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5 Unexpected Benefits of Traveling in India

Drew Gilbert shares his experience as a traveler in India.
Pictures of IndiaThere are a lot of great reasons to visit India. The country is vast, creating varying climates, topography, vegetation, even cultures, as you travel throughout the seventh largest country in the world. I can think of five reasons traveling through India will actually improve your way of life.

1. Biting your nails is a thing of the past

Much of India’s climate can become ungodly dry through much of the year. During this time, you will spot merchants hurling water onto the street surrounding their business. It’s strange to witness at first, but you quickly learn what Indians have always known – It’s impossible to stay clean here. The water being thrown is to dampen the ground around their shop, preventing dust from getting on the wares being sold. It doesn’t really work.
Pictures of IndiaYou will find that even when you have supple delicate hands (like mine) unused to hard labor, you will get dirt under your fingernails constantly. The only cure for this is to wash your hands several times a day.  With both the horrible water quality you will use to wash and the dirt that gets in there from roads regularly crapped on by cows, elephants, dogs and who knows what else, you will find the desire to bite your fingernails all but entirely subside underneath a cloud of paranoia over what might be growing under those things.

2. Your pocketbook will thank you

The cost of living in India is not the cheapest you will find in the world, but it can be awfully close. Internet is cheap and easy to come by, so long as you don’t need a fancy T1 line to get your work done. Food costs range from impossibly cheap to reasonably priced, better if you want to cook for yourself rather than eating out for every meal.
Pictures of India Traveling around the country by train is inexpensive and convenient, as is any clothing you might buy, provided you are a halfway decent haggler .

Don’t expect any clothing purchased to last more than a month or two before they need replacing.

If you are a guy in need of a shave, depending on where you are in the country, it can often be cheaper to have another man shave your face and give it a good rubdown rather than purchase new razors.

Speaking from experience here – it’s fully worth having done.

3. Your figure will be bikini ready in no time

In many parts of the country, it’s technically not legal to buy/drink booze. It can be found in most places, it just costs more and is of… questionable quality. Additionally, in some of the more spiritual locations, towns where the defining characteristics are ashrams and/or Hindu temples, you will find it’s next to impossible to find meat on the menu. Combine the lack of strain on your liver (assuming you are, like myself, a person who likes to imbibe) with an all-vegetarian diet, and you will be shedding the pounds like there is no tomorrow.
Pictures of IndiaThen of course, there is also what I like to call the Delhi Belly diet. During my ten weeks in India, I fell ill at least three times.

The sort of stomach bug you get in India has symptoms that are similar to the master cleanse that Beyonce Knowles swears by. Namely – you are on the toilet. A lot.

With little to no appetite. Hydration is the name of the game in this situation, and the whole experience truly, without question, sucks. The silver lining to this crappy tale, is that I was thinner than I have been in years.

Let’s not talk about the fact that I have since been to Paris and Barcelona and eaten my weight in bread. Let’s focus on how super great I looked in India. And with one or more stomach bugs, you can too!

4. You will gain perspective on what you actually have

Pictures of India The difference between the haves and the have-nots in India is staggeringly vast, with the have-nots often literally having nothing at all. There are people living in India who live in mud huts (these are the Harijan, formerly known as “untouchables” the lowest level of the Indian caste system) and burning cow patties to stay warm.

There is a lot to be said about the ongoing financial crisis going on in the world. First world countries have felt the pinch, Greece is in economic turmoil, Spain has a 20% unemployment rate, the US housing market remains stagnant, and our debt is somewhat out of hand. Still? No one is starving.

I had never actually laid eyes a starving person before coming to India. That all changed on my first full day, when I saw no less than three starving people. It’s not only easy to spot the starving – I also regularly caught site of people who, while not starving, had clearly starved at some point in their lives. Their bodies would be weak, and bent from it, noticeable in their legs, mostly. They often needed help walking by a friend or member of their family.
These are a hard working, adaptable people though, and for most, the commitment to providing for themselves and their family display a work ethic that puts most westerners to shame.

