My Love/Hate Relationship With India and Why Love Always Wins Out
By Sue King
Everyone knows about India’s splendid temples, forts, palaces and magnificent landscapes, but traveling in this astonishing country goes way beyond sight seeing. A trip to India demands the traveller leave their comfort zone and step into a bewildering, yet bewitching world.
India is a country of extremes beyond any other.
I am a passionate traveler, having lived in or visited over fifty countries, and nowhere has affected me so deeply as India. I both love it and hate it equal measures. When I am not there, my heart aches to return.
Here are ten of my favorite reasons everyone should travel to India at least once in their lifetime.
1. Indian hospitality is legendary
Hindus live according to the Sanskrit adage ‘Guest is God’ and this is evident in the hospitality that foreigners often receive when visiting India. Whether it’s an invitation to a wedding or a family dinner, Indians are not only curious about those from overseas, but go to great lengths to make visitors feel welcome.
On my own travels in India, I regularly felt that people I met looked out for me and helped me on my way. Hospitality is all-encompassing in a way that is rare in the west, and allows both visitors and their hosts to cross cultural divides and form a special bond.
2. India is not as unsafe for women as it is portrayed in the media
India has a somewhat unfair image as being unsafe for women travellers. I can honestly say that having travelled in India many times, I have never felt threatened either physically or otherwise. In fact, I have been treated with nothing but respect and politeness by most of men who I have crossed paths with.
I am not naïve, and I know that not everyone is as lucky. I can only speak for myself. If you take certain precautions and use common sense, there is no reason that a woman shouldn’t have a trouble-free visit to this amazing country.
3. Not only is India great value, but tourists help support the economy
India remains one of the best value destinations in the world for westerners. Food, travel and accommodation are all incredibly cheap, especially if you are exploring the country independently.
Ironically, those traveling on a budget are more likely to experience the real India. Expensive package tours herd tourists from hotels to temples, cocooned and comfortable, but missing out on the nuances of daily life.
Those who take local buses, avoid tourist restaurants and stay in guest houses not only support the Indian economy where it is most needed, but have a more authentic experience.
These days, there are shops, restaurants and tours which support the under privileged. Making an effort to support these organizations can really make a difference.
4. To explore India’s spiritual side
Whether it’s a colorful Shiva temple, a shrine to Hanuman, a Ganesh statue on a car dashboard or a sadhu collecting alms, the Gods are always present in India. Hindus make up most of the population, but Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains have all had great influence on Indian culture. Spirituality is integral to the country’s psyche.
For spiritually inclined travelers seeking enlightenment, there is much to explore. Ashrams and retreats are in abundance and there are many opportunities to learn yoga, meditation or study Hinduism.
5. The food is amazing and cooked with love.
Food is a highlight of any trip to India and plays an important part in bringing people together. Volunteers at the Golden Temple in Amritsar serve up 100,000 free meals per day to people of all religions, classes and races. It’s an impressive feat, with love and unity at the heart of the message it conveys. Food also plays an important part in many festivals and is offered to the Gods (prasada).
Dishes are as astonishingly diverse as the country itself, from the masala dosas of the south to the highly spiced curries of the north. For vegetarian travellers, a trip to India is an exciting prospect. Refreshingly, there are more vegetarian options than there are for meat-eaters. Not only that, but the vegetarian food is delicious and varied. Many carnivores consider giving up meat whilst in India.
6. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer and help make India a better place
India inspires many visitors to volunteer and there certainly lots of opportunities. Whether it’s animal conservation, building schools or empowering women, volunteering can be a great way to gain an insight into local communities and how they function.
Rather than simply being an observer, volunteering offers a sense of satisfaction and the chance to build meaningful relationships with local people.
7. You will have your senses awakened
Wherever you go in India, your senses will be assaulted by an assortment of sights, sounds and smells. Traveling in India is sometimes like being in a psychedelic dream and it’s difficult to take it all in.
To say that India is an eye-opener is an understatement – it’s a rollercoaster of ups and downs. One moment you’ll be feeling amazed or inspired and the next despair or frustration. But whatever you feel, it won’t be neutral.
There have been moments when I have hated India and wanted nothing more than to be transported back to my comfortable life in the UK. As soon as I hit the tarmac in London, I miss India like crazy and can’t wait to return (which I have time after time!) India is addictive, exciting and makes you feel alive like nowhere else on earth.
8. India toughens you up – Once you have travelled there, you can take on the world!
I used to feel intimidated by India. I had the idea that it was the ultimate travel destination. If I could conquer India, I could travel happily anywhere in the world. There’s no doubt about it, you need a certain amount of resilience to explore India independently. My trips there have given me confidence and tolerance I didn’t previously possess.
The crowds and ‘organized chaos’ teach you to stay cool, be patient and go with the flow. Bear these things in mind and not only will you enjoy yourself more, but you’ll become a more well-rounded traveller and ready to take on the rest of the world
9. You will experience moments of exquisite beauty amongst the squalor
You will see things in India that will shock and surprise you. Amongst the squalor, there are moments of beauty. I have had many of these fleeting, but memorable moments. The elderly Muslim shopkeeper in Ladakh who cheerfully waved every day as I passed his modest store. The beautiful little gypsy girl on a crowded bus in Rajasthan, who smiled at me every time she looked my way. The friendly young man in Karnataka without legs, who sat on the skateboard he used to push himself along, and proudly showed me his collection of foreign coins.
It’s these special moments which make India so extraordinary. Although there are many cultural differences, a connection is made. Brief as they are, these are moments that will never be forgotten
10. India will change you
It is impossible to travel in India and not be changed. Everyone knows about the slums, but seeing them first-hand is very different than watching on a National Geographic channel.
Seeing families living on the sidewalks and women washing clothes in heavily polluted rivers brought home how fortunate I really was. I gained a greater appreciation of my life in the west.
I was humbled by people who literally had nothing, making gestures more generous than I had ever experienced elsewhere.
India teaches you that no matter how different we are, we have more in common than we think.
Sue King :
I am a passionate traveller who has been exploring the world and living out of a small backpack since 2012. I housesit, backpack and volunteer my way around the planet. My favorite countries to date are the equally colourful and captivating India and Mexico.