It’s true what everyone says: ‘India is a country you love and hate at the same time.’ It’s a country of bright colours, rich culture, amazing food and adventure, but also a country of pollution, big crowds, rip-offs and also a place you’d be spending many hours on (dirty) squat toilets. It’s a country we can talk about for hours when meeting other travellers. It’s a country of extremes which makes awesome stories to tell.
Why India stole our hearts
Reasons to visit India is that it has got everything you want; There’s the big city life with its glitter & glamour, enormous shopping malls, modern entertainment units and high fashion party events with big brands involved. Once you’re done with that you can travel to beautiful hill stations the time seems to have stood still and where you can get lost on your bike between lush tea plantations. Or you could explore wildlife forests to spot wild elephants, tigers and snakes. And what about those golden deserts with its authentic villages where you can do camel safaris and fall asleep beneath a 100 million stars sky. Last but not least, let’s definitely not forget the laid-back Goan beaches where we’ve already decided to return back in the future to spend our Dutch winters. Rich culture, strong religions and spirituality (yoga), extremely good food, etc. You name it, India has it!
Tucking into street food is one of the joys of traveling in India. You get to try out so many yummy snacks for a bargain. The spicy food will make you tear up during your entire trip, yet it’s so finger licking delicious that you can’t control yourself. You will definitely have the jojo effect regarding your weight; eating more than your stomach can handle, but getting food poisoning at the same time so you will loose those extra pounds before you get back home. We both got it and it was horrible. But oh so worth it.
Traveling around in this country is like an adventurous roller coaster ride whether it’s by buses, rickshaws or trains. I can’t decide whether it’s because of the narrow, poorly lit streets next to a couple of hundreds of meters vertical drop on high altitudes, the driving skills of the bus- and rickshaw drivers between so many other cars, trucks, cyclists, pedestrians, cows, etc. or just because there is always something happening on the lively streets whether it’s the street vendors who put on strange voices to sell their goods, the joyful children who chase after you and salute you until you disappear from their sights, dancing & singing people in trains (wait, am I in a Bollywood movie?) or strangers who try to have a chat because they’re simply interested in who you are and where you’re from.
I’ve always had a connection with India because I grew up with Bollywood as a little kid (like many other Afghans). Although most of the movies are nothing else than utterly dramatic romances with unrealistic fighting scenes, I still learned a lot about the country, its language, culture, customs and traditions. And it was so great to be in the country, recognising all of those aspects and getting to know them even better. Maybe also because there is this cultural similarity to Afghan culture and it may be that which makes you feel connected. I don’t know, I guess it’s difficult to explain.
Why India also put a dagger in our hearts
Indians are very welcoming, engaging and extremely curious which can cause hilarious situations. Unfortunately not all people were like this. It seemed like all the scum has come together in especially big cities like Mumbai, New-Delhi and Bangalore. If you don’t watch out, you’ll get screwed over every second of your stay by touts and scammers whether it’s a rickshaw driver, travel agency or a hotel owner. At a certain point you will loose trust in humanity. If someone does or says something nice, you won’t believe it’s genuine and wondering what the person actually wants from you. Most men are very disrespectful towards women and I experienced it there for 3 months as a female traveler. I am so glad I had Farhang next to me the whole time as I am sure they would talk and behave inappropriately with me otherwise. I felt undressed by their eyes many times when walking outside on the streets. Every time we passed by some men, they just stopped doing what they were doing and started their usual staring. And they were so shameless I swear to God, even if Farhang gave them a deadly look they just didn’t care and continued their staring as if we were some kind of circus attractions. And seriously, I walked around like a zombie in my oversized sweater and wide jogging pants most of the time. Let’s just say it wasn’t really the prettiest sight… But that didn’t matter at all, always the stares! They tried many times to get in touch by starting a conversation with Farhang first and then turning their attention to me, looking for any opportunity to talk or touch me. It’s just like they have never seen women in their lives, especially tourists. The strange part is that we don’t even look Western and could be Indians instead, but they probably figured out we weren’t because of our clothing, behaviour, etc. I seriously cannot imagine how uncomfortable it can be to travel around there for a solo Western female traveler with blonde hair and blue eyes. We wanted to stay longer in India to celebrate Holi festival , but after reading and hearing many horrifying stories about women being harassed on the streets especially in the North of the country, we decided it was not worth it.
Further, somehow Indians are not familiar with the terms privacy and personal space. They will take your pictures and film you without permission, scaring the shit out of you by appearing out of nowhere right 5 millimeters behind you, put their nose into your business and start touching your belongings. If you want to get a train ticket or get into a train or metro, you just push your way in/out. In India there is no such concept as a cue or any level of decency for that matter. Also let’s not start about all those rickshaw drivers, shop owners and hotel managers we had steaming discussions with because of their bad behaviour and ripping-off trials. Only places we did like the people were in rural areas where you could meet villagers. They were genuinely nice, still staring though, but nice. They were joyful, welcoming and very friendly. Especially the children melted our hearts every time they started smiling and waving when they saw us passing by. We crashed some weddings and before we knew it, we were taking pictures with the bride & groom and their family and friends who pushed us to the dance floor so we could join them celebrating their special day. Unfortunately these were the only times we had positive interaction with Indians. I know it’s not right to believe that all Indians are the same or only villagers being nice. But for some reason we didn’t get the chance to get to know them for real and find explanations for the negative encounters we had during our stay.
Last but not least, it’s safe to say that India is indeed one of the most crowded, dirty and polluted countries we have been to. It has to do with bigger things like poverty but also very simple things like absence of waste bins. There is waste literally on every corner of the streets and people accept it as it is. There are even people peeing & shitting in public (no joke, I got traumatised big time) and the stench of sewage will drive you nuts everywhere you go, even if it’s not one of those horrifying squat toilets. You will hardly find big supermarkets, parks, decent footpaths; it’s one big chaos which can be very overwhelming.
So… Love or Hate?
In short, India is not for the faint hearted. But let’s face it, all these down sides I just mentioned are part of traveling and adventure in India. And we can’t wait to go back! It would be too boring if every country and its people would be the same and everything came out to be perfect, right? India is a country you have to see to believe. I suggest you just go and experience it yourself. For us it’s a definite Love! But we know as soon as we spend a couple of minutes in India, this might change into Hate and couple of minutes later back to Love. Damn it, I think we’ll never really know. I guess India is just India.