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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

India: Do you Love it or Hate it?

As a traveler from India, I am always keen to find out how the world perceives India as a travel destination. And in my days of travels, I have come across only 2 unanimous answers. I LOVE INDIA! I HATE INDIA!! As an Indian, I understand these extreme reactions since we (India) are an extreme country. But, what I don’t appreciate is many travelers forming an opinion on India even before they set foot on Indian soil. This post of mine is aimed at those travelers and to help them understand the extremities of India and how they should be prepared for India and form an opinion on their own without getting influenced by media or other people.

Please note that I am in no way supporting the bad things going on in India, but am trying to make the traveler understand the current Indian situation and be able to travel freely and enjoy one of the more diverse countries in this planet. You can also think of these as tips to travel India. The only difference to these from other tips is that this one comes from an Indian who loves to travel.

India is a Land of Extremes!
India is difficult to travel. These are some of the reasons why India is so different from the rest of Asia, which is very travel friendly. Knowing these will help you prepare mentally before traveling to India.

1) The population in India is the second highest in the world.

2) The Indian cities have some of the highest population densities in the world.

3) Noise pollution levels, air pollution levels and water pollution levels are some of the highest in the world .

4) India has some very diverse weather conditions across its length and breadth. It has some of the hottest places in the world, it has the second coldest place in the planet, the rainiest place on earth and may be some of the driest in the world as well.

5) India has some of the spiciest (hottest) food in the world as a country. Most of India is vegetarian and finding beef is very difficult in most parts of India.

6) India speaks many unique and distinct languages that have different scripts. The country has a national language ‘Hindi’, but a lot of the people in the country either don’t speak it at all or speak it in passing. Generally, English is the un-official Indian language, which makes India the largest speaking English country in the world.

7) India has some of the richest people on the planet and also some of the poorest on the planet too.

8) Even though a lot of Indians are very educated, illiteracy still ranks high in many states of the country.

9) India stretches a mind boggling 36 degrees in latitude and thus the weather changes drastically with the latitude.

10) As the crow flies, South to North India should be about 5,000 kms, West to East India should be about 3,000 kms and North West to North East India should be about 5,000 kms. This shows the sheer size of the country. I know many countries are larger than India, but traveling through a crowded and large one is a different ball game altogether.

11) India is may be the dirtiest place on the planet. As an Indian, I am very ashamed of this status, but that is the stark reality.

12) The country is very male dominated. Hence, woman are often not given much respect. This may not be seen in the urban areas, but can be seen in the cities. Hence, don’t get worried if the taxi driver talks to your boy friend or husband in response to your question.

13) Pre-marital sex and public displays of affection are considered taboo in India and thus a lot of people coming from an open minded society are shocked. But, this is what India is and travelers should come to terms with it.

14) Indians love to stare and gawk to the extent of making others uncomfortable. This can happen to a female or a male traveler. These stares are more out of curiosity than animosity or lust.

15) Indians are some of the best in the world in terms of scams. The scam artists here can put many others to shame.

16) India has also some of the worst rape records for any country. This makes it a challenging situation for all female travelers. No one in the country likes that this is happening. My head bows down in shame when people mention this attribute of my country. I am happy that the media is giving these rapes a lot of publicity and hopefully rapes in the country will carry maximum punishment, which in turn will stop people from committing this heinous crime.

17) India has 2 tough neighbors in Pakistan and China and this means that there is always some bit of tension around the borders that India shares with these two countries.

18) India is a secular country. Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism are Sikhism are some of the main religions. There are other religions being followed too, though in smaller numbers. Because of this wide spread of religions, there are always some religion based clashes going on in the country. But overall, people from all religions co-exist happily as Indian citizens.

19) A lot of people in India are poor and hence resort to begging and stealing. If you feel like helping, help with small amounts of money or food. But, stay on guard.

20) Like most of the world, India too is subject to terrorist attacks in the name of holy war. The Indian citizens follow the news closely and try to stay away from such zones. You should too.

21) Hygiene levels in India leave much to be desired. It is best not to compare India with South East Asia and one should eat from restaurants instead.

22) India has close to 5,000 kilometers of coastline.

23) India has a cold desert, a sand desert and a salt desert.

