Disclaimer: This list is established by me under my personal experience on my first impression of India. These things may not hold true to other Indian travelers.
First of all, you should understand that this is the first year that the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University has a semester-long India Study Abroad Program, therefore we are the SUPER GUINEA PIGS! There are 12 of us: Jennifer Stevenson, Bekkah Westre, Michael Sorenson, Elizabeth Gleich, Danny Elenz, Kathryn Ellis, Katie Campbell, Ashley Blaine, Haley Yseth, Brynn Haugen, Abbey Haugen, and myself. We’re going through this whole experience with blindfolds on.
1 Be prepared to be unprepared
When you come to India, you will be pushed into the deepest part of the pool. There’s really no ‘easy’ way of easing into this big country. You just have to dive in head first and learn how to swim, or at least float. If you’re planning to come to India “all ready and prepared” then be prepared to be unprepared.
2) Traffic is ‘different’ here
If someone honks at you in the USA, it’s either they are angry at you or they are some perverted person wanting to holla at you. Here in India it’s different. Honking has a whole new meaning for Indian drivers.
First impression of India’s traffic: CHAOTIC and LIFE-THREATENING. Cows are on the road, monkeys are crossing the highway, people are walking on the highway, cars don’t use their signal lights when they merge (in fact, they don’t even look back to see if there is someone behind them), they create their own lanes, and there seems to be no speed limit. It will seem as if these people got their licenses out of the dumpsters. The traffic here makes the Twin Cities’ traffic jam look like nothing. Cars, motorcycles, bikes, taxis, cars, vans, trucks, and pedestrians all share the same road. Most of the time these vehicles squeeze into lanes that feels too small to fit their size (but for some odd reason they never scratch each other). The tailgating here makes my younger brother (Yia’s) tailgating way less dangerous.
But you will learn later on that the traffic here is pretty organized; organized in a sense that is alien to us. We don’t know the rule which is why it seems unorganized to us. They have traffic rules and everyone is obeying those rules. We haven’t seen as any car crashes since we got here (except for one). According to Peggy Retka, the drivers are only responsible for what is in front of them; they can’t hit whatever is in front of them (which is why they press on the break so hard it makes your head bob back and forth). It’s a defensive driving technique. But it sure makes me wonder, what would happen in the scenario of a car crash?
In the meantime, instead of saying that traffic is horrible here, I’d say traffic is different here.
The air here will make your boogers dark when you blow your nose. The atmosphere here (in Delhi in particular) is usually hazy, foggy and polluted. It’s so bad to the point where the sun can’t even come out – when the sun eventually manages to set in the west side, you see a big, bright orange in the sky. You can look directly at the circular sun and it doesn’t burn your eyes. The pollution is that thick.
4) Personal space? There’s no such thing as personal space
You will share space with people (in the big cities especially) whether you like it or not. You may touch you (non-sexually) and it will be weird, but it will be ok. Personal space doesn’t seem to matter much here since there are so many people walking on the same path.
5) Extreme contrasts
You will be amazed at the extreme contrast between the rich and poor, clean and dirty, new and old, beautiful and hideous things you find here in India. At one area there will be high sky scraping flats (or Condos) and in other areas there will be tents and trash everywhere. There seems to be no neutrality. Things are either on one end of the spectrum or the other.
6) Delhi Belly
You will get Delhi Belly and it will suck. ‘Delhi Belly’ is the term they use for diarrhea. It’s miserable when you get it but it will go away once you adjust to the diet here. Expect to have Delhi Belly in your first week or second week. When you experience it you will want to just sit in toilet seat all night long and cry because your stomach will not allow you to sleep. Your stomach will feel like a water balloon; every time you fart, liquid may possibly be gushing out of your anus. It’s disgusting but it’s true.
7) Indian Time
If you plan to get to a certain location at a certain time, expect to get there 2 or 3 or even 4 hours later. For example, we said we were going to get to the Taj Mahal at 11a.m. but didn’t get there until 3 p.m. It’s not because people here intentionally want to run late all the time, it’s because traffic takes a lot of time, and the sense of time is not as strict as it is back in the U.S.
8) India is quite cold in the winter
I thought I was leaving Minnesota’s cold winter for good but I thought wrong. India’s winter is almost equivalent to Minnesota’s winter minus the 4 feet snow (or is it 5 feet now?). None of us were prepared for India’s (or at least North India’s) winter cold so we didn’t pack a lot of warm clothes. The director of the program had use the CSB/SJU ‘emergency budget’ money to buy us some warm blankets for the car ride since the bus didn’t have heating.
9) Holy cows
It’s not an exaggeration when people say that Hindus and Muslims don’t eat cows. They really do love their cows. It’s amazing how much respect they have for the cows. If the cows are crossing the roads they would either slow down and let the cows cross or drive behind the last cow crosser. Cows are everywhere and it’s acceptable to have a cow sit on the side of the road. Besides cows you see dogs, a few cats, birds (esp. pigeons – and they will poop on you if they get the chance), camels, goats, sheep, boars, parrots, and other animals around you.
10) Toilet Paper and Bathrooms
It’s probably a very intelligent idea to carry toilet paper with you everywhere you go. It will definitely come in handy; at least that’s been the case for me. There are a lot of “squat” bathrooms where there will be no toilet paper. One thing I should caution you about is the “fee” or “tip” of using “private” restrooms. Usually there’s a person standing in the restroom handing out toilet paper, turning the water on for you to wash your hands and handing you a tiny napkin to dry your hands – this person does not just kindly stand there for fun; it’s there a job (sort of). You have to pay them, or tip them, between 1 rupee to 40 rupees (it depends). It’s a weird and annoying concept because you never know if you’re using a private or public restroom. Plus, we never asked them to give us toilet paper, turn the faucet on and give us napkins to dry our hands. We’re paying them on a service we never asked for :X