Let’s just say I didn’t have a very positive experience in India. India is a notorious for being a very difficult and trying place to travel. Long distances, vast overpopulation, harsh poverty (and an even harsher economic divide and caste system), the inevitable food poisoning, among numerous other hardships make India one of the most challenging places to visit. I am surely oversimplifying a much more complex socio-economic situation and for sake of word length will save that for another day. And I do have profound respect for a population who pushes on day by day in these harsh conditions while we only breeze in for a few days, or weeks and can just as easily leave the struggle. And many travelers do come out the other side with a deep love for one of the worlds most unique nations. Due to a number of circumstances, we did not. My hope is to guide you away from our mistakes so that you can enjoy the beautiful side of India.
By my observations and having talked to a number of Westerners who loved India, most of these travelers find enlightenment in India if you hide with westerners in an ashram, with all your meals and accommodation covered, or in the comforts of a private driver shepherding you via air con luxury to your next destination, if you spend your days on the beach in laid back Goa or if you hole up in your hostel drinking Bang Lassis, and ripping joints (I.e. Pappi Chulo in Pushkar). In these instances, true acceptance of India and enjoyment of the “beauty” of the people can only come when you’re fully integrated into their society, living there. As a walking dollar sign, it’s impossible to find any way to truly appreciate or even absorb the culture of India. Constant harassment and hustling is tolerable in many tourist centers but in India it prevents one from having a second to even observe. The only peace comes from a rooftop, from faraway, and maybe if you’re lucky sitting in a square for a few minutes before a group of locals ask you to take another selfie.
That being said, we spent a weekend with a group who volunteered in small communities and absolutely loved their time. And others who traveled with family or friends living in India who had a spectacular time. In both instances, these individuals were able to skip past the onslaught of tuk tuk shaking you down incessantly for a ride somewhere or touts providing false information so you buy their tour packages. This group broke through the third wall and actually engaged with real Indian communities and fell in love with their people and culture.
Our experience fell outside of these sweet spots. Our days of drinking all day at our hostel are long gone, and for some reason we opted out of doing the yoga ashram or volunteering and couldn’t afford a private car. This left us exposed to three weeks of moving ourselves from tourist site to tourist site, negotiating everything we did, and only ever meeting those who fed their families with tourist dollars.
Avoid Monsoon: given our travel timeline, we were more or less cornered into catching the last couple weeks of monsoon. We read about the benefits of monsoon, ranging from super granola (I.e. Ayurvedic medicines being best during monsoon) to super practical (everything is cheaper). Despite the great deals, we ran into some major issues. First, our stuff was always wet. Things get itchy when your stuff doesn’t dry. Second, since it was low season and most tuk tuk drivers and touts at the major tourist sites rely on tourist dollars to survive, you become THE prime target for hustling. Sure you can negotiate cheaper prices with less demand, but I’m not sure that trade off is worth having 10 hands pulling on you and your bags to get in their taxi every time you step off a bus. The major monsoon season runs from around May / June to September / October.