Heres an insight into the complex culture that is India, based on my personal observations:
The amount of cars and people on the streets is unfathomable. The most shocking part of India is the driving. Oh my god. After the first ride I was ready for a Xanax and I wasn't even driving!! The cars drive at full speed and weave in and out of traffic, again, at full speed. And when I mean weave, I mean there's about half a foot space between you and the car next to you. They don't obey traffic signals and freely drive on the wrong side of the road.
There is a constant noise of car horns. You honk every time you are about to pass someone. It's like rearview mirrors might as well not exist. Not only is the actual driving shocking, the things you see on the drive are even more shocking. You could see anything while driving through India, like anything.
I'd say half of the vehicles on the road are motorcycles. These guys literally take their lives into their own hands. Not only that, riding on a motorcycle can be a family-affair. Most of the time you'll see 3-6 people piled onto one motorcycle. Entire families climb aboard, children and babies included. You'll also see people go by on motorcycles carrying giant sacks of rice, ladders or huge tins of milk. Since the women are wearing Saris, they don't even sit with one leg on each side. They go full speed without even holding on to the driver and sitting sidesaddle. All of the driving practices are definitely illegal in the states.
^^Can you spot the baby?
^^ Just like Chile, everyone drives white cars
^^ Rickshaws are used as taxis
^^ Everyone just piles in
There are several different languages spoken in India. Generally, it depends on which part of India you are visiting. We had some natives in our group who did not speak the same language so they had trouble communicating. I find it fascinating that they're from the same country but can't communicate between each other. One of the most widely spoken languages is Hindi. Hinduism is also the primary religion of India, where about 80% practice Hinduism. Another popular religion is Muslim.
Overall the Indian people are very kind and helpful. Almost everyone we encountered was so polite, and always calling us "Ma'am" or "madam". If you needed anything, they would get it for you, and I mean anything. They love to help, sometimes a little too much. At dinner they will serve you and wait for the second you finish your drink to bring you another one. They're almost insulted if you try to serve yourself. The women are generally reserved and don't speak much. Everywhere we went people would stare at us because we are white. So many people asked to take photos or selfies with us, making us feel like celebrities.
I will say that the lower-class people and merchants are quite pushy. For this reason, the market shopping made me very anxious and overwhelmed. Everyone shouts at you to come visit their shop because they perceive all white-people as rich. When they see your skin-color, they make the prices 10 times as high. One of the doctors traveling with us was Indian, however now living in The U.S. They also jacked-up the prices for her because they could hear a difference in her accent. They are very smart, and very good sales-people.
^^ A bangle shop
The head nod
The funniest cultural thing we encountered was "the head nod". So many Indian people shake their head, sort of like a bobble head, in conversation. I'm pretty sure it means "okay" but it can also mean "I'm listening to you" or "I acknowledge". It's basically a combination of a nod and a head shake (yes and no). So whenever we'd ask a question, on numerous occasions, we'd have to ask "so... is that a yes, or a no?"
I can't even begin to breakdown the religions in India. They mainly practice Hinduism. But within that, there are 4 or 5 different belief systems which all vary from each other. Hinduism believes in one divine creator. But also in many other gods who are either his reincarnation or other deities. Lord Ganesh is my favorite and he is one of the most popular Gods. He is the remover of obstacles (or he puts obstacles in your way if you need them) and he brings luck. Like most of their stories, there are a million different versions on the way he got his elephant head. Literally everything is symbolic, everything. Their religion systems are so complex that I can't follow most of it.
Indian food has a very distinct flavor, no matter what you're eating. Traditionally, the people do not use silverware. They eat with only their right hand. After the meal they eat these seeds that taste similar to black licorice to help digest and clear the pallet. Most of the Indian food is very spicy; I love spicy, but Indian-spicy is another level.
I'll be honest, for most of our meals, we asked our mentor to just order for us because we had no idea. We had a lot of different rices with chicken and pita-type bread you dip in various sauces like curry or chutney. Overall I did like the food, but towards the end, I missed Western food and eating raw veggies and salad. We had to be very careful with what we ate. We were offered many nice things like sugarcane juice, which is a staple in India, but unfortunately we couldn't drink it. Several travelers have gotten very sick after drinking sugarcane juice.
^^This Dosa tasted like a grilled cheese!
^^Hyderabad is known for their Biriyani
One of my favorite parts about Indian culture is the beautiful and vibrant clothing. All the women wear gorgeous Saris no matter if they're working in the fields or going to a wedding. Jewelry is also very important. The women often wear bangles, elaborate gold necklaces, earrings, anklets and toe-rings. Most women have long black hair that is pulled back into a braid. The men wear long pants and long-sleeve button down shirts no matter the weather. In India, it can get up to 40°C or 105°F, and they'll still be covered from head to toe. Many people go barefoot or they wear sandals. In all the temples we went to, including The Taj Mahal, we had to be covered and remove our shoes.
There are many cows that roam the crazy streets of India, indifferent to the cars whizzing past them. Some even take a snooze right there in the middle of the highway. Cows are sacred in India so it is illegal to kill them. For this reason, the cows are simply released to the streets once they have reached a certain age where they can no longer produce milk. You'll often also see goats and pigs also wandering around.
Of course there are stray dogs everywhere in India, most are very malnourished and look sickly. Occasionally, in places like Jaipur, jaguars and bobcats will come down from the mountains to eat stray dogs because they can't find any food in the mountains :(
^^ I get it from my momma...
The monkeys were so amusing to see. They were all over the place in the northern cities, and especially at tourist sites. The babies were very playful and curious. The monkeys went wherever they damn-well pleased. If he wanted to be on top of a historical monument that was thousands of years old, he went. They even jumped on cars if they saw food in your hand.
^^I love this picture
We saw many motorcycles carrying the whole family and a goat!! Literally a goat just draped over the motorcycle seat!
We also saw a girl on the back of a motorcycle studying. Book in hand and everything.
I saw a monkey that was a different breed than the others and wanted to take his picture. As I did so, he lunged at me and was grabbing my feet. Thankfully he didn't bite me, or I'd be in big trouble. Our guide said that type of monkey is not friendly and once you make eye-contact, they attack.
We were told to tip about 10% for things. Everything is sooo cheap there that to us, it's nothing. When we told our mentor, she started dying of laughter. She said that's waaaay to much. No wonder everyone was so nice to us!
Since the women are still relatively suppressed here, I noticed that at airport security, there will be 3 lines for men and 1 line for women. The women are also frisked behind a curtain, while the men are frisked in public.
Our first driver told me, "you need 3 things to drive in India: 1. Good brakes 2. A good horn 3. Luck
Many of the restaurants would put less spices in our food because we were white. Thank god because even with less spices, we were still struggling!
^^ How cliché
Stay tuned for more India blog-posts!