The No-Frills Guide to India
Jessica French & Bethany Dixon, Liverpool
Before you roll your eyes and sigh at yet another account of vet students going to a neutering clinic, please hear us out! This is a frank and brutally honest recount of our adventures in India. We’ve found previous accounts have over-looked some essential words of wisdom, so we feel duty-bound to pass on some tips we wished we’d have known earlier! Here is our “no-frills” guide to surviving India…….
1. Be prepared for nothing to go to plan…
Particularly, if it involves the Indian administration…. Go for 1 month maximum and get the e-tourist VISA. If you apply for a full VISA you will have to resign yourself to filling it out multiple times, waste hours at the embassy (of which there are only a few in the country) all to be told that they could revoke it last minute, for no reason… (and definitely do not apply mid-3rd year exams!)Equally, when in India, do not assume that when booking (and paying for!) a train to the airport, that you have in fact booked a seat. It is safer to assume that you have actually booked yourself onto a waiting list and may or may not be allowed to board the train on the day. You may be required to desperately seek assistance from any well-dressed fellow traveller, who you hope speaks good English (as police or train station staff will not assist), and get smuggled on regardless.
2.Get small change!
Be clear that nothing in India is free. You will find it incredibly hard to barter when you are desperate for the toilet, after a 4-hour long drive, armed only with a 1,000 rupee note. In this situation, we had to resign ourselves to buying horrendously overpriced, out of date ‘Pringles’ to get adequate change to pay off the ‘toilet guard’. In short learn from our mistake and carry small change.
3. You will have some hairy incidents!
These mainly revolved around roads, and crossing them. If you take our hard-learned advice, you will learn to adopt any nearby locals, who will often gesture and kindly designate themselves your road-crossing guardians (this was very much appreciated!). If this default position fails, we resorted to taking a deep breath and a leap of faith and just walking predictably, straight forwards! Somehow, miraculously we lived to tell the tale!
4. Embrace the fame!
Now neither of us would have ever considered ourselves exotic specimens and during our time in India it’s safe to say while covered in dust and sweat we most certainly did not look our best! Despite this we still managed to attract a rather large crowd wherever we went. Initially this was baffling, but by the end of the month, it was downright tedious, especially when attempting to admire the Taj Mahal. If you enjoy being the centre of attention – India is for you!
5. You’ll never really be prepared for the chaos
Before we left the UK, we felt pretty prepared for what was to come upon our arrival in India. We expected the mass of bodies, the livestock wandering the streets and we expected it to be loud. We were ready to be met by a completely different culture and were happy to embrace it, however neither of us were fully prepared for the physical hammering we received from suitcases, elbows, and being barrelled into! Feeling dazed and having sustained multiple injuries whilst attempting to get our first bus in India, we gave up and got ripped off by a taxi driver instead. We did have more successful dealings with public transport during the rest of our trip, but it’s maybe not one to try after 26 hours of travel!
6. It’s OK to be tired……
Being in a foreign country with a different language and culture is HARD and if anyone tells you otherwise then they aren’t doing it right! At times, we felt guilty for wanting an early night and wanting to stay in but sometimes it’s just what you need to re-charge, and occasionally a mid-day nap is in order, as Beth is kindly demonstrating…. (she demonstrated this with alarming regularity)
7. You won’t just ‘glow’ or ‘lightly perspire’, you will SWEAT!
ALL the time! It’s 40 degrees +, and trust us, no amount of showering will sort that out. But it’s ok because so is everyone else! In fact, we didn’t notice how sweaty we were until, regrettably, we looked back through the photos!
8. Do not tangle with the holy cows of India!
Don’t assume any of the vast work experience you have done with cattle can prepare you for the holy cows of India. Their holy-status seems to have manifested as a “God complex”. They are, in fact, the only form of ‘Highway Code’ apparent on the roads, and when shooed (if you aren’t very careful), you will get launched across the compound. But you can keep them sweet by feeding them chapattis – they LOVE them!
9. 24/7 sensory assault
Prepare your senses as India is a blast of colour, a taste sensation and quite possibly the loudest place on earth! Life seems to be a constant competition to be heard, even the animals and insects join in. If the heat doesn’t keep you from sleeping, the noise will. The smells of cooking, spices and incense surround you like a fog wherever you go. Some of the best smells can be experienced in India …. but also, some of the worst! While on our way to our hostel in Delhi we found a stall selling wonderful smelling street food, however no more than a metre away, there was an open urinal, flowing downhill... tasty! We can honestly say we have never smelt anything quite so …. Pungent, and as vet students we consider ourselves to have been exposed to some horrendous smells.
10. No matter how much you love curry you will be craving good ol’ British comfort food!
The Indians like their tea breaks, which we were certainly not complaining about! We could fully embrace ‘chai o’clock’ and consider ourselves big fans of Indian food. However, 4 weeks of Dhal took its toll and we both began salivating about the thought of full English breakfasts and Sunday roasts we had planned for our return!
11. You will be free from all Health and Safety constraints!
We weren’t surprised by this in general life; this is the country where they pile 7 people on a mo-ped, people hang off the roof on trains and fix power lines that are still live…. But expect nothing less while in veterinary practice. Who said you can’t pass a nasogastric tube in a bronking horse, try to give an 800-kilo free-roaming bull an IV or examine a wound on the nose of a rather aggressive camel and all whilst wearing flip-flops?! We prayed to all and any Gods, that our toes might survive another day!
12. Its normal to have ‘Bad India Days’
It’s a common symptom of 4 weeks cooped up, without air conditioning, frustrating miscommunications, bartering against ridiculous ‘tourist’ tax, fending off cameras, being ‘helped unhelpfully’ and being constantly surrounded by suffering. Whilst all these emotions and challenges can be difficult, it’s why we went to India and it comes alongside all the surprise, hope and beauty it has to offer!
13. Be prepared to make friends with all creatures, great and small!
In a place where the floor can be crawling in biting bugs, and (poisonous!) snakes slither past casually – the sight of a gecko or lizard scuttling along the floor will send all men squealing! If you’re terrified of insects India may not be the place for you, particularly after the rain! You will share your room with enough invertebrates to stock the bug isle in pets at home and there’s nothing you can do to change it!
14. And Finally…… No matter how hard it’s been you’ll want to go back!
Unlike the very spiritual lady at STA assured us when we were booking our flights, we did not “find ourselves” in India, in fact we didn’t even get a tan but what we did find were some amazing experiences, a lot of laughs and for all our typical English complaining we’d go back in a heartbeat!