That’s all folks. The actual adventure is over but the memories will linger…which is why we do such things.
There are a lot of beliefs and myths and stuff about India that you hear, this is my annotated list of things I wish I had known before I went.
- India is amazing – it is everything you do and don’t expect and more. India is an assault on all your senses. It is colourful, friendly, frustrating, noisy, crowded, spectacular, religious, smelly, funny, not punctual (mostly – but who cares) and absolutely fantastic.
- Pack light – if I ever go again my entire wardrobe would be 1 pair long pants, 1 pair shorts, 2 cotton shirts, 1 pair sandals/thongs. That’s it. You do not need shoes, I carried a pair for 7 weeks that I only wore on the plane over. If you go north in the winter you might need a jacket. Obviously this doesn’t count for women, you will still need your entire wardrobe.
- Water is not such a hassle – I didn’t intentionally drink tap water but I am sure I ingested it many times in drinks, food and the like. I likely brushed my teeth in tap water out of habit. Don’t freak out about it especially after you have been there a while and gotten accustomed to the flora. Drinking water is available everywhere, absolutely everywhere, for Rs20 (40c) for a 1 litre bottle
- Not everyone speaks English – this was a bit of a surprise as I had assumed they did, even if not well. Also, not everyone speaks Hindi, especially in Tamil Naidu. I learned a handful of Hindi words and could count and then couldn’t use any of it the last week in the South. Speak in simple sentences even to English speakers. Don’t say “Can you tell me the way to the railway station please” say “Which way railway station?”. More often than not people will go out of their way to help you. Those that don’t will simply point in the general direction or give you a head waggle.
- Head Waggle – yes it is endemic, here is what it means:
- Money is easy – get yourself a Citibank debit card. No fees, they do a straight 3% loading on currency conversion, it can be used in ATMs everywhere to get local currency (watch for those that charge a transaction fee). The only problem was some online booking won’t accept a foreign debit card, shop elsewhere, there is always an alternative to buy exactly the same thing.
- Trains are the best way to travel – install the Cleartrip app, easily the best way to book trains. If you are travelling overnight get yourself a 2AC seat this is 2nd class Air Conditioned. You get a bed and linen including a small towel. If you are not that fussy get a sleeper class, reserved bed but that’s all you get. Avoid general seating at all costs. Don’t freak out if a train is full a couple of days before and you are wait listed with up to 10 in front of you. In the whole time I was only not confirmed once, that was with The Sheila (she was confirmed) and we both travelled anyway. For trips to the airport and the like Uber and a local version, Ola, also work well. If you get an overnight bus, be sure to get a sleeper, they are pretty good.
- Buy a local SIM – cheap as and even if just for using Google maps it is well worth it, especially since they don’t make station announcements on trains so you can check where you are. You will also get SMS notification about train bookings and the status of your ticket. I used Airtel, would likely choose another company next time, it was pretty slow internet.
- You will get sick – maybe not very sick, I didn’t. But I definitely (and still) had stomach upsets that were more an inconvenience because you need to be aware of the nearest convenience. I took an arsenal of antibiotics for every ailment you could think of. Probably better to be prepared than need to go looking for it when you are feeling awful, but I do feel it was overkill. You can buy any drug over the counter at Medical Stores, even down to asking for how many tablets you want and they will be cut off the strip.
- Eat street food – obviously not everything you see, but if it looks good, there are lots of people eating i.e. it is fresh and you are hungry, go for it. Street samosas are the best, don’t be surprised to see someone in front of you feeling them to make sure they are hot. I really enjoyed fresh sugar cane juice too, very refreshing and a bit of an energy boost. When you buy street food it is expected that you stand and eat and drink it before you pay for it. Also, if you need more sauce on your samosa, just ask.
- Hotels are mostly good – this is a no brainer, you generally get what you pay for. Anything over about Rs700 will be reasonable, feel free to check the room first, don’t forget to feel the mattress, they can be very hard, a light pad over a board. Also check the hot water, don’t take their word for it that there is hot water – not that it matters really, the weather was so hot most of the time a cool shower was welcome. Towels are rare, take your own travel towel, one of those light ones that dries quickly. Every room has a ceiling fan that you will welcome for the air movement and the speed with which your washed clothes dry. The included Wifi will nearly always be dodgy. Sometimes a hotel will include breakfast which will sometimes be really good and other times just a piece of white toast with jam.
- Have a theme – this time my theme was finding stepwells. It didn’t dominate my trip or distract from anything else, but it was fun to track them down and they are so cool. Your theme might be bird watching or temple visiting or seeing concerts. No matter what, it gives you some detective work to do in each location and you never know what it all leads to. This is where the adventure lies.
- Go with the toilet flow – I think that washing rather than wiping is cleaner and embraced it. Finding toilet paper in a hotel is rare, anywhere else it is almost unheard of. Get used to it, likely 6 billion people in the world do not use TP.
- Say yes! – this has been an onging theme of the blog because it was my philosophy for the trip. Saying yes to things I would normally balk at led to some of the most incredible and unique experiences I had. Obviously you need to make a quick decision on whether it isn’t such a good idea, but I don’t think I had more than a couple of times I knocked back an offer. Do be aware of people hustling, almost everyone wants something in return for helping you. But if you are offered a meal or somewhere to stay take it. The guest is god in India, people are honoured to have you in their homes and treat you unbelievably well.
That’s it. I have nothing more to say. I hope you have enjoyed my ramblings and maybe are inspired to have an adventure of your own. If you have been lurking and gotten this far without commenting, say “hi” in the comments.