An Open Letter to a Foreign Traveler visiting India

Subject: An Open Letter to a Foreign Traveler visiting India
From: Indian
Date: 21 Sep 2015

Subject: Cultural know-how to Cultural Shock in India

Dear Foreigner,

No offence, you might be a veteran wayfarer, but this letter is addressed to you in respect of your status when visiting our country. Your expedition to every country will be as unique as the countries themselves. Your visit here, to India, will be no different. It’ll teach you things you might have never given a thought to learn, enrich you with experiences – buoyant as well as trying, add to your adventures and leave you with canvas of tales you can paint over and over again.

Without much further ado, I write this to wish you B-O-N V-O-Y-A-G-E, literally, for you're about to embark on a cultural roller coaster, albeit the Indian one. Hang in there, for it gets better! :D

B – BOB, also Body Language

The Indian BOB of the head which is hilariously unfitting in the eyes and heads of the foreigners – pun intended. For the western world, a horizontal bob means a yes, a vertical means a no! Well hello India – we have our version of the universal bob which might be evasive for someone, well not from India. In our defense, that’s the body language disparity. The best bet is to ask for enunciated replies wherever obligatory. There, easy, isn't it?

O – O (Zero, Zilch)

Zero concept of personal space. Apparently, with more than a billion population, this one should be quite palpable. The paucity of place would probably be the reason behind no personal space; also the warm nature of the populace which finds the medium of touch and proximity to connect and strengthen bonds. Don’t get alarmed when you feel your personal space is encroached – civilly take a step back, and signal your discomfort. You might get a confused look, but the best bet is to put it on the table. You see, the concept of personal space is as foreign to us as the lack of it is to you.

N – The 'n' number

This is for the n number of heads you’ll turn when you walk down a street, wait on the bus stand, eat in the restaurant, uhm well you get the drift. And if the time is opportune enough, then the n number of questions and requests too. It might be overwhelming at first but basically this is just because you're actually foreign – distinct looking (obviously!) and most of the stares and questions are just inquisitive in nature. In our defense, it’s all out of concern and awe usually. The best bet – try to blend in as much as you can, apparel-wise, as every traveler is advised to.

V – Veneration of our culture (and all things attached to it)

India is a holy land, that’s a known fact, with a potboiler of cultures and religions. Also known would be the importance religion holds, extending to various people, animals, objects and festivals attached to it. So yeah, cows are holy, trees are revered, idols are worshiped, saints are respected and sacred books are treasured and read. Mystifying? That’s the beauty of it! Surprised? Well, just don’t offend any person or thing and you should be fine. Depending on where you are in this whirlpool of cultures, you will get to witness fervent veneration – each being one of a kind.

O – The Obliging Sort

Whether you’d be in the developed metros or the rustic countryside, you’ll always get a chance to note the helpful nature of the countrymen. And I mean, obliging even if it means going out of the way. Guest has always been an honorabilis for us – you’ll probably see excellent displays of hospitality whether it’s in serving food, looking after your stay (especially home-stay), and even chaperoning your India-trot – like our locals do at Padhaaro. :)

Y – Yin and Yang

India will surprise you with the stark yin and yang kind of thing – eternal sea lined with litter, plush localities and pauperism, endorsers of the Indian traditions and culture and hints of Western influence, blaring Bollywood music from tea stalls to passing cars to clubs and parties, and English songs in between, Victorian designs and Mughal architecture, et al. As they say, you’ve got to see it to believe it.

A – Atithidevo Bhava

Atithidevo Bhava (The guest is equivalent to God) is our belief and also the tagline of the Indian Ministry of Tourism, and we take it too seriously. Hospitality is exhibited in our every action and word. But it’s the bumptious lot that may get you on the edge. The ones who try to sell you wares, or ride or even ask for money. Just avoid them altogether, and if you do encounter them, just hang tough! Fringe benefits are a part of your experience, after all!

G – The Gordian Knot

This would be the Gordian Knot of the traffic system. Especially in urban areas. Rules of the roads here will be beyond comprehension. So just watch out! :D Also, the options for your traverse will range from far and few between if you're in remote places and will confront you by the truckload in the mainstream areas. Oh and they will offer you a variety too – from animals pulling carts to humans hauling rickshaws to cars, buses, and trains. Navigating your way through those will be a little baffling – accurate information and reiterative confirmation should help you through with that. As you might have gathered, it’s best not go behind the wheels here.

E – Exteroceptive Senses

This would be for the heightened exteroceptivity your senses will go through during your trip here. Five senses put to work in ways you must have hardly imagined! The first thing that should hit you when you land here is the smell. A whiff of little bit of everything – earth and snow, humidity and heat, pollution and petrichor, spices and incense. Your ears will be tickled with the sounds of chants and clamor, horns and holler, moan and slumber. You’ll catch a glimpse of bare snowy mountains to hordes of mortals, teeming backwaters to drainage bilge, marvelous architecture to multifarious attire – every sight worthy of being a Kodak moment! Your palates will be served plates full of varied tastes – spicy, sweet, tangy, sour and your five fingers will be used to gorge all of that! How they are handled by your stomach is a different story altogether! ;)

With love and lots of the above,