Getting India wrong

women, travel in India

Photo courtesy Clare of Wayfarer Diaries.

Things I got wrong as a solo female first time traveller in India

This guest post is by Clare of Wayfarer Diaries. Clare and I met online and I was captivated by her blog. She experiences travel in India openly, with a beginner’s mind, and is able to capture her experiences in words that seem to flow effortlessly. Here’s her impressions of India as a first time visitor.

“It’s magical.”

“It’s terrifying.”

“It’s full of amazing people.”

“It’s not safe.”

“Eat the street food.”

“Don’t eat the street food.”

It seems that everyone has an opinion on India, and often those opinions are as conflicting as the country itself. But however much advice you take on, however many pictures you have in your head or packets of Dioralyte in your backpack, India will surprise you at every turn.

I travelled through India, mostly solo, for three months recently — my first time in the country. Travelling from Kerala to Delhi, from the sun-kissed beaches of Goa to the rushing chaos of Mumbai through to the magical deserts of Rajasthan, I threw myself into something of a baptism of fire for my first taste of the Indian travelling experience. And I got a lot wrong. Some days I felt like I got everything wrong. But India is nothing if not a teacher, and hopefully others can benefit from my hard won lessons. So, from the perspective of a first timer, here’s just some of the ways I got it wrong in India.

I went in with expectations

I have dreamed of India since I was very young. A world of genies and elephants and dancing princesses, a place where imagination manifests in reality. When I first stepped onto Indian soil, I tried to match the colours and chaos all around me to the pictures in my head, but I quickly learned that India is unimaginable. The colours, the noise, the smells and the sheer number of people… my expectations were quickly either disappointed or blown out of the water, because India is endlessly unpredictable. I learned to take it as it is, embracing each experience as my own and without judgement, as there is really no yardstick to hold India against.

travel food India

Photo courtesy Clare of Wayfarer Diaries.

I thought I knew what curry was

I love an Indian takeaway as much as anyone. In fact, for my last meal at home before I set off on my travels back in September, I chose a curry from our local Indian restaurant, and I was excited to try what I thought of as Indian food in its home country. The thing is, Indian food in India is a completely different ballgame. The food is incredible, exciting and aromatic and full of a thousand flavours that dance across the tongue. I ate a simple Gujarati meal with a local family in their home, perfect samosas from nondescript street vendors, rich gravy dishes and breakfast dosas in Kerala — all of it delicious but none of it similar to the ‘Indian food’ I am used to in the West. From crisp buttery naan to soupy spiced dahl, creamy paneer masala to puffs of puri that dissolve like clouds on your tongue, it is just so good, but it is not merely curry. Indian people are very clear on that.

I underestimated the train booking system

The train booking system in India is difficult, to say the least. For starters, it’s pretty complicated. Some trains have seven different seat classes, there’s waiting lists and intricate coach allocations and last-minute tourist quota tickets. Then there’s the fact that the trains are very, very busy and book up sometimes months in advance, leaving your itinerary in tatters. Most of my travels prior to India took place in Southeast Asia, where a hundred tour operators will literally fight to get you onto a bus or train to wherever you wish to go, usually equipped with snacks and clean drinking water, so the days of effort required to make travel arrangements here came as something of a shock. My style of travelling is usually very open, I like to leave myself free to change my plans last minute to travel with a new group of friends or include alternate locations that I hear about along the way. In India I had to adapt this and incorporate much more forward planning, or risk missing out on places I wanted to see.

India travel Rajasthan camels desert

Photo courtesy Clare of Wayfarer Diaries.

I tried to be polite

I’m British. Manners are important to us. India is a place in which often, the concept of ‘manners’ as we understand it in a Western context is simply not part of the culture, and I struggled initially with adapting my understanding of ‘acceptable ways to behave towards other humans.’  Pushing and shoving to get a seat on the train, cutting lines at ticket counters, shouting in another person’s face or completely ignoring seemingly reasonable requests (asking an auto rickshaw driver if you can give him money to take you somewhere, for example) are all behaviours that make a lot more sense when you consider that there are around 1.27 billion people in India, all competing for space, and you are probably in their way. When you witness the sheer seething mass of the population in Indian cities, it’s actually amazing how accommodating everyone is of each other. Cram that many people into London and you would see repercussions.

