Weeks fly by and my first experience travelling India is teaching me new lessons day by day. I can’t hide that at first I was worried about my journey, mainly because I knew I wasn’t prepared at all to approach such a different world. India really is one of the most exotic, colorful, crazy and captivating destinations on the planet but – I’m telling you – traveling in India, and especially visiting it for the first time, is no walk in the park. I’ve heard India is one of the last remaining places on earth that you can still get a real dose of culture shock, well nothing more real – It can be challenging even for the most experienced traveler!
So, following the typical Indian sharing mood I love the idea to list – and share – what India taught me; as a help, as a guide, as a personal memo.
1. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE CULTURE SHOCK
Visiting India for the first time really can be challenging for all the senses and it would be a mistake not to allow a few days to adjust and to avoid feeling overwhelmed and ruining your trip to India as soon as it’s begun. India is one of the most crazy countries in the world and it is so different from anywhere else. Although, I immediately understood, nothing can really prepare you for visiting India for the first time, most important be open minded, accept that things work differently and be prepared to adapt.
2. DON’T RUSH
Everyone seems like they are rushing to get somewhere in India but that doesn’t mean that you should be too. Traveling too quickly in this massive country is the biggest mistake you can do when visiting India: long distances, poor roads and infrastructure and a massive population mean that getting around, or getting anything done, always takes longer than you think. Just don’t rush, allow yourself to get lost in the cities’ streets looking at bazaars or at the different architectures; be patient and take your time.
3. ENJOY THE LITTLE THINGS
Let yourself get carry away by every little thing. As told before India is a complete different universe for western tourists; it’s a land of many people, many religions, many cultures and it cannot be defined by just one culture. When you travel India, absorb everything around you. A simple walk down the center, a ride on a Vikram or an immersion in the crazy street markets can easily turn out in amazing adventures if you just let go. India is so diverse, it feels like many countries all in one. With so much diversity you could never get bored – it would take a lifetime to see and experience everything India has to offer.
4. FORGET THE STEREOTYPES
India is both modern and traditional, poor and rich, chaotic and serene. India is so diverse you simply can’t define it with the usual cliches and stereotypes – elephants or snake charmers don’t just walk around in the roads, not all Indians are vegetarians, India is not covered in dirty slums – it is so much more than that!
5. HAVE FAITH: Open up to local people and accept invitations
You do, of course, need to have your wits but that shouldn’t negatively impact the huge chance of relations and interactions you build during your trip. I’m pretty sure it’s the wonderful people I let in that will make my stay in India memorable. Certainly be aware of the common scams but don’t perceive every “hello!” as a danger. Stop and chat, go with your gut and accept the invitations, answer the questions and ask just as many back in order to learn more about the culture and daily life. Everyday I’m meeting new people, seeing new faces and sharing amazing moments: if you are open to experiences, your journey will be an amazing adventure.
6. YES OR NO?
I’m still trying to understand if people are saying “yes” or “no”. I’d heard before about the famous Indian head shake – or bobble, or wiggle – but literally had no idea how confusing it could be in practice. The Bobble can be a nod, shake, slow turn, raise or spasm of an Indian’s head. It can be vertical, horizontal or circular. It can be one or many. A wiggle can mean “yes”, but it can also mean “no”, “maybe”, “hello”, “okay”, and many more things.
Well, basically I can’t help in no way with the bobble .. just when in doubt, wiggled it out.
After finding myself facing different problems of my new Indian life, a simpler one without all the comfort I’m used to – no hot water, no hairdryer, no washing machine, fridge and even oven or stove – I discovered Indian creativity. I was talking to a friend of mine when I first heard the word “Jugaad”. It’s a colloquial word which roughly means “hack”. It refers to an innovative fix or a simple work-around, a solution that bends the rules, or a resource that can be used in such a way. Indians find home-made solutions for almost every problem, they have ingenious and imaginative ways of fixing things. After a while you may find yourself thinking out of the box and coming up with your own “jugaad” solutions!
8. NO PRIVACY, NO PROBLEM!
Since I was a little child I’ve always had well defined the difference between public sphere and private sphere. Suddenly I find myself in a new reality in which this border appears not only vanished but definitely transitory. The sharing of spaces, stuff, feelings for the Indian culture is just, well, the rule. At first, as foreign, you may – in a certain way – feel your individuality threatened but, as soon as you shoot down your walls you can truly understand how the opening of this population towards others is a complete and immersive brand experience. Don’t be surprised if a just met person invites you to share dinner or if a new friend enters in your room and, without a single word, sits comfortably on your bed; that’s how it works! It took me just few days to feel and appreciate the speed this people can get in deep touch with strangers, the ease of creating solid relations and connections.
9. DON’T TAKE YOUR BLESSING FOR GRANTED
One uncomfortable truth I’ve to face everyday is the poverty issue. I’m constantly exposed to plight of the unfortunates and the general unfairness of life. On one hand it’s depressing thinking of the pain of others – especially little children begging around the streets – but on the other hand I really start seeing my own life in a different way. I’m learning to appreciate the smallest things, to not complain so much and to feel blessed because all the opportunities I’ve had so far. I’ll always remember the face of the little boy trying to sell me flowers and magazines at the first red light and I’m going to preserve this picture in my mind as a precious life lesson.
10. FILL YOUR EYES
My personal experience in India is teaching me to be surprised by the ordinary .. at least by what it’s “ordinary” here. Everyday I can enjoy spectacular free-shows which seem customized just for my eyes, made by simple things. Animals are everywhere: holy cows, skittish goats, friendly dogs, mischievous monkeys, pigs and wild boars all freely roam India’s crazy streets. Bright, colorful, glittered and elegant saris constantly spice up the city scenery. In addition I love how that everything is decorated: shops signs, cars, bicycles, market stands and even the trucks – any kind of utilitarian object is magically turned into art, joy and celebration.