India through American eyes – Travel story

I have always loved to travel and travelling alone never bothered me. I had been to Australia, I had seen most of Europe, and because I wanted to my next trip to be somewhere new, I decided that I would travel to India. A few of my friends cautioned me that I might not want to travel alone and that I should perhaps travel as part of a tour group, or go with companions. At the age of 37, I was no stranger to travelling alone and I loved immersing myself into new cultures and meeting new people. I was a savvy traveler and had my mind made up; I was going to visit India.

India through American eyes - travel story

I would need a visa; I already had my passport. I visited the Indian embassy to apply for my visa and began to plan my trip. I would fly from Los Angeles to Delhi, and I would stay in Delhi, there was plenty to see there and of course, I was going to take a trip to see the Taj Mahal in Agra. As a seasoned traveler, I knew to look up the weather of where I was going to be so I knew what to pack.

I was not going to be there in summer, as all of the guides recommended not going in the summer; Delhi would be too hot and too uncomfortable for tourists to feel comfortable in the summer and so I was saving myself the hassle of traveling in the heat and was going in cooler weather. It would still be warm and since my last few trips were to cooler locations, I would need some new traveling clothing.

Cotton was the way to go and I preferred to travel in pants so I bought some cotton pants, and some loose, long-sleeved and short-sleeved shirts. I packed a scarf, a light jacket, and sneakers with a pair of light sandals to wear as well. I pack lightly, and intended to purchase some local clothing when I arrived. Paying attention to what the locals wear is a very good way to know what local clothing to buy because they live in that climate and they know best what to wear.

Pickpockets are a common menace for travelers and so I always carry a travel pouch that carried most of my money, and my travel documents. The pouch was easy to conceal under my clothing, and if my bag were ever stolen, I would still have my necessary items. I was warned of the mosquitoes and so mosquito repellent went in the bag, as well as my camera, a universal adapter for power plugs, toilet paper ( I would find out later that this was a most necessary item), sunscreen and some antibiotic hand sanitizer.

It was a crowded flight from LAX in Los Angeles but I felt my excitement rise as the plane began to descend towards Delhi. Finally, I was about to get off the plane at the Indira Gandhi International Airport and I was excited but tired. The people on the plane had been friendly and I was looking forward to interacting with people. Some tourists prefer to stay close to other tourists, but I loved to get to know the people in the countries that I visit. We shuffled slowly to customs, always a lengthy process. After a long wait, it was my turn at the customs counter and a stern-faced young man stamped my passport, fully ignoring my greeting to him. I did not let this deter me, as perhaps he was having an off day, and plus, he saw so many people come past his counter daily, it must be a big chore.

Arriving at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, India

Arriving at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, India

On the way to the baggage area, a porter offered to push a baggage trolley for me, for a fee, but since I packed lightly, there was no need and I declined. I collected my bags, found the Thomas Cook currency exchange to get exchange my dollars for Rupees and to get travelers checks. I was ready to head to my hotel. I went to the counter and paid for a prepaid taxi receipt for a taxi ride to my hotel. This was a little confusing, because in most places, you get in and tell the driver where you need to go, and then pay. I was told that this was the safest way to take a taxi from the airport and so I took my receipt and found the taxi waiting outside.

The driver was very friendly and I told him the name and address of my hotel. I had been warned to not hand over my receipt until I was at my destination so when he asked for my receipt, I just held it up. Several times, he offered to take me to a better hotel than the one that I had booked but I said “Nahi” in Hindi and he stopped offering and instead began to talk.

The streets were crowded; and not just a little crowded, but crowded to the point where it seemed like we were stopped more often than moving. I saw buses with people sitting on the top and bunches of motorbikes on the road, it was quite the scene and there was lots of honking. It was a noisy trip. He was friendly and made a few suggestions of things to see in Delhi, and he recommended that I try chaat. I thanked him for his input, and handed over my receipt when we were at the hotel in Paharganj area of Delhi.

