Intro to India: What I Loved (And Didn’t Love) About India

I’m super excited to blog about India, but first let me to say, India is far too vast and diverse a country to sum up in a blog post. So please note that I am only reporting on my personal experience in Northern India; these observations in no way apply to India as a whole.

While life in Northern India was trying at times, overall I enjoyed my six weeks in India.

What I loved most about India is that it’s so rawly, uniquely Indian. On my travels I’ve found globalization and modernization have diluted much of the world’s culture. India, though it has been affected, is still so Indian. And with nearly 5,000 years of civilization, would you expect any less?

Indian people have a uniquely Indian way of doing almost everything, from to dressing to dancing to worshipping. I could’ve spent years in India and barely scratched the surface on its extraordinarily rich and diverse culture.

And truly, India was the adventure of my life. Out of all the 38 (!!!) countries I’ve visited, India was by far the dirtiest and poorest, but also the most colorful, spiritual and fascinating.

Here’s what I loved and didn’t love about India.

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What I Loved…

How Easy It Is to Connect with Locals

Overall Indians speak fantastic English so it’s fairly easy to meet locals. I was surprised that even in rural areas of India most people spoke great English!

Also I love how Indians speak; their speech is peppered with everything from British colonialisms like “bathing costume” to direct translations of Hindi phrases like “what to do” (kal kare) and English bastardizations like “prepone” (as in we’re going to prepone, or move forward, this meeting).

I even miss hearing- “You know what happen?”

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Beautiful Traditional Clothes and Jewelry

As anyone who has ever wandered an Indian neighborhood or seen a Bollywood film can attest, Indian women dress beautifully. I loved spotting women in saris gathered together; it was always such a blend of emerald green, saffron and other technicolor shades.

Along with beautiful clothes, Indian women wear lots of gorgeous jewelry. I wore a silver anklet the entire time I was in India and before leaving bought fistfuls of anklets for friends back home. (Setting aside no less than four for myself, ha.)

Also I found it interesting that women can expose their bellies in India but not their legs, the sartorial opposite of the west. The one day I wore a knee-length dress in India I got a ton of attention and sent the dress home soon after!

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Delicious Food

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A home-cooked meal in Delhi

Oh my. Indian food, as everyone knows, is delicious. I fell in love with everything from baingan bharta, a Punjab eggplant dish, to batata poha, a Gujarati breakfast dish made of potatoes and rice flakes.

While admittedly I did get sick of rice and lentils, I swear I could eat paneer butter masala all day long.

Chapati

Chapati, or roti, our daily staple for six weeks.

What I miss most? Chai. While in India chai is really sweet (I normally ordered it without sugar), it’s so spicy and flavorful. Yum.

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Hindi Music

Confession- I love Indian music, from traditional sitar to modern-day pop.

One song we all couldn’t stop singing was the “Pani” song. Listen at your own risk- it may be stuck in your head for the rest of your life.

One song I never want to hear again is Party All Night, which our bus driver played no less than 12 TIMES IN A ROW while driving hairpin Himalayan roads. Yeah.

The Extraordinary (And Cheap!) Massages

Move over, Thailand. India is where it’s at for inexpensive, life-changing massages.

While in India I treated myself to weekly $12 massages. My masseuse specialized in a blend of Ayurvedic and deep tissue, and I won’t lie- at times it was painful. When I asked for a softer massage, he retorted, “But I’m already doing it medium! Don’t worry this is good for you.” And considering how many knots he worked out of my back, he was probably right.

Learning about Hinduism, Yoga and Spirituality

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Performing a puja ceremony in Rishikesh

While I will write on this at length soon, Hinduism was a huge part of my experience in India; after all I was studying yoga in a holy city on the Ganges! During my four weeks in Rishikesh I learned to sing countless Sanskrit hymns and meditated daily under the stars; I have so much to share about how my own spirituality has changed.

The Incredibly Low Prices

India is by far the cheapest country I’ve ever visited; it even makes Southeast Asia look expensive in comparison! I especially miss my daily fresh-squeezed mango juice ($1) and paying $2.50 per person for a dinner of  fresh-squeezed juice, an appetizer, naan, three main courses and tea.

