Having been to India twice this year, for a total of six weeks combined, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on what India puts a person through, physically, mentally and emotionally. People have conversations all the time about how they would react in certain situations, such as, would thy really jump and take a bullet for someone? Would they bail on a friend out of fear in an incredibly difficult situation? etc… The same goes for those conversations of “would you rather”. Would you rather sleep on a subway floor, or eat food off of some one else’s dirty plate?
India answers all of these questions, and on your own path to self-discovery, India will not only tell you ‘what your made of’, but it will damn well slap you in the face with it. Of course it depends on how rugged of a traveler you are. If you enjoy luxury, chauffeurs, and “white people”, this isn’t the right blog for you… but I can admit, that luxury, chauffeurs and the main population of touristy white folk is really affordable in India. If you enjoy, for lack of a better phrase: “Roughing it”. Then listen up, this is what you will need to have with you at all times while backpacking through out India.
1) Purell. On Semester at Sea, our doctor referred to our hand sanitizer aboard the ship as Little Brother Purell. He would encourage us to stop by and give Little Brother Purell a nice slap. So take Little Brother Purell with you everywhere you go. Unless you want to buy water to wash your hands, you wont find a lot of it. Dirt seems to stick to you and even after a few showers, you will still find it caked in the creases of your elbows and in between your toes. Sanitation standards are different in India than what we are accustomed too, and in certain areas, you will find your self constantly dodging cow dung, wads of spit, pigs and piles of garbage in corners. Your hands will be touching everything, including wiping all the sweat, grease and dirt that seems to be permanently stuck to your face. Sanitize yourself, and keep your stomach and immune system happy.
2) Toilet Paper. It took me a while to figure this one out… but the Indian culture frowns upon toilet paper. They see it as dirty instead of clean. They usually do like the Europeans and rinse themselves off after with water, so they think we’re just mushing everything around with the ‘wipe method’. Therefore, unless you’re staying in tourist hotels, and big cities like Delhi or Agra, you should pack a roll and keep it in your day pack. Camping stores have toilet paper-to-go. It’s compact and comes with its own carrying case.
3) Ugly shoes. I repeat- UGLY SHOES. I have never returned home from India with the same shoes. I don’t understand how, but India did a number on them.. My converse bottoms fell off, my flip-flops wore a hole in the ball of the foot. By the end of my stay, I was walking on the road barefoot with only protection on the upper part of my feet. The smell never quite leaves your shoes either, no matter how many times you wash them. So bring a pair you’re not to fond off, and you wont care that you’ll most likely have to leave them at the hostel by the end of your stay.
4) Face cloth. It may sound weird but just a tiny small one to keep in your pocket, even a handkerchief works wonders. When your hot you can get it wet and put it on your neck, you can wipe the dirt and sweat off of your face and chest with it. You can even clean down your plate before you eat. It is miraculous.
5) Sleeping bag liner. India is too hot for a sleeping bag, but I would consider it suicide if you didn’t bring a liner to sleep in. Those hostel beds are an excuse for even the smallest version of clean. Sure they may be soft, but I would never trust those brown sheets and lumpy pillow. No matter how many times you ask them to change your sheets, their version of clean still consists of brown marks and hair from the previous tenants. (Of course, this does not apply to all hotels and hostels, but it’s nice to be weary of it).
Of course there are other things you should know, such as covering your knees and shoulders in India unless you want to extremely disrespectful to the culture, pay an extra fine for a cover up in certain temples or just look like a plain old basic symbol for sex. Be careful.
Otherwise, happy travels and if your going to India soon, I would love to know where your heading!