Monday, October 7, 2013

15 truths you learn when visiting India

I’ve been running amuck in India for a month now, and I’ll be honest, I don’t understand it. As a traveler, I get the appeal of this amazing, bizarre, and difficult place. As a human being, I’m perplexed. The way I oscillate between the happiest person in the world, devouring every second, every smell, and every sight, to wondering what the hell I’m doing here is astounding. Alas, the overall truth remains is that this is India, and the perplexity is the appeal. Here are 15 truths I've learned amongst a mountain of confusion:

1.       On a single street you can see cows, goats, monkeys, camels, elephants, nice cars, tuk tuks, high class hotels, homeless people, street kids, and dead animals. On top of that, you can also step in shit from a number of sources, roll your ankle on unexpected potholes, and/or be run over by any and all of the above.

2.       Even though the Pound and Euro are worth WAY more rupees than the good ole USD, if you say you are from the states, you are going to get a much higher starting price, and most likely ending price, compared to Europeans. Apparently Americans are suckers…or just don’t come to India as much as our friends over the pond.

3.       On the same note, shopkeepers assess starting price based on country of origin and profession (as well as hotel if you tell them the name). Certain professions will definitely invite adding a few extra rupees to the price.

4.       The more ostentatiously you refuse an offer, the more effective this will be…the only kicker is if the hustler thinks it is funny, they may want to hang out all day. 

5.       Money is an issue in India. Especially in places tourists go, expect to talk about money A LOT.

Chai stand on the street
6.       One way to find out if a person wants to be your friend or if they are just trying to sell you something, is to keep going to their store to say hello after refusing to buy. Many shop keepers will still love to chat and drink chai, but those only wanting money will get annoyed. Take that fake friends!

7.       When it rains in big cities, you will not have any place to take refugee beyond a paying establishment or your guest house. All awnings, roofs, bridges, etc. are taken up by those living on the street. While many of the most generous and caring people I’ve met in India have been those on the street, this is their home and their dry space. Family comes first, and if their children are getting wet, your western ass will be out in the cold faster than you can say fir melengay.

8.       Indian yoga is much different than what you learn in the west. While I really don’t know much about the western yoga (or yoga in general) this is what Indians and westerners keep telling me.

9.       A head nod, wag, or shake does not give a definite answer…unless it follows a person taking a picture. This simple shake to the side means, “Photo is done, I hope you enjoy,” and is the only set response I’ve seen attached to a head shake. 

Being mobbed for photos in Ajmer
10.   Agreeing to a photo with one individual or group of Indians in public is kind of like bringing cupcakes to school. If you bring one, you better have enough for the whole class.

11.   It is absolutely OK to push someone out of the way if they are impeding your stride. Also, if you aren’t quick enough to get off the bus, those getting on will not wait. Getting a seat on a busy bus is not a game in India. 

12.   Rajasthani people aren’t too fond of Israelis. Most of the time, Israelis are the butt of their jokes.

13.   Spirituality doesn’t always exist in temples or at holy sites. Very few holy men and women walk around in guru apparel. India is a very spiritual place, but most of the warmth and divinity has been sucked out of many of the places and people tourists will eventually interact with.

14.   If you are a person who focuses more on the negative than the positive, you are going to struggle. The thing is, negative shit happens. It happens a lot and unless you can see the bright colors surrounding the negativity, India will demolish you.

15.  One cannot take things personally, especially in touristy spots. To many of the Indians you’ll encounter while gallivanting around the country, you are a walking, talking, limitless spring of cash. You are a natural resource, and these shinning individuals are looking to capitalize on it. You will be lied to, forcibly directed to wrong places, and cat called on the daily. But just remember, you aren’t special; this brand of Indian does it to everyone who looks like you! As soon as you learn to not take it personally (as well as to not engage those who are hustlers) a huge weight will be lifted off your weary shoulders.
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