India is a country you either love or hate.
This is what I was told when I decided to do my first international internship there. Back then I was studying Tourism and Leisure management in the Netherlands, and as part of it, you had to do at least one internship abroad.
Two of my closes friends also decided to go to India so we were placed in the same hotel in Mahabalipuram. I won’t go into my internship itself, but I will try to describe what it was like as 3 Caucasian girls trying to live in India.
Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram is a small town located between the Bay of Bengal and the Great Salt Lake, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It’s known for its temples and monuments built by the Pallava dynasty in the 7th and 8th centuries. The Seafront Shore Temple comprises 3 ornate granite shrines. Krishna’s Butter Ball is a massive boulder balanced on a small hill near the Ganesha Ratha stone temple.
PRIOR CONCEPTIONS OF LIVING IN INDIA
Before we went we were informed that India was going to be an eye-opener.
The constant noise, people everywhere and they WILL stare at you, constant noise, sacred cows wandering the street, and the incredible food were a few things that would come up when we were discussing India.
I was imagining India as an oasis of color, with happy people, impressive architecture and impressive temples, an and abundant of great (food) smells.
I was really looking forward to living in a completely new culture for a few months to broaden my horizons, I was open to new experiences and new view for my world to change.
THE REALITY OF LIVING IN INDIA
There is no denying that the second you arrive in India you will be bombarded with noise and it will not stop until you leave.
In the beginning, it drove me insane, but after a while, you get used to it.
Cars will honk, cows will moo, traffic goes crazy no matter what, so it is better to just accept it and let it be.
Yep, and there’s a lot of them.
You will be pushed, touched, spoken too, begged and grabbed (sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose) If you go to big cities like Chennai there is no getting around it. But most of the people I have met during my internship were lovely and I had no major issues.
STARRING + TRYING TO TOUCH YOU
As a caucasian girl (my friends both had blonde hair and blue eyes) so you will get a lot of stares.
Again, most people will just look at you and will leave you alone, some will want to take a picture with you. Some will take it a step too far.
We have had 1-2 incidents where some guys would not leave us alone and we had to get security to help us out. But in the 5 months that we stayed there, we only had this happen twice.
We were advised (and we followed this advice) to not go outside alone. (We lived on the hotel premises) So I think it did help that we were always together and pretty aware of what was happening around us. We also made some friends in town who looked out for us as well.
I remember that one day there was a political rally in town and we were not allowed off-site by the security guards. So we had people looking out for our safety, which I truly appreciated.
Overall, most Indians are respectful and ok, but I think you do need to be aware that there are some that will try something with you.
It is, unfortunately, true that if you are a white girl they see you as a rich and willing silly westerner, which can mean their ticked out of poverty. So they will try anything to even get you to look at them, then talk to them and then some more.
Honestly, they are the best the people really, but as a tourist, they will try to rip you off. You will often pay more than a local. Below I have listed some tips that would help you get a better price.
- Offer way less than the driver asks for. At least a third of his starting price or less. So a typical encounter with a driver will go like this:
Driver: Where you going?
You: To Krishna’s Butter Ball. How much?
Driver: 200 rupee’s
** In the meantime there will be 10 other rickshaw drivers asking where you would like to go, so you can walk away from this one. He will panic and offer you a lower price.
Driver: WAIT! How much you pay?
You: 50 rupee
(Talk to a local or your hotel staff how much it would cost for them to talk a rickshaw to wherever you want to go. For this instance, they would have probably said something like between 50-100 rupee. )
So it will go back and forth like this for a bit until you meet somewhere in the middle, you will probably pay around 100 rupees or a little bit more in the end.
Some other handy tips
2. Don’t pull your money out until you’ve agreed on a price. If they see a wad of bills, your negotiating powers may have just gone kaput (out the door).
3. Don’t get scammed: If a fare sounds too cheap, then it probably is. Sometimes a driver will offer you a really cheap price, and then mutter something about making a stop on the way. ‘Just one stop, ok.’ Don’t get in the Rickshaw! It’s a scam and the driver is trying to take you to a diamond shop or somewhere random.
They will pressure you into buying something and it can get very scary. So please be aware and be careful.
