My 4 Month Journey in India: Embarkation and A Beginners Guide to India

PUBLISHED ON AUG 16, 2018 — INDIA, TRAVEL

I can’t believe it’s been nearly four months since my last article. Last you’ve heard, I was in Singapore, visiting a great group of friends and having a blast in a futuristic city unlike anything I’ve ever been to before. From Singapore, I flew into the heart of India and got lost in it. Like Really lost.

So lost in fact, that I dropped my writing and got completely absorbed in the culture. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing snippets of my story in India to bring you insight to a world very different than the one you came from.

I can't possibly give you all the details in a single article. So I'm breaking this journey into multiple parts.

Let’s go on our journey to the sub-continent India together. I will show you the Indian Way.

Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal. One of the 7 Wonders of the World located in Agra, India

Why should you go to India? Why did I go to India?

Very simply, as an engineer I have worked with many Indians. Indians are at the heart of technological development and I wanted to better understand a culture that I expect I will work with for the rest of my life. This was my primary reason for going to India. My old boss was Indian, and many of my former colleagues were Indian.

There’s a million of reasons to go to India, but to top the list:

  • Visit a country with over 1.3 billion people
  • Try some amazing food
  • Make your dollar mean something with a conversion rate of 701 INR to USD.
  • Understand the rich history of India as well as the impact of colonialism.
  • See a growing impact country try to understand itself.
  • See the Taj Mahal
  • Go on a yoga retreat

I’ve learned loads from my trip to India and I couldn’t have been more happy with my decision to go there.

Embarkation: The Indian Way

If you ever go to India, these are some things I learned in the country that would have been helpful to know before I arrived.

Planning in India: Time is relative?

Scientists didn’t need to look at the stars to prove Einstein’s claim that time is relative. All they needed to do was look at India to confirm.

I’d like to think India made more sense if it was traveling about 100,000 m/s faster than the rest of the world. In India, time is spontaneous,sporadic, and completely inconsistent.

If you’re Indian, you know:

  • 30 min means 1~2 hours.
  • Morning means afternoon (maybe but not always).
  • 6:00 PM means sometime tonight if things go according to plan.

In India, there is something called “Indian stretchable time”. The formula is very complicated.

TotalTime = Expected time +/-  (buffer time * lambda)  + error

*Consider lambda a parameter set which explains how much Indian stretchable time is going to be impacted. Note: This formula is totally made up.

Make sense? If you’re objectively looking at it…Not really. And that’s a common theme in India. Things don’t always make sense but they work around it. This is The Indian way.

Another way: Think of Dali’s artwork “The Persistence of Memory”. Time is well, a flexible concept.

Persistence of Memory
Time in India is Relative. Think Dali's Persistence of Memory

Eating in India: Masala, Masala, and did I say Masala?

Exercise: Classify your stomach fighting power!

How would your stomach do in a gladiator ring? Would it go Spartan rampage to conquer to ring or would it be the first to perish? Is its power level over 9000 more like Yamcha? (Dragonball Z reference here).

If you have a Yamcha like stomach, you’re going to want to go into training for the first bit you’re there. Start off with as many mild dishes as possible with smaller portions. If you’re a Spartan, I still recommend taking it easy until your stomach gets used to it.

Let’s talk Masala.

Indian’s love something called Masala . What is Masala? It’s a generic word for spice. It means nothing and everything at the same time.

When you go to an Indian menu and it reads Masala, it doesn’t really mean anything useful, yet it means something. If you’re from a western perspective, it may strike you as odd but this is the Indian Way.

Word combinations are less meaningful in India The most challenging part about the concept of Masala is that it’s hard to build any interpretation on content of dishes based upon the naming convention. For example, in the states if you have grilled chicken you know that you have chicken and it’s grilled. If you have steam vegetables, you know they are vegetables that are steamed. Not in India. If you have Masala Puri, it’s a completely different type of preparation than Masala Dosa or Masala Mushrooms. So you’re gonna have to test different foods for yourself.

Masala Puri, Masala Dosa, Channa Masala.

Masala. Masala. Masala.

In India, your dish is not good if it doesn’t make your taste buds completely absorbed in the taste. As an analogy, Indian food is like the attention seeking child that always wants you to focus on it. If you aren’t focusing on your kid, you’re being negligent.

