As we venture out of the hotel room – we get our first impressions about India. But it’s not a good one to be quite honest. We blame the horror stories in the news and our negative attitude when we arrived for this initial apprehension. Unfortunately, however, there are some sides to India which are quite annoying and stressful. There are some things I wish I had known about India. But, we have ourselves to blame for not keeping an open mind right from the start.
We ended up buying a Rough Guide to India in a small bookshop in Nepal, despite my dearest efforts to not ever wanting to buy a guidebook for this trip and rely on my serendipitous discoveries. The reason we bought it, is to narrow down our options on where to travel to – India is huge!
I found scrolling through a guidebook helps to make these kinds of decisions. I love the history sections of these books to educate myself on the various regions – the perfect read for long train drives to each new destination. As I spend more time in India, I notice, I barely use the guide anymore and rely more on my own explorations. Yet, I was glad I had invested in it for this trip.
Thanks to our Rough Guide we were prepared for daily Tuk Tuk and taxi scams, which we would have otherwise been completely unaware of. Thanks to our guide, we knew that travelling on a local bus should be avoided, especially at night. Having a guide book with me, made me feel safe.
A few weeks into our trip in India, I feel Trains should always be favoured as a means of transportation – especially for long stretches – and preferably 2nd or 3rd class. Avoid sleepers – not necessarily because it might be unsafe (although if you are a solo female traveller – do avoid the sleepers and in fact try to always book onto the female or family coaches – if available on the service), but because you might end up having to stand for the entirety of the journey, which can be anything between 3 – 45 hours, depending on your destination.
We know people who have gotten off the sleeper as they could not cope with how cramped it was. The big pro for travelling by train: We have spent an average of 550 RP per person for train rides which is amazing good value! The trains are clean, comfortable and so far, the locals have been nothing but helpful and forthcoming. Many of them are curious to know where we come from, ask a few questions and are willing to help with our enquiries without ever making us feel uncomfortable.
When we wander around Delhi, we notice the stark difference to Nepal, our first country on this long-term travel adventure. Apart from the occasional stare and the invitation to enter a shop, people in Kathmandu, left you alone. In Delhi it seems everyone wants a piece of you.
Even if it is just by staring non-stop or by constantly trying to persuade you to buy something. What I find most annoying are people who start walking with you to engage in a conversation and try to persuade you that they can organise a special tour or whatever else they think one might require as a tourist.
Some try to entice you with creative stories – such as in Agra: where apparently the Star sapphire originates from and it can only be bought there (of course none of it is true). Fake gemstone rings are sold in Agra to naïve tourists for ten times its worth. Something we experienced personally when a gemstone dealer tried to sell us a ring for initially 8500 RP and quickly dropped the price down to 3500 RP. A real sapphire would not be the object of such bargaining.
In Jodhpur someone tried to entice us to walk into his shop by telling us that they supply Laura Ashley in the UK, that Prince Charles had visited the shop, that their garments feature in Tatler – and the list goes on.
Malik, the Tuk Tuk driver in Agra was incredibly friendly towards us, convinced us to book a day tour with him, asked us to sign his guestbook during lunch. After lunch he changed his attitude and was no longer the friendly person we thought he was. In fact he, all of a sudden, became quite pushy and rude. A shock to us which left us with great deal of suspicion towards everyone we met from then onwards. Agra, we felt, in as much as Delhi, are to be avoided if possible!
I’m sorry to say, but we did not have the best of impressions. Visit the Taj Mahal and then leave again. Travel through Delhi as a transit point – then leave. We made the mistake of staying in Agra for four nights as we thought there was much more to explore. In the end, our stay cost us way more than we had anticipated. Two nights would have been more than enough. To be quite honest, we were very happy to leave again.
However, the majestic Taj Mahal is an absolute must-see! We spent five hours wandering around the enchanted grounds whilst taking loads of photos or just sitting on a bench and take in the beauty of this romantic monument. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen!
So far the blue city Jodhpur has been my favourite. It’s the India I was hoping to see: small alleyways, photo eye-candy everywhere you look, friendly locals, marketplaces with bustling colours, good food, peace and quiet – at least at night.
I find talking to locals is the best way to learn about a country. No guidebook can offer as much insight to a land’s soul. However, what I find quite hard in India, is to distinguish between the guys who are out to make a quick buck from you and tell you stories that are not always true and the genuine people who are interested to become your friend and teach you about their country.
I’m craving more genuine encounters, such as when a friendly lady in Jaipur helped us to select the best fruit and bargained a better price for us – there was nothing in it for her. It was a plain and simple act of kindness with no expectation for anything in return. I think this is what bugs me about India sometimes: there are many people who engage with you because of some sort of ulterior motive. The motive being usually: we want to get as much money out of you stupid tourists as possible!
Hemlata Singh, the first lady Tuk Tuk driver of Jaipur (that’s her official title), taught me an important lesson: if a person does not expect anything, you tend to give more freely. The more you want, the more you expect, the less you are inclined to give. Greed attracts contempt. Humility attracts generosity. Light attracts light. Darkness attracts darkness.
The pushy Tuk Tuk driver, pushes us away. The same way that pushy shop owners, who try to almost force you to buy their goods, manage to do just one thing: push us away from ever wanting to buy in their shops. Life in India is tough for many – and many try to desperately make a living – I do get it.
And yet, it is the ones who are humble who attract our attention the most.
I wish it was always easy to spot the genuine people. I find it quite hard. I’ve always been someone to believe in the good in a person, until proven otherwise. And yet, I’ve been fooled so many times. My friend Rocio often says: ‘Tess you are light. You will be surprised about darkness. In fact, they are out to get you. But the good thing is, if you still manage to be surprised when darkness reveals itself to you, then that is wonderful. It means the world has not made you bitter. Stay that way!”.
Yet, I find myself shaken whenever darkness in a person is shown to me. It takes me a while to see it. Rocio has the gift to have it revealed before her instantly. “People who are crap, show to me they are crap pretty right away” she says. I guess I’m more easily fooled. Despite all of it – I still believe there is good in everyone. I believe we all have a bad and a good wolf inside of us. One of the two becomes who we are, depending on which wolf we decide to feed.
When we travelled to India, we decided to feed the bad wolf. We arrived filled with so much apprehension, suspicion, distrust – this is also precisely what we attracted. Once we had arrived in Jodhpur, after 10 days in India, we had relaxed and gotten used to the lifestyle, and were automatically more open-minded. All of as sudden we started attracting more trustworthy people, more positive experiences.
What you think is what you create for yourself.
Whenever you feel angered about a situation, then it is not the situation that causes your anger. It is your thoughts about the situation. You choose to be angry. Every re-action is the result of ‘action’. Most actions are the result of what you chose to give in to. Very rarely are actions the result of reflex. Not every thought needs to be actioned on.
The wisest moments are the ones where you are completely detached of your thoughts. When you see past the chatter that goes on in your head. When you give everyone a chance despite of what you may have heard of. I hope this is precisely the quality that I will foster during my travels. Keeping an open mind is what attracts the beautifully unexpected.
As when it comes to India: I have learnt not to expect anything anymore and equally, not to be surprised either.
Do you agree that an open-mind and a positive attitude can make all the difference when you visit a new place? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.