It`s no wander that they say; you feel India with all your senses. it’s true. I have been there, have seen, smelled, heard, tasted it and I still feel it so strongly with all my senses…
First time in India was just like a plate of strong, spicy, delicious and bright colored curry – exciting and tasty but also leaving some discomfort in the stomach.
On our FIRST ever trip to India, Mumbai was the first stop and we were arriving, why not to say it, a little scared.
It was our first time together in a trip this long, not to mention hundreds of prejudicing advices about NOT DRINKING TAP WATER, NOT EATING IN THE STREET, having full, anti-all-INSURANCE, eating only in fancy restaurants… all that made us nervious and in anticipation of strange things.
With all these suggestions, advises and survival equipment squeezed in our backpacks we reached the airport Chhatrapati Shivaji expecting that BIG unespected things of India.
Once we managed to get into a cab and gave the address of our hotel to the polite driver, he started to make us the ABC introduction questions: ”where are you from, what are you doing this far, how long you will stay…?”
We were barely giving half answers, being speechless looking outside and not being able to digest so much in that short period of time.
It was late at night and I guess that the darkness was not helping to our first impression. The silence in the car was broken one more time when the driver spoke to us saying: “THIS IS THE BIGGEST SLUM IN THE WORLD” pointing through the window and slowing down the car.
I cannot say if it was the biggest or not, but the row of rustic, half destroyed houses and abandoned buildings was not ending for as much as my sight could reach. What I was seeing behind the road we were passing on, was beyond my imagination, hundred times truer than any Hollywood film about India.
We both stayed speechless by the scenery which was so far away from our views of this world. That happy feeling when discovering a new place just turned into anguish and anxious anticipation of what comes next.
Eventually we reached the hotel and first words of Ana were: “Did you see those houses?” as it took her all the way till the hotel until she could pronounce those words and still astonished.
The first impression was something we will never be able to forget and something we could not even possibly describe – one big, messy mix of feelings – sadness, empathy, sympathy, anger, appreciation, uncertainty… and certainly a SHOCK.
I think that first time in India simply cannot happen without some kind of shock. Even if you have been seeing things and going places, India is going to surprise you. Be prepared for that!
Our hotel in Mumbai was, well, let`s say decent, but strange and definitely the first of that kind that we have ever seen.
As we were walked in the room by the polite receptionist he generously sprayed our room, particularly the bed corners and area around the pillows, with an air freshener – it certainly camouflaged the smell of humidity and lack of ventilation but… you know…
Anyway, the room with NO WINDOW, the bathroom with NO TOILET PAPER, a door with a doorbell and the same polite receptionist who rings that, very loud, doorbell each hour or so to offer you a huge jug of water… who knows why. That`s more less how a 3-STARS HOTEL IN MUMBAI looks like.
Anyway, the morning after seemed to be a bit brighter under the daylight and things started to turn from tragic to tragi-comic and eventually we were also having lot of FUN.
Mumbai is the most densely populated city in India, hence, if you are going there, be prepared to see a LOT of people around.
And there is of everything – this vast city is scenario for the most heart-breaking poverty brought to unthinkable limits, while you will also see levels of wealth that somehow are not matching with the city, like trying to fit a picture of Da Vinci in a background painted by Van Gogh, it will just not match, the gap is just huge.
In our opinion Mumbai is a great choice for a first trip to India – it´s a huge city where you can find many different things – beautiful temples, pagodas, majestic buildings and amazing architecture, get to know about the traditional way of living and learn about Indian history.
Lives of many are happening almost entirely on the streets – they sleep, cook, wash, sell and buy on the street.
In almost any moment of the day you will have a feeling like literally all the inhabitants of the city are on the streets – the amount of people is just hard to imagine, as well as the traffic with all the cars, TUK-TUKS, motorbikes, bicycles, trunks and their horns, traffic lights, screaming people…
It`s like all the sounds, blinking lights and colors of the world are just there, happening at the same time, from all the directions, concentrated at that one single street that you need to cross.
