The eager tourist arrives in India with his own Eat Pray Love fantasy. Yet, the food kills the stomach, the meditation ends up being a total tourist trap and the love part, that one is a challenge. Exemplified by the specific day where his body completely rejected the foreign air, the foreign water, the food and the noise, the first visit to India is hard, even for the most experienced traveler. A visitor to my home country told me that when he travels he relearns every socialization that he has had as if for the first time. How does one reprogram oneself to truly appreciate India’s mesmerizing beauty and extraordinary culture?
How to pick a dish from the menu
While it is easy to find solace in the familiar, your comfort zone is not necessarily adapted to a new environment. Items that are standard dishes in your home country are extremely foreign somewhere else. Looking at a local menu, the western lexicons “pizza” or “sandwich” may, like a Hellenic siren, lure the homesick voyager. And then, in the spirit of Greek destiny, a shipwreck of a dish will arrive. When it is your turn to order, perhaps opt for some of the standard Indian dishes – roti breads and vegetables. Don’t be shy to ask for reduced spices and oil – most people are keen on helping visitors.
How to go to the bathroom
Unsanitary toilets when backpacking or taking road trips can be quite the issue. Bathrooms at a pit-stop often distinguish between Indian and Western stalls. This is not a xenophic separation, rather, it classifies the type of toilet. While the seat and positioning of the occidental option may be inviting, the local alternative will be more hygienic. The hole in the ground connecting to plumbing seems confusing, but it is designed to allow hovering, thus making sure you don’t touch anything.
How to not be hot
If the humidity or heat is bothering you and no amount of sunblock, water or hats will cool you down, there is only one solution, – a liquid more precious than printer ink – Coca-Cola. The aerated drink feels fresh and the bubbles soothe the stomach. If you are looking for a healthier option, seasonal fruits, whether they are mangoes, watermelons, strawberries or lychees, are adapted to the climate. They thus provide relief relative to the time of year.
How to get your photo taken
There’s nothing wrong with feeling famous once in a while! If you are consenting, there is no harm in letting a family take a photo with you. A single man, or a group of men, however, taking pictures with you might result in unwanted advances. When approached for photos, stick to your comfort level. Be confident and secure and normally the end will procure the means.
How to be a nice person
The most frustrating tourist is an intolerant one, and Indian culture is a kaleidoscope. Only under the correct light and perspective do the old parts transform into a complex colorful wonder in the eyes of the viewer. If a tourist complains about the smells and the traditions, the locals grow frustrated and implore him to look through the peephole to rediscover its unique charm. Even if some may be amused by your critiques on the shortcomings of the region, ultimately it is unlikely that they will appreciate the condescending verbal degradation of their home.
An ardent traveler and avid reader, Diva Jain is a writer for the Travel Section of the Sundial Press. She was born and raised in Mumbai, India and is now a part of the Euro-American program at Sciences Po.