“For each terrible horrible encounter in India, an equally opposite encounter will follow.”
I am certain that this should be a law of physics in India. This is what drives the cliché Indian/westerner debacle… the love hate relationship with India. Almost every traveller I have met that spent an extensive amount of time in India explains their feelings for the country as “sometimes I loved it and others I hated it”. I agree with that sentiment, as sometimes I loved moments so much I cried tears of gratitude and happiness. Other times I cried tears of anger and frustration over the differences in this country or even because I’d gotten so sick from water or food.
Love this. everyone eating together at the Golden Temple, regardless of caste // Amritsar
The traffic gets old fast. (As I am editing this I’m thinking, no the traffic isn’t that bad… perfect example of me loving it now, but hating it then!)
Now as an expat I still experience this phenomenon, though for completely different reasons. Rarely I might meet a traveler who was the Master of Zen; as in nothing bothered them and they loved India, Every. Single. Part. Of. It.
There was also the handful of exasperated people. They had boiling blood, they hated the men, the traffic, the cows… you name it- they hated it. They were ready to go home.
Most people were somewhere in the middle, “oh my god IF I HEAR ANOTHER HORN I WILL- oh, look at that cute cow! Aww it’s just a baby!”
I warn you, this post will start on the hate side of this relationship… If you make it to the end you’ll see the love. There is a lot to love.
It’s cute when a cow licks it’s lips, or runs.. or even lays down. They don’t even have to try.
It’s not cute when the hotel manager lights cow dung on fire to keep away mosquitos.
I can still remember my first day in India. I arrived in Bombay international airport to that now all too familiar scent of “old”. I was going to stay with Elise, an Aussie I’d found on couchsurfing (she’s a blogger too!). I thought staying with a westerner the first few days would ease me in (it did).
I was ready for Bombay.
That was until I got outside. The amount of people waiting was inconceivable! The taxi drivers begging, some even pulling my arm a bit so I’d take their cab. These circumstances are about the only time I take a pre-paid taxi.
No Indians believe me when I say this, but my pre-paid taxi in the airport ripped me off! Airports are supposed to be a safe-zone, a place to get a true price on pre-pay taxis. I paid 250 rs for a ride within Andheri East. From international airport to a house near the Unilever office, about 4 minute ride, should have cost me maybe 80 rs. This was my first realization I couldn’t trust anyone. I tipped the driver the 50 rs he asked for. Silly me.
But little faces like these will cheer you right back up.
The second blow (big blow) was a scam that was almost ran on me in Delhi, involving a employee of the train station, a rickshaw driver, a fake office, and a police officer. They worked together like a well-oiled machine until this little blonde girl went ballistic on them. The police officer was of absolutely zero assistance as he stood by at the door.
I base the safeness of cities off of a simple question: can I trust the police? The answer in Delhi (and most of India) is no. This is why women sometimes don’t tell the police when they’ve been raped. Police might play the blame game.
Tourists take advantage of this. They bribe if they get pulled over without a license or helmet, or someone could bribe if they get caught with drugs. Rumor has it; you could kill someone and bribe your way out of it. Scary thought.
Most issues happen in big cities. My most frustrating times in India involve transportation. It can take 20 minutes to find a driver willing to use their meter in a taxi/rickshaw. “But miss, it is broken” yeah, right. In Bombay it is the law now that they must use a meter. Usually a quick reminder of that will magically fix the meter.
The driver also seems to conveniently never have change. “Nice tip madam?” I hear after each ride as the driver smiles with his hands out. Ok, you already are getting a tip because you “have no change” and drove me the longest way to my destination so forget it. At shops they don’t have change, but that is different. That is adorable. Instead of 5 rs you will get some candy or gum!
You cannot trust someone who asks where you are going. Maybe they are sincere, but most times they aren’t. They want to help you find the place so they can make you feel guilty enough to tip them. Even when I say no because I know where I’m going, I am often followed and still begged for a tip for their nonexistent help.
This is not annoying on the streets, but it is frustrating in places like the airport where even employees are constantly asking for tips. There are signs up in the airports to not tip employees. I have been aggressively yelled at in Mumbai for not tipping an employee near the shuttle bus.
Its not about the small amount of money, it’s the fact that so many people are looking at me like I’m their ATM. After too many scams I became weary of everyone.
You better use a little elbow if you think you’re getting in these doors!
When I was lost in Bombay, having gotten off the wrong stop of the slow local (man that train is an experience to say the least), a young girl came up asking if I needed help. The girl and her friends were waiting for the next train, looking adorable in their school uniforms. I told her I was headed to Andheri East by local bus. She absolutely insisted on leaving her friends and escorting me there.