For any westerner, going to India is like cold water in the face, waking us up to the truth about what we really have in our lives, how good we have it, how lucky we are.

5. Everywhere else you go will be easier

Pictures of India As I write this, I am currently in Cairo, Egypt. I still haven’t gotten around to telling my mom that I am here, knowing how much she will worry about our safety.

Am I worried? Hells no!

I have walked across the street in traffic at a busy square. An Egyptian leans over to me as I weave through traffic. “You walk like Egyptian!” (which, it took me a full hour to realize how hilarious that sentence was) meaning, I wasn’t afraid to walk into traffic. I wanted to say in a very smug voice “Listen, buddy, I’ve been to India. It’s very different. Here everyone drives nice cars (comparatively), rather than cars mixed in with auto and bicycle rickshaws, turning four lanes of traffic into seven, fighting for every inch of road they can get. I know all about crossing busy streets.”

I keep that to myself though. No one likes smug travelers.

Still, you can’t help but be a little proud of yourself once you have spent some time in India. The country is extremely intense, from the traffic to the touts with their shouts of, “Hello my friend, you look inside my shop? I give good price”, to rickshaw and taxi drivers who will actually yell, “Taxi?” at you while you are on a moving scooter. Cows walk the streets, as do the occasional elephant. Monkeys may abuse you if you are caught walking around with fruit they were clearly meant to eat before you got to it.
In short, traveling in India really does make everything you will encounter outside of India that much easier. And trust me, you deserve to feel a little proud the first time something that used to phase you is no longer a big deal.

Check out Drew’s latest ebook, “Surviving the Indian Railway.”

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I’m a bit late to the party but what a great post! I love that you put a positive spin on what can sometimes be regarded as the negative aspects of India. I must admit I’m still waiting for the bikini figure..I’ve only ever been sick once in about half a dozen visits to different parts of India! It’s a fabulous country offering so many different aspects to everyone who goes.

Saurabh Dey says:

The people of India have been subjected to immense loot over centuries by Europeans.
Mc Caulay’s report to the British queen in 17th century, before the tremendous loot began, addresses, that I have not seen one poor, one thief, and anyone go hungry. Farmers have piles of gold, which they donate to community service often. No one pays for school. If we are to break this country, we have to shake the very foundation of its culture on which such prosperity is supported.”

If you visit India and spend some time here, you get to know the culture, the history, why it was called the Golden Bird by westeners, you will find a mismatch. In our so called free India, politicians continue to rule much like the way the british used to, busy filling their own pockets, which is why you see the lack of cleanliness, the untamed roads, lack of clean water, poverty to the core. People have become tired of this governance and don’t care anymore.

A country whose farmers were ripped poor by the British, by taxing 97% on agri produce and hundreds of such laws for over 200 years, then the loot by our own politicians for 60 years, but still we are being seen as the next economic superpower, who do you think is to thank, other than the rich cultural heritage that flows in our blood and resides in our hearts.

Change will happen, but in the meanwhile, visit my India’s inherent beauty that resides in the hearts of people, and the culture. Once you soak in, you will find the love in the air, unity in diversity. Visit an ashram and soak in the philosophy, and you will soon find that your body follows your soul, and will improve its immunity too. ;)
See you here… You’re always welcome.

Rahul says:

Very nice write up with interesting articulation… about cost of living…it varies a lot in India like every other aspect such as weather, language, water, cuisines…. you need to surrender if you want to enjoy my country… :)

hey nice post I love India…and want to visit again and again…
thanks for sharing ….

Theodora says:

Really nicely written. Thanks for sharing.

nevin thomas says:

Loved ur article! But then i must say, i am FED up of reading articles that tags India as a dirty,poor country. Sometime i wonder if everyone goes to India loking for it. Nobody wants to talk about the diversity. the himalayas. the sunderbals. the pink city. Kerala. All tourists seem to want is tht POOR India depicted so beautifully in Slumdog millionare. i am not saying India ain’t all of these. I am only stressing on the point that the country has much more and who knows wht it might have been had the Britishers and before that the dutch and the portugese had left it alone!

