Today’s post is by Carmen Everywhere
Many people have India in their bucket list for countries to visit. For international visitors, India is considered a heaven for “temple and heritage” lovers and with India being as big as a whole continent, it surely has plenty to offer.
- one who makes a tour, esp. for pleasure.
When we visit a new country, specially overseas, we are considered tourists. Someone who visits a new place for leisure and interest. I have always have a special interest in Indian culture and people. This only grew bigger after watching many Bollywood movies a few years back. An Indian friend introduced me to those, and I admit I felt fascinated by the amount of dances, moves, music and love stories going on. So, I decided I had to visit India.
I went there for the first time in 2011 to volunteer in the slums. Through this experience, I got to know the less economically advantaged side of India, although it wasn’t enough. Later, I visited in 2013 where I got into a bit more interaction with locals, but my best trip was in 2015 when I traveled alone for six months.
This experience completely shaped my idea of what it is like to live in India or live with Indians. I got to learn so many interesting facts that I’d like to share them with any future visitors to India and encourage them to experience India as a local, not as a tourist.
So, how did I get to live with them then? I stayed in about 20 households through Couchsurfing. From small towns to cities, and I never had any problem finding a family or a group of people to stay with. Here are the highlights of my experience, which I hope will give everyone a flavor of what it is like to stay with locals in India, and courage to to try it:
Indians are sweet and warm people who enjoy meeting foreigners. They are very excited to learn about your culture and ask you all sorts of questions. Sometimes you will have to correct stereotypes that they have about Westerners, so it’s good for cultural learning for both sides.
Traditional Indians are proud of their heritage and country and take pride in showing you around, answering your questions, getting you involved in their family activities and simply being with you all the time. You’re a member of the family for them and expect you to feel at home.
Having you over is a very good thing, something to celebrate. 90% of Hindus are vegetarian with many of them considering meat eaters immoral, yet they will cook delicious chicken or fish curry for their foreign guests as a form of appreciation. So, I hope the strict vegetarian belief doesn’t apply to us.
There’s a tremendous gap between the majority (98%) and the minority (2%) of the Indian population. The gap applies to income, mindset, education, wealth, exposure to foreigners and so on. Know this: If you hang out with locals in India, you’ll be doing so with the minority of 2% because the rest don’t have access to an acceptable living by Western standards (no access to a computer, Internet, education and minimum level of English). If you’d like to experience the other side of India then I recommend you combine travel with volunteering. This should be very rewarding emotionally and would open our minds.
If you stay with Indians you not only will make friends for life but will also learn things you might have not known otherwise. For example, home-cooked food is not spicy, differs a lot from restaurant food and is always vegetarian. So, forget about the idea that all Indian food is spicy. Indian food is eaten in metallic plates and there’s no specific place to sit and eat. You may sit on the floor, on the sofa or on the bed, so enjoy your meal.
Staying with Indians can lead us to a very comfortable stay, even more than back home. This is because many Indians have maids that do all the house work, dish washing and cleaning. For about 20,000-50,000 INR/month, you can get a maid to come to your house on a daily basis to do the cleaning and cooking. That means that you sit and relax without worrying about washing the dishes, or not picking up your plates after eating. Don’t worry about this. It’s a cultural thing that guests are treated as Gods, hence they won’t let you do anything related to manual work. I learned this the first time I stayed at an Indian household. I got up to put my dishes in the sink after I meal, like I’d do every time I stay at stranger’s home, no matter where. So they stopped and said, “What are you doing ? Don’t worry. You’re our guest.”
Fun things : If the Indians you are staying with or meet have relatives in a village, they may take you there. In fact, they will want you to meet all their friends and relatives. If you go to a village, it’s a good opportunity to observe traditional ways of life that are almost extinguished. You can also see exotic animals like buffaloes. Rich villagers tend to breed them and cows in their villas.
I have just explained the most interesting facts about staying with Indians. Nevertheless, staying with people of a completely different culture requires an open mind and willingness to accept what’s different and to have emotional control when we see things that are considered unfair in your home country (i.e. child labor and others).
You should also expect weird or funny situations at times, and you’ll have many in India. For example, I know for sure that Indians respect solo female travelers more, if we wear Indian clothing. And, that’s what I did all the time. If you wear a kurti not only will you fit in, but also be considered respectful towards their culture. A couple of times however, I was ordered to put on Western clothes before we were going out for sightseeing – this was asked by people my age. It seems that the younger generations are more modern, and Western-oriented, and although Indians are conservative, they love to feel Westernized. Wearing western clothes, speaking with an accent or even better, having foreign friends, is a way to show off this modernization for them, which is exacerbated by the media and the Bollywood culture.
Hence I understand that staying with Indians may not be for everyone, but it is nevertheless a fun and unique experience that I’d do again.
Carmen comes from the Mediterranean coast of Spain, and she has been traveling and living abroad for 15 years. Follow her adventures on Carmen Everywhere, where she blogs about interactions with local culture through food, meeting locals, sharing personal stories and providing recommendations. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.