4. Know where you’re going. If the driver isn’t clear on the destination, he may still take you in the general direction and drop you at some random spot. Know the name of the place, the main street, cross streets, any landmarks in the area, and a map will definitely help.
You can download Google maps on your phone when you have wifi, and it will be saved for offline viewing later.
Also, check how long it would roughly take you to get there. If you are 5-10 minutes away and after 30 minutes you are still in the rickshaw driving around be aware and try to get out in a busy area.
5. Be ready to walk away. If a driver is not bending enough on the price, just walk away and find another one. Like I said, there are tens of other rickshaws in the area, so you can find another one in a few seconds.
Most Indians, particularly Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists, do not eat beef. For many, the cow is considered a sacred animal, and its killing is prohibited in certain Hindu scriptures or religious tales.
The origin and reasons for this is in the special status of cows and bulls in the average household in Indian villages, where they were treated like pets, and is an essentially acquired character of a member of the household or the family.
Because they are seen as sacred animals they can are not to be disturbed. You should avoid wearing leather. There are a lot of temples you cannot enter if you are wearing leather. For example Shoes, Sandals, Belts, Wallets or Leather Bags.
As a Europen, this might have been the biggest adjustment to get used too. That cows casually wander the street without a worry in their minds. People do really treat them with a lot of respect and they (the cows) know it.
They are not aggressive or anything, so they are nothing to worry about. The only things that you need to be wary of, is that quite often they open the gates (If you know what I mean) and the streets will flood with the urine. When you are wearing flip-flops, thongs, sandals(whatever the preference) just watch where you are going.
It is quite a challenge to visit India without getting stomach or intestinal complaints. If you want to avoid it (or at least limit it) keep the following in mind:
- Never buy food on the street, rather than visit a restaurant where you see more Western people or know that it is run by Western people. Yes, street food looks delicious and you’ll see a lot of people eating it. But their intestines are used to it, and yours is definitely not. Just stay away if you don’t want to spend the rest of your time in India on a toilet.
- Do not eat raw salads and only choose fruit that you can peel. Vegetables are washed with tap water and will certainly make you sick.
- Do not drink drinks with ice cubes for the same reason.
- Also for the non-vegetarians: meat, fish, chicken, and egg can best be avoided. They are generally carriers of bacteria that are foreign to us and can lead to misery.
- Drink only water from sealed bottles, use that also when brushing your teeth. Make sure that the seal is not broken! Some shops refill water bottles with tap water, so make sure to check the seal before buying a bottle.
Language: The official language is Hindi but a lot of people also speak English.
Time zone: GMT+5:30 (Madras, Tamil Nadu, India)
Electricity: In India, the power sockets are of type C, D and M. The standard voltage is 230 V and the frequency is 50 Hz.
Currency: Rupee (₹).
Getting around: The cheapest way of getting around is probably hopping in a Ricksha or taking the public transport (Bus or Train)
SOME PRACTICAL TIPS
- Wear appropriate (not too revealing) clothes in religious places.
- Bring something to cover your head if you want to visit a Sikh temple.
- Never enter a mosque with shoes. Socks are sometimes allowed, sometimes you have to go barefoot.
- Your left hand and foot are seen as unclean; do not use it to touch someone, point something out or too eat with. It is seen as very disrespectful.
- Negotiating the prize seems like a national sport; Participate, what is clear is that pretty much everything has a negational price.
- ‘Go with the flow’. In other words: do not worry about delays in queues.
- Only men give each other a hand. Keep this in mind as a woman and as a man.
A trip to India is not without risk.
We previously mentioned the health risks, but you also have to take into account a number of other risks.
- India has a no tolerance policy with regards to drugs.
The possession and/or use of it is severely punished. The same applies to sexual contacts with minors.
- Make sure that you are not alone in isolated places after sunset.
In recent years, the number of reports of kidnappings and sexual offenses against foreigners (especially women) in Delhi and Goa, has increased significantly.
- Visiting Hindu temples on specific festivals or memorial days is strongly discouraged.
In the great hustle and bustle of these days, many are over-run and people are killed every year by oppression.
- Be wary of all your surroundings at all times, even swimming in oceans and rivers, they don’t have the adequate signs available to warn you of crocodiles and other surrounding creatures…. ask a local you trust if you are ever unsure.
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