We all know it’s crazy, scary,chaotic, but that didn’t stop you from booking the tickets anyway, did it? So we’ll do our bit and give you the inside scoop on keeping your guard up without missing out. Here’s a couple of things we thought you’d like to be ready for.
The first thing you’re going to have to get used to is that it’s quite a small country for its sizeable population. Especially in the big cities where you’re most likely to land, you’ll find that personal space is a laughable concept. Trains are packed literally to the brim and I’m not talking about every seat being full. People literally hang out the doors. Bumping, pushing and shoving is par for the course, as is a neighbouring passenger nodding off on your shoulder or a beggar child grabbing at your arm. Prepare yourself for this, or opt for a privately driven car on your first day until you think you’re ready.
A great way to ease into the chaos is to start with a homestay. Allow your hosts to explain and entertain over a couple dozen cups of tea and maybe even hold your hand when you first venture out. Be sure to inform them in advance if you’d like the help so they can pencil it into their calendars. Most hosts are as keen to know about your life as you are about theirs, so don’t hold back.
Another thing that’ll disorient you is the traffic. Hoking doesn’t really have to mean anything, it’s just a way to vent some rage in traffic, call out to a friend or pass the time. Crossing the road is a great and thrilling adventure, just pick a likely looking crown on a footpath and bury yourself within them as they weave through moving traffic with a single hand raised nonchalantly to alert the racing cars. Traffic rarely halts before the zebra crossing and jumps red lights for sport. It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time!
Finally, prepare yourself for the staring. As a foreigner, you’re a source of local interest in even the most tourist saturated neighbourhoods. While conservative dressing for women may help, it’s a decision you can make on your own and one many Indian women themselves are rejecting. Just remember that the sort of people that stare will stare irrespective of your clothing, so you might as well be comfortable. That said, it’s an understandably difficult to make this choice when you can’t speak the local language or fully understand the nuances of a social situation, so good luck! You’ll probably be asked at some point to pose with somebody for a photo, I’d recommend against it since these are usually for bragging rights. As a woman regardless of your skin, you’re likely to be subject to eve-teasing in some form or the other, for which I’d recommend referring to our post on legal remedies if anything ever crosses a line.
Dealing with People:
India has a long-respected tradition of grovelling before authority, one that you’d be better off maintaining. Don’t give in to anything you don’t agree with, but always, always, be respectful. Use a measured tone and don’t raise your voice. Be confident, and stick to your guns, but very politely.
From the minute your foot hits the pavement, you’ll be engulfed in a swarm of adorably grubby beggar children, suave young ‘guides’ and the like. Guidebooks will tell you to firmly refuse or ignore them, though bemused detachment works just as well if you’re not the confrontational type. Just smile, shake your head and walk away, there’s only so far they’ll bother to follow you.
If you do end up in a heated situation, switch over 100% to damage control. In this country there’s always someone spoiling for fight to prove themselves and it’s best not to get involved at all. If you see something going down and you want to intervene, call the cops or draw the attention of the local authority be it hotel manager or security guard. While the law will recompense eventually, it’s an incredibly slow and arduous process that you do not want to get caught up in.
There’s a few rules that all travellers have learned by rote when it comes to a new city—don’t travel by night, make fake phone calls, pre-book travel, stay off the shadowy side streets—but only until you’re confident. There’s no reason for you to cower away forever, but it’s good to have a sense of the city and its people before you run around taking risks willy-nilly.
Be safe and don’t forget to call home!