The hotel was westernized, and I had a very nice room, it was hot and my clothing was sticking to me. I unpacked a few items, and after slapping away a few mosquitoes, I used the insect repellent and that seemed to keep them at bay. Although I was weary, I wanted to go and explore. I would look for some local fashion to wear.

Delhi Street Food

Delhi Street Food: Photo by Sebastian Baryli

I left the hotel, and entered the crowded street. I have to say that I was not prepared for what I saw. I knew that India was a country stricken with poverty, but what you read does not impact you as much as what you see when you are there. I noticed that groups of tourists were often able to walk unhindered, while I was besieged by some begging children the minute I hit the street. Beggars seemed to be at every corner, and the streets were dirty. Flies were everywhere, and I was glad that I had worn long sleeves; it was keeping them from being able to land on my arms.


It was a unique experience, and one that was both fun and a bit scary at the same time. People were far from being standoffish; in fact, the store owners were welcoming and friendly; eager to have me stop and look. I was greeted by nearly everybody I passed; however, there was a far creepier aspect to being out in India, one that made me feel very uncomfortable, the staring and the attempted touching from the men in the streets. Even though my shirt was loose and not revealing, I was stared at, not a quick glance and then away, but long stares at my breasts. I was also brushed up against a lot; it seemed like when the crowds were bigger, the men would press up against me on purpose. I had far more beggars asking me for alms than tourists traveling in pairs or even men walking alone; I had discovered the downside to traveling alone in India. I would experience this every time I left my hotel.

Despite this, I enjoyed talking to the other people that I met on the street; the street vendors and shop owners were especially courteous. I found what I was looking for, some clothing that might allow me to fit in a little better and feel cooler in, salwar kameez, kurtis, and a dupatta. They would pair nicely with my pants and would help keep the bugs and the sun off my arms.

I stopped at a restaurant and had butter chicken with naan for dinner, along with some soda. A stop at the bathroom confused me; I had never traveled to an area that used a squat toilet before. I found myself in a bathroom stall that had no toilet, but it was clear from looking that I was to squat over the hole in the floor to go. There was a bucket with water nearby and there was a hook on the wall. It took some getting used to, and I was very glad that I had a travel-sized soap in my purse to use as well as toilet paper, because there was none in the stall.

The next day I went sightseeing in Delhi; it was the same wherever I went; I was stared at and even touched at a few times. However, for the most part, the people continued to be friendly towards me. I saw the India Gate, the Qutub Minar, and the Raj Ghat. I sampled street food and found that the chaat was wonderful. I stuck to bottled water, not wanting to trust the tap and I had some truly wonderful eating experiences.

Pond India Gate

Pond near the India Gate

I continued to explore Delhi, seeing Humayun’s Tomb, Red Fort, the Lodhi Gardens and the National Museum on Maulana Azad Road. Every excursion was a mixture of seeing poverty up against the backdrop of people who were well off, and then many tourists as well. Trash was all over, there did not seem to be much regard for sanitation. Despite the repellent, I felt a few mosquitoes especially at night. The heavy traffic made navigating the streets difficult and there was always the staring and the men pressing against me.

The highlight of my trip was the Taj Mahal; it was a marvel to behold. In fact, it is breathtaking. Pictures do not do it justice but I took many. I bought more clothing, the colors worn in India are so colorful and bright, there was color everywhere, from their clothing to their food, and it was as if the country was infused with colors, especially reds and yellows.

For one day I was confined to my hotel room; I had eaten street food that did not agree with me, or perhaps it was a bottle of water that was not fresh but one thing is for sure, I did not feel good. My stomach was very upset for about a day, and the hotel was very attentive but once I felt better, I continued to explore Delhi.


As I boarded my plane for my trip back home to Los Angeles, I knew that I would come back some day to India. As much as I found the stares and the unwanted attention unsettling, the people, the food and the sights made it a positive experience overall. There are some places where pictures and stories cannot properly encapsulate the overall experience of a place, and that is India. Dirty and teeming with people, but the people was friendly and warm, the food was delicious, and everything was so colorful.