I cannot fully describe the feeling of anxiety and will for life that we both experienced while trying to CROSS THE STREET in Mumbai for the first time – so-called semaphores and so-called traffic rules – forget about all that!
Here, the only rule is – FOLLOW YOUR SURVIVAL INSTINCT and consider turning to spiritual powers.
It’s like a crusade moves from one part of the street to the opposite one – you will feel the adrenaline running down your blood and once you conquer it, you will feel like you aged 5 years in one minute but with a feeling of a great victory.
In certain moments big groups of people will play at your favor because, while big group of people is crossing, the traffic won’t be able to move at all, so there is your big chance to just jump in the mass and follow them.
However, to understand better the dynamic, just look how others are doing it, and imitate that behavior with confidence and trust in whatever spiritual power you trust… at the end, is just crossing the street and after first few tries you will master it.
Not only crossing the street in Mumbai (and anywhere in India) is a challenge (and potential danger) but also simple walking around can be quite intensive.
Believe me when I say there are moments of the day that is so difficult to walk on the streets due to the huge amount of people, cars, motorbikes, even COWS… that you can’t even stop for a moment and think where you were heading to, you just move with the mass in the unknown direction.
COWS on the street – that is also a totally normal thing all around India.
Since cow is a holly animal, it`s like a living adoration – they walk freely all around the city and even that crazy traffic will stop in a second to let the holly animal cross the street in peace.
In front of any traffic rules, that simple don`t work in India, the rule of a cow is the only one respected – every cow on the street or a crossroad has a priority to pass over any vehicle or a person. Full stop.
Eating cows meat is not an option, they are simply adored as free animals or, at most, they are used in transportation purposes.
Another ”amusement” for our senses during our trip around India was the pollution which, unlike in many other countries, here you can see it, fell it and almost touch it.
In a big Indian cities like Mumbai you will find difficult to see very far as the landscape becomes foggy as random winter day in London…except that is not fog but air pollution that is visible and really possible to smell.
Yes, you can literally smell the air and see it`s grey-red-ish color as a layer that goes above the landscape.
Pollution is really a problem in India – tons of garbage are piled up all around and it looks like there is no garbage collection at all. With a very high temperature most of the year, fermenting garbage makes, not only a strong smell but a fruitful source of diseases as well.
It is odd to see how people don’t seem to be worried too much about the ecological drama happening all around them… you will not see many of them throwing the garbage in a bin – it’s almost an exceptional act.
You will not see many garbage bins neither. And this stands not only for the busy streets of the big cities. Remote locations, nature parks, beaches, villages, rivers – many of the amazing places are being gradually ruined by the lack of ecological conscience.
Apart from all the challenges, difficulties and problems that you, as a tourist, might face in India, there are also many good and positive things.
Almost all locals that you will meet are super friendly with foreigners. Actually, friendly up to the point that you will have moments of feeling like a super-star.
Many people will ask you to make photos with you. For some reason, it is really a thing there, to meet a foreigner and get a photo with one.
We ended up making long photo-sessions with different persons around the street – young, old, kids, woman with babies…everyone wanted a shot with us. We were very confused at first – did they mistake us for some beautiful celebrity couple?…Hmm, I don`t think so.
Some of them explained us that we just look unusual and different to them and they want a photo because… you know, that`s how the world works now, we all fight for some likes… and that`s how we ended up being celebrities in India. And you can be too!
Another thing about people in India – they are generous and they really like to help. When you feel lost or curious about something don’t hesitate to ask. They will almost always be happy to help you.
However, as the old proverb say “one hand washes the other” be prepared to return the courtesy in some situations – to visit their shop, take a ride with them if they drive taxi or tuk-tuk, or whatever else they offer you.
Since it seems like the whole city is a huge open market, someone is always selling something or knows someone who is selling something you might need.
That is also a way how you can organize your trip around India – for example book a ride to somewhere, find a tourist guide, find a restaurant or any other activity… just go to the street and ask the first person that passes by – they will happily recommend a friend, cousin, neighbor who has exactly whatever is that you need.
And the price of literally everything is negotiable so it will all depend on your negotiating skills and patience.
