To start explaining anything about India we need to grab some facts, so that it helps you realize the scale 🙂 There are three times more people in India than in Europe and they live on a surface which is three times smaller than Europe. There are 29 states and each of them is almost like a different country, often with its own language, customs, cuisine and even alphabet. The Hindi language is only used by about 20% of the entire population. The universal language is the English there. It’s difficult to talk about India in general as each state is a completely different story. It’s like to write in the same time about Poland, Norway and Portugal. How to find a common denominator? We will try to show you the bit of India we got to know and see. You can look at this country through our eyes, eyes which registered hundreds of information and dozens of stimulus per minutes.
India was very inspiring for us for several reasons. At first we only planned to spend there about 6 weeks but in the end we stayed there for 3 months. And honestly, even 3 more months would not have been enough to get to know this country or understand it 🙂 You can find everything in India, everything you need and you dream about. Depending on your financial possibilities you can explore India in luxury but you can also enjoy it when you’re completely poor. For us India is a country of mango an papaya. They were the absolute basis of our daily nutrition. It’s also in India that we tasted for the first time the jack fruit – the biggest fruit growing on a tree. India is also a country of men shirts! Almost nobody wears t-shirts here, really! Most men wear real shirts, with a collar, you know, elegant style. India’s symbols are: chai, chilli and chapatti. A chai is a tea with milk, sugar and some spices. Chilli is a spicy pepper which is used in like 90% of all meals in the country! Chapatti are little flour tarts, a sort of bread. Tea and coffee for take away are served here in plastic bags. They are always served with sugar and milk. So if you are a fan of an espresso, you can forget about it in India. The custom of drinking coffee is here simply different from what we are used to. Besides it can’t even compete with what is a real custom here: drinking chai! When it comes to fast food, if you buy it for take away it will be wrapped in a newspaper. A newspaper seems to be a great tablecloth or napkin as well. In general food in India is spicy and fatty. And we noticed that it’s always the extremes: when something is spicy – it will bring tears to your eyes; if something is sweet – it will make your teeth hurt, if fatty – you will all your hands in grease. Women can be dressed in 3 different ways here. The first one is a colorful sari, the second: a colorful tunic with suitable trousers, and the third one is the occidental style typical for bigger agglomerations like Mumbai, Kolkata or Chennai. Men all around the country, and especially in the south where the heat in unbearable, wear scarfs tied around the waist instead of shorts which makes them look like as if they were wearing long skirts. Apparently it’s very comfortable and flimsy but Maciek did not try it in the end. In places where the heat makes it difficult to breath it is very common to use the umbrellas which protect from the sun. Sitting cross-legged is very popular here, thy sit this way even on real chairs, sofas or in trains. Quite often they just simply sit on the floor. It is normal here to burp, spit or to fart without saying even a shy “excuse me”. The idea is that everything that is not healthy for one’s body needs to leave it asap. Well it is not a bad idea actually. However we still couldn’t take it with a poker face when someone suddenly accompanied his talking with a fart and kept talking to us as if nothing happened. Apart from that everyone pushes around all the time. It does not matter that there is a queue, that the train arrives in 20 minutes and that there is still time left. When sometimes we couldn’t take it anymore and commented on that they were completely surprised and pretended to have acted this way accidentally. Apart from that people are rather helpful and nice here, although we had the impression that their help was rather misleading sometimes. The thing is that they would never tell you if they do not have an answer to your question, they would rather make up an answer for you. So that’s a thing they share with us, Polish 🙂 We noticed as well that they shake their head in a specific way which, as we figured out with time, may mean both: “yes” and “no”. So yeah, it’s a real puzzle sometimes. We also learnt an interesting expression: “Same same but different”. We heard it like a million times that something is very very very similar to something else but yet different and exactly that difference explains why the price is not the same. Interesting 🙂 It stuck in our memories though and now “same same but different” got into our dictionary for real. While in India one will end up in one of the country’s festivals at some point. There are so many of them! We often had the impression that people did not really even know what was actually being celebrated and why. When you come up to one person on the street to ask for directions you can be sure that in a second there will be a little crowd around you either to help you or just to star at you. We might have been simply unlucky but in most cases when we turned to professionals for advice or information we were rather disapponted with their service. It was very difficult to obtain any sort of clear answers and the whole process took ages. This kind of disinformation was a real cause of frustration for us in India. Everyone says something different, even in such simple matters like giving the directions to the toilette. Garbage is everywhere, people leave their rubbish wherever and it’s not an easy task to find a bin. This makes it perfect living conditions for rats. Most of them we saw at railway stations. When it comes to population it is very diverse and the differences between social casts are very visible. The number of people living in poverty, children begging on the streets and trains is immense, and right next to it there are neighborhood where the rich live in luxury. We all know the picture of poor living on the streets, but in India their number is indefinable… it is a very sad picture. Dealers and salesmen usually ask here 3 main questions: “Where are you from?” “How long did you come here for?” “Is it your first time in India?”