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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Incredible India | The Interesting Ins & Outs

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

Incredible is defined as "extraordinary" or "hard to believe". So when the India tourism campaign claims "Incredible India" -- I would definitely agree! Last Sunday we returned from our two week trip in India. Those two weeks were full of travel, relaxation, new discoveries, fun and gratefulness!


Over the 2 weeks, we started in Mumbai, India and then flew down to the Southern India state of Kerala where we spent about half the trip, before heading back up to the north to Delhi, Agra & Varanasi. The weather was great while we were there -- it was sunny almost every day and we didn't see one raindrop! (However, that was part of the reason we chose to go during the dry season.) Although it was "winter," in the south it was hot and humid (highs that were 30+ C/90+ F) and in the north it was very comfortable during the day with just a jacket needed at night (highs that were 25-29 C/80-90 F). For a more detailed itinerary of our 2 weeks and the places we explored, check out our India 14-day Itinerary.


FIVE SENSES:

In the travel books, they describe India as a place that will succumb all five of your senses. The two weeks in India my senses were heighten to a whole new level -- there was a constant bombardment of sights, sounds, feels....and most definitely, smells! There were the pleasant smells of incense burning and food cooking, but then there were also the smells of cow dung, human urine and a wide variety of other "interesting" smells. Unfortunately, the last two days we were in India, Alex got sick, followed by me the next day. It was during those times that the smells became even more magnified and potent.


Part of the reason it smells...


Street side Urinals in Delhi:


Cows in the alleyway, also make for interesting smells:


The spice market also brought a rush of smells to our nose! After a few minutes inside I was sneezing!


A SENSE OF GRATITUDE & CASTES:

After spending that time in India, I really gained an appreciation for the life and opportunities we have in North America. Although Alex and I don't live in the most magnificent neighborhood of Calgary, compared to India it feels like Beverly Hills.

Personally, I think what was hardest for me during the trip was seeing the extreme poverty of some of the people and the conditions they lived in. We saw people living on the streets where it looked like they claimed a portion of the sidewalk and then put their remaining household items on the sidewalk and hung their laundry from lines along the street. Plus there were those people who basically lived in a makeshift tent, that would barely hold up if there was a gust of wind. Of all the third world places Alex and I have been so far (mostly in Asia), this was the most impoverished.

However, due to the caste system within India, there are also those Indians who are very well off. We went to a couple of places in Delhi that exhibited that side of things. Connaught Place and Khan Market were both retail shopping areas that housed a variety of western based stores and high-end restaurants. In both areas of town, it was distinctly separated by either a fence or a main street from 'normal' India. Often times the things in these stores would be just as expensive, or more, than back home. The underground subway system in Delhi almost seemed like a completely separate world than the streets above it, as it was mostly a transportation system for the middle to upper class.

LANGUAGE:

We were really surprised with how much English we found in print and spoken. Almost all the signs were in English, except for some remote areas of the country. Although Hindu is one of the main languages of India, not everyone speaks it, so English has become one of the common languages among the people. But if there is a new word in the Hindu language, sometimes they'll just use the English word -- to create "Hinglish". In places, like domestic airports I especially noticed Indians using English even with one another. Normally when we travel we try to learn a few key words of the local language, but that wasn't the case in India as we were almost always able to converse with someone in English.


CRICKET - TRULY A NATIONAL OBSESSION:

Before arriving in India, we knew cricket was big there! But it was fun to observe how many cricket games took place in a wide variety of places. We saw one cricket game in the middle of a Mumbai side street, lots of them in a Mumbai park, and then even more in the fields of the Alleppey backwaters; plus almost any time you saw a sports television, it was cricket. It didn't matter the caste or age, cricket is a truly international pastime!


INDIAN McDONALDS:

Although there are lots of differences between India & North America, you can't escape McDonalds. However, it's not the same menu that you would find at McDonalds around the world. As a marketing major, I love to see how businesses have localized their product offers to meet the needs of a new international market. In India, McDonalds had to significantly alter its menu, as eating beef is not allowed by Hindus. So instead of the Big Mac, they have created the Chicken Maharaja Mac, the McSpicy Paneer, McAloo Tikki and the Vegetarian Pizza McPuff, with no beef at all on the menu. (Sometimes you will see beef on the menu, but it is probably buffalo meat instead.) We tried the Chicken Maharaja Mac, which had an Indian sauce on it to tailor to the Indian palette. The Mac was really cheap compared to American standards -- only about $1.80. However, like many other places in less developed countries, for locals McDonalds is often just frequented by the more well-off individuals, as prices are expensive compared to normal street food. But the ice cream is cheap -- only 20 cents per cone!


