4 ways to keep your sanity in India

4 ways to keep your sanity in India

4 ways to keep your sanity in India

When people ask me, “did you like India?” I answer honestly: I say no.

No, I did not like India. I did not like the dirt and the grime, I did not like smelling rivers from blocks away, I did not like seeing piles of trash accumulating on the corners of city streets, and the abject poverty was heartbreaking. I was solicited to constantly, I could hardly breath the pollutant rich air, and I was constantly looking behind my shoulder to see if all those stares were simply because I was a foreigner or if they something malicious (and on at least one occasion, they were malicious.)

India is overwhelming in every way; there’s no release or escape. It’s as challenging a destination as I’ve ever visited, and I’ve been to some crazy places (like the West Bank and Siberia in winter.) Yet for all it’s difficulties, for all the frustrations and challenges of traveling there, India continually tops the list of places to which I’d like to return.

What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?

 

Organized chaos.

The first bus I rode got into an accident as soon as it pulled out of the station. The respective drivers disembarked and tense discussion immediately ensued, quickly escalating to yelling as a crowd gathered. I thought we would be there all day and that the bus would be canceled, yet the discussion stopped as suddenly and unexpectedly as the accident had occurred, and we were inexplicably on our way shortly thereafter.

 

Roads in Mumbai

Roads in Mumbai

 

Weeks later, I left the country after a man put a toothpick in my ear in an attempt to sell me something, a culmination of nonstop solicitations over the course of the previous month. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, or more appropriately, the toothpick that broke me. That was trip #1. Not one to be discouraged, a year later I returned alone, and then I returned once more the following year as I passed through Delhi on the way to Nepal.

Reflections in India

Reflections in Mumbai

 

Sunrise in Jaipur

Pre sunrise in Jaipur

Why I want to go back

I want dearly to return to India. I’ve seen much of the south and northwestern parts, but there is so much to the vast country that one can never really do more than scratch the surface of one place at a time. The heat and culture simultaneously envelop you, and once you make peace with the chaos it all becomes sort of… beautiful (with the exception, of course, of the abject poverty.)

 

Walking in India

Walking in India

 

I want to return to India because traveling there has taught me a lot about life outside of my own little westernized bubble. And at risk of sounding overly westernized still, traveling there has also taught me a lot about me because there’s no safety net. How do I handle situations when I’m not in control? How do I handle being challenged by others, what do I do when I feel ripped off? How do I deal with the unexpected?

Because you will be challenged, you will be ripped off, you will find the unexpected, and you won’t be in control. And in the end, that’s what makes it so enjoyable. You don’t like “it” so much as what it has taught you.

Crazy India

Crazy India

 

Water palace

Water palace, Jaipur

 

Keep calm and carry on: Staying sane in India

There may be a reason yoga is performed so often in India: it helps people center themselves amidst the chaos of their lives. I’ve never really done yoga, although I imagine it would help and I’d like to try it sometime. In the meantime I came up with my own personal way of staying centered and staying sane while traveling there. Once I got this down I felt like I had hit my stride, and that I could continue traveling in the country for as long as I wanted and in the face of any challenge.

Rain in Delhi

Focused on the beautiful rain in Delhi, not on the utter chaos of the bazaar behind my window.

1) Go with the flow.

Understand that few things will go according to plan. When I took a bus from Jaipur to Agra, it made no sense at all. I showed up at the right time and place, and no one was there. At all. Realizing I may have been duped, I waited around a while. A local man soon showed interest in my plight, and through body language and hand signals he guided me down an unmarked and unpromising side road. Soon a loaded bus pulled up and the man waived goodbye to me as I boarded. I was utterly unsure of where my final destination might be, but I was willing to try. I was thoroughly confused – I was the only one there, I wasn’t at a bus stop of any kind, and a random man had guided me to the unmarked spot. Everything worked out just fine, and I got to where I wanted to go.

Things won’t work in your hotel room, you won’t be able to see all the sights you want, your food order will come back wrong, and you will be ripped off. Just go with it.

Go with it

Go with it: an Indian taxi in Jaipur

2) Pace yourself.

When I first started traveling I wanted to see IT ALL. I still do, but not in the capitalized sense. I once would have been happy to rush from sight to sight, seeing the tourist landmarks but quick to miss all the small things that constitute present day life for those who live there. Now, I have a far more relaxed attitude towards travel. I want to go slow. I want to spend time at the cafe, slowly sipping coffee as I overhear conversations, meet locals, and generally plan my day. If I can see one major tourist sight in a new city, it’s a huge success. If I see nothing but share some great stories with fellow travelers, or if I can meet a few locals over a beer, that’s a huge success too.

One tourist sight per city

One tourist sight: not so bad when it’s the Taj Mahal!

 

3) Find a place that’s yours and spend time there.

This may be mostly because I’m an introvert and I need some me time to recharge, but I suspect that we all need a place to call our own. Find it, whether it’s a hotel room, a restaurant, or a lookout point. In a country of 1.2 billion people, it’s really hard to find your own space, but once I did and I devoted myself to spending time there, my trip became 100% better.

My own place

My own place: I was eating alone at a rooftop restaurant when I snapped this.

 

4) Appreciate the oddness and the beauty around you.

It’s easy to get frustrated when you go out. It feels like people are rushing everywhere around you, happy to bump into you should you not get out of their way. Cars, cows, and motorbikes all speed by. It feels like a mess. Realize that this is normal here, and that you are now a part of it. There’s no escaping, so make your own way through, and try to appreciate the experience of being awash in it all.

Oddness of India

Appreciate the beauty… and the oddness

 

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Comments ( 8 )

  • David

    Nice imagery. Looking forward to visiting India one of these days.

  • Alexis Kensey

    Well thanks for the tips. I am already nervous about my (hopefully) trip to India in December. It just seems all too perfect and beautiful, but very intimidating

  • Jeff | Planet Bell

    Great tips and beautiful photos. I found that in India you have to be very patient and also embrace the madness. If a tuk tuk driver won’t quote a fair price, laugh and move on. If you are packed into a train with tons of other people, enjoy the chaos for what it is. And if a persistent touts follows you down the street, turn the tables and try to sell him something. India is a huge challenge, but enormously fun also. It is my favorite country.

  • Francis Cassidy

    Interesting read. After spending 5 months travelling and photographing India I agree with much of what you say. There is no doubt that it is as intense a destination as you will travel anywhere, but I did find that the longer I spent there the more barable it became. Sticking out like a tourist is a sure way to have a miserable time in India, and after realising that, things began to change for me. For sure it’s a place I’ll be going back to as it is undoubtedly the country that has changed me most from a mental standpoint, although I know that future visits will not be stress-free. It’s a rollercoaster travelling India!

  • Rekha

    Just got to this page by accident while browsing through some travel options …I am an Indian and in Delhi and if you need any help with tips before your journey to India feel free to ping me.
    No, I do not charge or need any details from you or anything else…don’t even bother to tell me your name if you wish…except I love traveling and know how it is to be in another country and will be happy to help if someone needs any tips in my country.
    I know for someone from western country it is not easy here 🙂

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