Prejudices and Preconceptions of India

I’ve found it hard to overcome my pre existing prejudices and preconceptions in India. That’s the trouble when you go to a destination where many travellers have been and they all seem to have some sort of opinion on, however divided. Over the last few months of travelling round Asia I’ve collected India stories and opinions from anyone who’d give me one. India has forever fascinated me – it’s somewhere that’s been on my must visit list for years – and finally, back in September last year I booked my trip.

My first day in Delhi

I chose to do a private tour on my first day in Delhi, firstly because I didn’t have any time for research and secondly because I was apprehensive about finding my way round by myself and feeling overwhelmed on arrival. I’ve written about my arrival in Delhi on my blog on gapyear.com but to sum it up, I was terrified and cried in the taxi. This was mostly thanks to my overactive imagination, but also because of the stupid taxi men, yeah two of them. I stayed at an airport hotel that first night and barely slept at all. The next day I moved to The Rose Hotel in Haus Khaz, a cool part of Delhi, as soon as I could. It was 8am, and I was ready to start my Delhi tour.

The tour guide I was given told me ‘not to make any friends’ in Haus Khaz, and to be careful. This was somewhere I’d originally felt perfectly comfortable, for the few minutes I’d seen it that morning, and ready to get stuck into local life. It was early doors for me that first night at The Rose thanks to the lack of sleep the night before but the second evening I wanted to go out for a wander. The guy on reception at my hotel seemed surprised I was going out at 9pm and definitely gave me a raised eyebrow ‘are you sure?’ kind of look. I had felt safe there but as soon as someone sews the seed of doubt or fear in my mind, especially in India, I can’t relax and enjoy myself. I was the same in Guatemala. So I basically walked to the end of the street and back again not wanting to explore any suggested risk.

Just a walking ATM?

Preconceptions of India

One of the main stories people told me I’d experience in India was feeling like a walking ATM, and that I can definitely confirm.

A few children have juts shouted ‘money?’ at me as I’ve walked past. At every attraction someone will latch on to me and offer me all kinds of jewellery and trinkets at prices that get cheaper by the second. Some have done the gesture for food, bringing their fingers together and up to their mouths, others look up at you from pleading eyes, looking pained.

It’s hard to say no.

But having your back up before you even get to a destination is never a good idea.

A man came up to me on the street and muttered something, I replied with the usual ‘no, sorry’… and then he gestured to his car. He wasn’t asking me for money, but to get out the way of his mate’s reversing vehicle. I’m not proud of the horribly negative assumptions but it’s an accumulation of my own stories I’ve retained about India, of what others have told me from the last few months of my Asia trip, and of the attitudes and behaviour of the people I’ve met over the last few days.

Just a little story I wanted to tell

In another incident, which I’m still unsure about, I went to get money out of the ATM. Standard behaviour. But a few seconds ahead of me an Indian guy went in to the shed-like building wearing just a rotting towel around his waist and flip flops. There was nothing in the room but an ATM and a back door. He opened the door with a key and stood in the doorway just looking at me. I had everything I owned on my back, and my front, and as I was working the machine out, and trying to do the currency conversion in my head he was offering ‘helpful’ gestures to show me where to press on the screen. My head was rushing with the weigh up of whether I was in danger or not. All the while he was changing into his day clothes, using the towel to hide his modesty, and grinning from ear to ear shaking his head like only an Indian person knows how.

It wasn’t a creepy or weird grin – it just seemed like he was having a lovely time ‘helping’ me. I had to ask him to stop watching so I could concentrate, as my fear went to laughter, but he didn’t understand. It could’ve been the fact I came in like a whirlwind; all backpack, 5ft 9 and blonde hair full of anxiety about getting money out, but he seemed a little sad as he waved goodbye.

It’s instances like this where I wish I hadn’t got any preconceptions, didn’t assume that everyone I met wanted something from me, and could genuinely enjoy interactions with the locals. It’s the people who make a country what it is so it’s stupid to travel all the way and then not talk to any.

Indians vs India

prejudices of India

The people I’ve met on the streets, which is basically limited to the street vendors in Haus Khaz, have been really cool. They went through the menu with me and suggested I try some things – can’t imagine many street sellers doing that. During the two days I spent in Hauz Khas I didn’t have one piece of evidence to show why my tour guide from the first day, and the hotel receptionist told me, or insinuated to me, not to talk to anyone.

One of the ladies on my Golden Triangle tour is a Professor of Business Studies at Delhi University. She helped me to find a delicious breakfast in preparation for the journey as she was worried I wouldn’t have enough as I hadn’t had time to get anything. She told me how strange it was coming back to India after 5 years in London.

“All the social rules here are enough to drive you crazy”.

