Drew Gilbert shares his experience as a traveler in India.
There 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.
You 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.
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.
Then 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
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
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.”