India is a vast country and one trip just is not enough to experience it properly, unless you stay for a very long time!
I say that as someone who has only visited once, but most definitely intends to return.
Unlike anywhere else I have been India takes your breath away a bit, from the hustle and bustle of the city to the beauty of the countryside, the place screams culture and has a strong identity from the second you arrive in the airport.
An adventure for sure this country is riveting, and the people, as with any good travel adventure are what make it so great.
So what should you expect from your first trip to India?
1 – crazy driving – this has to be number one because, like me, most of you will pick up a transfer from the airport to continue on your journey, and like me, many of you will be clinging to those funny handles on the roof we have only ever hung clothes off of in the UK. Its crazy. Dogs running between cars, people dodging dogs and cars, buses accelerating through gaps you didn’t know existed, 4 lanes of traffic desperately pretending they can all fir through the road meant for 2 lanes of traffic… people have places to be you see? Oh and if you were planning on sleeping, dream on. The chorus of honking horns and the sharp sudden breaking is enough to keep your eyes open for a good 12 hours at least. It is amusing, and one of the very unique things about India has to be the erratic driving style and the bustle of cities that literally don’t stop for cars! But on a more serious note, the vehicles often don’t have seat belts, so think wisely when you choose your seat, don’t do what I did and be in the aisle with no barrier in front of you heading for the windscreen if the breaking got a bit too much! Accidents are very very common here, but then so are safe eventless journeys – beware and enjoy the experience!
2 – dogs – dogs are everywhere in India, and don’t be fooled thinking they are all stray either, just because they are roaming the street. I usually find the best way to describe this to people is by comparing it to the UK cat situation. Many cat owners in the UK have a cat flap, and their cat lets itself in and out of their home as it pleases. In India, many households have a dog which they let out in the morning and whom brings itself home and is tied up in the evening – free to do as it wishes, including running between traffic, during the day. Often neighbourhoods have a few dogs who they collectively look after, and as with the household situation, have somewhere to get food and shelter in the evenings when they return. Obviously there is a large stray dog population but be aware that not every dog you see is stray, I know before I visited I was not aware quite how many dogs were intact ‘owned’.
3 – spicy food – Ok this one probably goes without saying, yes its India, the food will be spicy, fragrant and delicious what else would you expect? This is more as a warning to my fellow spice-phobics out there, that just because the friendly man tells you its ‘mild’, the Indian mild and the Western mild are two very different concepts, which should never be confused, ever. Try everything in small amounts and you will be fine, and always, always have water available! haha.
4 – squat toilets – so these aren’t everywhere, I know a number of my friends have been to India and have never used one, so I think it really does depend on where you are staying. I was working neutering street dogs and staying in hostel style accommodation and we had both squat toilets and ‘bucket showers’, I’ll save that thrilling experience for another post! But what I will say is, they aren’t that bad! I spent a significant amount of time googling “how to use a squat toilet” and various other help me guides but the fact is, just like any other toilet, except you work out your gluteals at the same time maybe? They flush by pouring buckets of water down, and there will be a tap and a bucket next to the bog so don’t worry about that, all very straight forward, top tip though – wear shorts or similar, long trousers will be dangling on probably wet murky floors and you won’t fancy the bog floor contents dripping round your ankles for the rest of the day – you have been warned!
5 – jungle book live – yes the wildlife, my favourite thing. And boy is it good. I haven’t seen a tiger in the wild yet, hence why the return trip is planned, but I have plenty of friends who have been and have, so don’t let that put you off! But I did get to see a family of elephants, bull, cow and calf, lone bull elephants, bison, a porcupine, axis deer, wild boar and tons of monkeys! If you are heading to the south of India, the monsoon season is the best time to appreciate the lush green jungle that these animals inhabit. It really is stunning, and as you can probably gather, being an animal enthusiast, this was a massive highlight of my trip.
6 – happy children – this sounds cliche, but honestly the children I met whilst on a vaccination drive, running between their houses, which were probably smaller than my bedroom at home, playing with simple toys, no iPads or fancy electronic devices, had the biggest smiles on their faces. So much laughter and excitement came from them, and yet from the outside they seemed to have so little. I don’t mean to turn preachy, but it really is the little things in life that matter, expect to walk away from this country feeling eternally grateful for everything you have but also questioning if any of it is actually necessary for a happy life.
So thats it, my 6 things to expect from your first trip to India!