Surviving India

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5 Essential Travel Tips on Indian Culture

And everyone loved to see Tyler and Kara. With our fair skin and blond hair all but one of us , we definitely did not blend in here. In fact, we were exotic creatures, always stared at, always being photographed. This is probably the closest we will ever get to knowing what life is like for celebrities. The constant attention gets old fast, and towards the end of five weeks in India we tried to avoid this attention as much as possible.

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It was impossible to visit a site, like the Taj Mahal or the Red Fort, without first shooing away ten guides. Also, Indians are very bad at waiting in line and have no qualms about pushing their way in front of you while waiting in line. This happened quite frequently and was one of the things that really got on our nerves here. Even though we were on a budget we still stayed in relatively decent hotels, which for us were 3 star hotels and homestays. Apparently, white towels and sheets in India are a luxury. We bargained for everything here…rickshaws, food, hotel rooms, souvenirs, our camel safari, everything!

At first, we felt almost kind of bad, bargaining prices down so much, especially in a country where some people have so little. But bargaining is expected, and by accepting too high of a price you actually look like a fool to the people here. Now, bargaining is like second nature to us. Yes, we were expecting India to be hot, crowded, and dirty, with cows in the street and people everywhere. We were ready for the slums and poverty, and to some degree, we were ready for the bargaining and scams. Watching children playing in a piles of trash because there was no where else to go, watching cows choke down trash because there was no green grass for them in the cities, stepping over piles of cow dung as we walked through the streets, watching as people bathed and did their laundry in the polluted water of the Ganges River, was all very distressing to us.

People would blatantly throw trash on the ground like it was the most natural thing in the world. The longer we stayed in India the more frustrating this was for us. We could not imagine how people could live in these conditions day after day.

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In India, we got around by car, train, airplane, rickshaw, bus, and even camels and elephants. It was incredibly easy to find rickshaws and taxis in cities, and many times we could get the rickshaw drivers to try to outbid one another.

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The tuk-tuk was our primary mode of transportation in the cities, which Tyler and Kara really enjoyed. I swear the taxi and bus drivers in India have a death wish, not to mention a hearing problem. Our first taxi ride, from the border of Bhutan to Siliguri, our taxi driver drove straight down the center of the road, played chicken with oncoming drivers, never releasing the horn. Taxi drivers almost completely disregard streetlights, and on more than one occasion our drivers came very close to taking out pedestrians. Buses are not any safer. Bus drivers also like to play chicken with oncoming traffic, swerving back into their lane at the very last possible second.

I would try to ignore what was going on and just hope for the best. Traveling on the roads in India is extremely dangerous with numerous reports of fatal car and bus accidents. To get between cities, we usually traveled by train or airplane. This came as a complete surprise to me, but the one time we traveled by overnight train from Jaisalmer to Jaipur was one of the coolest things we did in India.

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We stayed in a first class car and the four of us shared one berth. The cots were relatively clean and comfortable for India! After a few weeks in India, we got to the point where we felt we could not trust anyone anymore. If someone comes up to you, wanting to practice their English, it is a scam. Taxi drivers will tell you that your hotel is closed, trying to take you to a different hotel where they will score a commission.

The scams are endless and some people are very, very good here. We fell for a few of them and as a result have learned to always be on our guard. We are now so jaded that as soon as anyone approaches us, we automatically assume that they have something up their sleeve. We now see India and the world differently now. The main thing our family learned is how fortunate we are to have the things we do. From India, the United States looks rich, peaceful, and almost sterile.

We now have a much greater appreciation for the things we took for granted while living in the US…clean sheets, clean water, fresh food, and peace and quiet. We have changed in smaller ways, as well. No longer does the dreaded squat potty look so intimidating.

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I now know what most things are on an Indian menu. We all know a lot more about Hinduism, and I now carry around Ganesh in my camera bag. I would be lying if I said that we all really enjoyed our five weeks in India. Five weeks was a long time for us, probably too long. The longer we were here, the more annoying the trash, dirt, and constant noise became. Someone once told me that India is growing at such a fast rate that the number of babies born in the country per year is equivalent to the entire population of Australia. So every year that passes, India basically pours one more Australia into their borders.

I Just Want to Buy a Samosa. Where is the Line?!? Shops and cafeterias in India rarely have queues or any discernable method of keeping order at the register. Instead, customers crowd around the counter, wave and try to make eye contact until the clerk decides who gets to go next. What Does It Mean? The head bob is the answer to every question. It is done by tilting the head from side to side several times.

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Indian food is meant to be enjoyed with multiple senses — smell, sight, taste and touch. Many restaurants in southern India have sampler meals served up on banana leaves far more eco-friendly than paper plates. There should be a jug of water at the table which you can use to rinse off your leaf before the food is served. You can use all of your fingers to mix the curries and gravies with rice. The thumb should be used to push food onto your middle two or three fingers. Try not to put your fingers too far into your mouth, and keep the slurping to a minimum.

It takes practice to eat a full dinner this way without wearing half your meal by the end, so plan on eating out as much as possible.

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This rule stands even if you are left-handed. All unclean tasks are handled with the left, and the right is reserved for everything else.

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The Drinks No tap water. Ensure that the seal is still intact when you drink — stories circulate about bottles being taken from the trash and refilled to be sold on the street. Another favorite is sugar cane juice. Vendors can be found chopping, stripping and juicing at portable stands all around India. Actually, the bucket is meant to assist in bathing.

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  5. The bucket can be filled with water and the cup is used for rinsing off. This is a motion where one sort of bobs their head backwards and forwards; it can mean absolutely anything; hello, goodbye, yes and no. After a while, you too will begin to head waggle; this is your in! This is how you will make friends in India, this is how you will show people you are not fresh of the plane, this is how you will haggle for the best possible price on everything from water to abseiling!

    You will always be able to find someone willing to meet you at your price; simply wander around, practise your poker face and be sure to haggle every day until you are a bona-fide haggling master. India is unbelievably cheap; I mean, ludicrously cheap. You can afford to eat out whenever you want. You can afford taxis. In India though; do not be afraid to treat yourself. Just got off a hour journey? Head to an air-con cinema and then spend a night in a decent hotel; the whole thing will cost you under a tenner! I cannot even begin to tell you how useful having an Indian sim is!

    You will spend a lot of time in India traveling by train and in order to book train tickets in advance, which is pretty much the only way to get them, you must have an Indian phone number. There are a few cities in India which are truly beautiful; Mysore, Udaipur, and Leh. Crucially, all of these cities are relatively small. If you want to save your budget and your sanity, then avoid the massive cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, and Bangalore.

    Whilst all of these cities do have some cool things to see they are also extremely stressful to be in. The noise, pollution, and crowds are enough to drive anybody insane! India is a big place. There is a lot to see. The well-established backpacker meccas of Hampi , Goa, and Manali all have incredible things going for them. Hampi is probably one of my favorite places in the whole world and I have been three times hey, I was in India for over a year! Saying that these places are quickly becoming commercialized and crowded with somewhat irritating individuals.

    Surviving India Surviving India
    Surviving India Surviving India
    Surviving India Surviving India
    Surviving India Surviving India
    Surviving India Surviving India
    Surviving India Surviving India
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