24) Indian infrastructure is way behind the requirements of the country. Traffic bottlenecks are quite the norm in larger cities. Urban planning is also missing.

25) Indian roads are pretty unsafe and road accident rates are quite high.

26) Corruption in India is pretty high. This is one of the reasons why in spite of positive measures being taken, the actual actions take a long while. 

Why you should TRAVEL to India?
The world knows about this. If not, you can find a ton of information on the web or in guide books. I will only mention the ones that I think is very important.

1) ‘Atithi Devo Bhavo’. This is part of India’s main religion (Hinduism) and means ‘Guest is equal to God’. Indians as such are a hospitable race.

2) Food in India is possibly the cheapest in Asia. And I am not talking about street food, but the food available in entry level restaurants. Street food is dirt cheap.

3) Indian food is one of the more famous cuisines in the world. Each state in India has a different cuisine. What better than sample this cuisine right at its home.

4) Public transport in India is very cheap and the connectivity is very good. This is one thing you will appreciate even in the more remote parts of the country.

5) The culture, the festivals and the rituals of India are so vibrant and colorful. Just participating in some of them can be a life changing experience.

6) India has close to 30 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more than 90 in tentative status. India also has one of the seven wonders of the world.

7) After East Africa, India is the next go to wildlife destination in the world.

8) A lot of foreign tourists don’t visit India. You can still find a lot of places where foreign tourists cannot be seen even during the peak tourist season. A lot of foreign travelers like such places.

9) India is home to one of the oldest cultures in the world.

10) India is the land of spirituality, OM, Shiva, Kamasutra, Yoga, Ayurveda and many more ancient arts.

11) Even though you might have to apply for a visa to India, you will get a 6 month visa to India and sometimes even a multiple entry visa. This can however vary with your citizenship.

12) India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and is changing rapidly. Visit it before it loses all its traditions and cultures.

How to TRAVEL India SAFELY?
A bit of planning and preparation can ensure that you end up exploring and traveling India just like any other country.

1) If you are a solo female traveler, try to travel with some male company. If not, have some local friends at hand you can bank on in case of need.

2) Like with many other countries, always keep guard and don’t trust anyone till you think you should.

3) Don’t eat off the streets of India unless you have a crocodile stomach. The ‘Delhi Belly’ is not just a term coined in passe, but it happens to many travelers. A little bit of precaution should help you from not spending your holiday in the toilet.

4) Try and dress like Indians. Having white skin in itself makes you prime targets. Like most brown skinned people, the Indians are amazed by white skin and will end up staring at you. In all probability, they are just admiring your skin colour. If you wish to avoid these stares, try and cover completely. India has some fantastic cotton attire that should protect you from the sun, the heat, the dust and the stares.

5) In India, try and behave like a normal Indian. There are many places where a normal denizen would not go to and especially during certain times of the day or night. Be aware of such places and times and avoid them at all costs unless you want to taste trouble.

6) Don’t leave your drink unattended in bars, clubs, pubs and discotheques in India. Drink mixing is common in popular parties and events.

7) If someone misbehaves with you, don’t back down. Instead, raise hell and cry. The other Indians will rush to your help as we hate these anti-social elements ourselves.

8) Always keep a watchful eye on your belongings, especially in trains and buses.

9) Book well in advance if you are planning to use some of India’s more popular public transport and especially around the festivals and holidays. The public transport system goes fully booked as the populous nation travels in huge numbers during these dates.

10) Start with some of the more popular tourist areas to become comfortable with India and then spread your wings out slowly.

11) The charm of India lies in its people. Get close to them slowly and in return you will get showered with love.

12) If you fight India, India will fight right back. Just treat her with care.

13) Beware of scamsters in India. Treat invitations and other freebies with a lot of doubt. Ignore politely.

14) Politely ignore all food offered to you on the trains and buses of India. Such food may or may not be drugged.

15) Travel India for a longer duration. India is a large country and requires more than 2 to 4 weeks. If you are on a short holiday, explore only a small belt. If you wish to explore a larger area, keep 3 to 6 months. Even better, if you can explore India for a year.

Do you LOVE India or do you HATE it? Do you have a different opinion on the above? Would love to hear your thoughts.



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