It was an experience so unlike any other trip that I had ever been on and I knew that I would be back.

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66 Responses to “India through American eyes – Travel story”

  1. shiv from droidow says:

    Really, interesting experience ! I like specially pics which represents india as incredible. Thanks Shalu for sharing the information. I was busy with other projects after long time i am back again to read your posts. Thanks!!! :)
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  2. Hi Shalu,

    I liked the way you have views India through the eyes of a traveler coming to our country :)

    Yes, I can well understand the shock they come in for where certain things like the dirt, pollution and mosquitoes are concerned, as well as the weather and the glares! And all of this is just in Delhi…I wonder how they’d feel when they went to the other interiors of India, especially the rural areas and villages ;)

    Thanks for sharing. Have a nice week ahead :)
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    • Shalu Sharma says:

      Sometimes the rural India can be better as the lives of the people are simple. In fact, sometimes I wonder if these foreigners are so concerned about it then why don’t they go to European destinations. Just a thought.
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  3. Baggers and pick-picketers are not only the problem in India, tourist guides and shopkeepers also charged a big amount to them.
    I remembered one moment in Agra when a SamsoWala (street food in India) charged 100 for one samosa (original price was 10) from two tourist.

    According to me every visitor should learn some simple Hindi words so that they can avoid some extra charges or other travel difficulties in India.

    I know India is great but if a traveler take care of some things that he can experience the great travel enjoyment in India.

    I Like the way this post describes the complete travel experience of a foreigner. :)
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  4. Dev pandey says:

    Hi,

    I really agree to your thought.
    The foreigner have another view point when looking at India. The indian culture and the life style is also totally different. There are certain things in our culture which really make them surprised. But the interesting point is, they come to India to know about these diversified cultures only.
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  5. Allie says:

    This account scares me, frankly. Why do men in India think it is ok to molest women? Do they do this to evey woman or just foreigners?

    I once wanted to visit India. The grand sites and the Indian people I have met are always so nice that I always wanted to see their country. But I need to be honest, I would not want to be stared at and touched. This disturbs me.

    • Shalu Sharma says:

      Allie, this is one account. There are millions of accounts which does not get documented where Americans come to India, have a good time and leave with sweet memories of India. One personal account does not change India of its great culture, history and the values Indian people hold. I am sure you will like India. Thank you for your comment.
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  6. Liz McGee says:

    Hi Shalu,

    I Commend you on traveling alone. I’ve never been confident to to that many miles away from home by myself. But also I’m someone that loves sharing what I see and learn with someone else. Traveling alone just isn’t as enjoyable for me I guess.

    I would love to visit India but the staring and touching in the streets is a bit scary, more so than even the pickpockets. It takes the fun out of travelling to have to be on your guard so much and being stared at can be so awkward. I guess you can look at it as all part of the experience.

    Glad to hear that the trip was more positive than negative and that you hope to go back some day :-)

    Liz
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  7. Michael Belk says:

    I thought that eating alone was a big step. I could never travel all around the world in this manner.

    I do not mind sitting in a restaurant alone, but it is just not safe traveling that far from home alone.

    I applaud anyone that can do this, however I do agree with getting to know the locals.

    I think any country can be dangerous.
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  8. Disha Sharma says:

    Hi Shalu,
    I must say, You are very experienced Blogger. You have such a great mind to explore every small think on Big way. See your this post, “India through American eyes – Travel story” share really India story from American eyes. I must say, This post is superb just because of you.

  9. Hi Shalu,

    The way your view America from Indian perspective shows you definitely love to add more to your experience from the perspective of travelling, are you a traveller? Lols. Great and expository post.
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  10. For a women, travelling alone to particular place may be possible in other countries. But in India? Because, daily we are seeing in newspaper, internet and other sources about the molest. Women’s are not safe in our country. It’s international issue after an incident occur in Delhi regarding a girl scared by four members. Due to this foreigners may afraid to come to india alone.

