanta. The main temple in Hampi village is also really interesting, since it’s still in daily use, so you can catch a glimpse of some rituals.
And then there’s the food. Just for this, a trip to India would probably be worth it. In a whole month, I’ve eaten meat only twice and yet never missed it. The huge variety of incredibly tasty vegetarian/vegan dishes here is fantastic. There’s simply no comparison to what goes for a “vegetarian” dish in most Belgian restaurants. The only thing that did strike me a bit odd is that there’s “curries” (for lack of a better word) eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many dishes are very greasy. If you’re sick, that will probably make your stomach turn, but in those cases you can often get a (not very good) “European” breakfast. But, if you’re feeling well, then dig in, I say! One of the best breakfasts I had was poha.
And with that, I end my “reflections”. If you can look past its obvious hygienic problems and are ready to deal with the, for us, sometimes strange cultural behavior, then India is a fantastic place to visit. I’ve only seen parts of the central region, but I’m sure I’ll be back some day to check out north, south, east, and west!