Forget everything familiar; forget toilet paper, clean air and traffic rules.
Buckle up and get ready for a real culture shock. Welcome to my favorite country, India!
Two very pale Norwegians stand stunned in the streets of New Delhi whilst looking at the chaos surrounding them. We see hundreds of rickshaws, thousands of people, sacred cows walking in the streets and monkeys playing around. It is 45 degrees and we are to put it lightly; pretty damn confused. This is as far from Norway and Norwegian culture I have ever been.
All I can hear is honking from cars and buses. After having seen a sign behind a bus that said "Horn Please” I am beginning to understand why. In India the horn is used to signal for everything, and it is perhaps not so surprising when none of the cars have side mirrors and no one seems to follow traffic rules. After a while we manage to hail a taxi. We start talking to the driver about the traffic and the chaos and he tells us:
"you need three things to survive as a taxi driver in New Delhi; good horn, good breaks and good luck."
During an hour of driving, I saw my life flash before my eyes several times.
We survived the first day and spent the next two weeks traveling from city to city. Agra, Delhi, Jaipur, Pushkar, Udaipur and Jodhpur. Eating spicy food, drinking what felt like 10 liters of water per day and sweating just as much. It was hot, crowded, crazy and wonderful.
When I tell people about traveling in India I always have to mention the smell. The smell of spices hits you when you get off the plane and it does not go away, ever. Walking around any city in India you find yourself hungry even though you just ate. It is safe to say that Indian cuisine is popular all over the world. But let me tell you, there is nothing better than having Indian food from its birthplace. Their recipes have been passed on from generation to generation and I have never experienced flavors like they have in India.
The food was actually so good that we decided to take a cooking course while we were there. We had heard stories from other backpackers about a lady living in Udaipur named Shashi who taught a cooking class and that this was the best place to go.
Sashi turned out to be an amazing woman with a powerful life story. During her class she told us about her past. About her husband being killed and how she had to raise three young boys on her own. Her husband was a Brahman priest (the top of castes in India) and she told us all about the rules and regulations that came with being a widower of a Brahman priest. For a whole year she had to sit in her apartment wearing a black sari and grieve.
She was not allowed to work, even though she was dependent on making money for her self and her kids. The house Sashi and her children lived in belonged to her husband's family, who would not help her. They basically did not want anything to do with her or her kids.
Her husbands family turned off her power and water and she knew she had to start working in order to pay for everything her self. She started working as a cleaning lady. Waking up at four o'clock in the morning, every day, Sneaking out of her house so that no one would see her. Then she would sneak back in before anyone would notice.
She did this for a along time until one day she got an idea. She decided to start teaching tourists how to make Indian food. Without knowing this would be her best decision ever. Her cooking class became well known with tourists and backpackers and soon she was making enough money to pay for her self and her boys. She sent all three sons to college and is now living a very happy life.
Shashi was just one of the many wonderful people I met in India. The experience I had with her is just one of the many reasons I love this country so much.
For a lot of travelers India is either a country you really love or you really hate. There is so much of everything, and it can easily become very intense.
For those of you considering a trip to India here is my advice:
" go with the flow "
Leave your own rules and regulations at home. If you do that you might experience a country that surprises and charms you. A place filled with amazing people, colors, sounds and smells that you wont find any where else in the world.