The Adorable Cows

While I had mixed feelings about the cows as they contribute to the flies, filth and foul smell of the streets, they sure are cute. There are tons of cows in the streets in India, and they often wander into shops or block doorways; it’s like they’re aware of their own holiness.

Though I do wish I could herd them all up to a Himalayan pasture where they could feast on grass, not trash!

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And as for the things I didn’t love?

Lack of Food Hygiene

If you visit India, never, ever, ever, take a peek inside the restaurant kitchens. Just don’t. Because the food hygiene standards are often horrendous.

In general, I’m the least germaphobic person ever. I live by the motto, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and have loved everything from dirt-cheap seafood stalls in Chile to napkin-littered holes-in-the-wall in Vietnam.

But India is in a class of its own. For example, one morning a friend and I were enjoying a leisurely Western brunch. I ordered an omelet, she ordered a crêpe. My friend’s crêpe came and had several long, black hairs inside. And then I noticed my omelet tasted a little funny. So I called the server over and said, “Sir, I think these eggs are rotten.”

He replied matter-of-factly, “Yes, they are rotten.”

I was indignant. “WHAT? Then why did you serve them to me?”

“It is not my fault. The man who was supposed to bring the eggs this morning did not come.”

The rotten egg aftermath? I went home right away and had food poisoning all day, and my friend decided to meet friends and consequently threw up in a bush. Good times.

The Rampant Monkey Problem

Monkeys are kind of like the evil squirrels of India; they’re everywhere. From nearly being attacked by teeth-baring macaques on a morning run to having monkeys jump into our classroom, I became a little too acquainted with monkeys while in India.

The monkey below? I took his photo after he banged into our bedroom window one morning. Actually my roommate and I were routinely woken up by monkeys slamming loudly against the window.

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This monkey is a gray langur- they’re actually no trouble at all. It’s the dreaded macaques you have to watch out for!

The Filth

There’s no two ways about it- India is dirty. And it smells. And there are lots of flies.

Here’s how it happens; cows are sacred, so they roam the streets unharmed, eating trash and leftover food. They defecate and flies lay their larva in the cowpies. The flies hatch from the cowpies.

And the smell? Just imagine how cow shit and rotting trash smell on a 110-degree day, and there you have it.

Naturally, there’s lots of air pollution. I noticed my eyes were unusually dry in India, and resorted to using eyedrops multiple times a day.

Overall the filth didn’t bother me too much, I just avoided going outside from 12pm-4pm every day as that’s when it was hottest and smelliest.

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The Poor Infrastructure

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Traffic is also a problem at times! Talk about gridlock.

The infrastructure in Northern India isn’t great. The roads, power outages and lack of waste disposal all take a good dose of patience, especially at first.

A few examples: Our taxi ride from Delhi to Rishikesh took about six hours, even though it’s a mere 140-mile drive.

The power at our hotel in Rishikesh went out 10-15 times a day. Sometimes there was no hot water, and sometimes there was no water altogether. It got to the point when the power was out so frequently I would shower in our windowless bathroom in pitch blackness. Honestly I found it kind of relaxing.

The Unhealthiness of the Food

I was very surprised by how unhealthy Northern Indian food is. I learned first-hand that just because food is vegetarian does not by any stretch of the imagination mean its healthy! In Northern India cooks use a lot of ghee, or clarified butter, and much of the food is deep-fried. Also I found many foods were far too sugary for my palate.

The Gender Inequality

After a particularly trying day of street harassment I wryly remarked, “The social hierarchy in India is men on top, then cows, women and foreign women.”

But jokes aside, India has a long, long way to go when it comes to gender equality. Days after I left India, two teenage sisters were murdered, allegedly gang-raped and hanged from a mango tree in Northern India. A few months later, two more teenage girls were killed in the same fashion.

Most of the attention Indian men paid me was harmless. Usually it was no more than, “I like your dress, madame,” which happens in any country.

