Many things have been said about India in the last couple of years; from the adventurous tales in this exotic land of food, fragrances and sounds, to the horrific stories of sexual harassment and violent rapes.
So what is India all about? Is it a country where women can feel safe? Is it a country filled with incredible culture and delicious food where every day is filled with a new adventure?
I’ve spent half a year traveling the whole triangle of this subcontinent, met hundreds of people and had a mix of good and challenging experiences. One thing I can tell you as a fact: love it or hate it, India will never get boring!
1. Let The Diversity Of India Blow Your Mind
India is HUGE! I had no idea of how much of a challenge I had ahead of me when I embarked to India, to visit the four corners of this subcontinent for 6 months.
But you know what? It’s the dimensions of India, that makes this place special. From the overcrowded and overwhelming streets of Delhi or Mumbai, to the absolute wilderness and solitude of the northern regions bordering Nepal…. From the tropical Andaman beaches to the deserts of Rajastan, India will never stop to surprise you.
And the diversity doesn’t stop with the impressive landscapes, the culture, language and gastronomy changes from north to south, east to west. India offers a place for everyone, no matter what your favorite climate is.
2. Get Curried Away By The Indian Flavors
Trying new foods is probably my favorite activity while traveling around the world. I love eating where the locals eat and rarely go for tourist restaurants. And so did I when I went to India.
As a life long vegetarian, I have to admit I felt in heaven. When arriving to Delhi, and being totally ignorant on whatever the menu said, I didn’t even had to bother. I would just enter a vegetarian restaurant and point to the dish I wanted to try, having no idea what was coming out of this. And I always had a pleasant surprise. Indian food is, in my opinion the best in the world and balanced to bring your health into perfect balance. Have you ever wondered why they have little compartments with different curries in each one of them? Well, that’s because the ancient ayurvedic medicine teaches us to balance the six flavors into every meal: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, spicy and astringent.
3. Ancient Traditions, Gurus, And Charlatans
Every year hundreds of thousands of people flock to India in order to find themselves, whether through Yoga, meditation, to study Buddhism or Hinduism or simply to wander around searching for an answer to life.
If you are part of the bunch who loved India you might just find yourself there. On the other hand, if you’re part of the other half that hated it, you might get into crisis, and let me explain why: India can either offer the best teachers or the worse charlatans and fake gurus.
What I have observed over and over again, is that most yoga and meditation classes are either taught by westerners or charlatans, and both of them charge huge sums of money. Yes, I’ve searched for good teachers along the way and I struggled to find genuine ones. This is because Yoga is deeply associated with a stereotype, we westerners have of India. No, not every Indian is practicing yoga, in fact, yoga is basically dead within the Indian community.
So do your research before you buy your tickets if yoga is what you’re searching for. There are in fact a few very good and honest yoga teachers there, but you need to find them. Some of the famous ones can be found in Rishikesh, Mysore, Chennai.
Same thing goes for spiritual teachers and Ashrams, there are a few inspiring and amazing teachers who are genuine, but you’ll have to do your homework. I visited Amma’s Ashram in Kerala, the only female guru and I was positively surprised.
4. Money Can’t Buy Happiness
One of the things you will encounter while in India, to a higher or lesser degree depending on how you’re traveling and what your budget is like, is poverty.
I’ve seen so much poverty in India, it affected me deeply. I’ve seen people eating from piles of trash, children begging everywhere in the cities of Delhi and Mumbai. It’s right on your face and you can’t avoid it, but you know what?
Parallel to that poverty, I’ve seen a sense of community, contentment and peace I’ve never encountered in the west. India is the prove that money can buy a lot of things, but it can’t buy happiness. I’ve met Indians who had so little but were so happy and joyful, always with a big smile and a kind word to say.
I remember feeling jealous for the fact that people still live with their extended family near by, that even in the shanty towns, neighbors know each others names and interact with each other on a daily basis. I’ve noticed many Indians don’t experience loneliness and isolation like we do here in the west, where families are broken apart, divorces are the norm, where we don’t even know the name of our neighbor.
For this, I was amazed by the smiles I’ve seen in India, which taught me a huge lesson on human interaction, family and community.
5. Sexual Harassment
Yes, sexual harassment is a reality in India, but this is an unfortunate reality all over the world.
When I went to India I had no idea this could be a problem and as a matter of fact, I didn’t experience it in any way.
I never had an episode where I felt threatened or harassed. Maybe this is because I blend in easily and for most of the time people actually thought I was Indian, or maybe it was because sexual harassment might be more prevalent in some areas than others.
I’ve seen a couple of friends being touched and grabbed tough, and they were dressed modestly. Because harassment has nothing to do with how the female presents herself or what she wears, as it has to do with power and domination, having a travel buddy might be a good idea when traveling in this beautiful country.
I wouldn’t discourage any female from visiting India just because of the fear of harassment or rape. Instead, I would encourage females to visit certain areas only and avoid others.
I’ve had extremely positive experiences in Kerala, Goa, Andaman Islands, and the northern areas bordering with Nepal and Tibet. So if you’re a female, go for it, get a travel buddy and experience the best India has to offer.
6. Appreciating Our Home And Where We Come From
After 6 months traveling around in India, I went back home with a completely different understanding of the world around me. My life changed radically after that experience. All my ideas and perspectives were shaken tremendously.
When comparing the place I came from and India, I could value a lot of things I always took for granted back home. Things that were so mundane to me but that would change the world for so many Indians, like free healthcare, quality free education, a huge middle class, having a lot of freedom independently of my gender, etc…
Then I also realized how lonely and isolated we became in the west. Why did people start to push their family away? Why don’t we know our neighbors? Why do we have so much wealth and material things and have so much depressions, anxiety, panic attacks, dependency on drugs and alcohol, anorexia…?? Why did we fail so bad in the field of the affection and community? Why aren’t children playing around instead of watching TV and play playstation all day?
For all this and more traveling to India, can be, in my personal opinion, a wonderful experience, independently if you loved it or hated it. India will never leave you indifferent to whatever you will encounter and will revolutionize the way you see the world and yourself.