Impressions of India
Many people say you either love or hate India and I get where it comes from. Nevertheless I did not always feel it was that black and white. Even though I loved many aspects of the unique country, I also felt it was draining my energy sometimes.
Continuously I had to be aware of what I did, keeping my belongings close to me, since the pickpocket risk was quite high. Soon, I realized that pickpockets were not my main concern. The true danger was the mafia, the endless organised crimes. The touts, the scammers and basically anyone who approached me seemed to have a hidden agenda. When someone came to me, it was almost certain it was to make some kind of a deal. It is all so subtle that it is hard to notice the scam but in the end you almost always pay. The usual, obvious selling and begging is always there, but that is easier to avoid. When it is sneakier, it is important to be more cautious. It is safest to assume that everyone who approaches you to 'help' you, wants something in return. If you need help, it is easier to have a local friend, through CouchSurfing or someone from your hostel. Going to an official is usually the safest bet. Then again, even officials can try to ask for a bribe. Each time I wanted to open myself up for the country and its many cultures, it felt as if a mix of awareness and open mindedness blended together smoothly, just like all the different smells of spiced foods that lingered in the long, narrow streets.
Eye contact Usually when I randomly make eye contact with someone, I smile, nod or wave. It was only in India that I received so many cold stares in return. Eyes looked right at me, or even through me. It was if they were asking through a cold, long stare how I had dared to look at them. Most of the time I added an extra nod or greeting and moved on trying to shake off the uncomfortable stare. While general contact might be uncomfortable, it was mostly forbidden to look at women. Touching a woman is considered unholy and definitely not accepted in public, but just looking at a female is to be avoided as well. On several public places, like metros and queues for security checks women were separated from men and penalties applied for those who didn't respect these rules.
Clothing Mostly it is possible to wear the clothes you want when traveling in India. Still it is always smart to look up the local traditions of the place you will visit. In general it is always a good idea to wear clothes that cover your knees and your upper arms. Dress codes for women can be more specific but, naturally, I did not have to worry too much about that.
Shouting Very often, when I was walking down the streets, people were shouting at each other. It felt like around every corner someone was having an argument. Sometimes people were pointing and pushing but it never got out of hand. Since I did not understand the conversation I could not make out if it was somehow friendly banter or an actual dispute. Still it did not make me feel very comfortable. One time, when I was in Varanasi, someone started shouting at me as well and I can assure you it was difficult to stay calm.
Religion India does not really have one culture, it is rather a mix, a melting pot of many different subcultures. Within the country, there are several religions who share a bloody history as well. Many people are really devoted to their religion and some people even tried to convert me. Their strong belief often goes hand in hand with a certain suspicion toward other religions, which makes it harder to live together.
I got to admire amazing temples and pilgrimages for Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus. All of them were beautiful holy places and brought tens of thousands of visitors every day. The devotion and holiness could often be felt at the place. Even though many people strongly hold on to different beliefs, in India, they manage to live, most of the time, without violence next to each other. There is a certain acceptance, at least on the surface, of other beliefs and ideas. Luckily, because otherwise it would be hard for one billion people to live together in peace in this unique country.
Food I daresay that Indian food is one of my favorite foods in the world. It is prepared with a great attention to detail. All actions and their order are important to create a specific taste. The spices are used in a smart way to make the simplest food taste unique. It is hard not to love it. Indian cuisine is very rich and varies from region to region. There is much to discover and there are so many vegetarian options that you could easily go your whole life without meat in India.
One of the places where I got to know India the most, was in public transport or on the road in general. I wrote a separate post about these experiences.