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Traveling in India: A Truly Life Changing Experience

Hampi India

‘India will change you forever’, I would hear over and over again as soon as we announced we would travel to the subcontinent. ‘Really?โ€™, I thought incredulously, ‘what could possibly have such an impact on me there?’ I had traveled through Central America and South East Asia, and had encountered extreme poverty, dysfunctional cities, violence and fear. I didnโ€™t think that anything could still shock me after the things I had already seen, from the child beggars in Guatemala to the limping stray dogs in Nicaragua and the in-your-face sex tourism in Cambodia.

But nothing prepares you for India. Nothing prepares you for the intense smells, the chaos that ensues when a herd of cows decides to take a stroll along a busy highway, the crazy traffic and the constant honking, the homeless people sleeping on sidewalks, not dozens, but hundreds of them, or the dead bodies you’ll see. You can’t block out the begging ladies who seem a hundred years old and look at you with those heartbreakingly sad eyes while they shyly beg you for money with their palms pleadingly open, and by the village kids that run around dirt roads in just underwear and without shoes because they don’t have anything.

Village life in India
Village life in India

India is a lot to take in. And India is hard to take. Even though you might read this now thinking ‘I feel like I know what to expect when I go there’, when you get there, it will knock you off your feet.

I might have painted a pretty bleak picture of India so far, so let me correct this. I did not hate India โ€“ quite on the contrary: I loved traveling there. While many scenes you’ll experience in on a daily basis – the countless stray animals, the beggars, the crazy train rides, the deformations on people’s bodies – are hard to digest, especially in such a huge concentration, there are equally as many things that will amaze you. The incredibly diverse scenery for one, which ranges from deserts and mountains in the north to tropical beaches in Goa and the barren moon-like scenery around Hampi. The ornate, grand and mystifying temples, the scrumptious food that bursts with flavors, the wonderfully welcoming people were all things that made me fall in love with India.

Unforgettable India
Beautiful India

Some travelers find it annoying to be stared at or even have their hair touched, but I have to say though that I was just as enticed by the large families I met. Especially the women, all dressed up in colorful saris, painted with henna tattoos, wearing golden little jewels or bindis on their foreheads, and eye-catching golden jewelry hanging from their wrists, necks and sometimes noses, fascinated me just as much as I fascinated them, the light skinned girl with the bright blonde hair. While they wanted to feel my ‘yellow’ hair, I wanted to run my fingers through their thick black hair. The timid smiles and curious looks, and how we tried to communicate despite their limited English to find out more about each others lives are encounters I wouldn’t want to miss.

Meeting Indian families in Hampi
One of the most rewarding experiences in India: getting to know the locals

The way India changes you is how it changes your perspective on the smallest details in your own life. For one, I just cannot complain about anything in my life anymore – no matter how hard something might seem in a specific moment, I am blessed with a great life, a passport that lets me travel anywhere in the world without any bureaucratic hassle – the fact alone that I am able to travel! Seeing the families in Hampi, a sacred site for Hindus which they are supposed to visit at least once in their lives, who have never left their village before but saved every penny to could to make the trip there, sleeping in the streets and living off cheap street food, made me feel ashamed about my complaints about the too thin mattress on the bed in our basic yet clean $3 per night guesthouse. Back home in their villages these pilgrims usually don’t have running water or a solid, concreted floor in their house. Everywhere I traveled in India I saw women with big buckets on their heads, on their way to a well to get the water they needed to do laundry and dishes.

India People
People of India

When I was stuck on an overcrowded train that for the first time I realized what cattle class actually means, with one person in our group in tears and the rest of us on the verge of them, I couldn’t help but think ‘I am so glad that I don’t have to do that every day.’ But it is the reality for hundreds of millions of Indians. I watched women doing dishes and laundry in dirty river water where at the same time an elephant released himself while being bathed; men were shaving and women washing their hair, because this natural ‘pool’ is the only ‘tub’ they have.

India River
Rivers in India: Bathtub, washing machine, dish washer and elephant tub

And there I was, complaining that our guesthouse didn’t have hot water. These things just stick with you and you’ll never take anything for granted anymore: running water, hot water, a toilet with a flush button instead of a bucket of water to flush with, and being able to drink water from a tap. Comfy beds, a kitchen, a washing machine, a dish washer and other appliances seem somewhat absurd after what you see in India. India changes your perspective on everything, and makes the things you complain about in your daily life seem pretty laughable. I came back a different person than the one I was before, and I can’t wait to go back to India. Because if you are willing to put up with the strenuous aspects of the country, you’ll be rewarded with the most memorable travel experience of your life.

