In 2012 I spent four weeks in Bangalore, India. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. I cried a lot, I complained a lot, and there were at least two instances that I was positive I would die. That said, I learned a lot and went on adventures and had so much fun. On a bi-weekly-Monday basis I will share my trip here.
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Like I said last time, I don’t want this to be a boring day-by-day retelling. Instead of talking about school or stray dogs or waterfalls (coming soon!) I’m going to list a few things that I learned while in India/tips to survive your trip to India!
- Pack intelligently…
I. This tip covers two subtopics. First of all, India is a modest county. Saris show off a woman’s stomach, but that’s not a sensual part of the body there. It’s important to cover you chest area and your legs. Leggings + kurtas (or tunics) are the way to go. Similar to the American rule, cover your butt & front- tight clothes are uncomfortable and inappropriate. **
II. Pack inexpensive items that you can leave in India. This trip has ruined me. Now when I pack for trips I think, ‘Oh, my suitcase will be much lighter when I come back because I’ll just leave XYZ there!’ That’s not really normal… Before we left we were able to donate belonging that we didn’t need. (Gently used, of course.) I donated multiple clothing items, a pillow, and tennis shoes. Since we were a part of a study abroad program we were also able to leave sunscreen & bug spray behind for the next set of students that needed it.
** I am 100% Ms. Feminist-hear-me-roar but when you’re in another country and you’re the only Caucasian (woman) for miles and miles it’s fairly important to blend in as best you can and wear the clothing of the country.
- Take your medicine/Get your shots…
You have to be up to date on all your shots when traveling to India, but you’ll also need to bring malaria medication. You can take pills or get a shot- but both have potential downsides so pick the less of two evils. (I am not a doctor, this is my personal assessment.) I’ve heard that the shot can potentially give you night terrors, but I believe that’s a one time thing. The twice-daily pill made me SUPER sick to my stomach. In the mornings I had to take it with food and at night I took it RIGHT before falling asleep.
- Utilize a scarf…
A scarf will save your life. I bought mine on day one and wore it every. single. day. You can protect your nose & mouth from smells and dust. You can cover up in religious temples. You can shield yourself from the sun. Seriously- invest in a good scarf.
- Watch what you eat…
Honestly, chances are your body will hate what you put in it once or twice. “Delhi Belly” is a real thing, guys. I will skip the gross repercussions and go right to the rules I followed. No ice. No unfiltered water. (Check the seal of your water bottles!) No fruit with an edible exterior (e.g. apples, cherries, grapes). No raw veggies. I know that sounds tough, but in India you eat a lot of rice & sauces & naan. Which is all safe. Essentially you want to avoid things that were washed in unfiltered water. Also, I mostly avoided meat while I was there. Of course, there were moments I broke these rules (like at the Subway in the mall). Just be smart.
- Learn the cultural norms…
Obviously you can’t learn everything… but here are some American oddities/Indian norms to get you started:
– To shake your head “yes” you tilt it side to side (ear to shoulder movement). When they do it quickly it looks like our version of “no”, but it’s not. A tilt to the side is a shortened version of this movement & still means “yes.”
– For the most part, this culture doesn’t like to say “no.” If you ask an auto rickshaw driver if he knows where your desired destination is and he says yes (or more likely tilts his head “yes”) then it’s not a guarantee he knows…
– Haggle for everything. Don’t be afraid to walk away if the price is too high. The price will always be too high at first.
– People will probably stare at you. Don’t stare back.
Obviously I’m generalizing. This is just based on my experience.
That’s my best India advice! Next I will recap specific adventures we took. More about that in two weeks, though!