Cultureshock! Guide to India

worrying! very worrying

Since we have now been here for a month, we thought it was a good time to reflect on our time by taking a look at some of the intricacies of our adopted country’s culture! And a  very rich culture it is too! But why focus on the religion and history when you can learn about the smelly animals and various modes of transport!

So here is our guide to Modes of Transport, Animals, Hotels, Toilets, Food and the Language.

Modes of Transport

There are various ways to get around this crazy country… most of which we have tried already, with varying levels of success. Now; we LOVE the trains… easy to board, easy to find your berth, they bring you chai and you meet interesting people… however standing toilets when you have a dodgy belly is not good…. and random Eunuch’s getting on the train and demanding money to not curse you… not so good either! Other people we have met HATE the trains and find them stressful… but so far, we are train lovers! Buses on the other hand… come in two main forms 1)private bus, which can be deluxe (i.e not totally skanky) or semi deluxe (i.e marginally better than a carcass bus). 2) Carcass or government bus… a total shambles which should NOT be allowed on the road… painful on the butt, but gentle on the wallet (but for a reason). Generally has holes in it, flat and bald tyres and travellers must add their bags to the questionable roof rack themselves. Speeds of buses veer between crazy and suicidal… the driver’s seem to think that going less than 50 miles per hour will result in the bus exploding in a Speed-stylee. The phrase Jeep may conjure up images of rugged countryside travel… not so in India. A Jeep or mini jeep, starts from a Suzuki Alto which we boarded on our trip into the mountains… up to a roofless contraption which belches out acrid black smoke. Even when we tried to book a bus in Jaipur, we ended up in a Jeep! The infamous rickshaw is the cheapest, easiest, noisiest, smelliest thrill-seeking ride in India. Autos will usually cost from 10 rupees up to tourist-rate… which is usually 20 times more than the going rate. It is much cheaper to use an Indian Helicopter or cycle rickshaw…. the only problem is that we usually tip double as we feel so guilty about a skeletalised slip of a grandad cycle us for 15 minutes or more up an incline of 2 degrees with sweat pouring from his head…. you almost want to get out and push the bike! The best, most cost and health efficient method of transport is something called Chalkee (probably spelt wrong)… this is the Hindi word for ‘walking’ and generally we use this to fend of the hoardes of rickshaw drivers…none of whom seem to grasp the concept of walking anywhere! If you are feeling brave there are various animals to be riden… we are off on Camels tomorrow evening… which leads us neatly onto…


The most sacred of Indian animals… the cow… these buggers are everywhere… usually in the middle of the road, or a path, or trying to steal beans on toast from Andy. They are so well cared for and chilled out … although we did meet an angry bull in Varanasi who tried to gore anyone who walked past him! Believe me, the novelty of seeing Monkeys everywhere soon wears off when you realise that they are ‘crazy’… Indian description, not mine! In many places, it is necessary to carry and stick and take your sunglasses off… as this winds them up! Flies and flying elephant-sized bugs carry out a nightly attack… and soon wear you down. Significantly missing from Indian culture are cats, mostly due to the sheer volume of dogs; a law preventing them from being culled was passed in the 60’s and they are running rampant around the smelly cities. Some of the dogs are quite cute… but potentially still rabid and we have not had our jabs, so we steer clear. Others however have huge puss-filled craters in their backs and look like they are about to keel over… or turn into Cujo… this type will generally turn up whilst you are eating your thali. Camels and Elephants are a bit thin on the ground at the moment.. but we reckon they are hiding from the cows and dogs!


As budget travellers, we opt for hotels in the book ranging between 300-500 rupees… this ‘budget’ lands us most often in strange 70s style rooms with only massive thick duvets, see through and slightly dirty sheets and no hot water! Sometimes we hit gold and have some hot water, but generally the rooms have not been cleaned since the 70s. The exception to the rule is our current ‘Flash-packing’ through Rajasthan which is very posh… but won’t last. Food in these hotels is invariably described as ‘home cooked’ and ‘delicious’… see section on food below for an accurate description of these terms. Homestays are another options in India; we sampled one in the far north which was akin to sleeping in an iceberg… but it was very ‘authentic’. We are also given the best padlocks we have ever seen to lock the doors… in some cases, they could be destroyed with a swift trump to the door.


These are very hard to come by in India! Usually they cost anywhere from 2 to 20 rupees and in many cases the person collecting the money only asks the tourists! Sometimes it makes us want to wee on the street… which Andy has done in one of the public urinals… his words not mine “The most disgusting thing I have ever smelt… its burned my nose”. It can be very stressful worrying about the next place to go… touch wood we have had no requirements for the slightly worrying adult nappies we have seen on sale. Rachel was struggling in a train toilet to balance and managed to drop the toothpast down the toilet (or hole) onto the tracks.


Generally, we have had some amazing food…. from bottomless thalis, to freshbaked, paratha, fish masala, fresh saffron lassi and delicious samosas. The chai is either spicy and hot or a bit off and warm… but it generally hits the spot

– Homecooked – usually means thrown together for the tourists… with an extra inflated price

– Delicious- see above

– English style… can also apply to mexican-style, chinise (yes that’s how they spell it), italian, israeli – so far off the mark it’s generally scary… although there are exceptions to the rule… some of the ‘western’ food we have had has been lovely.

– Breakfast – In India this means bread and stodge and pickle! Although we have found lovely muesli, porridge and eggs… we have also had deep fried amoeba eggs (two fried and stuck together in a brown mess with grease) and pink rice.

We wait in anticipation for the food in South India… including lovely fish dishes… but in the meantime, we are watching the menus for Cornflanx, Sakmaral Eggs and Hash Browns (which are potatoes friend in butter with chillies and tomato?)


So how you might wonder, does one navigate this confusing place? Well by learning some of the local language of course! Namaste is the most useful, followed by Chalkee… but there are other gems which have made our life easier. Words like Internet, Beer, Please, No, Toilet are universal and English words are used in their place… although sometimes confusion does occur …

Andy: Do you have the internet?

Indian Man: You want room?

Numbers have proved hard to learn… we can ask how much in Hindi but the response is usually confusing. We can also ask how are you, where are you from, where are you going, and can say very good, very bad, enough and let’s go! But we are constantly adding to our repertoire. Having said that there is a language barrier… many of the good times have been spent with people who speak no English at all.

So culture-shock it might be.. but we love it! well perhaps not the hassle and the ‘excrement’ on the street…. Chalkee can sometimes result in very messy feet!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jude
    Oct 16, 2010 @ 13:02:01

    eeeeeeeeee your not really painting a great picture, culture shock aint in it!!!! i’m afraid to say that it really wouldn’t be for me, i’ll stick to roaming in europe at least your garuanteed a sit down loo hahahaha. please both of you stay safe… love you xxx


  2. anna petch
    Oct 17, 2010 @ 11:28:53

    Wowza, what a time! Sounds amazing, crazy and a bit of a challenge, i can almost taste it and smell it from your blog…..Rachel you are a brilliant travel writer, I think you may have found yourself a second career.
    You know it wouldn’t be so rewarding and memorable without all the crazy animals, bugs, confusion, toilet issues, wild people and general caos.
    I see your travelling future and you’ll soon be bobbin in the streets and feeling proud of it! you know I would.
    Carry on the good times.
    We miss you both muchly and are very jealous (not about the standing toilets!), we wish we could be there with you both.
    Lots of Love The Petch’s xxxx


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