I have frequently heard friends who have been lucky enough to travel to India before describe the country as, “an assault on the senses” and “one of the most colourful places in the world”. But it isn’t until you visit for yourself that you understand where these descriptions come from.
India does not stop for anybody. Quite literally. If you wait for cars to slow down so that you can cross the road here, then you will never reach your destination. It takes a huge amount of confidence to walk out into a road where drivers are blaring their horns, and mopeds are weaving in and out of the paths of larger vehicles – but you must take that first step to get anywhere here. You are putting your life in the city’s hands when you step out into a road in Kolkata.
If you follow the same principle in other areas of your trip – take a deep breath, and trust the city – then you’ll find yourself growing more and more confident by the day.
You need to say, “Yes I’ll try that” when your waiter ignores your request for a beer, and tells you to try something else instead. You have no idea what he said because of the language barrier, you think he said the word ginger but you’re not quite sure… but hey, he seems enthusiastic in his recommendation, so what the hell, right? The worst that could happen from taking a leap of faith and trusting you waiter’s recommendation is nothing that immodium tablets and a sachet of Dioralyte can’t handle. [NOTE: Unless you have known food allergies, in which case be careful!]
You need to embrace the lack of Western eating utensils, and learn how to use your right hand to break your roti into pieces which you can use to mop up your paneer tikka masala. It is messy, and at first you might spill your food down your front, but if you learn to lean over the plate as you eat you will quickly get the hang of it. You need to accept that you will probably never understand everything on a menu – get used to pointing your finger and hoping for the best.
You can’t let the fact it’s raining affect your plans for the day, or else you will sit inside and watch your day pass you by. If you are visiting India in monsoon season, invest in a decent quality umbrella and some waterproof shoes (both can be found in Quest Mall), and get stuck into the puddles. If you are trying to get somewhere and the roads flood, take a deep breath and realise that it doesn’t matter if you don’t get there bang on three o’clock. You will get there when you get there – and people won’t care if you’re late.
You must accept the fact that people are going to stare at you, especially if you are wearing a dress that might be considered a little bit on the short side of the conservative dress standards held by some people here, or you are particularly tall back home in the UK. It’s the same curious kind of stare a newborn baby has as you peer down into it’s pram, not the lewd eyes-boring-into-your-back kind of stare you might attract from blokes who’ve had a few too many back home in England – so don’t let the fact people might stare be a reason to stop you exploring the city.
You will quickly have to learn how to say no, politely but firmly, to the children who will tug on your clothes asking you for money or the people who tap on your car window as you’re sat in traffic, trying to sell you things. The expression goes, “sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind”, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to begging in India.
At some point you will likely end up in a car with somebody who doesn’t speak English, and have no idea where you are or knowledge of how to get to where you need to be. Embrace it – download GoogleMaps, keep your phone topped up with data (which is extremely cheap here) and know that you will probably get to where you want to go to – eventually.
Trust in the city, and she will look after you. Promise.