She would not take a cent from me even when I pleaded with her to take some. She had gone out of her way, left her friends, and wasted her money to help me get where I was going. The Law of Indian Physics in action.
The other frustration is drivers completely ignoring where you want to go and taking you to wherever they feel like. “She wants to go to the Taj Hotel, I know it very well! I’ll take her to my cousins ex-husbands hotel instead though”. Maybe they will say the hotel you wanted to go to is on fire, is no good, or shut down. They get commissioned to take you to hotels they know.
Don’t even think about not paying them for scamming you; it’s a fight you don’t want to start. There have been very few times I have blatantly told the driver to f*ck off and left the car without paying. I only do this when it is a massive scam AND he’s really mean and I’m beyond pissed off. Occasionally, I give the driver a 500, he quickly switches out for a 50 and says I’m cheating him. It’s enough to make someone crazy.
This was cute, until I got seriously yelled at for taking a photo by the sneaky man walking behind while in Udaipur
The point of this rant is to explain why foreigners feel frustration almost to the point of hatred in India and unfortunately toward Indians. Combine the rip-offs with the “eve-teasing” and it could make you go mental.
I have rode buses alone all over India, many times with only men as fellow riders. I usually feel safe (here are 14 tips for solo travelers), and have never worried that something will happen to me. I am getting used to the stares but as a newbie in India you should be warned that in areas where men don’t see westerners a lot, some will STARE. As in, to the point where you are uncomfortable, like maybe they are stealing your soul.
Asking them to stop does not work. They will turn around in their seats to gape at you for hours on end. Taking photos, videotaping, and laughing to their friends. I like to think they are curious and that because I smile back and don’t yell at them, that is why I stay safe. That’s probably bullshit though and I am just lucky.Whenever I do feel unsafe while alone, I make a scene which always throws the men offand I leave the situation immediately, even if that means getting off the bus.
Each time I feel I am taken advantage of, it seems the very next day a stranger will help me when I don’t deserve their help.
Ok, now I’m done with the hate side… on to the love!
I will be angry with India and my van will break down to top it off. Without asking, a shop owner whips out a screwdriver and fixes the battery, not asking for a tip (that’s a sure fire way to get a tip from me!).
It’s so amazing to be completely submersed in another culture, also in Udaipur
A table of boys will stare and take pictures of me while I’m eating dinner, but later a man will genuinely smile and wave at me as a drive by. (Or maybe he’s trying to hail a taxi, I can hardly tell anymore).
I have been brought to tears seeing traditional dances, festivals, and beautiful scenery. Complete strangers have helped me with luggage, directions, and fixing everything I break all over India.
Families want to take pictures of me holding their baby, or shaking the father of the families’ hand, which I still find funny. I have laughed as an entire bus of kids on a field trip lined up to get a photo with me.
One day a driver may rip me off, but the next a driver may hand me a samosa as a treat and ask me to tell him about America.
I went to Mapusa Market with 3 things on my to do:
- Get my watch fixed that I’d fallen on and smashed
- Get a dress taken in
- Have a leather-dude fix my leather purse strap
I asked the watch repairman how much. He said, “Whatever you like”. The seamstress stopped what she was doing, fixed it on the spot and said, “Whatever you like”. She got double because I inconvenienced her. The Leather dude didn’t even want to be paid (he still got some cash, don’t worry).
This is India. A loving, caring, confusing, but sometimes-scary place. I’ve been here on and off a year and I still can’t explain India.
It’s a little like this (it’s so cute you love them but then there’s some trash and you’re a little scared you might get sick). PS I love pigs, so I’m saying this as in: the pigs actually are cute, not in a negative way.
People come to “find peace” or “find themselves” and at first it proves challenging as there are so many frustrations surrounding us visitors. It is so important to shake off the bad things that people do; forget the guy who scammed you and give the day a fresh start.
The frustrations will NOT go away. You will not change a culture built into the lives of over a billion.
As a visitor, it is your personal attitude that must change.
Tourists were separated from Indians at Wagah border to Pakistan. Is this to keep us safe? So we can have better seats? Or they don’t want to sit by us? Who knows. It’s India. Just go with it.
Don’t be a pushover, but don’t let someone get you to the point of feeling hatred toward an entire country. I struggled with this SO much my first 2 months in India. It’s hard to learn to have patience and let go of anger even in an ashram in Rishikesh while you can hear honking cars nonstop from down below, reminding you of the chaos the ashram walls are blocking out.
Now my frustrations are more about the pace in which people work, offices closing whenever they feel like it, and other small issues that are just different than what I’m used to in America. Being an expat isn’t the easiest. Once you let go of the frustration, and find a way (I use meditation) of dealing with the differences of this crowded country, you will find a new appreciation for all that surrounds you on the sub-continent!
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