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I Love You India, I Hate You India: 5 Tips on Surviving This Amazing Country

photo: Itimad-ud-Daulah's Tomb - Agra India. A country that evokes every possible emotion and punishes all five senses, sometimes all at once. A place that has you gasping at the natural beauty of the Himalayas and man-made beauty of the Taj Mahal, but also at the horrific poverty that is impossible to escape. A place that tests you every time you step out the door. A place you love. A place you hate. This is India.

No other place on our round the world trip created such strong feelings as India did. It was great. It was terrible. It was awesome. It was horrible. We met some of the loveliest people we’ve ever come across, and we met some of the worst. India is a tough place to figure out, and it’s a place I both loved and hated, often within minutes of each other. It’s a place where it’s hard to let your guard down, but if you do, you can have the experience of a lifetime.

photo: Taj Mahal (side) I’m not trying to scare anyone away from this country of vast extremes, but it is crucial to understand what one is getting into when arriving in India. Every person has a certain threshold when it comes to travel. Even the most experienced of travelers have been beaten down by the non-stop, in your face aspect of India. It’s a test of patience for westerners, and if you don’t have or aren’t able to really channel it, you’re in for a rude awakening and probably won’t come out of it with a positive view of the country. It’s a difficult place to travel in, but if you can somehow manage to let go and go with the flow in a place that seems completely backwards, you can meet some of the warmest, kindest people in the world.

Tip One: Do a bit of research.
I know most backpackers like to fly by the seat of their pants and go with the flow, which is important to do in India, but it’s also a good idea to have at least a bit of a plan. Try to figure out the places you’re going and do a bit of advanced research. I’m not suggesting you should plan everything out to a “T” because that would never work either. A balance is necessary. India is a huge country with different customs and cultures. It helps so much to know about the people and customs when you visit certain regions (this is true of any country, really). It also helps to have some kind of idea of where certain things are, like bus and train stations and the place you’re staying. If you look like you have some idea of where you’re going and don’t look completely lost, it really cuts down on the harassment from the touts and people looking to take advantage of you. India is a great place to wander, but walking with an air of confidence as if you live there and know exactly where you’re going is a valuable trait to learn.

Tip Two: Keep your guard up.
It’s essential to always be aware of your surrounding and everything going on around you in India. You will be swarmed from the get-go, by rickshaw drivers, touts, store owners, pretty much everyone. If you’re white and western looking, unfortunately you’re seen as one big giant dollar sign by many. In a country as poor as India, it’s to be expected. It’s not changing any time soon, so you better just get used to it. Know that’s the case, be aware of it, and embrace it. Knowing and accepting that people will try to take advantage of you may be a difficult concept to embrace, but I promise you, the sooner you do it, the sooner you’ll start enjoying yourself.
Tip Three: Go with the flow, don’t fight it.
This may seem a bit contradictory to the last tip, but you’ll find out that everything in India is about finding that balance between extremes. Getting to that middle ground will improve your stay immensely. While it’s important to have your guard up, it’s also important to just go with the flow sometimes. Things WILL go wrong in India. That’s a fact. Your plans, at some point, will be completely flipped upside down because, well, you’re in India. Go with it. Getting huffy and angry and being impatient will NOT help matters at all. Just like the above tip, you just have to accept and know that this will happen when traveling in India, and if you can learn to just let go, don’t fight it, and just roll with the punches, you’ll be better for it.

photo: Smiling locals in Rishikesh Tip Four: Smile and learn the head waggle.
You will feel anger and frustration at some point when traveling in India. You will reach a point where you just want to stop and scream at the next tout who comes up and asks you to come look their shop, to take their rickshaw, to buy their sarong, to buy some hash, or to go on some ridiculous tour. Stop. Take a deep breath. And smile. It’s amazing what a smile can do for you. It’s universal. Everyone, no matter what race, sex, or cultural background, responds to a big, warm smile. A warm smile along with a firm “no” can stop even the most pushy of touts in his tracks and force him to let his guard down a bit. The longer you spend in India, the more you will start to notice a very subtle, back and forth head waggle. Learn how to do this. You won’t be able to do it as well, and they will laugh at you, but that’s OK. It will let them see that you care about their culture, which will open doors for you and let you experience the real India. They will begin to see you as a person instead of money, and that’s when you really get to see the warmth of the Indian people.

Tip Five: Patience is your best friend.
You may have noticed a trend here in all these tips. They all require a tremendous amount of patience. In order to get the most out of India, patience is the BEST virtue you can tap into. I am not the most patient of people, and considering we visited India at the very end of a year long trip, I was not in the mood to be patient anymore. It damn near ruined my time there. It almost got the best of me. Luckily I travel with my ever so patient wife who was able to get me to channel that patience that we both knew was there. Whatever it is that you have to do, whether it’s spending a few hours each afternoon in your room away from the chaos, going to a less intense part of India like Goa, stopping for a beer or two more often than normal, or really doing it up like the locals and taking yoga, find a way to be patient. You have to change your mindset when traveling in India, and if you’re able to be really patient, it will all work out.

photo: Taken from the Kuari Pass Trek in the Indian Himalayas Going to a place like India is why I travel. It’s so completely opposite of everything I know and am used to, which is thrilling to me. Seeing how others live their lives, despite the fact that it’s so different than how I live mine, is the thing that always keeps me coming back for more. Witnessing how India makes it all work, regardless of the dirt, trash, poverty, and overpopulation, is fascinating. Using these tips to your advantage will drastically improve your time in India, and hopefully you’ll come away with much more love than hate in a country that’s filled with a huge heart. You may have to dig a bit to find it, but once you do, that Indian heart is incredible.
The following guest article was written by Adam Seper - travel blogger from St Louis, MO. Adam and his wife recently returned from a year long trip. Together, they have visited 11 countries and 80+ cities. Check out his blog here or follow Adam on Twitter!
All photo credit: Adam Seper

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I Love You India, I Hate You India: 5 Tips on Surviving This Amazing Country + trip