Beautiful India

Have you had any life changing travel experiences? Share them in the comments below.

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31 Comments

  1. I feel this! I just left a few weeks ago to Thailand and I have to say after India travel has never seemed easier. If you survive India, you can survive anywhere.
    I was in the same boat as you I had already spent a bit of time in Central and South America and didn’t think much would phase me in the way of chaos/pollution/poverty and anything else associated with 3rd world countries but India was just all of that on an unrivalled level.
    And despite all of this it was a country I missed before I’d even left Delhi airport. I’ll be back!

    1. Nick – This is so true: ‘If you survive India, you can survive anywhere.’ I feel like India definitely makes you a stronger traveler.

  2. India is by far the most life-changing place I’ve been. Not much of a secret though since I haven’t left for 2 years. I don’t see many people writing about it, so it’s so nice to read this & get other’s perspectives on my new home! It’s sad to say, I don’t notice a lot of the things you mention as they’ve just become part of life now, but I can remember when I was shocked my many of the things.

    1. I can’t believe you’ve been there for two years already! Wow, respect ๐Ÿ™‚ I know how tough India can be. How long do you think you’ll be staying there? No plans to leave any time soon, I suppose? ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. You said it. There is no place like India. No country has a more transformational effect on travellers. It certainly changed my life, in just about every way, and set it in a whole new direction. I now am actually dedicated to becoming the best travel writer I can be in order to showcase the beauty and special nature of India.

    So glad you had such an amazing experience and that you are adding a positive voice to counter some of the media negativity.

    Cheers,

    Mariellen

    1. Mariellen – I saw that you’ve just returned to India AGAIN.. the country’s certainly put a spell on you ๐Ÿ˜‰ I hope your stay is as amazing as all the previous ones, looking forward to reading about your latest adventures there!

  4. Really wonderful article Dany and makes me want to visit India very badly.

    One suggestion though – can you please try to put new articles at the top of your website? I am a daily reader but sometimes miss articles like this that are brand new but pushed to the very bottom, making it seem like new content has not been added. Just a friendly suggestion, as I think you might get more hits by moving new articles to the top. Best,

    Brian

  5. Amazing Dani. I am heading to India for the first time early in 2016 and I am equally scared and excited. I really don’t want to hate it and I hope I can see past the shocking to the amazing. I think it will be a big challenge for me as I can be a control freak and I know that I will have to let go here – I just hope that I can

    1. Oh, I can’t wait to hear how you feel about India when you get there in 2016, Katie! It’ll be shocking at first for sure, but most people end up loving India by the time they leave the country ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Dani,
    A wonderful piece, thank you for writing it… you’re so right about everything. I got back to northern India yesterday after an amazing trip to Nepal. I got a new six-month visa so when I leave next time, I will have spent a total of three years of my life in this country!
    The West (Oz) is calling loudly now, but I have such immense gratitude for this country, for the things I have learnt and the way I have grown. India has completely and utterly changed who I am, changed my life and changed the way I view the world. The potential is huge if we just open up to it, let go of our western conditioning and values, and allow the magic to happen… and places like Hampi are just about as magic as they get – a very special place for me and I look forward to getting back down there soon… maybe see you there!

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Melody! I can’t believe you’ll be leaving India – Oz will be such a culture shock for you, don’t you think? Let’s see how long you last there before you return to India ๐Ÿ˜‰ Three years in India is a lot, but like you said – it does change the way you view the world and that alone is so worth a visit! Enjoy Australia when you get there, and your remaining time in India of course!

  7. It’s interesting to read this from a new angle. We moved to India last year and are, literally, rediscovering this place. My husband is German and he’s used to this land (on most days) but when we have family or friends visiting from abroad, I get to see some of what you talk about here. Also fair to mention that some of my in-laws have taken an absolute dislike to this land and will never return, some keep coming back. Each to his own, we love it here and making the most of our time now.

    1. Pratibha- I feel like India is one of the very few countries people have a really strong opinion on. Most people either love it or hate it, but nobody is just like ‘meh’. Are you planning on staying in India for a long time (forever?) or is it just a temporary move?

  8. I enjoyed reading every word of this post Dani. What an amazing life changing experience. It should be compulsory to visit India ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thanks so much, Jan, I am happy to hear that ๐Ÿ™‚ It should be compulsory to visit India, really!! I know quite a few complainers who’d never complain about anything again after spending some time in India ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. I had been traveling in India for the last 30 years, mostly to exotic hidden places. I wish I could express my feeling about India, the way you have written. Just amazing! Thank you.