PAY ATTENTION TO ME DAMNNIT!!!

Indian tip: Don’t be the negligent parent. Focus on your food when it’s in front of you.

It’s the Indian way

Dosa
Masala Dosa is like a thin pancake and a common southern dish in India

What does Masala mean literally? Expect turmeric, peppers, chili. Anything that’s going to make you wish for a cup of water and some beautifully bland food.

I’ve been vegetarian for the last 4 months since entering India. The cool part is that if you’re vegetarian in India there’s a ton of options! It’s highly accommodating because of the large Hindu population.

Some of the dishes I liked:

Southern Dishes

  • Masala Puri
  • Masala Dosa
  • Palak Paneer
  • Any type of Machurian
  • Masala Mushrooms

Northern Dishes

  • Chole Bhature

Lots of people like dal based dishes in India. I wasn’t as much a fan.

Helpful tip: Regardless of whether you’re a Spartan, as a foreigner make sure you have some fun games on your phone (or a book) for when you spend your days on the toilet seat of your hotel bathroom.

Speaking of toilets:

An endangered bear and how it relates to your potty breaks….

You may be used to something common known as toilet paper. Maybe you use the special Charmin Ultra Strong, or (my favorite),Charmin ULTRA SOFT. Who could forget that lovable bear. Well, odds are you won’t have that in India. In fact, you’ll probably not have toilet paper at all.

News flash: Fluffy little bears name associated with Charmin are endangered in the middle of India. Instead, think how Japan has high tech toilets that spray water and put them back a hundred of years or so. You get water spray. Not sure how to use an Indian bathroom? Check here

This is the Indian Way and this one actually makes more sense than the Western alternative of using toilet paper all time. You use less paper and always have an option to wash the seat. It also reduces strain on the drainage systems. It may take a few attempts to get used to but the spout is very handy when you’re in a tight spot.

Also note you don’t put your toilet paper (to dry) in the toilet seat, often you’ll have a bin and you are to dispose of it there. That took me a while to get used to but this is how it’s done in India.

Indian Toliets
Indian Toilets don't use toilet paper. They use a water spigot

The Indian Headshake

The Infamous Indian HeadShake! What would India be without the infamous headshake.

I do not and do like it? Indian headshakes to foreigners can often seem ambiguous like the sentence I just wrote.

It can often seem like this:

Q: “Do you have Dosa?
A: “Yes and No”
Q: “So Yes?…No?…I don’t understand.”
A: “Yes and No”
Q: “?”
Q: “?”
Q: “I don’t understand. Yes. or No.”
A: “Yes and No”
Q: “…”

Badly interpreted, you can completely misunderstand the Indian headshake and lead yourself in a completely incorrect understanding of a situation!

I don’t pretend to have mastered the Indian headshake, so here’s a video that better explains it:

Lessons on the Indian Headshake

Embrace it

As a foreigner, it seems there’s a lot of things that don’t make sense in India.

Trash is everywhere. Crossing the street is like playing a game of Frogger (GenZ kids here’s a sample: link). People are everywhere. It can smell. Staring is totally normal there. Men can make you feel uncomfortable. Homosexuality is illegal (EDIT: A recent bill just legalized homosexuality!) but men hold hands platonically. There’s giant wealth disparity and no middle class. But even with all these confounding culture realities, there’s also a lot to love about India.

Traffic is Crazy in India
So while I jest and joke about India and the Indian Way as nonsensical (because often it is), there’s still a lot to love about India.

I have spent nearly 4 months in India by choice. I have met some incredible people in India, gone to an Indian wedding, even did some consulting in India. I found love in India, made a few amazing friends, visited the Taj Mahal, and had some of the most amazing food.

My best piece of advice when coming to India is to be prepared for something that won’t always make sense. Your perspective of normality may be challenged and the country might grind against your way of life in the most unexpected ways. Recognize the differences, but also be prepared to embrace and love a culture that is completely different from yours.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be uploading articles about some of the incredible experiences I’ve had in India. These will be exciting insights to a life most likely very different from your reality. As always, if you have any questions feel free to send me an email at andor@henosisknot.com.

Ciao,
Andor

TAGS: INDIA, TRAVEL