But once the attention wasn’t harmless. I will write about this soon, but a group of men circled two friends and I in a park in Delhi and it was among the scarier things that’s happened to me on my travels.

Have you been to India? Would you be interested in going?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

54 thoughts on “Intro to India: What I Loved (And Didn’t Love) About India”

  1. Can relate to this more than you know. Can’t wait to read more. I go through phases, and this week has been harder than most.. India is a uphill battle sometimes but the occasional time spent at the top is worth it (I think). Ask me tomorrow! lol

    • The rest of Asia treats white people as GODS. India treats white people as normal, maybe even lowly which is why it’s such a shock for white travellers from the rest of Asia. It adds to the experience because who wants to be pedestalled and palanquinned right? It’s so boring. SI is definitely tamer.

    • Thanks, Alana! That was actually a really great ceremony. We did it twice, once when got to yoga school, and once when we left. It was cool the second time around because we had learned lots of Sanskrit hymns and actually understood what was going on!

  2. This is such an interesting post! First, these pictures are stunning. When I was reading through I was thinking how could you not love it all?!! but there are definitely some drawbacks. Thank you so much for sharing this! I need to make a trip to India!

  3. India is definitely a highly contrasted country like you point out, and it’s probably why travelers often have strong opinions about it. Personally, I’ve never been to a place that fascinated me to such a degree – both the good and the bad – so I’m with you on all your points. I hope you’re okay after your encounter with those Indian men. It sounds horrible.

    • It’s definitely a highly contrasted country. Though in my opinion there’s something to love about everywhere so even if there are negative aspects there are normally plenty of positive ones too :)

  4. You obviously forgot to mention about the traffic system in India. Though being an Indian myself, I can’t help but to criticize the Indian traffic.
    And as you mentioned, Indian food is certainly best, but what amazes me is that you didn’t find it too spicy. It really is hilarious to see foreigners trying spicy Indian food. :P
    Overall perfect review! Well done. :-)

    • The traffic was crazy at times! And I think spending a month in Thailand burned the tastebuds out of my mouth- Indian food was a good level of spicy for me. But I did see lots of western tourists struggling with even the more mildly spiced options! (Europeans, especially!)

  5. An honest, on-the-ground reporting of what traveling in India is really like. I’ve always wanted to spend time in the country (continent, really) but the very real culture shock challenges seem quite formidable.

  6. Very interesting! My mom went to India about a year ago and had a very similar experience. Another thing she didn’t like is how they eat rice for breakfast! She said it was a great experience and I’d love to visit one day as well. it’s so large and diverse, I couldn’t imagine spending any less than 6 weeks there!

    • I actually never had rice for breakfast! At the yoga school breakfast was the one western meal of the day and we had toast. Except when the power was out (which was frequently), and we had untoasted bread. Ick.

  7. I’ve been eagerly awaiting your India posts and I’m exited to read more about your experiences there. And I also I can’t believe that man served you those eggs when he knew they were rotten!!

  8. The idea of travelling in India both frightens and enthralls me. It seems so different to everywhere I have been… actually, it seems so different to everywhere!

    I can’t wait to read more about your time there.

  9. Different world and I’d love to visit some day just for that aspect. India seems like no other vacation in that it’s not a vacation, it’s a cultural experience. I’ve had an Indian cook at work and he’s spoiled me rotten with flavorful dishes and stories of southern India. Loved hearing about your experience Ashley!

  10. I’m really looking forward to reading about the time you spent studying yoga in Ganges! Attending yoga school in India is something I’ve been considering for the past year or so. It sounds like it would be a truly spiritual expereince! P.S. Between you and Hippie in Heels, I’m definitely including India in my RTW plans.

  11. This is a fascinating read. People always have such different experiences in India and I’m always interested to read what it’s like there. It’s definitely on my list. Looking forward to some more posts about this strange and wonderful place!

  12. Yes, this is all so true! I spent two months in India at the beginning of last year, so this post rekindled so many memories for me. India is such a captivating country, and while I certainly had some trying times there too (including a bed-ridden week of horrific food poisoning, and a couple of stories regarding being disgustingly groped by boys/men that may be somewhat similar to yours)….yet somehow the things I love about it win my heart over every time and I can’t wait to head back next year!