    1. For the last thirty years, wow, that is impressive, Kiran! I’d love to see some more of the kind of places you describe – hidden and exotic ๐Ÿ™‚ Pls share your secret spots with me! ๐Ÿ˜€

  10. What a great perspective Dani! India has always intrigued me for travel, but I definitely feel equal amounts of fear and excitement at the thought of visiting. Just reading the part about the people touching your hair gave me chills though… maybe I have a bit of work to do before I go to India!

    1. Thanks, Mike! India is quite an intimidating place to visit. Don’t worry too much about people touching your hair though, unless you’re blonde- then you might consider dying it for the duration of your stay in India ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s challenging but rewarding at the same time… I say Go for it!!

  11. Hey Dany!,

    I am happy that you do find India life changing.. I am sure you enjoyed your visit.. And even though it was last year you still have some memories to cherish upon.
    I am currently visiting Latin America.. to be exact Santiago Chile
    Was just going through several website and found your article of 33-things-we-love-about-santiago-de-chile.. Liked it.. This is my second travel here..
    And I would say what I learnt so far is – “Be a traveler don’t be a tourist”.

    Being an Indian and seeing your several blogs.. I would say you dint explored much of India ๐Ÿ˜‰ .. there are several so much things.. each part of India is a country in itself.. Geography.. scenery, language, people, places, food, lifestyle.. almost everything changes vitally every 1000 Kms.. And the best part is you as an traveler will be accepted everywhere.. I wish you could have got some more pleasing pictures.. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hi Garuav, thanks for your comment! I am happy you found our Things-We-Love-About-Santiago post, I hope you found our quick guide as well and found it helpful ๐Ÿ™‚
      As for India- so far I’ve only visit Karnata, Goa and Kerala. So much more to see! I am looking forward to returning and seeing the north of your country. I think I got a lot of very pleasing pictures of my time there though, lol ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. Few, if any, places in the world stand to change a person like India does. We just returned from a wedding in Delhi (incredible – not to be missed) and a week side trip to Kerala in the south. I will never take for granted what we have here In Canada or our neighbor to the south ever again. Ever!
    India is a country of extremes: extreme beauty … the Taj Mahal, Amber Fort, Akshardham temple, elephantsโ€ฆ beauty beyond anything I have seen anywhere else in the world, or even imagined in my wildest dreams. Combine this with a people who are generous, welcoming, extremely well educated and very curious, and mix in incredulous poverty, and a tendency for resolving issues with extreme violence (we never felt physically threatened but I had to stop reading the Times newspaper as I found this quite disturbing day after day) and you have India – a country of extremes that will challenge many of your beliefs. It will no doubt take a little time to digest the experience but I am confident in saying my wife, my two daughters and I will be much stronger for having taken this journey together!

    1. Paul, thanks so much for your comment. I love what you’re saying; everything is so true – especially that part ‘I will never take for granted what we have here In Canada or our neighbor to the south ever again. Ever!’ That’s exactly how I felt when I returned from India. It is great to hear that you got to experience it with your family and you know that they can relate to all of it. India’s hard to explain to people who haven’t been there.

  13. I loved reading this, Its so true!! I have just returned from India and after a few days of being back at work have decided that after my contract is up I am quitting my job to travel the world, I have 11 months to save up. I cannot wait!

  14. i read your blog it was really nice and all things related to indian life are true because iam an indian . And the blog about indian railway its very realistic

  15. Hello Dany,

    Thanks for such a good article. I heard the same comment from my other international friends also. I an Indian, but being an Indian hardly we see the India. Sometime I get to know new facts about India from international friends or the travel blogs.I m from middle part of India near Mumbai and I can say that I don’t know much about cultural stuff of North East India or Extreme North West part.

    When I do travel in India I do face problems in Language, food and Cultural differences. Everytime there will be new learning from me.

    Thanks for visiting India again, hope you will visit multiple times. Currently I am located in New Delhi. So would love to host you for lunch or Dinner whenever you Visit India or especially Delhi.

    1. Thanks, Vijay! It’d be great to have dinner when I make it back to India – which I hope is soon!! I still have so much more of your country to see… the entire north, for example!

  16. Hai Dany….
    It’s Very interesting blog. Thanks for visited to India. I am from Karnataka and by seeing the pictures I think you have just visited the northern part of Karnataka and may experienced dirtiness. I will also suggest you to travel south part.

    Better you visit semi-urban and rural part to have great experience.
    I am very happy to any kind of help to you.

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