India is an immense country full of culture, beauty and diversity but also contradictions and extremes. In all honesty it took us a while to get used to the atmosphere and get over the culture shock. However, once we did we fell in love with the country, and its people – so much so that we didn’t want to leave when the time came. We spent five weeks in India, and during this time certain peculiarities and unique aspects about the country became apparent. Some were at first baffling, some we couldn’t make sense of at all, some were just funny, and others were rather…smelly. If you’ve travelled to India before, then this list may take you right back there! Of course, anyone planning to visit India should also take note so as to know what to expect. Also should you one morning wake up not knowing what country you are in, you will find this list useful! So, without further ado…here are our eighteen unmistakable signs you are in India…
- You experience the famous Indian head wobble.
The Indian head wobble really is a phenomenon, and within a few days you will involuntarily be having a go yourself. It looks like the wobbler is indicating “yes”, “no”, “maybe” and “I don’t know” all rolled into one, and guess what? You have to decide which one it is! We decided it usually means yes when involves a money transaction, that is, us paying someone else!
- You experience ‘Indian time’.
Make sure you pack your patience! An Indian 5 minutes is a lot longer than an internationally recognised 5 minutes. We took a Tuk Tuk in Jaipur and after a few minutes the driver announced that he had to drop by his mum to bring her some cake (it was Diwali after all). “I will be only five minutes Sir” he declared. Twenty minutes later he reappeared, only slightly apologetic, but at least his mum had sent us free cakes and snacks for our patience.
Luckily, the trains do seem to run on time.
- You are immediately put to shame by how well turned out the ladies are.
Indian women all look immaculate in their colourful saris and glittering bangles, this is regardless of their social status and the job that they are doing. Even the ladies shifting bricks on their heads looked like they didn’t have a hair out-of-place. So, thank you ladies, you really are a delight to behold and your vibrant colourful traditional dress is very much an integral part of India.
- You suddenly become famous by nature of your foreign-ness.
Watch out, you are going to be ambushed by a million Indians all wanting a selfie with YOU. But why? It’s because you are wonderfully foreign and exotic that’s all, just roll with it because it ‘aint going to happen anywhere else! But does everyone experience it or was it just us due to Jess being almost translucently white? Alex on the other hand was often asked if he is Indian, this didn’t stop the flow of selfie requests though…must have been the Panama hat!
Be aware that once you permit one selfie, it seems to embolden the hordes and you can quickly find yourself a more popular tourist attraction than the Taj Mahal. We found that demanding 100 rupees per selfie often had everyone rolling with laughter.
For those shyer Indians, there is always the stealthie, where they sneak a picture of you on the sly. One way or another, you are going to end up in someone’s holiday snaps.
- You encounter the omnipresent chai tea.
Masala chai tea is India’s national drink; it is a delicious mixture of tea leaves, masala spices, milk and sugar. Everywhere you go you will be offered a shot of chai and the streets are littered with chai stalls, some with dubious hygiene, but some so insanely popular that you’ll have to join the queue for your fix. Well worth trying both the Indian chai and the creamy coffee.
- You see men holding hands.
No, they aren’t homosexuals, it’s a cultural thing! In India men and women are kept very much separate before marriage, so, as a way to compensate for the human need for closeness, male family and friends have more physical relationships than we are used to in the West.
- Your senses suffer an almost fatal assault.
India is definitely a sensory experience. Sometimes this is good (think vibrant colours, a whirlwind of culture and the inviting smell of incense and spices), but sometimes this is bad…very bad (suicidal tuk-tuks, incessant traffic noise and fumes, rubbish and sewage everywhere and the crush of humanity). On a serious note, do bring with you a breathing mask or a bandana to cover your mouth in heavily polluted areas.
- You find many inexplicable power points and light switches in your hotel room.
So many plugs and switches, but don’t worry most of them won’t work or your converter will just fall straight out! Also sometimes you need to go on a hunt for the switch to your boiler, it could be anywhere on the property!
- You find your bathroom full of loads of taps and a mountain of plastic buckets and cups.
We’re still baffled as to the purpose of some of these taps and items! In every Indian bathroom you will find a huge bucket, a smaller bucket and a tiny stool. If anyone has any idea what these items are for please let us know as we are still completely in the dark.
- You encounter holy cows, other street animals and their poop!
India’s streets, even the most crazy traffic clogged ones, all have resident holy cows. In Hinduism our bovine friend is incredibly holy so it is allowed to wander the streets, munching on scraps and rubbish heaps and certainly is never to be made into a burger. Along with the cows will be all manner of other less holy animals such as pigs, chickens, water buffalo, stray dogs, camels and the like. Let’s face it, they’re the country’s true street-sweepers (as real ones don’t seem to exist). Of course, where there is a veritable farmyard of animals, you will also encounter, and have to dance around, a fair amount of poop!
