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30 Interesting Things I Learned in India

My first day in India was quite interesting. Now that I've been in India for exactly 30 days, here are 30 interesting things that I have learned since I arrived.

  1. A hotel is actually a restaurant. Ask for "residence" if you want a place to stay for the night.
  2. If you're at a restaurant (or "hotel") and you want something "to go", you say you want it "parcel".
  3. An "overpass" is more commonly referred to as a "flyover".
  4. Vehicles and bikes use horns liberally; they're about as common as directionals (or "blinkers") are in the USA.
  5. Passing on the roads is a given, regardless of how dangerous a corner is or whether or not there is an oncoming vehicle.
  6. A combination of flashing headlights and horns are often used to convey the message to oncoming cars that they need to slow down because you're passing in the oncoming lane.
  7. Riding a bus (or jeep for that matter) feels somewhat like riding a roller coaster.
  8. When asking where I'm from, people guess the UK before the United States. (Maybe it's more common to find someone from Europe here?)
  9. The power can go out at any time and it's totally normal. One evening I was eating at a restaurant and the power went out. The waiter came by and held a flashlight so I could continue eating.
  10. Power outlets have corresponding switches that must be turned on to get power to that outlet.
  11. The "ON" position for switches is down, not up.
  12. The United States is more commonly referred to as America.
  13. It's possible to look so out of place that even some of the local animals look at you weird.
  14. An 8-passenger jeep can actually transport 22 people (note that I said transport and not "fit").
  15. All restaurants have wash areas; since everybody eats with their hands, it's customary to wash before and after eating.
  16. The Indian government provides multi-day unlimited train passes (up to 90 days) to international tourists. The passes are relatively cheap ($235 for 90 days, or $1,060 for A/C-class).
  17. The most commonly used date format is DD/MM/YYYY. (I really wish the world would standardize on YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS!)
  18. It's not uncommon to see a man relieving himself on the side of the road in Bangalore.
  19. It's not uncommon to see someone sleeping on the sidewalk in Bangalore.
  20. McDonald's sells high-priced food and the crowd inside is very different from the crowd outside.
  21. The beautiful thing about sweating is that everybody else is also sweating (although maybe just not as much). You really don't have to worry too much about smelling bad!
  22. Farmers get subsidized power from the government because the agriculture industry is so important.
  23. The government runs the electric grid. Individuals who produce their own power (solar, hydro, or wind) can sell power back to the government.
  24. Government control of the electric grid is required for equal distribution because there isn't enough power to go around.
  25. Scheduled power outages in cities like Bangalore are commonplace (with a duration of one to several hours long).
  26. During the months where students have their exams, power demand is much higher due to so many students studying at night with a light on.
  27. Due to the power shortages, the government is beginning to encourage alternative energy like solar power.
  28. A common way to travel long distance is overnight on a bus or train; you sleep during the trip and wake up to start the day in the new place.
  29. Twice in the span of five minutes, you can come within inches of something that can kill you (a King Cobra).
  30. You can always find someone willing to help you, even if they don't understand what you're saying.

I spent the first 28 years of my life in the northeast United States with very little exposure to the rest of the world. Exposure to new things, like the things in this list, are a big part of the reason I became a world traveling nomadic explorer -- I knew that it would help me grow and cultivate my curiosity.

By sharing these things with you, I hope I've cultivated your curiosity. πŸ™‚

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27 Comments

  1. The list could almost be applied to what I learned in Viet Nam starting with #4.

    #7: Riding a bus (or jeep for that matter) feels somewhat like riding a roller coaster.

    Made me LOL and I can agree with that one wholeheartedly.

  2. Maybe I’ll just take your list and do a life of djt………. comparison.

    lol… just write about all my vietnam adventures on life of djt………. Wonder if people can wade through and decipher it. Useful info written strangely as a kindeygardener would write it…

  3. Hey Raam!

    Dude! The on switches thing totally confuses me. Even in my own house right now, if someone asks me if a switch is on or off and I look at it, I have no idea

    However, what’s interesting is when I’m leaving the house and want to flip the switches all off, or when I walk in and want to turn them all on, my motor skills and muscle memory (or whatever it’s called, I am probably totally butchering the terms here) remembers which way is on and off, and I can turn them on or off without thinking.