I believed a rickshaw driver when he said he was my hotel pickup

I am not a particularly suspicious person. If someone tells me something, I am not in the habit of assuming that they are lying to me. So when I got off a bus in Jaisalmer at 4 am and was greeted by a smiling man with my name on a sign telling me he was Abu, the guesthouse owner who I had arranged to pick me up from the bus station, I saw no need to argue with him. An hour later, when I was woken by the real Abu banging on my door having come to find me, I realized that I had been scammed. It turned out that a man who worked with the bus company in Jodhpur had called ahead to another guesthouse, given them my name and told them when I would be arriving, and arranged for them to pick me up instead. Thankfully they only took me to the wrong guesthouse, and not somewhere more sinister, but lesson learned. Although I met some wonderful, kind and helpful people in India, I quickly learned that when it comes to money, you simply cannot trust everyone.

India travel

Photo courtesy Clare of Wayfarer Diaries.

I lost my ear plugs

India is really, really loud. Honking car horns, calls to prayer, non time-specific cockerels, wedding parties that go on into the night, people shouting at each other — all this adds up to a pretty much constant din, which can make things like sleeping and long journeys on public transport very difficult. This was initially solved by my trusty little foam ear plugs, which I then lost in about week three, and didn’t get a full night’s sleep from there onwards. Three pieces of essential travel kit in India: hand sanitizer, toilet roll, earplugs. Don’t lose them, unless you like being kept awake on sleeper trains by Indian men shouting down their phones at 3 am and then replaying the tinny ringtone aloud for the next half hour, just because they really like the song and feel that everyone else on the train should benefit from their taste in music.

And then I lost my temper

Logistically, India throws down a gauntlet of situations that test every ounce of resourcefulness and patience. More than anywhere else I have ever travelled, I found myself confronted by my own failings and flaws, forced into uncomfortable introspection by the challenges of my environment. And one of those discoveries was my quickness to anger and blame when things don’t go my way. Some of the situations I encountered prompted responses ranging from tears of helpless frustration to flashes of hot rage, but I realized early on that there really isn’t any point in getting angry. Things go wrong and people make mistakes. When I ended up having to sleep in a train station because my train was delayed by 12 hours, the best thing to do was simply to accept it. Getting angry wasn’t going to make the train come any quicker, and everyone else had far too much going on to care about my tantrum.

I thought that India would be like any other place on earth

India is infinitely varied, vibrant, charismatic, enlightening, frustrating, defeating, clamouring. It offers both the most incredible experiences and the toughest challenges you will ever face while travelling, and it can be completely exhausting.

By the end of my three months there, I came to a point where my emotions had no real grounding in the context of my experiences — memorably realized when I burst into tears in the back of a tuk-tuk for no apparent reason, to the absolute horror of the driver. I became accepting of the fact that in a day I could swing from elation to tears, from contentment and peace to frustration and despair, simply because of the intensity of every day there. Never have I learned so much from a place, and never have I felt simultaneously so immersed and yet alienated whilst travelling.

You cannot simply be in India, the place consumes you, envelopes you and buries itself deep in your heart, becoming part of you like it’s tattooed into your skin. If you fight it you will lose. But if you succumb, letting yourself be carried on the waves, you will find a country like no other; a place that is bigger than the sum of it’s geographical parts, a place that changes you from the inside out. And I know that it will pull me back again and again.

travel India

Photo of Clare, courtesy Clare of Wayfarer Diaries.

About Clare 

Clare is a 26-year-old solo female traveller from Yorkshire, England. An aspiring writer and designer, she quit her job in digital communications last year and is currently travelling around Asia taking photographs, eating her body weight in fried stuff and noodle soup, and writing about her adventures on her blog the Wayfarer Diaries. 

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57 Responses to Getting India wrong

  1. Scott March 17, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

    Yep . . . pretty much a first trip to India 🙂 You, in my humble opinion, made some good sense of it . . . (as if “sense” has anything to do with anything India 😉 )

    I believe that there are as many India’s as there are visitors to it. India (in many, many ways), for me, is really less about India, than about myself . . . it finds all my buttons, and pushes each and every one. I LOVE for that 🙂

    I think that of anything you wrote, I’m glad you “got” the anger part down . . . As a five-timer/almost three years spent in India, I too have “been there” . . . but no, India won’t change for you/us . . . and anger gets us nowhere.

