impressions are not always best...
Don't judge India by your
first impression. India's big cities- - especially Delhi and
Bombay -- are just foul. Delhi's air quality is so bad that
I inevitably develop a persistent, wracking cough whenever
I find myself there for more than one day. The city is also
full of persistent touts who would try a saint's patience.
Please remember, the vast majority of Indians do not live
in the big cities.
Calcutta and Chinese food...
If you can choose a city
to land in, choose Calcutta. Despite its reputation, it is
by far the most pleasant, most cultured of India's big cities.
There's a big green park, called the Maidan, that's bigger
than Central Park. Watch for white-clad young men playing
cricket and uniformed schoolboys jogging in formation with
their whistle-blowing phys ed instructor running alongside.
There are also many wonderful bookstores, with well-read and
knowledgeable proprietors. P.S.
I've listed several of my favorite books about India at the
end of this article.
There are a lot of really
good Chinese restaurants in Calcutta (the city has a large
Chinese population, who settled in Calcutta around the beginning
of the twentieth century). I particularly recommend Bar-B-Q
Restaurant, on Park Street; it's a big favourite with
Calcutta's upper middle class, and in fact some wealthy Indian
friends of mine treated me to dinner there on my last night
When traveling by bus,
carry earplugs. Bus drivers in India usually play popular
music from Bollywood films at full volume through cheap speakers
that distort the sound to a nearly unbearable pitch. Since
most long bus journeys take place overnight, sleep without
earplugs is nearly impossible. Be prepared.
India, you never know what kind of toilet facilities you'll
encounter. Do carry toilet paper and anti-bacterial handwash/wipes
at all times. Often you can expect a jug of water left beside
the toilet in lieu of paper. I encourage women to get used
to using this method instead of toilet paper; it's healthy
and environmentally friendly. However, while traveling in
less-developed areas you might find that there is no water
available to do your cleansing; in that case, you'll need
Ed. note: In the weeks
leading up to trips, wait until the paper at home gets down
to maybe a quarter of an inch or so left on the roll. At that
point, squash them flat and put them aside ready to pack.
These mini rolls fit beautifully into all the nooks and crannies
of your suitcase.
Outside of the large cities,
Indian women do not smoke in public. If you find yourself
in a traditional place where tourism is less common, do avoid
smoking in public. Smoking is considered a habit for "loose
women" and you'll get the reaction that loose women encounter
in all traditional societies.