Many people who go to India come back talking of grandiose spiritual journeys and gurus in the mountains. Whilst this is interesting to other travelers in India (I’ve probably spent half my trip discussing yoga and the turning of the age) you will bore the shit out of people everywhere else in the world if you talk about it.
So crossed legs and bare feet aside, I want to share a little list of things you could learn in India that will be mostly useless everywhere else in the world.
1. How to take a shit, again
I learned this very early on in my life. I can recall freeze-frame images of my mother showing me a strange looking seat with a large hole in it and telling me this is where I would relieve myself from now on. Twenty years later, nappies are a distant memory and I’ve come to enjoy the whole thing. Bringing some light reading, getting comfortable and emptying my bowels.
Well you can forget that in India. A toilet here is a hole in the floor with a space for your feet either side. If you’re new to this, chances are you’ll have to multi-task as you focus on shitting and not falling down the hole in the process.
Some toilets don’t have locks too, so don’t forget to clear your throat really loudly every so often to avoid embarrassment.
After this grueling experience, you can use the provided tap to clean your arse with your left hand whilst collecting the wasted water in the provided bucket. Then use that water to flush it all away. Voila!
2. How to eat like a local
Now, let’s talk about eating. Here in India, you’re connected to your food – you eat everything with your right hand. Chapatis aren’t just a side dish of comfort food, they are used as scoops to eat everything else on the plate. If you mistook it for a starter and ate it first, you can ask for another one.
If you’re trying to cut down on your carbs however, it’s time to learn how to eat rice with your hand. It’s not rocket science really, it’s just that you’re probably a victim of western table manners who gasps at the concept of being provided with no cutlery. Well, not for long buddy.
If you eat meat, you will receive dirty looks from everyone around you. Sorry, what I meant to say was, if you eat meat, remember to suck the bone marrow dry. None of this beast goes to waste! I even met one Canadian who had taken to eating the bones during his stay.
Also, make sure you sit on your left hand so it doesn’t try to help out. Unless you’re into recycling your own shit.
3. How to have diarrhea
Yep, we’re back on shit again. This isn’t a skill that should need developing given diarrhea’s usually short life span. But here in India, it’s 50/50 whether your shit will be solid or not for the majority of your stay. Worse still, it could attack at any moment. So listen and learn, this is an area where you don’t want to learn from your mistakes. Trust me.
When I’m in this common predicament, I make sure I’m never far from a toilet, and that I’m carrying toilet roll. Yeah it’s not the Indian way, but some things are too gross – even for a dirty hippy like me.
Also, yogurt, or curd as it’s known in India, has a whole bunch of pro-biotics that will help you out. Although, given the varying quality of dairy in India, it could also make you worse. Good luck.
Plain rice, bananas and coke are also said to work wonders. But the coke will cause the curd to curdle in your stomach if you drink them too close together, but then you already knew that right?
If all else fails and you have to urinate from the wrong end for three days, make sure you get hold of some ORS re-hydration salts from the local store. They replace all those electrolytes you’re losing, and a lack of those will make you feel like shit as well as smell like it.
4. To always use mosquito repellent
I still haven’t learnt this one myself actually. For some strange reason I seem to consider the application process boring and unnecessary due to it being sweated off every two hours. As a result I wake up with ten new bites every morning, itch more than the street dogs and probably have malaria. You should wear it though.
5. How to drive a fully automatic scooter
I didn’t learn this one either. In fact my first attempt at driving one ended swiftly as I accelerated too quickly and had to jump off as the scooter crashed into the sandwich board outside my guest house.
Deciding I was a risk to myself and everyone else on a scooter, I jumped on the back with a fellow traveler. On the way home we crashed and ate gravel sandwich, receiving identical gashes to the knee and road burn to the arm. All things considered, we were pretty lucky really.
You can avoid all this however by having hand-eye coordination that exceeds that of a 3 year old and not getting too big for your boots. It’s super fun and you get to see your landscape of choice in the most badass way. Oh wait, I said scooter didn’t I?…
6. Monkeys are not cute
Look past the novelty and the cute appearance, and you’ll suddenly see erratic, aggressive, greedy little shits. My love for all sentient beings is unconditional, or something. But I quickly learnt to dislike these guys.
In Varanasi, I witnessed a monkey drag a screaming puppy off the roof of my guest house. The next morning, I discovered a huge pile of peel outside my door where another one had let itself into my room while I was asleep and stolen all my fruit.