- You begin understand the true meaning of a contrast.
In India, contrasts are often economic and cannot certainly be covered here. Be prepared to see an entire family living on a crumbling pavement next door to a lush western-style mall.
An example may help here – Looking at the dubious presentation and hygiene of street stalls, you’d say that India is the last place in the world that you would think about having street food. It is however incredibly famous for its street food! We even went on a street food tour in much feared Delhi (ever heard of the Delhi belly??)
- You experience the communal aspect of India life.
It’s pretty difficult to be any further than a metre away from another human being at any time in India, but it doesn’t stop there. The concept of privacy is definitely a lot different for us westerners. Want to ask a pharmacist for an embarrassing medicine in private? Sorry, ‘aint going to happen without an audience in India! Ask for directions? Pretty much the whole neighbourhood will take part in the conversation, very nice of them, but also very confusing for us…
- You become so exhausted by every other person asking you “Where are you from?”, that you consider staying in!
It’s the Indian’s opening line of choice, and that’s fine, but never before have we experienced so many hawkers, touts, shopkeepers and general hustlers vying for our attention in order to sell us something. It can wear you down, especially if you are super polite and feel like you must answer each and every enquiry. If someone approaches you with some red dust on their fingers to place in your forehead between your eyebrows, the best answer is “No thanks, I don’t want a long life” to which they usually recoil in disgust. Trust us, it works.
- You experience dubious personal habits.
Note, this is a male issue. In India it seems that burping loudly with no apology is absolutely fine. As is spitting bright red betel juice and chewing tobacco all over the street. Urinating EVERYWHERE is totally OK, despite the presence of urinals.
Let’s also mention the open defecation thing, which is a serious health hazard, especially for young children. We did see men and boys relieving themselves by the train tracks, and it seemed that young kids would just go about anywhere. It’s a little more complicated than people not being able to afford to build a toilet. This Ted Talk explains the role that the caste system has played very well.
There is also this famous film called “Toilet” based on a true story about a woman who had her marriage annulled because her husband didn’t build her the toilet that he promised.
- You see lots of very lovely Royal Enfield motorcycles.
Even if you are not in to motorcycles, these bad boys look super swish and hark back to a different era. A nice change from the myriad of Tuk Tuks!
- You think you are going to die in traffic.
Crazy traffic is perhaps the first truly shocking thing you’ll experience upon arrival in India. Lawless is the best way to describe it. Rules just don’t apply, forget about the common etiquette for civil driving and get ready for a cacophony of horns blowing, trucks overtaking on the wrong side of the road and Tuk-Tuks speeding like enraged bees between orgies of vehicles. As of now, India is the only country where Alex refused to drive a car! As strange as it may seem, accidents (aside from minor bumps and scratches) didn’t seem that common as no-one was able to go very fast in the traffic jams anyway.
- You conclude that crossing the road may equal suicide.
See above. Drivers don’t care about rules, including and especially the rights of the pedestrians. Your only chance to cross the road is to just jump in and hope that someone somehow will stop or manage to avoid you. Miraculously they usually do. Be careful of not becoming overconfident and applying Indian road crossing rules in other countries though. Indians are used to people jumping in front of cars and stopping the traffic to cross the road, people in other countries might not be…
- You think you can’t be shocked any more, and then you turn the next corner!
This kept happening, we’d feel the culture shock, but then the next street, block, town or city would bring us a new level of awakening. Our favourite worst moments are here, you’re welcome!
-We saw a small child have a funny tummy on the street. Mid way through an interested dog sidled up. No sooner than the child had finished, the dog moved in to enjoy his freshly made dinner.
-That moment when, curious to see where the hotel staff were disposing of rubbish from the room (including the toilet paper which cannot be flushed), we discovered that it was being unceremoniously flung into a river behind the property which fed into the most holy River Ganges.
So, there you go, now you know what to expect! Don’t be put off though; India requires a little fortitude and above all persistence. Its pearls are worth the frustration and trouble enduring the little annoyances.
We can also confidently say that we met some of the most generous, selfless and helpful people in India. B&B and guest house owners will go above and beyond their call of duty to help you navigate the intricacies of the country and to make sure you have the best possible time. And of course, if you like a chat, there will always be some friendly Indian to oblige you!
Don’t take our word for it…well, actually do – go read the posts that we wrote about India in all its glory! Everybody has an opinion about India, but the truth is that you need to experience it and make sense of it yourself, but we can safely say that India has been one of the most fascinating countries we have ever visited.