    Safe travels
    Scott

    • Clare March 18, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

      Hi Scott, thank you for your comment! I completely agree, India seems to be a different entity for everyone who visits her, and that is part of the magic. And yes, anger gets us nowhere – a lesson from India that I think more people could do with learning 🙂

      Safe travels to you too,

      Clare

  2. Shalu Sharma March 17, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

    You are spot on about most aspects of India. I agree with you on booking train tickets, its definitely confusing.
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..Holi – Festival of ColorsMy Profile

    • Clare March 18, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

      Hi Shalu, thank you for your comment! I found booking train tickets one of the hardest aspects of travelling in India, logistically. Once I actually got on the trains though, I loved them!
      Clare recently posted..Holy Cow: A Near Death by Cow ExperienceMy Profile

      • Jamie October 6, 2014 at 7:00 am #

        Hi clare, wow trains sound like a nightmare we were just planning on getting one from Mumbai to goa when we got there, should we rather book before hand ? Can I book online ?

  3. AkwaabaGolden March 17, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

    Well written and very interesting post, although I’m not planning to go to India any time soon 🙂 But this post actually did raise my interest…..
    AkwaabaGolden recently posted..Unusual Professions in Africa – Nail CutterMy Profile

  4. matheikal March 18, 2014 at 12:24 am #

    A balanced perspective from a foreigner. I can understand how you must feel when you see the absolute disregard we Indians have for one another while trying to get a seat in a bus or a train, jumping queues and traffic signals… As an Indian, I find such things disgraceful.
    matheikal recently posted..The ArtistMy Profile

    • Clare March 18, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

      Thank you, I’m glad you thought so 🙂 I think it’s just a totally different code of behaviour then I, and other foreigners are used to – but then there are so many people competing for space in much of India that if you stood and let everyone else go first I don’t think you would ever get anywhere!
      Clare recently posted..Holy Cow: A Near Death by Cow ExperienceMy Profile

      • Kashi mallya March 28, 2014 at 2:35 am #

        The strange thing is the same Indians who pushand shoves you for a seat on the train or the bus on along distance train could be offering to share dinner with his family throughout the journey and even invite you to their home at the destination-take it as it comes!

        • Clare April 12, 2014 at 12:08 am #

          Absolutely – I genuinely don’t think it’s intended to be rude in a personal sense, it’s just the way things are! And you’re right, I met the most wonderfully generous and kind hearted people during long distance train journeys, including one young family who insisted on sharing their dinner with me even though they didn’t have a lot. Another way that India amazed me – often it’s those that have the least that give the most.
          Clare recently posted..Holy Cow: A Near Death by Cow ExperienceMy Profile

  5. Travel with Kevin and Ruth March 18, 2014 at 12:36 am #

    One day, we want to experience this confusion. Not quite sure that it sounds totally “enjoyable”, but as travelers we want to experience it.
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    • Clare April 12, 2014 at 12:10 am #

      Not every day in India is enjoyable, but there wasn’t a single day that I didn’t get something out of – even if that thing was a fairly brutal learning experience! I think it’s something that every traveller should experience at least once 🙂
      Clare recently posted..Holy Cow: A Near Death by Cow ExperienceMy Profile

  6. Able Lawrence March 18, 2014 at 1:42 am #

    One can never “get” India completely. As @Scot wrote, you can discover things you can relate to. India is deeply layered, geographically, socio-culturally and linguistically at fundamental levels and that is only the start. This incredible array of exposures right here (and the rest of the world to draw inspiration for those who care), gives a wide array of possibilities and all the freedoms for people to experiment and develop themselves.
    So you will find incredibly diverse people here.
    But people really come into their own when they leave India and settle down (or go back) to more structured environments in the rest of the world.
    Smart people in India create their own little worlds.

    • Clare April 12, 2014 at 12:17 am #

      I agree completely – I think if I spent the next 10 years in India I still wouldn’t feel like I ‘get it’ completely. All you can do, I think, is engage fully with your own experiences of the place and, as you put it, create your own little world. I also agree that leaving India has contextualised a lot of my experiences there, and my feelings about India evolve constantly as I move through other cultures and environments on my travels. I’m intrigued to see how my feelings change after I go back to my own familiar environment at home.
      Clare recently posted..Holy Cow: A Near Death by Cow ExperienceMy Profile

  7. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas March 18, 2014 at 4:31 am #

    This couldn’t come at a better time – I’m a seasoned traveler, but will be going to India for the first time next month. Thanks for the heads up – I’m excited to experience India for myself. It’s a country I didn’t know I wanted to see until the magic fare showed up!