She was travelling with a guy she wasn’t married to and told me how frowned upon that is. She was saying she’s not meant to wear jeans and has to do this, has to do that. She tried to rebel but it just wasn’t worth it. She also told me how since ‘the attacks’ in India women don’t go around by themselves, they need a male escort, or so they’re told.


Listen to my podcast!

I caught up with Ellie, who runs the travel blog Wandering Quinn. She’d just spent four months in India and travelled around extensively. If you want to learn more about India before your trip, have a listen on Spotify.

Or here on iTunes.

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Me vs India

I’ve tried to keep a balanced view; tried to ignore the negativity in my mind about the people and the culture but with all the warnings from other travellers and Indians alike I still feel like people are waiting to scam me at every turn. I’ve had it from taxi drivers, from the laundry man at the hotel and today from a man selling me a bag at some ridiculously hiked price. I’ve spent the last few days on a tour with Indian people and the stories they’ve told me and attitudes they have seem to match the stories I’ve been told from other travellers too.

There’s a lot of distrust for India, whether earned or not, but I’d say that a lot of that seems to come from the Indians themselves.

More on India

Simple Guide to the Kumbh Mela in India

52 of the Coolest Things to Do in Delhi

All the Coolest Things to Do in Kerala 

The Brutal and Tumultuous Story of the Taj Mahal, in 3 Minutes
Delhi's Hipster Hotel: The Rose in Hauz Khas

5 Comments

  1. by Joe @ Tripzuki on April 3, 2015  10:46 am Reply

    Hey Vicky, following your travels with interest here!
    You are completely spot on with this piece. As an Englishman that travels to India often I can totally relate to all the little weird things that make you think 'was that a scam attempt or something else?!' The guy at the ATM was maybe the ATM watchman, tasked with 'guarding' the ATM but often overly keen to help. I've had my card taken out of my hand only for it to be then inserted by them the right way round!
    Bear in mind that the Indian media is very sensationalist, even more so than the British media, and a lot of Indians you meet will regurgitate the tripe they see and read.
    My experience: in India, bad X is very unlikely indeed, and my random-bad-experiences-per-year in the UK way way way outnumber those in India.
    Anyway, this is a dense topic but my final advice for what it's worth - and I must say this works perfectly for me - is to never engage (don't even mutter 'no') with people that approach you asking for things. Instead, practice a sharp shake of the head with a slight smile and look away. At first you might feel a bit ignorant, but it won't be taken that way.
    Have fun!

    • by Vicky on April 3, 2015  11:49 am Reply

      Thanks for sharing your experience Joe, very interesting! Really good to have someone's opinion who's more experienced than me in all things India. I feel like things here are very confusing. They do everything differently, and whereas in places like Japan people think that as a positive, and a reason to go, it feels like in India that's what scares people off. I've been here nearly a week now and I feel like India is somewhere you have to give more than a two-week trip to, you need to get used to the ways of shopping, of travel, of eating, of everything. I'm slowly getting used to it but there's a long way until I feel confident. Even today just walking round Delhi by myself if I stopped for a few seconds to look at anything I felt pressured to get a taxi / drink / food / rickshaw, but I know that's the way business is done here, rather than shopping in England where no one bats an eyelid as you walk round the stores.

      And yeah, everyone I've actually spoke to has been really nice. The negative thoughts and fears are slowly getting pushed out.

      I'm definitely mastering the not looking, but yes, I feel so rude. I try to do it with a smile on my face at least!

  2. by Jenia on April 4, 2015  2:34 pm Reply

    I found India incredible hard due to preconceived notions in part, but also the reality of India. I want to return because the culture is so rich, the history so incredible, and of course it's beautiful. And I think having been exposed to the realities of India - the outsized ratio of men to women on the street, the explicit 'different' treatment of women, the noise, the pollution, and walking ATM feeling, BUT also the headshake nods, the big wide smiles, the colorful saris, the philosophical debates on the meaning of life as favorite past time - perhaps, it's better taken in the second time around. Excited to see what the rest of your journey will bring!

  3. by Laura on April 5, 2015  8:19 pm Reply

    Interesting post. I'm meant to be visiting my dad who lives in India next year, and I'm feeling... well, uneasy about the whole trip. Good to know I'm not the only one, and I hope it gets less overwhelming for you.

    • by Vicky on April 6, 2015  3:16 am Reply

      I've since moved down to Kerala and it's a whole different vibe down here compared to Delhi. We've met some really friendly people and it's a lot more chilled. There's definitely plenty of reasons to get rid of these negative thoughts. It will be great with your dad if he lives here, he'll know the lay of the land and you won't have people hassling you for being by yourself.

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