  13. India is one of the countries that I have yet to visit but would most like to (it’s right up there with Turkey & Morocco), especially since I’ve been to its “sister” countries, Nepal and Sri Lanka. I know it will be challenging, but I can’t help but feel that all the travails will be worth it in the end as long as I can go in with an open heart and mind. I was gratified to see that your list of things you loved in India was far longer than your list of things you didn’t! I can’t wait to see more of the country through your eyes in future posts…

    • Well if you’ve been to Nepal and Sri Lanka you will definitely be fine! And there’s so much to love about India- just don’t go out between 12-4 pm in the hot months, haha. Traveling with a guy helps too! :)

  14. I can’t wait to read more about your experiences in India! It’s a place that I want to visit so much but one that also scares me a little. The food and chai (and bracelets) all look amazing, though.

    And that monkey still scares the shit out of me.

  15. Hey Ashey,

    That as a vivid and an eye -opener of a description even to me, though I am an Indian. However, I’d say a visit to Souh India would be even more enriching and quite opposite to the North. You have citites of Bangalore & Hyderabad which are turning out to be Siicon Valleys in India. Apart from that, there is Kerala which is the home of Ayurveda and natural Diversity . And I promise no more monkeys and cows all along the way..!!

    On the whole, Indian Culture gives you a kaleidoscopic veiw, seldom found elsewhere

  16. We must have been in India around the same time, I was there when the girls were hung from the tree. The gender inequality is definitely the the downside to India.

    You just gave me flashbacks of hearing Party All Night over and over!
    I love Hindi music too, can’t wait to listen to the Pani song again, thanks for the reminder. :)

  17. Ah, India the land of contrasts. I’m heading to Goa in January for an undetermined amount of time (before hitting SE Asia) and can’t wait for the expected culture shock and excitement!

  18. The pani song! Love it!
    I went to India back in March and – my god – that song! Literally heard it 10-20 times a night when we went out. Well, sometimes I did ask the bars to play it, but it’s just that good!

  19. Truly, your blog about your visit to India is fantastic. Being an Indian, I felt really good, when you talked about its virtuous culture, delicious food, and many other worthy things about India. I admit your point of view about the less hygienic food, poor infrastructure and most importantly, dirt. I guess, you’ve travelled in North India’s popular cities like- Delhi, Ahmedabad, Agra, Cities of Rajasthan, and some hill towns, if I’m not wrong. Right? Well, I hope your stay here was wonderful and something “new” was there. I wish you’ll be here soon in your next visit. This time, contact me. I love to travel. I’ll surely help you make your experience more lovely in all respects. I’ll show you the real India, which is far way better than the present defaced mind set India. My country has a slogan “Atithi Devo-bhava” (Treat the Guests like God). And yeah, before reading any online reviews about anything in India, I wanna tell you here people pay others to write good reviews, even though their experience isn’t up to the mark. Being a life traveller, I wish you all the best for your future travels and will really appreciate if you ever visit India again. One more thing, where there is big population, crimes are for sure. But the thing that matters the most is your mentality about ’em and the way of dealing with ’em. I apologise on behalf of all those lawless mindset people, who can’t give anything but shame to this country or any country where they live in. May God give them senses and show them a good way.

  20. You guys need to travel South India also. It’s totally a different experience.

    For example, you would see much lesser cows (maybe zero) on the streets here. The food here is lot different (in fact, every state has its own variety). Roads are a bit better but traffic is still the same. Language here is different.

    It will in fact feel like another country

  21. I plan to go to India this year, so I just caught up on a few of your India posts. It is good to know the negatives and positives you found! I can’t imagine the smell or finding hair in my omelette though. Ew.

  22. I felt a sudden thought of homesickness and had the thought glow in my head – “I love India!” I googled the phrase, curious to see what I got and your blog post popped up in the first page.

    This is in no way a consolation – I apologize deeply and profoundly for the insensitive and rude behavior of my countrymen.

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