Lessons for (and from) India: Part 2

One of the many wonderful things about India is how different it is from anywhere else I’ve ever been. There is a new experience to be had every day, but I’m conscious of staying in the right frame of mind to ensure it stays exciting and positive rather than overwhelming. (I.e., instead of “eeeek, there’s a giant bug in my house!” I go with “wow, I’ve never seen this particular bug that looks like a snake but for its millions of legs.”)

It is unlikely that anything will happen on time. There is no queuing. The roads are chaotic. Rather than getting stressed, take it all in and enjoy the journey. Here’s how ensure I stay patient and find some inner calm.

Sorry cow, this auto is taken.

This is the second post in my series of travel tips for India. In the first, I gave a few suggestions on how to embrace the culture; next time, in the final post in the series, I’ll share some of the unusual social interactions I’ve experienced and how to navigate them. Again, this is not meant to be a comprehensive list of travel advice – just a few observations that I think are worth keeping in mind. Some of this is common sense and much of it applies to traveling in general. Hopefully these tips will help you make the most of your next trip, whether to India or somewhere else!

Check your privilege. As I write this, I’m on day four without power in my house. It’s the middle of summer, which means no AC or fan in 100°+ F/40° C heat. There’s a big festival this week, so all the electricians are busy and we’re waiting to find someone who can come fix the line. I can stay in another house with power so I have a fan, but then I don’t have wifi or water. So…it’s less than ideal. It would be really easy to be miserable – I’m literally dripping with sweat most of the time, and not sleeping well. But then I remember I’ve spent 30 years with perfect electricity and fans and air conditioning and everything else I could possibly need. The people here haven’t. So I can manage a few days without being a brat about it (and only whining *a little*).

Try to be relaxed when you are traveling. There’s no doubt about it, the roads are a crazy combination of cars, buses, motorbikes, autorickshaws, bicycles, carts, animals, and of course pedestrians. My first few times as a passenger were a bit scary; it seems like you see a near-collision every minute or two. But somehow…it works. I’ve been here nearly two months and haven’t even seen a fender bender. Don’t stress about it and you just might find yourself impressed.

Typical road

Prepare for most things to be more complicated than you’d expect. I went to a shop to buy a saree, and after viewing 100+ choices, I made my selection. I received a slip of paper, which I took to a counter. I paid and they stamped my receipt, which I then took to a different counter where they gave me my saree. I had to repeat this entire process three more times: once for the blouse, once for the skirt, and once for earrings. And every time I thought I’d gotten the hang of it, I’d be directed to some new counter. Rather than getting flustered, I laughed it off.

India is a loud place. In the city, you have constant car horns because one of the traffic laws requires people to honk their horn ALL THE TIME. In the country, where I’m staying, it’s just as loud – but instead of cars, it’s animals. Dogs barking, roosters crowing, peacocks shouting at each other…all night. I can’t remember the last time it was actually silent. If this will bother you, bring ear plugs.

So. Many. Roosters.

Most of the travel advice I read warned me about being ripped off when buying things as a foreigner. As a result, I was hyper-conscious of every transaction my first few weeks and worried that I was always getting the tourist tax. Obviously if something seems ridiculous, question it – and it never hurts to counter a quote with a lower price just to see – but in general, don’t waste your energy worrying about getting ripped off. Even if you do pay a little more, it probably converts to small change in your currency because of the low cost of living here. Don’t let it spoil your experience.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you find your own inner calm when you’re traveling – and share your own tips in the comments! Next time, I’ll share my experiences with very different social interactions I’ve encountered here in India.

Emma x

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