    Even in Tamilnadu, there s no guarantee for women who walks single in the road after 10.00 pm. Actually am residing in the “Temple City” Madurai. Few years before, i saw lot of foreigners who make a visit to Meenakshi Amman Temple. But nowadays, i can’t see the foreigners around madurai. You can guess the reason behind this.
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  11. Hi Shalu,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. You are a brave woman. I traveled alone but only in the US, not to other countries. If I did I would like to do it in a group.

    As I was reading through your post, I felt the excitement you had shared and all in all you had a successful trip.

    I had a friend for many years that traveled to India by herself for the entire winter. She was diagnosed with cancer at a young age and only used Ayurvedic medicine.

    She went to a certain place and she survived for 40 years since she was diagnosed. Unfortunately she passed on last year. The good thing was she had a wonderful successful life.

    Thanks for this wonderful share,
    -Donna

  12. Bhikharee says:

    Great stuff to read, I visited this blog first time but I must say you are very good in sharing travel experience.
    Really, many traveler feels the same when they comes to India. Sometime they don’t feel safe because of surrounded taxi drivers and shopkeepers in markets.
    Everyone tries to pull out much money from them, this is not a impressive thing.
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  13. Prasad Np says:

    For any first time traveler to India, it can be an overwhelming experience. I must say you handled it very one…as they say India grows on you, and once you are hooked it is for life… Safe travels.
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  14. nice article, Wonderful work, Shalu Sharma :) I love to visit on your Blog & happy to find a good article about India from American eyes.

  15. YOGESH says:

    Hi Feel nice to red your article here. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience. It’s a great pleasure to us .

  16. Duzadee says:

    i love to travel alone as well. it is so good that i can go anywhere anytimes as i want no need to wait for other people. i really love your blog here so much interesting stuff about india. thump up!
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  17. Raj says:

    Hi..I like Your This Article.its A very Informative specially for me.actually you all post are good.keep writing good post…happy Blogging…..

  18. Pramod says:

    Hello Shalu !
    This is an amazing story and am sure many foreigners will feel inspired to visit to India for a holiday after reading this experience . Thanks for sharing

    -Pramod
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  19. Gautam says:

    Am really happy to hear that and Yaa Picpocketting and Starting are some problems about what you can’t do anything but changes are going on and one day everything will be fine for sure and Sorry for everything bad that happened to Your in India.
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  20. diecastings says:

    As a non-resident Indian, I have traveled most of the world and worked in 4 continents. But at the end of the day, my soul yearns for that Indian touch that I so much miss at times. Your story is most inspirational and so much better than the Eat, Pray, Love version. I cannot imagine what I would have done had I faced such hardships. Keep blogging and all the best for many more adventures
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  21. Shri Pilli says:

    Whole of India is not like that, there are good places like Chandigarh in India which are not crowded like delhi and safe for women. Market places in Chandigarh are also very good and safe. City has all the facilities for foreigners. It is not far away from Delhi also.

  22. Feylawati says:

    I plan to visit India. India is best country to get new experience for spirit and culture. I am willy to learn about hinduism. It seems bali can be other choice to visit

  23. ohkk even i want to explore indian culture…..there is lots of diversity an d colours..thanks for sharing your experiance with us…

  24. I think you are one of the best women in India, and you really love your country. If I read your post, just like I feel live in India. Nice post, madam..
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  25. Alysha says:

    Hello Friend Shalu, I traveled few times ind India and Travel To India when it comes to the honeymooner’s a houseboat ride in India is ideal way to experience India. Amongst various ravines that flow in the region, Dal Lake and Nagin Lake are the most famous for they enchant their visitors with awe inspiring beauty. Your India tour package is incomplete without a houseboat ride. Gliding on the crystal clear waters of India’s lakes the houseboat ride offers stunning panorama. Are you looking for a right destination in northern India for your holidays? What about India? Holiday in India will give you unique lifetime experience. India (Jammu & India) is most charming and captivating state of India. It is noted for its unique climate and extraordinary nature beauty.
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  26. Kinjal says:

    Hi Salu,

    Thanks fro sharing this wonderful experience. This post is really inspiring and i feel this is gonna inspire more foreigners to visit India.
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  27. shamsul says:

    thanks for nice sharing about travel story of India.I think Its open my eyes to natural sides of india.

