In the ten days we spent in northern India, I learned more than I imagined possible. Adi, our chief experience officer was incredibly knowledgeable & personable and provided us with varied information along our travels. Whether sharing his own experiences or introducing us to historians or locals we embraced India in all its glory.
‘If you don’t challenge yourself with difficulties, you cannot grow’ -Father from our group cooking class, Jaipur, India
What we learned in India
- 1/6 of the world’s population live in India
- There are people for miles; mostly you see men out in city streets-seemingly waiting
- The trains are clean and an adventure! When you pay for a specific destination you receive a token to place at the top of the gated area for the turn-style to open. The turn-style is only available after walking through a metal detector specified by gender and placing your belongings on a scanning belt.
- There are distinct train carriages on the metro delineated by the signs on the ground of the platform. Some are solely for women (which is why it was always very noticeable when I was one of only a few women in the carriages in which we often rode in together).
- Crossing the street is a feat in itself (similar to Cairo) You pass: flying tuk-tuks, zig-zagging cycle rickshaws, pedestrians, camels and lolly-gagging cattle, cars and coaches.
- Cars and motorbikes are filled with people including children; often times more than 4-6 people on one motorbike (limited to no helmets)
- Long distance bus drivers do not get paid; only work for tips.
Due to the vast Hindu culture-cows are sacred in India. Meat is not found on any menu (even McDonald’s is meat free-their burgers are made out of paneer-cheese). Cows are everywhere. Roaming free in the center of streets, villages and sometimes chained to a fence as their owners don’t want them to disappear; cows are truly omni-present. Cow dung has many uses. In local villages, it’s often the young girl’s job to collect the cow dung and make it into patties-this is then used for fertilizer, fuel and many other drying agents.
Bollywood is only part of the entertainment industry in India, but, Bollywood movies are definitely an experience! We had a fabulous time seeing Himmatwala in Jaipur. The theater was packed and the theatergoers happy. The lobby was filled wall to wall with people until the elaborate doors opened and a movie theater the size of a NYC Broadway one quickly filled with watchers carrying samosas, sodas & snacks. Often times the theater erupted with laughter, shouts and comments and amidst the non-subtitled film it was truly fun to try to follow the story.
Hindi, English along with hundreds of other local dialects
Marigolds are the ever present flower of India which you’ll see many of in the flower market on the streets of Jaipur. The Nim tree from where the marigolds fall has many helpful properties aside from the beautiful, colourful flowers. Used for medicinal purposes, anti-malarial assistance and chew for clean teeth; marigolds and their tree are held in high regard. This of course makes more so much more sense now that we’ve been to India/Jaipur as we had seen the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, set in Jaipur, and now truly understand the reason behind the title.
The Holi is the colour festival that takes place each year for the arrival of Spring. Bright colored powders shower people at parties, homes and in the street. Celebrations filled with fun, food, family and festivities take place throughout the city until at least 2pm. India has various religious and traditional festivals throughout the year.
Often national forts/exhibits have two prices and two queues: one for nationals and one for foreigners. Foreigners may pay more, but, in a country that has such a gap between the rich and the poor it is nice to see that many have the option to enjoy India’s national treasures.
Main exports are wheat, pulses, lentils, sorghum
- Hinduism and Islam mostly, some Christianity
- Ganesh: Hindu god with elephant head
- Veiled culture began as part of Islam, then Hinduism followed so women wouldn’t be singled out
MARRIAGES, FAMILY & CASTES
- Weddings can last anywhere from 3-7 days in many parts of India.
- Unmarried women can have a sticker ‘dot’ for beauty if they choose to.
- Married women will have a ‘dot’ and a red marking in the front part of their hair. The ‘dot’ is made out of sandalwood and applied each day.
- Some women in small villages will have rings on a few toes that they never take off showing ‘marriage’.
- The government tried to cull the population at one point by limiting the amount of children a family could have (didn’t work).
- Women have run this country yet when out on the streets or wandering the city the percentage of men to women seen is staggering. In public, women are almost non-existent, often invisible to the public eye; a noticeable difference that gives foreigners pause.
- Complete contradiction: women cook, care for family and clean but are searched in a private, hidden compartment at airports (to maintain privacy). Many women are doctors, lawyers, teachers and leaders yet are still held in separate queues at every monument, train station and in other parts of the culture.
SPORT: CRICKET (the national past time)
- Wickets are made out of bricks.
- Cricket is often played amidst rocks, rubbish and sometimes grass.
- A cricket pitch pops up anywhere there are people.
- According to the locals: ‘if you hit a cow it’s 6 runs and out’.
- Children in and out of school play cricket wherever/whenever they can.
- The game of cricket evens the playing field a bit and brings people of different walks of life together.
Diverse, flavourful, aromatic, exotic, vegetarian-friendly and readily available. Spices are ground on the street right before your eyes and add incredible depth to dishes. Both street snacks and restaurant meals treated us to wonderful new food combinations – many that we’ve taken home and added to our home cooked dinners.
Masala means mixture
Much of the work in the streets of India is still done by hand. Textile-makers, craftsmen, tailors and artisans line the streets in big cities and smaller towns. Clothing is created and mended outside or many times in small shops. Beautiful creations adorn tapestries, material, pashminas & saris available for locals and tourists alike. Hand-crafted, carved and designed often right before your eyes-India amazes. However, there is such an immense population that there are far more people than there is work available.
A lot of people sit in the squat position on the street just as in other parts of Asia. Sadly, due to the economic situation, many have their hands out (including children). Donkeys/camels carry bricks and pull heavy loads. Still so many things done by hand that first world does by machines. In villages there is often extreme poverty. Multi-generational families live in exceptionally small housing often with little to no running water and limited electricity. Some children go to school (in villages if the school is close enough; in the cities mostly) and often have a variety of other obstacles to deal with daily. To further their education, those that are financially able head to universities and flourish in many professions but there is a huge divide between the rich and the poor which is vastly evident to the onlooker.
When in India…flexibility, compassion & patience are key.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all ones lifetime” -Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It
What have you learned from your travels in India?