    • Hey Sid!

      I’ve been here a month now and still can’t look at the switches without getting confused! I end up flipping a bunch on/off before finding the right switch and right position! I really wonder how it’s going to affect the way I see switches when I go back to the states!

      Muscle memory (which is the correct term :P) is an amazing thing. Training muscle memory and seeing the results is even more incredible (as often happens with sports). You begin to feel like a higher force takes over when you’re really pushing yourself.

  4. #8. When asking where I’m from, people guess the UK before the United States. (Maybe it’s more common to find someone from Europe here?)

    Answer: Europeans | Australians have more vacation time than Americans and are also encouraged to take times off. We Americans are in the state of constant momentum paradigm without any awareness of the world has the offer.

    Raam, by reading your blogs and seeing your videos, India seems to be very similar to Cambodia in terms of way of life. Cambodia road conditions are way worse than India, we have craters πŸ™‚

    You should see the border between Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, its like heaven and earth. I remembered crossing to Vietnam for a visit and looking back to Cambodia and she was asking for help with her dying vegetation.

    • Hey Sarith!

      Thanks for the answer and for the vivid explanation of the border between Cambodia and Vietnam/Thailand! I will definitely have to see that for myself!

      Are you planning on going to Cambodia (or SE Asia) any time soon? If so, send me an email so we can meet up!

  5. Hey Raam,
    #13 “It’s possible to look so out of place that even some of the local animals look at you weird.”

    Interesting list.I laughed out loud for this one…i’d never imagined that could happen…any animals in particular? πŸ˜€

    • Hey Priya!

      Glad to hear I made you laugh. πŸ™‚

      Which animals in particular? Hmm, at first I noticed the dogs and cats looking at me weird, but then even some of the monkeys and cows seemed to stare!

  6. Love your list Raam…

    opens up our eyes to how the other countries live and why they want to come to america. (not the united states:)

  7. Those frequent power outages! We grow up thinking that power outages are some kind of major disaster, while in many countries it is just a normal part of life and really not such a big deal in the end of course.

    And that’s interesting that Indians can sell power back to the government, I had no idea about that one.

    Thanks for the glimpse into your discoveries!

    • Thanks for the comment, Earl!

      Yes, power in the States is definitely taken for granted! But like you said, in the end it’s really not the end of the world. People make do and life (and the power) goes on.

  8. I’m currently living in Vietnam, planning to move to India in 1.5 months! Just quit my job and striking out to be an entrepreneur.

    I’m gonna start out in Mumbai, but thought of heading to Bangalore. I’m worried that frequent power-outages will prevent me from getting work done during the day… has that been a problem for you?

    Cheers.

    • Hey Jesse! Thanks for stopping by and congrats on quitting your job and leaping into freedom! πŸ™‚

      The power outages in Bangalore are not *that* frequent. They occur in various parts of the city (not the entire city at once) and only for a short period of time (usually an hour or less). Bangalore is a huge tech center so you really don’t need to worry about not being able to work during the day!

      If you have any other questions feel free to contact me.

  9. While the rest of the world wishes Americans would standardise day month year! haha

    Also, The US is known as America everywhere πŸ™‚

    • I always thought year, month, day made the most sense because then it’s greatest to least, in the same order that you read (left to right), which also matches the order of the time on clocks (hour, minute, second).

      That’s so interesting to me that it’s known as “America” around the world. When I think of “America”, I think North America, not the United States. πŸ˜€

  10. Gosh I wonder if I could do it. I love love LOVE yoga and the philosophies and of course the home of yoga is India. I love, love my Indian friends and colleagues and oh don’t even get me started on Indian food YUM! But I am so afraid of visiting India and getting sick since I am so spoiled with my diet (I get sick if I eat fast food which has been known to happen once or twice a year at most or in some very good restaurants, it’s awful) so much as I travel, I shall see India vicariously through you, Raam!!!! Brave man you are!

    • Farnoosh, you could definitely do it! And I bet you’d have the time of your life! India is an incredible place.