  8. Rachel of Hippie in Heels March 18, 2014 at 5:01 am #

    Wow some of these things I have said to friends, I think I had a very similar experience to you, Clare. After a few months I wound up in tears with dengue fever in Varanasi being told I needed a transfusion- and I thought man, I just want to go home now! Fast-forward 1.5 years and I’m still here! India beat me down, just to pull me back up and now I’m in Goa, still confused as to how it all happened haha but, that’s India.
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..9 Reasons Why You’ll Love Keeping a Travel JournalMy Profile

    • Clare March 18, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

      Hi Rachel, wow 1.5 years that’s amazing! Haha that is India, it just sucks you in – I know I’ll definitely be back as soon as I can. I found Varanasi so intense, I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to be ill there! Glad you’re still there and loving it though 🙂

      Clare
      Clare recently posted..Holy Cow: A Near Death by Cow ExperienceMy Profile

  9. Lauren (English Wife, Indian Life) March 18, 2014 at 5:18 am #

    Great Post, Claire!!

    Gosh, I am also British and I live in India now and after 3 months here I am still holding onto my politeness. It has caused me some problems when weird men approach me and I have been scandalised by aunties pushing my out of the way to get to a wedding reception buffet.

    India is all things except boring.

    I hope you come back soon! Lauren x
    Lauren (English Wife, Indian Life) recently posted..When you start to resemble your papaya…My Profile

    • Clare March 18, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

      Hi Lauren, thank you! I found that too with men approaching me – I’m naturally very smiley and I had to tone that down very quickly! India is certainly not boring, it’s an incredible country and I’ll definitely be back 🙂

      Clare

  10. Veena March 18, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    Such a great post, Clare! A beautiful summation of all that is crazy and wonderful and unique and challenging about India, and also why it keeps drawing people back, year after year. I’ve said many of these things to friends visiting, and I experience some of these myself whenever I return. Beautifully written, and I look forward to following the rest of your adventures on your blog. Best wishes for safe travels!

    Veena xx
    Veena recently posted..book review: divergent [veronica roth].My Profile

    • Clare April 2, 2014 at 9:10 am #

      Thank you, Veena! I’m glad we’ve shared some of the same experiences – India is certainly challenging, but it does exert a pull on your heart more than anywhere else I think. Safe travels to you too!

      Clare x

  11. Jill March 19, 2014 at 2:31 am #

    Wonderful post. Definitely spot on. I’m from the US, met my husband working on a cruise ship and he is from India. I’ve been twice now…both times, by the end of the trip, I feel like I’m ready to go, but the second the plane takes off, I find that I’m missing it and looking forward to going back. I can’t help it. I always miss the food, but luckily after my most recent year in India I have picked up lots of great recipes and can easily satisfy the craving when we’re in the US. I’ve never experienced a place that elicits so many emotions. I love it. Sometimes I need a break from it, but like I said, it doesn’t take long before I’m craving it again.

    • Clare April 12, 2014 at 12:45 am #

      hi Jill, thank you so much 🙂 I know what you mean, by the end of the three months I really felt like I needed to leave, but about a week later I was already plotting how to go back! I’m jealous that you’ve managed to master the art of Indian cooking at home, that’s definitely something I need to get on board with. Craving is a good word, that’s exactly what India does – elicits a pull on your heart that you have to satisfy!
      Clare recently posted..Holy Cow: A Near Death by Cow ExperienceMy Profile

  12. Atul March 19, 2014 at 5:29 am #

    A very well written memoire, desribing the ground realities and emotions beautifully..

  13. MightyTravels March 19, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    Very interesting perspective! I lived in India for a year and the initial adjustment wasn’t easy but once you let it come to you it’s awesome!

