During the winter of 2013 we cycled across India for 5 months. This is what we saw.
In June/July 2013, when we told everyone about our plan to go to India for a longer period of time, people reacted differently. But most of them were shocked about our choice of destination. India? It’s so dirty. It’s dangerous there. You will get sick in India. Did you know, they are throwing bodies of dead people into rivers? Ok, I understand – India, but why on bicycles? That’s what we were told by our friends and acquaintances, none of whom had been to India themselves.
The fact is – we still went to India, nevertheless. We didn’t even think about possibility to change our initial plan.
And now, after about 5 months here, after cycling all across the country for more than 5300 kilometers, I can say it with even more confidence, that India is just a normal country. With its own differences, yes. But it really isn’t the place where coming to you would need to pass a survival course or take a gun with you.
UPDATED. Now, in January 2016, being in India for the second time, we feel a little bit different. Not having our own vehicle we are approached by taxi and motor rickshaw drivers more often, and it’s really annoying. Last time for most of the time we were somewhere far away from popular tourist attractions. Now we have learned, that, well, we don’t really like these kind places. They are busy everywhere in the world, but it’s India and here they are super crowded. And, as it happens in such a places, there always is someone trying to trick you and so on.
Anyway, for most part our thoughts have stayed about the same.
India is a Very Big Country
3214 kilometers straightly from North to South and 2933 kilometers from East to West.
But despite that, it’s hard to get away from civilization, away from people, shops, gas stations, and drop out of mobile network coverage. There might be days, when you will go for 10 or 20 kilometers without seeing any petrol station or even the smallest roadside shop, but it doesn’t mean, that there aren’t any people some 100 meters away from the road. You never know it.
Keep in mind, that there are more than 1.2 billion people in India.
As a result we always had a possibility to get a drinking water, food and it wasn’t a problem to find an accommodation. For water we had special water purification tablets, that we never used. As in reality we got water for free in gas stations or more rarely – bought from roadside shops. At least biscuits and fresh fruits could be found in all roadside shops.
The same is with hotels. Without advance booking we were able to get a room in more than 100 different hotels all across India, mostly quickly after arriving to the city.
India Differs a Lot from Place to Place
Country is divided in 28 states and 7 union territories. It has two official languages, English and Hindi, and more than 20 regional languages. And those regional languages are used by millions of people not just by a few people in some god forgotten places.
How do two Indians from different parts of the country talk? Most probably in English, as this language is that what unites them. Mix of English and Hindi also is noticeable. Even on television half of the commercial could be in English and half in Hindi.
If we had visited only Delhi and places few hundred kilometers around it, we would say, that India is a very, very dirty country.
If only mountains in the North – we would think, that there are more monkeys in India than cows.
If only Western states – Punjab and Haryana – India would seem for us as quite sparse populated country.
If only deserted Rajasthan – India in our minds would be a country, where most of people are vegetarians.
But coming only to Goa and some popular tourist places in Kerala would lead us to thoughts, that Russians are the only tourists in India.
After visiting only Chennai and places near by we would say to anyone, that India stinks a lot. Because there during an hour long walk you will notice at least 10 men pissing on the streets, but beaches and rivers in this city are extremely dirty.
Luckily we had an opportunity to see so much from India
India really is a very diverse country. If you are going to visit more than a few cities, you will notice that for sure. With different languages, different food, different people, different rules and traditions. There are a lot of places, where you can easily forget, that you are in Asia at all. And there are much more places, where to get something from the western world you will need to go for tens or hundreds of kilometers.
The unifying is that country grows. Everything is becoming more clean and western like. But everything traditional is staying as well.
India is Safe Country
Remember – we were three people for most of the time. It will definitively feel different if you will be traveling in India solo, as it always is.
In comparison for me now it seems similar as safe as Riga (capital of Latvia). Only in Riga, if you will leave your bicycle outside on the street for 24 hours or more, it will be the last time you see it. In fact, leaving your bicycle outside for more than 5-10 minutes already is not a good idea. In India our bicycles stayed outside for 95% of the nights, few times when we were camping – also with our bags on them. Result: 2 stolen helmets and 3 back lights, in 5 months. Not a big deal, huh?
When walking on the street (after you are used to it) feeling is the same as in Europe. Everything is fine till the moment when you see these they-must-be-criminals looking guys. You pass them and you feel fine again.
At the beginning discomfort may be caused by the fact that there are so many people. Always. Everywhere. But after some time you get used to it, too.
No – India is not that scary as it looks on television and online news.
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and a travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they have been traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On We Are From Latvia they share their experience and things learned along the way.