Street markets are definitely a place to be if you want to get to know the context, the mentality, the way the life goes…
You will be surprised of the amounts of shops and street sellers trying to sell you everything: from food to fabrics, dishes, clothes, jewelry, toys, tools, perfumes…
A good advice is better not to ask for something if you are not really interested in buying it, otherwise it will be very difficult to escape; they are very persuasive sellers and you will end up buying things that you didn’t really want to buy.
One more tip – if you go to a shop early in the morning just after they open, you have big chances to negotiate a bigger discount since the morning is the most important moment of the day for them. If they don’t sell anything to the first customer that stops by, they believe the whole commercial day will be a reflection of it.
In any case, bargaining in India is mandatory and any price anywhere is negotiable so it is almost a rule that you will pay less than original price. In any case, they tend to give much higher prices to tourists than to the locals, so obviously you will have space for bargaining until some more reasonable price.
However, considering that you will be mostly buying from the street sellers who maintain their families and probably live in a poor conditions, don`t exaggerate with bargaining – India is still probably much cheaper than where are you coming from.
If you are lucky enough, or better said if you are planning your trip to India in March, you will have an apportunity to visit the famous Holi festival – yes, that colorful one you always wondered about.
The date of the Holi festival in 2020 will be 9 of March so if you are thinking about visiting India, this might be your ideal date.
FOOD in India – one of the most controversial topics among non-Indian visitors to the country.
Definitely, do dare to try Indian food, authentic one, from the street, from the places that doesn`t look like they fulfill any sanitary standards – the more scary it looks the more delicious it will be.
It`s almost an extreme sport for foreigners and might be as difficult as doing a bungy jump for the first time but once you let yourself you will love the feeling of adrenaline and taste of hot spicy curry.
Indian street food is just the best!
In any case, a thing that is almost a must when in India is some kind of stomach issue. Honestly, whatever you do, you will hardly avoid it. At least some light diarrhea you will have at some point… even if you eat only crackers and drink bottled water.
In most of the cases, nothing more serious than some diarrhea and/or vomiting will happen.
However, our tip is – look for street food where lot of people is eating – big turnover of people usually means freshly made food.
Anyway, many factors are involved and you can never know.
So just prepare yourself for it, embrace the idea, bring a lot of stomach issues-related pills and have some plan in case of an emergency.
Not to forget Toilet Paper– your new best friend in India!
If you are first time in India you will be surprised by the fact that most of the hotels all around the country don´t provide toilet paper – it is not a very used product there – they just have another system (topic for a whole new text).
In some hotels they will have toilet paper but don´t expect abundance of it. Normally in bars and restaurants you won´t find any toilet paper, tissues, any paper product at all… so good idea is to always have one with you!
In the remote locations of India it´s not that easy to find a place that sells toilet paper but not impossible neither. At least you will be able to get some paper tissues or similar.
And yes, toilet paper costs like gold. Well, not literally, but some foxy sellers will feel your need and desperation and might want to take advantage and charge you double, triple… anyway, it´s a price you need to pay.
Considering that all food in India is spicy you can expect increased consume of toilet paper. The lack of it can cause serious frustrations so, trust me, you need to have a roll with you at all times!
India in general is all about culture, tradition and faith – A lot of different cultures and religions coexist – Muslims, Hindus, Jain, Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhist…
This blend of cultures ends up in a genuine diversity of looks, dressing styles and forms of adoration to the different gods in very different ways between Temples, Churches, Mosques and Pagodas.
I bet that all these are giving to India that unique charm and beauty.
To sum up this, probably unnecessary long text, take it easy first time in India – give it enough time and go step by step discovering it, leaving enough time to digest each peace.
I will not lie to you – it will not be easy! But, I am guaranteeing to you – it will be an unforgettable experience.
Keep in mind – not all that you heard about India is true – there is much more that you have never heard of.
And yes, always have a roll of toilet paper in your bag. Always!
Once you are supplied with one, go get that masala stuff and enjoy until it starts to hurt. Namaste!
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