  14. Charlie March 19, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    Great advice, I’ve definitely incorporated some of your tips into my own house sitting profile 🙂
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  15. Alana - Paper Planes March 22, 2014 at 12:24 am #

    Oh my goodness – this summed up much of what I felt in my month traveling through India – an experience that I haven’t even tried to put down in words. Going to bed my first night there after landing in Kolkata I physically felt like I had just gotten off a roller coaster – a little shaky and uneasy, a little excited, a little exhilarated, a little unsure I wanted to do it again just yet… Great post, Clare!
    Alana – Paper Planes recently posted..>> The Day-to-Day: Kyoto >>My Profile

    • Clare April 12, 2014 at 12:40 am #

      Thanks Alana! I know exactly the feeling you describe, I felt much the same during my first few nights in Kerala – India is exactly that, a rollercoaster! 🙂
      Clare recently posted..Holy Cow: A Near Death by Cow ExperienceMy Profile

  16. vikrant March 26, 2014 at 5:32 am #

    Really a great post I had ever read about my country thru traveler point of view. Truly well said. You wrote true color of india. After reading it I can’t stop myself to write comment on it.

  17. Shipra March 27, 2014 at 1:29 am #

    Beautiful pics & very nice post. Keep it up.

  18. prashanth March 30, 2014 at 10:01 am #

    ON AN OVERALLL INDIA IS HEAVEN FOR THOSE WHO LOVE IT. WE TREAT EVERYONE EQUALLY IRRESOECTIVE OF REGION, RELIGIOUN, CASTE CREED 😀
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    • smitha April 6, 2014 at 12:54 am #

      Prashanth: I had to address your comment. You know, I know, and everyone else knows that everyone is not treated equally, so denying it doesn’t make any sense nor does it make it disappear. Peace.

    • Clare April 12, 2014 at 12:32 am #

      Prashanth, I have to agree with @smitha on this one. Whilst India is full of wonderful people, I feel that inequality and a reluctance to accept the differences of others is one of the main problems that India faces societally. I witnessed this frequently between different socio-economic and religious groups, as well as experiencing it first hand as a white, female foreigner in the country.
      Clare recently posted..Holy Cow: A Near Death by Cow ExperienceMy Profile

  19. SaravanKumar April 4, 2014 at 2:59 am #

    Train booking is so confusing that we avoid travelling by train though we love to.. You need to have real patience and good contacts to get the tkts confirmed.

  20. Lionel-the-squirrel April 9, 2014 at 8:05 am #

    I’ve read several pieces -like yours- on India, met travellers, wateched documentaries on tv.
    All convey the same message finally : India, allthough amazing, is simply not for me, a middle aged man with a weak stomach and easilyn thrown off balance! I leave it to more adventurous-and younger-people instead. Next winter it will be the Canary islands for me, thanks!

  21. Marcello Arrambide April 9, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    India can be pretty overwhelming and I must say that it isn’t a place for first-time travelers. Well-seasoned travelers however, such as you, will be able to appreciate it better than most people. And this post pretty much proves that 😉
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    • Clare April 12, 2014 at 12:22 am #

      Thanks Marcello – I agree, I think India would be totally overwhelming to a first time traveller, possibly to the extent that a person wouldn’t really get too much out of the experience due to the difficulty of the logistical side of travelling there and the potential for negative experiences. I met a few first time travellers who’d chosen to go there as part of an organised tour group – perhaps that’s the answer?
      Clare recently posted..Holy Cow: A Near Death by Cow ExperienceMy Profile

      • Mariellen Ward April 12, 2014 at 8:37 am #

        Well said, Clare. I have been saying the same thing for many years. You need someone to hold your hand the first time you go to India. It hits you hard. And for some people, it hits them right in the ego, which is a double-whammy because they get defensive and judgemental — whereas the only way to travel really successfully in India (in my opinion) is the opposite. To let go of judgement, and surrender … and thereby discover some secrets of the universe that are not taught or exposed in the western world.
        Mariellen Ward recently posted..Win an Intrepid Travel food tour of India!My Profile

        • Murray Feldman June 2, 2015 at 2:42 pm #

          This is great advice Mariellen. Hard to understand it till you are in it and see how true is really is. India than becomes a totally different experience.

