5 Things People Say You’ll Hate About India…and Why They’re Wrong!

Written by Claire Ferguson and Byron Walker, India: Gender and Religion Program Leaders.

Every place has a reputation that precedes it. India is no exception. If anything, it’s a country whose reputation is known far and wide, summoning all sorts of stories, emotions, and opinions. Ask any traveler – India is one of the most intense places in the world when you first arrive. It could be the staggering population, the incredible diversity, or the physical landscape. Whatever it is, you won’t forget it. Many might even say you’ll hate parts about it, but believe us…that won’t be the case. So what are people saying? And why are they wrong? Let’s get to it!

1. It stinks.

Sure, India stinks. With a billion people, open toilets, and free ranging holy cows, it’s sure to give virgin noses a bit of a kick. But it isn’t such a simple story. India is a gustatory challenge, a whirlwind of newness for noses that reaches far beyond ‘stinking’. Walking through a bustling marketplace is an adventure for the senses. Incense burns in every other shop, temple, and home, filling the streets with beautiful whirls of champas, sandalwood, and rose. Temple-side stalls sell jasmine and marigold wreaths for puja (prayer). Sweet shops selling barfi and gulab jamun, wafting cardamom and scents of warm milky heaven for the nostrils. Cumin seeds frying, chai cups steaming, and holy cows farting, too. It’s a place that is thick with smell, and nothing quite compares to India in gustatory adventure.

Cow in India

2. It’s hot.

Sure, India gets hot. With deserts baking without a tree to hide under, tropical southern forests wet and sticky with humidity, and the Himalayan sun that scorches with unbelievable strength, the heat in India isn’t such a simple story either. In fact, with a country so vast, that spans several climate zones and geographical wonders, travelling through the different heats of India is an amazing experience in itself. Not to mention, after you’ve sweat out every last bit of juice in 50 degree heat in the northern plains in the summer time, you’ll forget what it even means to be hot. The body is an amazing machine, and your brain miraculously adapts to the sizzle. And if all else fails, a delicious kulfi (spiced Indian ice cream) will always do the trick.

3. It’s crowded.

Sure, India is crowded. There’s more than a billion people that live in a country half the size of the United States. That means if you look around, and turn every one person you see into SEVEN, you’ve got something more like India. But, being crowded isn’t as bad as you might think. Living in such close proximity, Indian people tend to be extremely friendly, curious, generous, and open. That ranges anywhere from inviting you into their home for tea, to asking you questions about where you’re from, to inviting you their sister-cousin’s wedding (seriously). That means a billion people to learn from, a billion people to drink chai with, a billion people to become your friends. Crowded never felt so much like home.

Crowded India

4. Too much curry.

Sure, Indians eat a lot of curry. But no two curries are the same! From north to south, from state to state, exploring the curries of India is an adventure that is never over. Even a simple dish like dal (which means lentils) undergoes great transformation. From dal makhani to dal fry to dal tadka, served with fresh coriander or fresh curd, even something as simple as dal is never so simple. Not to mention that every restaurant has their special way to prepare their best dish. The expression “curry is curry is curry” will soon go straight out the window. The only real problem here is that your favourite Indian restaurant back home will never be the same again.

5. It’s a challenging and overwhelming place to go.

Sure, India is overwhelming. With all the smells, the heat, the crowded streets, and the inevitable curry stomach aches (Delhi Belly), it certainly isn’t an easy place to be. You’ll go from being blessed by a holy man one minute, to being overwhelmed by poverty, to drinking the most delicious chai you’ve ever had, to using a really gross toilet, to hearing the Muezzin prayers from the minarets as the sun sets. Just like all the points above, it’s not as simple as saying India’s difficult: it’s ripe with life changing potential and the seemingly unbelievable challenges. A contradiction wrapped in a riddle, it can be a hard place to get your head around, but you will certainly fall in love, and the challenge is a huge part of that.

Few other countries are as challenging on your body and your mind. Packed with bitter-sweet contradictions, you will often find yourself as frustrated as you have ever been in one moment and contemplating the beauties of life over sweet chai tea in the next.

Ready? Join us on our India: Gender & Religion program this summer!

2012 India crew