OK, so this is an article myself and my travelling partner in crime Beth wrote for our student magazine. We wanted to write a travel piece from a different angle, and the one thing we both thought after returning home, is we found ourselves feeling that either we’d had quite a challenging time in India compared to most, or that people writing travel guides and blogs were maybe trying to get their viewers to see India through rose tinted glasses so to speak. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with that and we ourselves didn’t want to scare anyone off going, India as a country is fantastic, but we did want people to know that things will go wrong, you will get scared and frustrated and you will at times want to cry, but that’s OK and is all part of the experience! So here it is……
This is a frank and brutally honest recount of our adventures in India. Previous accounts we found to have missed some key words of wisdom, so we therefore feel duty-bound to pass on some tips we wished we’d have known earlier to future travellers! Here is our no-frills how to guide to surviving India…….
1.Be prepared for nothing to go to plan…..
Particularly, if it involves the Indian administration…. Go for 1 month maximum and get the e-tourist VISA. If you apply for a full VISA you will have to resign yourself to filling it out multiple times, waste hours at the embassy all to be told that they could revoke it last minute, for no reason… (and definitely do not apply mid-3rd year exams!) Equally, when in India, do not assume that when booking (and paying for!) a train to the airport, that you have in fact booked a seat. It is safer to assume that you have actually booked yourself onto a waiting list and may or may not be allowed to board the train on the day. You may be required to desperately seek assistance from any well-dressed fellow traveller, who you hope speaks good English (as police or train station staff will not assist), and get smuggled on regardless.
2.Get small change!
Be clear that nothing in India is free. You will find it incredibly hard to barter when you are desperate for the toilet, after a 4 hour long drive, armed only with a 1,000 rupee note. In this situation we had to resign ourselves to buying horrendously overpriced, out of date ‘Pringles’ to get adequate change to pay off the ‘toilet guard’. In short learn from our mistake and carry small change.
3.You will undoubtedly have some hairy incidents…..
These mainly revolved around roads, and crossing them. If you take our hard-learned advice, you will learn to adopt any nearby locals, who will often gesture and kindly designate themselves your road-crossing guardians (this was very much appreciated!). If this default position fails, we resorted to taking a deep breath and a leap of faith and just walking predictably, straight forwards! Somehow, miraculously we lived to tell the tale!
4.Embrace the fame!
Now neither of us would have ever considered ourselves exotic specimens and during our time in India it’s safe to say while covered in dust and sweat we most certainly did not look our best! Despite this we still managed to attract a rather large crowd wherever we went. Initially this was baffling, but by the end it as downright tedious, particularly when attempting to admire the Taj Mahal. If you enjoy being the centre of attention – India is for you!
5.You’ll never really be prepared for the chaos
Before we left the UK, we felt pretty prepared for what was to come upon our arrival in India. We expected the mass of bodies, the livestock wandering the streets and we expected it to be loud. We were ready to be met by a completely different culture and were happy to embrace it, however neither of us were fully prepared for the physical hammering we received from suitcases, elbows, and being barrelled into! Feeling dazed and having sustained multiple injuries whilst attempting to get our first bus in India, we gave up and got ripped off by a taxi driver instead. We did have more successful dealings with public transport during the rest of our trip, but it’s maybe not one to try after 26 hours of travel!
6.It’s OK to be tired……
Being in a foreign country with a different language and culture is HARD and if anyone tells you otherwise then they aren’t doing it right! At times we felt guilty for wanting an early night and wanting to stay in but sometimes it’s just what you need to re-charge, and occasionally a mid-day nap is in order, as Beth is kindly demonstrating…..
7.Your personal hygiene WILL take a significant knock
You will be sweaty ALL the time! It’s 40 degrees +, and trust us, no amount of showering will sort that out. But it’s ok because so is everyone else! In fact, we didn’t notice how sweaty we were until, regrettably, we looked back through the photos!
8.Do not tangle with the holy cows of India
Don’t assume any of the vast work experience you have done with cattle can prepare you for the holy cows of India. Their holy-status seems to have manifested as a “God complex”. They are, in fact, the only form of ‘Highway Code’ apparent on the roads, and when shooed, if you aren’t very careful, you will get launched across the compound. But you can keep them sweet by feeding them chapattis – they LOVE them!
9. Be prepared for a 24/7 sensory assault
Prepare your senses as India is a blast of colour, a taste sensation and quite possibly the loudest place on earth! Life seems to be a constant competition to be heard, even the animals and insects join in. If the heat doesn’t keep you from sleeping, the noise will. The smells of cooking, spices and incense surround you like a fog wherever you go. Some of the best smells can be experienced in India …. but also, some of the worst! While on our way to our hostel in Delhi we found a stall selling wonderful smelling street food, however no more than a metre away, there was an open urinal, flowing downhill… tasty! We can honestly say we have never smelt anything quite so …. Pungent, and as vet students we consider ourselves to have been exposed to some horrendous smells.
10.No matter how much you love curry you will crave British grub by the end!
The Indians like their tea breaks, which we were certainly not complaining about! We could fully embrace ‘chai o’clock’ and consider ourselves big fans of Indian food. However, 4 weeks of Dhal took its toll and we both began salivating about the thought of full English breakfasts and Sunday roasts we had planned for our return!
11.Abandon all pre-conceived ideas about health and safety….It does not exist!
We weren’t surprised by this in general life; this is the country where they pile 7 people on a mo-ped, people hang off the roof on trains and fix power lines that are still live…. But expect nothing less while in veterinary practice. Who said you can’t pass a nasogastric tube in a bronking horse, try to give an 800-kilo free-roaming bull an IV or examine a wound on the nose of a rather aggressive camel and all whilst wearing flip-flops? We prayed (to all Gods, Indian or otherwise) that our toes would survive another day for the majority of the time we were there.
12.Its normal to have ‘Bad India Days’
It’s a common symptom of 4 weeks cooped up, without air conditioning, frustrating miscommunications, bartering against ridiculous ‘tourist’ tax, fending off cameras, being ‘helped unhelpfully’ and being surrounded by people and animals suffering. Whilst all these emotions and challenges can be difficult, it’s why we went to India and it comes hand-in-hand with all the surprise, hope and beauty it has to offer!
13.Brace yourself for an invertebrate invasion
No matter where you are they will find you! Reside yourself to being eaten alive no matter how much Deet you intoxicate yourself with. Especially when living in the “lap of luxury” doing charity work, you will have to get used to sharing your room with enough invertebrates to stock the bug isle in pets at home (well at least that’s our experience!). And if that isn’t exciting enough you might also get invaded by one of these……..
14.And Finally…… No matter how hard it’s been you’ll want to go back!
Contrary to the opinion of the very spiritual lady at ‘STA’, we did not “find ourselves” in India, in fact we didn’t even find a tan, but what we did find were some amazing experiences, a lot of laughs and for all our typical English complaining we’d go back in a heartbeat!