  28. Mina Kumari says:

    this is really awesome a very well written and inspiring information that will really bring more visitors to India
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  29. ashok says:

    enjoyed visiting ur blog…very interesting and well written posts! will come back for more reads…cheers!

  30. philipsteele says:

    really fantastic read and it inspiring me to take a trip to India…

  31. tripmark says:

    This was actually quite a interesting read, It’s incredibly sad that the women had been harassed physically by men (pressing) and getting stared but it does not surprise me, neither does the garbage everywhere nor the street food getting her sick.

    I came back from my India trip recently and Kerala was good but almost every other place we went to (Chandigarh, New Delhi, Allahabad etc) seemed to be way behind the times.

    I was talking to my friends older aunt about her experience travelling for business and she told me her first trip to India was for a week and she was excited but after having been there for 3 days, she couldn’t take it and cut her trip short and flew back to Canada. She too was travelling solo and experienced the same problems as the American.
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  32. As an Indian couple living in America ourselves, I agree with many of the points you have brought about. Pick pocketing is a major problem in India and all tourists needs to be careful. The food is awesome in India, it is a spice fanatics heaven. We will be visiting India soon again this year. Thanks your the tips you have provided in this awesome blog!
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  33. Subbareddy says:

    Nice Shalu garu you blog and your posts are awesome
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  34. BD ICT Team says:

    day by day Indians are coping the western culture. i think this risky for Indian culture….

  35. PARGA says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for sharing your new article. your article is so much enjoyable for visitor.India always follow western culture but it is not good well for all kinds of religions.other some problem faces all visitor in India.like as, Pick pocketing, dust place, hotel crises etc. We will be visiting India soon again this year. Thanks your the tips you have provided in this awesome blog! although some place are wonderful like as Tazmohol,BABRI MOSQUE ARE FAMOUS all over the word.
    so i will come back as soon as possible again.
    thanks for post!

    Best,

    Sobuj

  36. Gta Games says:

    Thanks for sharing the info, p the good work going. I really enjoyed exploring your site. good resource.
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  37. Vicky says:

    i love to travel alone as well. it is so good that i can go anywhere anytimes as i want no need to wait for other people. i really love your blog here so much interesting stuff about india. thump up!
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  38. Prerna says:

    I enjoying very much reading this post, specially those bread pakora. When ever I visit your site, I see some really mouth watering pics.
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  39. Thank you for sharing
    I’ve been looking for, and it can be an idea from here
    I hope to be useful also for other people
    Once again I would like to say thank you
    Thank you for sharing
    I’ve been looking for, and it can be an idea from here
    I hope to be useful also for other people
    Once again I would like to say thank you

  40. John says:

    This is an awesome tale and am sure many people from other countries will feel motivated to trip to Indian for a vacation after studying this encounter. Thanks for sharing.

  41. Sue says:

    I love my India. Am extremely happy to listen to that and Yaa Picpocketting and beginning ar some issues regarding what you can’t do something however changes ar happening and in some unspecified time in the future everything are going to be fine of course and pitying everything unhealthy that happened to Your in Bharat.

  42. sablon kaos says:

    I think you are one of the best women in India.. very wonderfull

  43. danu ridi says:

    Hi Salu,Thanks fro sharing this wonderful experience. This post is really inspiring and i feel this is gonna inspire more foreigners to visit India.- See more at:

  44. Katy says:

    I have traveled most of the world and worked in four continents. but at the tip of the day, my soul yearns for that Indian bit that I such lots miss each currently so. Your story is most sacred then much better than the Eat, Pray, Love version

  45. Elena says:

    Nice blog Shalu.. the good thing about India is its old monuments. India is a historic place and its beauty lies in diversity it brings from different states, languages. I have heard there are over 13,000 languages in India.

  46. Your blog is giving strong reason to visit India again and again

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