At the beach in Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand

By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks

GloboTreks is reader-supported through affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support! – Norbert

A country as big, as culturally rich, and as overpopulated as India, will surely make a strong impact in your travel experience.

For me, even though I didn’t like India, it challenged all my notions of what travel is and how shocking can be visiting a new country.

India changes everything!

It’s true that, for good or for bad, there’s no place like India and this is how I perceived its uniqueness.

Goats in India

There’s no place as colorful as India

It’s so beautiful to see women dresses in such colorful saris of shocking pink, purple, baby blue, orange, and more, and still pull the style gracefully.

It goes as well for men wearing those colorful headpieces that come in the same rainbow. Buildings, while slightly tamer, do show also the same colorful vibrancy in many cities.

Colors are strongly represented in the Indian culture and it’s one of the most beautiful things the country has.

Buddhist flags in India

There’s no place dirtier than India

Mounds of trash, cows and goats eating it, streets full of human and animal feces, tobacco spit in all building corners, dirt all over the place, and everything in between.

I thought Garbage City in Cairo was the dirtiest place I could ever visit, but India, in general, has no shortage of garbage (and in massive quantities). At least in Garbage City, they recycle it for a living, in India… they just don’t care.

Trash in India

There’s no place with people more pushy and annoying than India

As a foreigner, many locals will treat you like prey to take advantage of you. Scams, pushiness, fake intentions, and simply annoying people will rain on your way 24/7.

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Survival mode is ever-present among many Indians, which makes them throw their moral to the backseat and attack with all they got to get what they want. I got into survival mode too… from them. They exhausted me both physically and mentally.

There’s no place more visually pleasing than India

Beautiful and colorful temples, snowcapped Himalayan Mountains, placid lakes, extensive farmlands, countless hiking trails, monumental Muslim and Hindu architecture, and much more…

These, as well as the interesting dance between the incongruences between the beautiful and the plainly dirty and ugly, are some of the things that make India a place to admire and wonder.

Every moment in India is a performance. Walk the street and you will see a man shaving through a door, a woman praying a few feet from him, a cow peeking out from another house, a goat standing on another set of steps, and sellers shouting everywhere…  and much, much, much more.

Srinagar, India

There’s no place as incongruent as India

The best description of India I ever heard was from a local seller who told me:  “India is like an LSD trip.  You can have a good trip or a bad trip, but it will never make sense.” India doesn’t make sense.

How can cows be sacred but be left eating the garbage on the street? How can a country that practices yoga and meditation and has high religious believes be so chaotic, impatient, and bully?

I’m still far from understanding. But, this incongruence is one of the things that make this country so interesting.

There’s no place with more cultural shock than India

I’ve seen a lot and been shocked before, but India had the talent to shock me even more. People pooping on the street in broad daylight, people sleeping in the most unusual places (like the middle of the street), the ritual of burning bodies on the Ganges, the food, the low standards, people riding the metro hanging from outside or plainly sitting on the roof, and more.

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These are just a few of the things you see in India that are plainly common for them, but all you can think is… WTF?!

Burning Ghats at Varanasi, India

There’s no place more challenging and frustrating than India

Nothing is easy in India. Things as simple as buying a train ticket, getting a room for the night, and shopping around, will more often than not have you jumping through hoops to get them at a real or decent price, or simply, to just get them.

Why can’t things be straightforward?

There’s no place as cheap as India

Living with an average of $15 a day (including everything!), I can say that India is a darn cheap place. Bargaining is an art in India, and in order to get some good prices, you need to sharpen your claws and play the game.  Otherwise, India will not be cheap for you.

There’s no place with less of a concept of personal space

Seriously, this one was an issue for me. When waiting in line (when there was an actual line, not a bunch of people jumping each other) to buy the train ticket, I had people rubbing their belly on my back to make me move and occupy the 3 inches in front of me.

The same people stood next to me on top of me looking at everything I did when buying whatever I had to buy.

When having a conversation with someone, 10 extra ears and eyes were more attentive than the actual person in the conversation, and the same thing when looking at my iPod.

Sometimes I had to call their attention or push them back because they just kept doing it.

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And on the train, if you’re on the cheaper class, forget about that personal space or to have your seal all for yourself. At least train travel in India is nothing but an interesting experience, to say the least.

Well, when you’re in a country with over 1 billion people, I guess personal space is overrated.

People in India

None of the above are 100% true…

Truth is, that while all of the above are part of India, they are not 100% true.

I met charming and social people in a few places, I went to places I felt very peaceful (hello Srinagar!), some places weren’t as dirty, and some cultural regions weren’t as colorful but still were culturally vibrant.

India is full of contrasts, so there is no absolute truth when it comes to experiencing India.

But one thing is for sure.  No other place can show you all of the above and turn them into a memorable (good or bad) experience you’ll NEVER forget.

Adventure Awaits


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    1. You know, while it might help (as many posts I read before going to India), nothing does compare to being there and being shocked, India style!

  1. Love this! We just finished our wrap up post of India and your post definitely brought back the memories. While we didn’t do it on $15 a day, it was still very cheap! Great post!

