Traveling in India: 3.5 Weeks in Review

If there’s anyone that should be able to handle the exotic foods, navigate the chaos, and ward off the men while traveling in India, it’s me. I pride myself on my stomach of steel, excellent sense of direction and independence, and unfaltering Beast Mode.

But I failed.

It was 3.5 weeks of various stomach issues, thwarted attempts at getting from A to B without a hitch, and being hassled around the clock by Indians who always wanted something from me (usually money or romance). It was absolutely exhausting having to endure it day after day.

It’s normal to feel uncomfortable in a new setting, but usually I adapt quickly and start to thrive. But I never quite felt comfortable in India. I did not adequately prepare myself, and my usual travel tactics did not work well in this country. They operate on a completely foreign set of rules here, most of which frustrated me to no end due to the lack of logic backing them.

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My (Mis)Adventures in India

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Indian Food Is Too Much For Me

This came as a shock to me. I’d always cited Indian as my favorite cuisine back home, but what I was used to was the dulled down Americanized version of it. REAL Indian food is on a whole other level. Everything is very heavy and made with who knows how many different oils and creams. And every single Indian dish is extremely flavorful. Sometimes you just want some bland food, you know? When I wake up first thing in the morning, I’m just not ready to have my taste buds blown out. And if it’s not too spicy, it’ll be too sweet. In particular, Indian drinks are SO SWEET, especially their chai. I normally keep my daily sugar intake fairly low, so I didn’t enjoy the tea here either.

Like much else in India, the food was just too much for me. My body began rejecting it in the first week – I literally could not stomach any of it, and what I did manage to eat just came right out. My appetite vanished, and lack of eating soon led to my fainting episode in Jodhpur. From that point on, I sought the comfort of western foods, with the occasional Indian dish whenever I felt I could handle it.

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India Is Loud And Dirty

You intuitively know this before you even get there. But you cannot grasp just how loud and dirty India is until you are there experiencing it for yourself.

First – everyone in India honks their horn while driving. Ad nauseum, and often without reason. Actually, for only ONE reason: to get people to MOVE. Logic will tell you that doing this is akin to the boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome, but in the Game of India there is no logic. They don’t care, they just keep honking. I will never again complain about cars needlessly honking in NYC – it is NOTHING compared to India. If you are prone to headaches, you’re in for a real treat.

Second – India SMELLS dirty. I expected to be overwhelmed by the smell of delicious food, but instead all I smelt was dirty. I’m talking literal dirt kicked up from the dusty roads that makes its way into your system. I had god knows what disgusting crap from the air stuck in my lungs that caused a lingering cough the entire time I was in India, and it didn’t clear up until I left the country.

And that’s not even mentioning other foul things I smelled throughout my journey. The smell of fire followed me everywhere I went, coming from people burning trash on the side of the road, or simply cooking or making tea over the fire. Normally it’s a nice smell (in extreme moderation), but having to smell smoke all the time? No thank you.

And let’s not forget about the ubiquitous urine stench. Men urinate all over the place in public like it’s no big deal. Unlike NYC, where the urinating culprits are mostly the homeless and drunks, in India you’ll see sober men dressed in plainclothes (or even work clothes!) taking a leak against a fence or building. Yet another Indian phenomenon I fail to comprehend.

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Indian Men Are Relentless And Shameless

You are a walking target if you’re a white woman on your own in India. Like moths to a flame, Indian men flocked to me wherever I went (except in Rishikesh). I couldn’t go anywhere without being approached or shamelessly stared at. Thankfully most men are simply looking to chat, so they would walk alongside me for a bit and try to strike up conversation – they’d ask where am I from, what do I do, what’s my name, where’s my boyfriend, where am I going. After awhile of ignoring them, they would eventually go away. Once in awhile, on impulse, I would humor them and talk to them a bit, but more often than not they’d offer to come with me and show me to wherever I was headed, at which point I would exit the conversation and hurry away from them.

What’s more, I was hassled whenever I tried to do normal things like hail a tuk tuk or go shopping. I ended up avoiding any transactions whenever possible, opting to walk ridiculous amounts and get lost rather than go through the process of finding a driver to take me to my desired destination at a fair price. Many of them are out to rip you off or scam you. I hardly shopped because I didn’t have the patience to walk past stores and stalls, having the shopkeepers holler at me when I had no interest in the goods they were selling. I couldn’t even innocently look at something without having them immediately jump on me and try to sell their product.

Above all, I just wanted to be left alone. As an extreme introvert, I desperately need my downtime – I cannot function without it. India left me drained every single day, and I would count down the hours til I could escape all the Indian men, retreat to my hotel room, and be by myself to recharge.

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I Never Felt Like Myself In India

Independent travel is my style, and India seriously cramped it.

Here’s how it is: I’m a girl. I like being on my own. I’m happiest when I’m able to walk (or bike) around a place and explore it spontaneously.

But India wouldn’t stand for that. I couldn’t just show up to a city and book a train the second I felt like leaving – no, trains had to be booked at least a week in advance. I couldn’t be flexible with my travel plans at all and had to go against my rules and book a package from the travel office.

Even walking around most cities proved challenging. The roads are terrible, often torn up and lacking sidewalks, or even covered in trash. It was always an ordeal to get from A to B – throw in the usual hassle from Indian men and it’s a miracle I ever even left my hotel room.

In short, I felt like I couldn’t be my independent self in India.

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The Love/Hate Relationship

In short, I don’t feel like I did a great job at traveling India. And, to be honest, there was much I did not enjoy about the time I spent there.

But here’s the thing: Traveling India is like an addictive game. I got my ass kicked in Round 1, but it’s left me determined to come back someday for Round 2 (focusing on South India!). I’m fairly certain I’ll be pulverized again, but now that I have a better idea of the rules of the game, I’m confident I can put up more of a fight next time.

I now know why everyone says they love AND hate India. All the horror stories are balanced out by all of the brilliant, beautiful things you’ll see in this country. It’s such a polarized place – a land of extremes. Though there was so much I didn’t like about India, I don’t regret traveling there. Everything in the name of adventure travel, eh?

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So, India: love it or hate it?