India – What to Expect 

India is an entity like no other. Saying it’s crowded, hot and underdeveloped is an understatement. While there are hundreds of merits for the beautiful country, and its sheer force of will in survival is a testament to the country and its people, travelling around India is not for the faint hearted and there are some key things you should be prepared for when visiting this country. 

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Before you read this, please note, when sitting in your comfy room at home all these points will seem gross, awful and extremely negative. They’re not intended to be – India is very different from anywhere else in the world – literally. It deserves to be explored and loved (which is what we’ve done on both counts) but when entering a brand new culture with completely different socially acceptable rules, these are the culture shocks you will want to be aware of…. 

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The Smell 

India smells. There’s no way around it. A lack of sewage systems and education around hygiene/cleanliness means that pretty much everywhere will smell of one of three things; (a) faeces (human/cat/dog/cow/camel) (b) urine – everywhere is a urinal. Everywhere. (c) what we lovingly termed hot mess which is essentially rubbish piles slowly decaying/sizzling in the blazing heat. Which leads to our second point…

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The Rubbish 

The lack of environmental education in India is tragic. It’s hard to believe that a country that takes such pride in its natural beauty has yet to grasp the damage they are doing with inadequate waste disposal. 2 months into our stay we found our first bin – no joke (and it was empty). Rubbish piles up everywhere. Imagine the most offensive litterer in England, times it by 10 and then apply it to every Indian. It’s simply seen as the norm. Try to limit your waste as much as possible is really the only advise I can give.. other than that… try to avoid standing on it…? 

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The Spitting
 

Public etiquette in India is somewhat… unique. Bodily functions of all shapes and sizes are acceptable in public, the main ones being spitting, gagging, puking and snotting (I.e. blowing your nose without a tissue). Gross, gross and grosser. 

I once sat on a train platform surrounded by a man gagging and spitting continuously in front of me, a man snotting to my left, and a woman making herself sick behind me. Yummy! The best advice I can give you is just to get used to it, it’s going to happen. The Indians are very skilled in their spitting and you can take comfort in that while it may gross you out, you will never get hit!

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The Noise 

India is LOUD. All motorists keenly adopt the notion that you have not been seen until you have been heard. Blaring horns are non-stop as is the haggling, jostling, shouting, arguing, howling (dogs), mooing (cows), clucking (chickens) crowds that mill around you constantly. 
We met a girl whose uncle had told her ‘you are never alone in India’. This is 100% true in both a physical and a audial sense. 

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The Photos 

If your dream is to walk down the street and be treated like a celebrity then look no further! The white man in India is a celebrity like no other and everyone will be desperate to take a selfie with you. You will be asked politely and its up to you to say yes or no. Yes is greeted with joyous cheers, no is greeted with a deflated acceptance. 

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From what we gathered, the photos are used to show family and friends the people they’ve met from all over the world with many Indians having never been outside their own city, let alone India. 

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The Hassling 

Much like the photos, you’ll find yourself hassled by tuk tuk drivers and shop owners alike. ‘Just Look Just Look’ is constantly used to try and get you into the shop. The shop owners are friendly and just trying to get business so don’t ignore them; they don’t realise the culture clash such hassling can cause. Simply smile and say no thank you if you’re not interested. If you are interested in an item, only haggle if you intend to pay. It’s bad form to force their price down then leave anyway (unless leaving is part of your haggling technique of course). 

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Tuk tuks (or autorickshaws) will give you a higher price due you being western. Depending on your budget you can either accept their rate or haggle it down. Either way, make sure you agree a price before getting in. 

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The Staring 

As you might have gathered from ‘the photos’ section, despite having thousands of tourists pass through their cities each year, India still hasn’t grasped the normalcy of white tourists. You are going to be stared at like the star attraction in a zoo. Crowds will gather around you, people will brazenly stand as close to you as they can while examining every inch of you without shame. Men and women will stop in their tracks and gawk, entire train carriages will turn and stare for hours and people will thrust their babies at you to touch. 

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You think I’m exaggerating but trust me it cannot be exaggerated. I have never experienced anything like it. Staring is also not considered rude in India so catching someone staring will probably just increase the want to stare more. You will feel like a freak show or a celebrity or maybe both but ultimately our advice is learn to ignore it. It’s not malicious, it’s just curiosity at its peak and you’re giving them a good story to write home about. The only exception for this is sometimes found by women, leading to our more serious point below… 

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The Misogyny
 

While everything else is forgivable as part of Indian culture, something female and male travellers are going to struggle with is the misogyny that is rife in India. The sad fact of the matter is India is extremely behind the times in terms of gender equality. Beyonce’s empowering song ‘Who Runs the World’ would sadly be answered with ‘men’ in India. Women have to cover up completely to save their honour (albeit they get to cover up in beautiful saris), are often confined to domestic chores, rarely handle money and are essentially raised to get married (with a dowry) and become a wife with primarily household chores. There are – of course- exceptions to this with husband and wife working lovingly alongside one another but it is rare and it’s more common for women to be given bats at their wedding to protect themselves against abusive husbands than it is for them to be given a respectful, equal marriage. 

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Something female travellers will also have to struggle with on a personal level is the attention they will draw from not all but most male locals. While white males will be stared at before having their hands shook or have a brief friendly talk, female travellers will get much more sexually charged attention. I often found that while Fitz was greeted and complimented, I was ignored and slowly undressed by the tens of eyes that rested on my boobs and bum. I often wasn’t addressed or even acknowledged, with the term objectification taken to a whole new, very literal level. 

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It is unfortunately the issue in being white and female. Many travellers claim it’s because the only exposure Indians have to white women is porn (all their films come from Bollywood of course) which means white women are instantly assumed to be dishonourable and therefore sinful free-for-alls. Whether this is the case or not, it is a fact that no matter how much you cover up, you will be stared at as if you are walking down the road in a bright yellow polka dot bikini. 

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This isn’t something to put you off coming but you do need to be aware of it and there are ways to minimise the risk of it turning into anything more than staring. If you have the option, I would suggest taking a male companion. While it’s sad that it’s necessary, in a sexist country it does make the difference between being harassed by a group of teens and being left in peace. 

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If you don’t have a male companion (or don’t want one) travelling in groups of girls is also safer. 3 or more wont get harassed half as much (though you will get 3x the stares) and we’ve had friends travel in groups of 2 and been absolutely fine.

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If you are travelling on your own, we met plenty of girls doing the same who loved it – they just ensured they were extra vigilant in booking upper bunks on trains, not going out alone late at night, and sometimes having small pocket knives just in case a situation turned sour. Safety first 👊🏻. 

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India has a long way to come in terms of respect for their local women and western tourists. However my memories of India are only of those we met along the way who were kind and considerate with plenty of locals, taxi drivers and good samaritans who totally proved respect is out there and you’re not alone ❤️. Stay safe, stay vigilant and India will give you exactly what you’re looking for 🙏🏻. 

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