  2. Great insights, Norbert! Isn’t it funny how we can have a love/hate relationship with certain places? I felt a great deal of similarities when I visited Argentina (cab drivers claiming they didn’t know where well-known spots were so they could drive up my meter, incessant, determined sales people (including CD demos on the bus during my commute to my internship), and drawn out conversations while trying to get bus tokens…can’t I just get what I need an move on!?). Despite all of this, I met some wonderful people that made each of those experiences roll right off my back. I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    1. Carrie, it’s crazy how some places have people that have the need to do this and how they can drive us mad, but in the end, it’s part of the experience. And while we might hate it at the moment, we later love to tell those stories. 🙂

  3. I agree with you. India is a land of extremes, and it’s not hard to notice the contrast between rich and poor. But what about traditional and progressive? If you’re willing to venture off the tourist trail and into India’s villages, there you’ll discover a very different way of life unlike anything you’ve ever encountered.

    1. I didn’t get too off the tourist trail, unfortunately, but I would have loved to have more time to do it. Would have loved to see more of the traditional, without the tourist influence and the apparent scams that came with it.

  4. I haven’t been to India (it’s not really on my radar to be honest) but it sounds like Vietnam in some respects. Definitely a polarising, love/hate country.

      1. Hello Mr. Please once come India and meet the real Indians. We treat like god with our guests. I will show u India then u will realize Indian culture and u will be a Great fan of India and Indians ohk.

  5. Hey Norbert,
    The facts you mentioned about India are true but not 100% . Every country have people which will thug you. India is country with ironies.
    That’s my India.

    1. Well, I’m sure you understand this is not a fact based article and more of an experienced based one. It’s true what you’re saying about having people thug you in other countries, in fact, I’ve had worse experience in other countries than in India. But, India is presents an intense visual and sense of everything described here, which can become extremely overwhelming to most people.

  6. I read your article from the starting and i was thinking that how can you describe India like this. But at the end, I got relief. Thanks for sharing. That’s why India is Incredible.

  7. Hello Norbert!

    I travel a lot with my family, and I just came across your blog while looking for travel tips for Puerto Rico. You are a great writer. I liked reading about your experience in India. Yes, it is very true that India is shocking for people who have not grown up there. I would like to suggest future travelers to book your travel to India through a reputed travel agency, and then you can have a purely divine experience. India can be traveled on a budget, but it may not leave a good taste in your mouth. Have the travel agents take you through experiences of your lifetime which, I promise, you would not have experienced ever before. Having a population of over 1 billion spread over 29 states and 7 union territories and 22 different languages and hundreds of dialects spoken by them, you can imagine the diversity right from their clothes, to the food and to their mentality and attitude. It is almost like the entire world squeezed into one country. I wish I could take you along with me one day to give you a better taste of my motherland. I belong to the Northeastern state of West Bengal. I have been living in Houston for the last 20 years now, and I travel a lot with my husband and kids. I will be coming back again to read some of your postings. They are very helpful and interesting. Keep it up. Very nice to meet you, my friend.

  8. You have mentioned some of the bitter truth of India. I am an India an I accept many of these facts. I also believe that none of them can be 100% true and it depends upon the places you visit. Its changing but very slowly.

      1. Beautifully written article. Don’t know whether you got opportunity to attended any Indian Classical concerts of Hindustani Mudic during your visit. India is so diverse that sometimes I feel myself foreigner in sone regions of my own country.

  9. yes there is no place like India.. the day when you observe it and if you see it know then you’ll surely get to know that the India is getting better.. there are various campaings that have been launched by government of India, so now I can say that I have been exploring the Incredible India… thanks for this valuable post.

  10. I read your article from the starting to end and i was thinking that how can you describe India like this. Thanks for sharing. That’s why India is Incredible.

  11. Great article……..Yes, there’s no place India like…….The culture or tradition of India is unique from other countries…

  12. In India guest are treated like god, I felt very bad that at some of the places you had a bad experience and good to read you had enjoyed yourself at some point. India is becoming better and better now a days. Various campaigns are going to make India more better than it is. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences you had at the various places. I would like to suggest you that just plan your trip to other parts of India like Munnar, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Ooty etc are known as heaven on the earth.

  13. I usually dont like to put comments, but I find this post a misleading up to an extend.
    India has more than 1.3 billion people and the diversity is beyond imagination. I am not denying what you wrote is incorrect but putting one side is not correct. Things you have mentioned are not even 1% of what India is actually. just the matter is these things are often highlighted in the world specially after movie “Slumdog Millionaire”. Even if you spend 1000 days there you cant explore everything.

    Culture, traditions, cuisines, languages change at every 50km. Check out about the diversity of India. Do you think it is easy to balance it. India had a great impact with historical events and its not 1 or 10 those events are in 1000s. It became very complex with time. By seeing what is there now its easy to make comment. Checking real facts will open your eyes.

    We regard guest as god , and the Indian term for guest is “Atithi” the literal translation is “Person who can visit you anytime and does not have any specific date or time”.
    So again in the last I would suggest to get enough knowledge before visiting next time. Feel free to contact me I will provide you sources and Good luck for next trip.

    1. Hi Gaurav –

      Thanks for your comment and for sharing more about India, but I’m sure you understand that this post is more about my experience in India and now about all of India as a country. And as I said, “none of the above are 100% true.” It varies based on someone’s experience and opinions. For some it may be the greatest country on earth, for others, it’s simply the worst. That’s why people have to experience it for themselves to create their own opinion about India.