Deb Corbeil is one half of Canada’s Adventure Couple. She has just finished traveling with her husband, Dave through Nepal, Sri Lanka and India where she climbed to Mount Everest Base Camp, joined a pilgrimage to Adams Peak and participated in Holi, India’s most colourful festival. Deb is quick to tell you that travelling in south India is not as extreme as the northern part of the country and it definitely was far easier there. You can read more about this couple’s adventures at http://theplanetd.com/.
With many thanks to Evelyn Hannon’s JourneyWoman website article, here are some tips presented by Deb Corbeil. She has nailed it. Thanks Deb.
‘So you want to go to India? It’s been calling you for years and you’re feeling ready to explore this fascinating, thrilling yet frustrating country. I’m writing this article while on my first trip to Northern India. For someone travelling from North America the culture shock you feel will be intense and you’ll need time to acclimatize yourself.
I know you’ll find what I have to say harsh but don’t be put off by it. It’s meant to prepare you so that the ‘shock’ in your culture shock will not be as intense as mine was. That said, this is an experience you’ll savour for the rest of your life. I would not have missed the markets in Delhi, the splendour of the Taj Mahal, Agra’s Red Fort, the holy city of Varanasi, Rajasthan’s camel market, and the beautiful people who live here for anything in the world.
1. Safety…Safety is an issue in any country and India is no exception. Most of the time you won’t have any problems, however there will be occasions when you will face some annoyances. In India many local women don’t travel alone period, especially in the more rural areas. Many men don’t respect a woman travelling solo and will feel that this gives them license to harass you. That doesn’t mean that a western woman can’t travel solo, just be smart and follow your judgment.
2. Lack of Privacy…Accept it. You will be an attraction to many local people. It can be a little unnerving having people stare at you. Men especially will stare at you for long periods of time without smiling, saying anything, or even caring that they are making you uncomfortable. It seems rude, but it is what they do. Others may ask you for photographs, want to touch you and constantly want to converse with you. With the invention of cell phones, the tables have now turned and you will have just as many locals wanting to take your photo as you wanting to take theirs.
3. Toilets…It is the age-old struggle for travellers of the world. Especially women. You won’t be finding too many shining porcelain thrones in India. Most times you won’t even want to enter the stall due to the filth and stench in the public restrooms. But sometimes it can’t be helped when you stop for a quick break in the middle of the night on a long haul sleeper bus. Here, you may be faced with a squat toilet that won’t flush and hasn’t seen a scrub brush for decades.
4. Hygiene…India is dirty, that is a fact. You can count on just about everything having some nasty bacteria on it. Light switches in your hotel room could be be dirty — doorknobs, walls, anything that you touch is questionable. Remember, you eat with your hands in India and you don’t want to be transferring all of that to your stomach. Delhi Belly didn’t get its name by accident.
5. Clothing…India is hot. You may have the urge to wear tank tops and shorts, but it is not acceptable in this society. You are asking for unwanted attention and men will see it as an invitation to come on to you.
6. Dealing with Touts…India has made selling tours, jewellery, guides and trinkets an art form. These men can sell anything and many times will not take no for an answer. Wannabe tour guides will walk with you on the street asking your name, where you are from and then go in for the kill by selling you a tour. They will have an answer to every reason you have for not needing a guide.
7. Poverty…Women are a compassionate breed and the poverty in India can be overwhelming and upsetting to us all. Starving children beg for money, blind and legless men ask for change and mothers sing with their children in their arms. India has over a billion people and this sheer volume amplifies the amount of poverty that you see everyday.
8. Filth…We have talked about toilets and hygiene, but the filth and dirt in India is not only found in bathrooms and on buses. It’s not uncommon to see garbage, faeces, urine, cow dung and open sewage in the street. Sacred cows roam the streets relieving themselves on sidewalks and roads. Men urinate openly on walls and in ditches and people throw their plastic bags and water bottles on the ground.
9. Crowds…Crowds can be found everywhere. Local buses are jam-packed, streets are overflowing with people and traffic and queues are long for everything. India is crazy and nowhere more so than standing on a train platform in Delhi. The mass of people squeezes you as you try to keep hold of your belongings. You will feel hands from everywhere touching you in unwanted places and you can feel very vulnerable at times.
10. Animals…The treatment of animals in India can be hard to take. Starving dogs roam the streets and sacred cows don’t seem so sacred when you see their bones protruding from their ribs as they munch on plastic. I’ve seen broken oxen dragging heavy carts through traffic and camels being whipped to the point of bleeding. Temple elephants are chained and used for tourist’s amusements and even pets are tied to short leashes and left to bake in the intense sun.
11. Noise…India is noisy. It is a growing fast paced society that is demanding a lot of attention. You may be on a sleeper train and cell phones will be going off at 3:00 am. You will hear beeping all night long as everyone drives through the streets with one hand on the horn. The call to Prayer will awake you in the wee hours of the morning and trains make their presence known even in the most remote areas of the country.
12. Respect…As a woman in India you will have a more difficult time getting your complaints dealt with than a man. Negotiating can often be a chore. Some men feel that they can grab you, stare at you and make fun of you. Other men will see you as the weaker sex. They will ignore you when you talk to them and laugh at you when you are trying to raise a legitimate concern.
WRITER’S NOTE: My final point is to urge you to respect this incredible, mind blowing destination. Respect the culture, respect their beliefs and remember that you are a privileged guest. I promise you will meet incredibly giving people, make new friends, see glorious sights, learn a new way of being and come away with memories that will last a lifetime.’
INCREDIBLE INDIAN TOURS’s director’s Note:
Whilst all of these points can be considered a nuisance, or worse, something to put you off travelling to India, they are a minor inconvenience in comparison to the joys, experiences and possible life-changing events that travelling India offers.
Feel you’re not quite up to dealing with all of this on your own, then why not join us on one of our escorted small group tours and we’ll give you as much or as little hand-holding as you require. It might just be a few tips and pointers in the first few days to help you understand the ins and outs of India and it’s crazy culture and society. Maybe you’d rather not have to deal with the touts and local transport and issues of safety, let alone wondering where to go and what to do.
Our philosophy with respect to our group tours is to take the hard work out of travelling India to provide you maximum time and opportunity to experience all the wonderful things on offer. We don’t shelter you from the difficult stuff, like poverty, filth and bad toilets (although when we’re out and about we do our best to find a bathroom that’s at least bearable), nor do we seclude you in 5-star hotels where you feel like you could be anywhere in the world. We use fabulous heritage hotels that have character, are clean and convenient and have lovely hosts. It may be a 4-star heritage castle, or a homestay. We take long journeys by plane, train or private bus and ensure you get to experience plenty of local transport like buses, rickshaws and other varied modes of transport, be it a row-boat on the Ganges, a camel or elephant or a horse-drawn buggy.
Our limited numbers on groups (usually no more than 10) means that it will come to feel like you’re travelling with a bunch of friends, not on a large tour-group where you get bused from one sight to the next. We can do things larger groups can’t like eating in little hole-in-the-wall eateries or taking a walking tour through a local market or perhaps having lunch at a friends home.
Group travel is not for everyone, but India’s a whole different destination. To get the most out of your time, consider letting Incredible Indian Tours ease the way.
Take a look at all our upcoming group tours here.