5 Things You Should Know Before Visiting India

First time visitors to India will most certainly encounter culture shock, sensory overload and moments of “what did I get myself into?”

You see, India is not like most countries - it’s chaotic, disorganized, confusing and fascinating. It will challenge and frustrate you, but it will also give you a travel experience you will treasure forever.

With that in mind, here are a few things you should know before you go...

The tourist becomes the attraction.

Be prepared to have hundreds of eyes staring at you, particularly if you travel to the rural countryside. Indians are a curious people, and staring is not considered rude or impolite. So expect to be watched.

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While waiting at the train station in Varanasi, a small group of Indian boys gathered around and observed our every move. We joked with them and found it amusing that they had an interest in us. But that small group quickly grew, with more and more strangers stopping to take a peek at the funny looking tourists. At one point the group was over 30 people. Yes, you read that correctly. There was a semi-circle of 30 people standing 15 feet in front of us, watching our every move with intense curiosity. Strange indeed.

One brave boy sat down beside us and began speaking, eager to practice his English. “They are watching how you speak, how your lips move,” he said. It was weird and uncomfortable, but it’s no different than us taking photos of residents going about their daily routine.

They loved Nicole’s long blonde hair and tall frame. Many thought she was an 'American movie star’ and wanted to have a picture taken with her.

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Cows Rule the Road

Although this might sound strange to a Canadian, it’s common to see cows wandering the congested streets of India. Prior to visiting India, we listened to stories about what to expect but nothing prepared us for the time we first witnessed a cow sitting in the middle a busy intersection.

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Cars and motorcycles maneuver around the gentle animals at top speeds, coming within inches of hitting them. You’d think that honking horns and blasting engine brakes would scare the cows away, but they just sit there, unfazed and uninterested. They are not scared of cars or trucks. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Cows are sacred in India, meaning they can pretty much get away with anything – and they do!

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We’re not sure if the cows are wild or if they’re owned by someone, but we’re pretty sure that eating plastic bags and garbage is not the best diet for these holy animals.

Delhi Belly is not a myth

Even the toughest of stomachs will fall victim to the infamous 'Delhi Belly' at some point during a trip to India. Refrigeration and sanitation regulations are not like that in North America, so you need to be extra careful when eating and drinking.

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Although we are huge fans of street feed, tread lightly when sampling foods from street vendors. Stay away from meats, dairy and anything not cooked. Vegetarian food is typically the safest way to go. Always buy bottled water and stay away from restaurants with no customers – there’s usually a good reason why nobody is eating there.

Your hotel did not burn down

A common travel scam in India goes something like this – you get a taxi at the train station and the driver asks, “Where are you going?” You reply with the hotel name and the driver looks shocked and says, “But sir, that hotel is closed. There was a fire… or it’s under construction… or it’s full.” You start to panic and wonder where you will sleep that night. But then the driver graciously offers to take you to a different hotel, a better hotel – what a stroke of good luck! Of course, the taxi driver gets a hefty commission from the hotel owner for bringing new guests.

It’s a harmless scam, but it’s a reminder that India is a third world country, one that has over 700 million people living in poverty. India is a relatively safe country to visit. Most people are friendly and are not out to scam you, but some people are – so stay alert, watch your stuff and always question when someone is ‘overly helpful.'

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Tuk tuk’s are a wild ride

Transportation in India can be a frightening ordeal that leaves you speechless, questioning why you would subject yourself to such unnecessary distress.
Firstly, the majority of tuk tuks (also known as auto-rickshaws) are falling apart and should not be allowed on the road. They’re basically a rusty metal bubble with a lawn mower for an engine, hardly the type of vehicle that would survive a serious accident.

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Secondly, we’re not convinced that tuk tuk drivers have proper licenses. And if they do, the government should seriously consider improving its education and qualification process, because I’m pretty sure that driving into oncoming traffic at top speeds is a dangerous habit. Consider yourself warned.