  22. Veronica April 12, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    Thanks for a great read! I really relate to your story. It’s so true about discovering what real Indian food is like.. delicious!
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  23. Charlie April 18, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    Sounds like an incredible experience. I would really love to travel to India, but just haven’t had the opportunity yet, and if I’m honest, am a little scared!
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  24. Shaona April 28, 2014 at 7:03 am #

    It is really great Clare that you considered India for a visit. Well, India is often mis-positioned or mis-interpreted by a lot of travelers reason being both the flaws at our end and the unncessarily fussy attitude of few travelers. I appreciate the fact that you travel with an open mind and i believe that whenever you are travelling to India you should come with a blank mind so that your thoughts are shaped the way you want them to be. Some tips for anyone who is travelling to India first time are: 1. Visit the websites for local railways for updates 2. Download IRCTC mobile apps that helps you stay updated with the train timings, 3. Always take the registration number of the vehichle that is going to recieve/ drop you at your destination. 4. As soon as you board a local cab note down the registration number without informing the cab driver for your safety. 5. keep the mobile numbers of everyone you are connecting with. Indians are generally helpful people but again stay away from any unwanted help – that’s applicable everywhere I guess!

  25. Abhishek Verma May 3, 2014 at 6:50 am #

    You are far too kind. As an Indian citizen, who was raised mostly outside India (Middle East, USA) I decided to rekindle my relationship with my country and see what I can make of here.

    Never have I miscalculated so badly! This is a horrible country, poverty, depravity all around. And it all is a reflection of the ruling class who’ve sold the country to the highest bidder.

    You’re a much braver soul than I am, and you’ve very tacitly mentioned the flailings of India. The truth is, it’s a garbage dump compared to the civilized world.

  26. sisilia May 15, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    You are right on your write up about India and what stood out the most to me about it is the way you accepted and adapted instead of just giving up and calling it names and promising yourself that you will never set foot here again. That’s the spirit girl! And only then do you see the real beauty of anything. As for your observation on how cramming so many people in London would have repercussions, the author in Shantaram novel had the same opinion!You should check that novel:)

  27. Nikhil Thakurdas May 17, 2014 at 3:00 am #

    Hey Clare! Hope you doing well. I am an Indian and just read your blog and come to know about your different experiences in India. I personally believe that different people have different mindset and thus they see the world around them. However, I am impressed with your objective description about your experiences. I am sure that you just not return with bad experiences but also hold beautiful moments in your hearts that lives with you till your last breath. Cheers…:)

  28. jeevan May 21, 2014 at 2:45 am #

    with what India does to us Indians, I surely can understand how it must be for foreigners. .
    at times, we feel as foreign as u do, cos India is not just one, it’s a thousand INDIAS within.. 🙂

  29. Kanwaljit Singh June 2, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

    Oh my God this post is so correct. I am from India but living in USA and reading this post makes me miss India all the more…

  30. Harine October 8, 2014 at 5:54 am #

    Wow.. Loved your article.. Being an Indian, at times I too feel some things are not perfect but there is something that will make you fall in love with the country..
    Harine recently posted..Trip to Paris and Switzerland- Day 3 Part 2 – Rue Du Commerce, Champs Elysses and Arc de TriompheMy Profile

  31. Char November 6, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    India certainly had a big impact on me when I visited. I totally agree with “just accepting things even if they don’t go your way”, it gave me clarity and resilience and taught me the hard way.

  32. praful thampi December 10, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

    Clare, you well said about India… you can find everything in this world in India… She is rich as well as poor… she is dirty but beautiful… she is royal and democratic… if you want to know the real meaning of democracy its India… it is world’s 10th largest economy with lots of poor… world’s richest and poorest in India… ancient and traditional but modern…. still you can meditate in the noisy environment…. multi culture, multi lingual, multi religious, most diverse country in the world, where you can find yourself…. she is unique …. she is beautiful… she is India… Incredible India.

  33. Satish babu June 10, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

    Clare you described India in a nice poetic manner. Its hard to find these days such beautiful language ( May be it is due to you are British) .
    In fact your narration has made me to see My India with your thoughts ( even though I was not interested in this content originally)
    We have a lot of different people united by the English Folks. South, North, East and West Indians. You can see 30+ languages and 30+ cultures From Kashmir (at top) to Kanyakumari (at bottom). May be, you can call it to be mini Europe (Dont get angry as I am Comparing to Europe, only in terms of multi cultural and linguistic differences).
    Already many people described India, here. I dnt want to write somuch
    But, truth in India is, poor people wanted to earn easy money and that result in cheating, looting, robberies etc. Especially, western women are advised not to travel alone due to the problems created by uneducated people. Hence, be safe while you travel through India and advise your friends aswell

    Good Luck
    and Finally, Thanks for writing good about India as many times I end up in hearing only bad things done by the Indians to the westerns that makes me feel bad and inferior

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