. This allows them to estimate very quickly who they have to deal with. For them all Americans, British and Germans are millionaire. Most of them have never heard about Poland, which make us think that they made us overpay only in 90% of cases 😛 The length of your staying gives them a hint about your budget and obviously if it’s your first time in India it is a sign for them that you have no idea about the real prices there. Smart right? Several generations of one family usually share the same house. A bride normally moves into her husband’s family house. Parents do obviously have quite an influence on the young couple’s life. Hindi people do care a lot about the reputation of their family. It also does play a huge role while looking for the right partner to marry. Married women usually wear decorated earrings, a neckless and also a nose ring. It’s not surprising to meet an old woman with a piercing in her nose then (sometimes even on both nostrils). Married women sometimes wear jewelry on their toes as well. In general jewelry is a very trendy thing here. And bracelets are everyone’s favorite. Even little girls from a very young age are decorated with bracelets on their wrists and legs. Me with my one tiny little neckless must have been perceived as someone with completely no sense of fashion, or as a very poor person. It is very easy to find vegetarian food in India even though Hindi people do eat quite a lot of meat as well. It was a surprise for us as we wrongly thought they don’t. Walking barefoot is a common things here and includes being barefoot at railway stations, on the trains, on the streets or in the shops – no problem with that! There are a lot of homeless dog on the streets, but also quite many cows, goats and pigs! We noticed something that made us think that men there care more about their haircut than women do They wear combs in the pockets and they visit hairdressers regularly. Those take care of their haircut as well as cut their beard and offer a quick massage. And you can find a hair salon simply everywhere. It’s also popular to dye grey hair, mustache or beard in… red. Apparently it’s because one can obtain this colour from natural ingredients. In our humble opinion this colour doesn’t suit them very well. Women do not experiment with their hair too much. Most of the time they wear long braid hair, ponytails or loose hair. Different length or haircut is rare. Food is quite fatty in India and there are quite a lot of obese people – mostly women! When in Europe reading newspapers gets more and more replaces by online versions of those, in India people still enjoy reading a real paper and one can meet such news reader everywhere. There is a real selfie mania going on here! People take selfies everywhere! Every reason and place is good for that. And we found out quite quickly that having a one with white people from far away is something for them. So strange people approached us alone or with whole families to take a selfie with us, tourists. Sometimes it may take quite a long time. Especially when little children who were afraid of us simply did not want to participate in the whole selfie ritual. Then it usually took parent some time to convince them to agree to be put in our hands and smile for the picture. Cultural and religious diversity is incredible in this country. One can feel it at each step. The scale reaches from modern atheism to ancient “holy baba” living in the Himalayan bush far away from the civilization. Yoga and meditation classes can be found easily in almost each hostel and different temples are located at almost each bigger street. Christians, Muslims, Hindi and Buddhists live next to each other. So you can see women traditionally dressed in sari passing next Muslim women wearing black burkas and right next to them a girl in a jeans jacket and leggins. By the way: it seems nobody figured it out here yet to add a pocket to the sari, for example to put there a phone. Women have to carry their phones in hands, which does not seem to be very handy 🙂 A physical contact between men is not such a tabu here as in Poland, quite often we saw men holding hands or hugging on the streets. Fridges are rare which by such temperatures means that food is cooked fresh every day. It is quite easy to make a Hindi person angry, especially when you don’t agree to a high price he offers for a product or service. This makes negotiating prices way more stressful as it was in Nepal with calm and chilled people there. Obviously we do generalize here. And obviously there are a lot of positive, smiling and nice people here in India as well. This does not change the fact though that they stare. Yes, they do stare and they do it with no embarassement. They can stand right in front of you and look at intensively for a long couple of minutes. And it’s not even an attempt to make contact or talk to you. It felt quite weird the first couple of times. On the streets the most obvious mean of transport are tuk tuks and hen motorbikes. They are everywhere!!! And the way they drive is crazy, they appear suddenly out of nowhere and participate in the traffic without signaling their maneuvers. A motorbike ride during rush hours in Chennai, a city with couple of millions inhabitants, was one of our most exciting adventures in India! In general people are very hospitable but also very nosy. A bit like the characters of their beloved soap operas 🙂 The question of castes is a whole other subject. From what we’ve heard officially the division into castes has been abolished but you can definitely feel that it’s still alive in the real life… and mostly in the countryside and smaller cities. It’s a controversial topic, we tried to talk about it several times with several people but it all remains to unclear for us to talk about it. So we won’t write about it. South of India seems to be somehow cleaner and we noticed that there are more hospitals and Catholic churches. And the state of Kerala is completely not like India. Everything is more organized and makes more sense 🙂 We also noticed that places like restaurants, shops, hospitals or administration offices are over staffed, meaning there are more people working there than what it seems to be necessary. Even in a bus you might have one driver and two tickets controllers! Trains are fine, but they are often late. But on the station as well as on the train during the ride you can buy everything you need during a travel.
We could continue this way for a long time, so that you really get to realize what “a stream of random information” means 🙂 In any case India was an amazing and intense adventure where we met hundreds wonderful people (not only Hindi) who we will keep in our memories. And we hope to stay in touch with some of them and maybe meet one day again! And obviously, one day we will go back to India 🙂
You can read more about our experiences and thoughts on India in the “World through filters” section as well as in the 3 “The Best” categories on our home page.