If one bares its teeth at you and lowers its back, run away. But don’t just run away. Find a really big stick and come back. You won’t have to hit it though, thankfully they’re smart enough to know when it’s time to get lost.
7. The sixties never really ended
Let’s use Rishikesh in the north of India as an example of this – supposed ‘yoga capital of the world.’ Here there are a dozen cafes that sell identical food and attract an identical crowd of hash smoking, bead wearing, baggy trousered dreamers.
Some of these guys are awesome. You can have a jam session with them, smoke a chillum or ten, share down to earth conversations about how to live a better life and just generally hang out.
Others however are the condescending type who will talk to you about their lifestyle choices as if they’ve found the one true path. They will also sneer at your food for not containing enough vitamin B12 and recommend you start supplementing with spirulina, or something else you mindless robots have never heard of. You’ll learn to separate the two pretty quickly.
It’s not just Rishikesh either. Anywhere with cheap quality hash usually attracts this crowd, and that’s most of the places you’ll want to be. The air is filled with bohemian idealism, spiritual wisdom and body odor. Welcome to India.
8. Everything about Israel
Having never met any Israelis outside of India, to me they are a country of people who are into psytrance and everything else alternative. For this I love them and I don’t want the bubble to burst.
I even managed to fall for an Israeli girl. But of course I didn’t tell her until she’d flown back to Israel and now I’ll probably never see her again and my heart is a cold stone. As is the nature of this traveling thing.
Travelling in India is almost mainstream for Israelis. Many complete their military service and then head over to India where life is easy and cheap. Other older people come here too, confident that they will have an abundance of Israeli buddies to move around with.
There are even places in India affectionately referred to as ‘Little Israel’ thanks to the crowds who pass through. Kasol, a village in the north, for instance. Kasol is off the tourist map and just round the corner from some of the best marijuana plantations in the world. Coincidence? I think not.
So naturally you’ll meet a lot of Israelis and learn about their culture as well as Indian culture. Or you can just check out how hot all the girls are. Your choice.
9. Chillum culture
What’s a chillum? A chillum is a hollow tube usually made from clay, it has a stone in the middle to hold the contents inside. They come in varying shapes and sizes and are primarily used to smoke a shit-ton of hash at once.
The holy men (or sadhus, babas, homeless dudes, etc) who wander around every corner of India in orange clothing believe that smoking a chillum brings them closer to the Hindu deity Lord Shiva. As such, you’ll hear them shout ‘Boom Shiva!’ followed by the chillum being raised to the forehead in a blessing of thanks, before taking a long string of short puffs.
Many of the travelers who come here also adopt this ritual. In the name of spirituality or in the name of getting really high? Who knows. But you’ll probably be passed one at some point. This is an important cultural experience and you went travelling to experience new things right? Time to get really stoned.
First you clean the thing. Then you use a mixing bowl or your palm to create a potent concoction of charras and tobacco. Then you load the chillum. With this being a pretty old method, the only filtering system is a piece of band-aid stretched over the bottom. You’ll hold this in place with three fingers, using your index finger to create a small funnel for you to inhale the smoke through.
You’ll probably get it wrong at first – no worries. A fellow English man I met in Rishikesh said to me “I looked like a spacker when I first tried smoking one. You’ll get it eventually. It’s an important thing you know, learning to smoke a chillum.”
This is a man who had recently been arrested for cooking DMT in his flat in Newcastle, and he is now on the run on a Harley Davidson somewhere in India. So I took his word for it.
10. You’re only as dirty as you think you are
Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, and is a place where people come to die and be cremated by the River Ganges. Certain people cannot be cremated however, this includes pregnant women, sadhus and people who are bitten by cobras. Thus they are transported into the depths of the river and held down with a large rock. Sometimes, the corpse breaks free of the rope that attaches it to the rock and is free to float around on the surface. They are clearly visible if you take one of the boat rides you’ll get offered every thirty seconds if you walk by the ghats (loads of steps).
In the same river, hordes of Indians bathe, brush their teeth, drink, wash their undies and shout for joy whilst doing so. As far as I’m aware, these people don’t collapse and perish straight afterwards. In fact, people seem in generally good health there.
It was also in Varanasi where I met a Frenchman in his early forties, recently disassociated himself from Christianity. He has now taken to wandering around Varanasi barefoot, occasionally stopping off in a cafe to browse Facebook on his Macbook Pro.
So take your shoes off and relax, no need to shower. Besides, you can cross your legs into the lotus position far easier without shoes. No one here likes chairs, so you’ll fit in perfectly.