      I was initially worried about getting sick myself, but I’ve been living in rural India on a super low budget, eating in places that other tourists ignore, and I’ve been fine! I’m sure if you ate in slightly nicer places and always drank bottled water, you’d also be fine. No need to rush into it, but don’t give up on the idea! Even if you just visit for a few weeks, you’ll have the time of your life.

      In the meantime, I hope my continued adventures whet your appetite! πŸ˜€

  11. Back in October of 2007 I was just getting home from my 3rd trip to India. The first two times were March 1998 and July 1999. I stayed about 3 weeks each time. I loved the people that I met. The country seemed so harsh with the sounds, the dirt, the dryness of the landscape, the poverty (especially the poverty) and the heat. I couldn’t decide how I felt about the country. The people have my heart. They are so resilient.

    1998 was my first trip on an airplane and it was 23 hours long. It was also my first trip out of the U. S. I went with a small group of 5 friends to visit different ashrams of Sai Baba. We were in southern India – Bangalore, KodaiKanal, and Puttiparthi.

    Traveling in India is an adventure all on its own. You are braver than I am if you traveled on a bus. We almost took a trip by train on one of the trips. Later we found out that the train had crashed and many people died.

    Personal space in India does not mean the same thing as to an American. On one of my trips, I broke a toe because I kicked a concrete step that was right in front of me. I couldn’t see it until I walked into it because of the crowd of women that were around me.

    In my trips to India, we landed at the airport in Mumbai at 2:00 a.m. and had our first sight of India from the air. I have never seen so many lights in one city. We boarded another smaller plane to fly to Bangalore where we spent a few days adjusting to the time change. Bangalore is full of noise and people everywhere. I told my husband just recently that I would not trust his driving or mine in India. The taxis, cars, trucks, buses, rickshaws, motor scooters, bicycles and people walking are all going in different directions at the same time with horns blasting and car exhaust fumes burning your eyes and nose if you are unlucky enough to be in a taxi without air conditioning. It is like nothing I have ever experienced in my life. It surprised me that I wasn’t terrified. I laughed through a lot of the near misses. It was so amazing. I swear they drive by intuition alone. Nothing else explains why you see so few accidents. If Americans drove like that we would have accident pile ups all over the place.

    My biggest fear of going to India was the cobras. Thank God, I never saw any snakes in our travels. We did do some sightseeing in the surrounding countryside and our taxi even broke down for several hours on the side of the road just after dawn in the middle of nowhere on our trip to KodaiKanal.

    You didn’t mention bathrooms and toilets in your post. I would call your hotels, truck stops on our road trip between Bangalore and Puttaparthi. I always take my own toilet paper from home. One of my friends is left-handed and would forget that the left hand is only used for cleaning yourself after using the hole in the floor toilets in many of the places we stopped at. Commodes were more available on our 2007 trip than on the first two trips.

    I took lots of pictures and wrote journals of all three of my trips. A friend says we will go back again but I am not so sure. I will be 59 in December and this kind of traveling isn’t as easy as it was when I was in my 20’s or 30’s. Thanks for bringing back the memories for me.

    • Wow, thank you so much for sharing all those stories, Patricia! It’s incredible to hear the same experiences through the eyes of someone else. I also think it’s amazing how much has changed over the years, and how much hasn’t changed!

      Bangalore was full of people (and motorcycles!) and there was construction on practically every single street.

      I think the trains are definitely a lot safer now than they used to be — you no longer see people riding on the tops of the trains and the number of people allowed in each train is (usually) regulated, so even inside it doesn’t usually get super crowded (though the Sleeper class usually gets a lot more packed than the upper classes).

      Bus rides were still quite dangerous, or at least that’s the way it felt. There were many close calls with the buses passing other buses on the sides of mountains, but I think the drivers know what they’re doing. I simply couldn’t afford to travel by plane when I was there (my budget was only $250/mo) and trains and buses are definitely the cheapest way to get around! πŸ™‚

      Thank you again for sharing!

Webmentions

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  • An Inner Earthquake: My First Three Months Living as a Nomad October 24, 2010

    […] walked more than six miles a day, rode precariously packed jeeps with the locals, and learned many other interesting things that an isolated life in the States would never […]

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