ANIMALS:

Although we saw some wildlife in Periyar National Park, we also came across several animals, especially in the cities. As the cow is a holy animal for Hindus, it was common to see it within the busy intersections of the city. What always surprised me was how the cows would just be standing or laying down in the busy street traffic and not be phased by the vehicles passing by or the persistent honking of horns.


Also, we saw hundreds of dogs while we were in India. There is not much spaying and neutering so many of the dogs are street dogs. But for the most part, it seems like the dogs get treated pretty well and can find enough to eat, either from the trash or from people. The dogs too would just sit in the middle of busy sidewalks and for the most part seemed relatively calm. I'm not sure if they seem calm though because they've learned to do that, or they just don't have much energy due to lack of nutrition. However, we didn't come across many street cats. Later I read that Hindus regard the cat as even lower than the rat, so that might explain why you don't see many of them around.

Another thing that surprised me was the number of monkeys we saw inside the city. Occasionally I would look up and see a monkey crossing an electric line to get to the other side of the street.


OLD & NEW NAMES:

Throughout India, and especially in Mumbai, you'll come across two names for the same place. The reason being was that most places were originally named by the British. However, after India gained independence from Britain they eventually decided to rename the places to have more Hindu names. Therefore, many of the streets and bazaars would have new and old names, but most of the time the locals still refer to those places as the old name. This was the same with towns or cities. For example, the old name of Mumbai is Bombay and Alleppey is now called Alapphuza.


WOMEN & DRESS:

For the most part, women are respected within India. In many situations you'll see women being treated with chivalry. For example, whenever going through a security line (which was at every subway station, airport and some tourist attractions) they had a separate line for women where a woman officer would use the security wand to scan you behind a curtained box.


However, the male is definitely still the dominant figure in the relationship. Whenever I was with Alex, people would always speak to him. Even when ordering food, the server would just take the order from him and then not even ask me what I would want, because it was assumed that he would be ordering me for me as well. At check-in at the airport for one of our flights, the attendant asked Alex, "Does she belong to you?"


But if I was ever alone and walking along the streets, I would sometimes feel uncomfortable. A couple of times I had some whistles or shout-outs by men and see their wandering eyes. Therefore, I almost always wore clothing that covered my upper legs and shoulders, which is how most Indian women dress. I was actually surprised how many women I still saw in the traditional sari and attire. There were a few girls I saw with more western attire like jeans, but it relatively few. However, what I loved the most was the very bright and beautiful fabrics of the women's saris.


In the north, the men would just wear pants and a shirt, but in the south many men would wear a long cloth that wraps around like a skirt. Then as it gets warm, they pull it up halfway and tie it around their waist.


FOOD:

The food we had in India was delicious! I was a little afraid that there would be some really spicy dishes that our tame North American taste buds wouldn't be able to handle. But we would often ask for a "medium" version of the dish. However, there were only a couple of dishes that were so spicy that our mouths felt like they were on fire. In the South, it was more rice based meals and in the North, it was more flour-based products like the chapatis, naan and roti. In the South, we had some really tasty curries -- I really enjoyed these because I could taste some of the cinnamon in them, which is one of my favorites!


One of our favorite meals was the Thali plate, which has about 2-3 curries and/or salads along with rice or roti or chapati. But the desserts are also tasty! Because they have spicy meals, they have the sweets to follow to counteract the spiciness. One of my favorite desserts was the Indian ice cream, kulfi. It is similar to normal ice cream but more creamy.

The way to eat like the locals in India is with your hands, although almost all the time the servers would provide flatware for us to use. However, it is a considered bad to eat with your left hand in India (due to hygiene reasons, as the left hand is used to wipe). Personally, I was okay at meals to just use my right hand (although you quickly realize how much you need your left hand) but it was when I was snacking while doing something else (like writing) where I would often find myself using my left hand by mistake. But I figured I used my hand sanitizer on both hands so I was okay. ;-)


We had a great time in India, and it will be a trip to remember. I think we would go back again someday, but probably not for a while -- there are too many other places in the world to see first! But we truly enjoyed the people and places of India.

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