Drew says:

I agree that India has so much more to it than being “dirty”. For me, the intensity is what either makes people love or hate the place. Those looking for a Slumdog Experience have to dig a little harder to get to it, and I can’t say they will be satisfied if they find it.

In India, it’s all about being flexible and adaptable, much like the people who live there.

nevin thomas says:

I suppose you are right there :) Anyway i loved the article. Keep blogging.

munnar tour packages says:

Fantastic! Keep up the good work! I love your blog!

wally says:

I’ve lived here for the past 5 years and I sometimes forget
how the tourists think and see this country.

Alex says:

Ahhh, India! I’m dying to go. I think my favorite benefits on this list are the wallet and the bikini body :)

I am a nailbiter, and have been as long as I can remember…I have been looking forward to breaking the habit, and if India will do it to me…bring it on!! :)

Drew says:

Oh man, will it ever. I’ve been gone rom there for a couple of months now, I’m only today starting to eye up my nails again. Gotta stay strong though!

Svaha says:

Next time you go to India, talk to the people. Go to the villages. Don’t try so hard to be different, so clean under your fingernails. They are your brothers and sisters…be not afraid, be not a tourist. Be a participant in life and living. Feeeel the intensity and passion that is dead or dying in the West. Go to Koraput. Go to Mayurbhanj. Go to Sarahan. Go to Coorg. Go to St. Mary’s Island…..

Jeff says:

Having just come back from India, I really appreciate and agree with your assessment!

Indian says:

Indian here, enjoyed reading this blog. Great pictures and well written. As Parth said, people of all casts live in huts, but mostly it is “harijans”.

Andrea says:

Haven’t been to India, but I loved this post. Sounds like an exciting place – so different from what we’re used to. I wonder if I’ll ever get there…

Wow, great story. I think I may just head to India next year!

p.s. you walk like an egyptian…haha!

flip says:

i miss india!!! i’ll go back next year after my southeast asian trip this 2011 :-)

Drew says:

Hey Flip! Where will you go in India? There’s so much to see, I am not planning another trip for awhile, but even with as much as I have seen, I feel like I barely scratched the surface. Varanasi in on my unfinished India bucket list.

Nisha says:

I am an Indian, living in India and I am yet to visit Varanasi. :(
Ha ha… I think I can guide people more about Malaysia than some parts of my own country !
India is a big country. :)

Drew says:

It’s enormous! I’ve seen tons of it now and there’s still SO MUCH to see!

Rease says:

Nice post, I love the silver lining about getting sick and losing weight. My friend said the same thing about her parasite in Mexico. As someone who does not eat cows or pigs, I would adore the diet as well!

Randy says:

Fantastic post! I can’t wait to make it to India. When I was in Iceland, I thought about getting a shave, but it didn’t really fit into our budget. Though, it is something I plan to start including in our travels.

parthi says:

Nice post,

Its not just “Harijan” who live in the huts, pretty much every cast/religion and all walks of people who are poor OR if they are in rural India, much easier to build and its built from things which are locally sourced and most of the time free.

Water beig thrown around the shop serves two purpose, one to settle the dust around which as you have said works to a degree and to reduce the heat around it may stir up the heat at that time but it feels much better come evening.

Parthi

Nisha says:

Being an Indian, I must say, I enjoyed every bit of this post. :)

Great list :D I’d love to go to India…

Sabrina says:

You make it sound like survival training a bit :) I’ve never been to India, but would love to spend a few weeks there. I’ve been to Cairo before and love it there. Have a nice big bowl of Kushari for me, ok?

Stephen says:

Getting a shave from a barber is one of the things I like to do in every new country I visit. It’s a great way to experience something most tourists don’t do, and yes, it can be really cheap.

Drew says:

It’s something I laughed at before actually having it done, and now it’s something I will make sure I go out of my way to have done wherever I go in the world. Every dude ought to give it a shot.

Stephen says:

I love when they just assume you want the mustache and leave it there without asking.

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