Last modified: 2012-04-27T20:46:02Z
Published: Sunday, Apr. 29, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1H
The place: India
The expert: Ravi Verma, 47, was born in India and came to the United States in his 20s. At least once a year he leads a group of 35 Buddhist pilgrims back to India.
>What are some cultural differences between India and the United States, and how should travelers react?
If you have been called "high maintenance" once in your lifetime, think hard before you venture in that direction. If you have been called high maintenance more than once, don't go. India tests the limits of Western organized and structured life.
The statement, "Our hotel has hot water" may mean that you run the hot water tap for 10 minutes before water that is hot shows up. Having Wi-Fi may mean downloading one email in five minutes. Things constantly change; plans are made to be altered in a few minutes to address new realities.
India is for those who "go with the flow." If you are comfortable with change, you will love India.
Another big cultural difference is that Indians stare at other sentient beings. Men stare at women and men, women stare at men and women. Westerns get unnerved by staring. Usually it is harmless Indians are very curious people. Every civilization or race or religion that reached India was dealt with curiosity and given a place to settle down. The result is an amazing diversity.
And lastly, India seems like a very rule-bound and ritualized country, and Westerners worry about breaking them. In reality, most rules can be broken without any upheaval.
>Do you have any tips on the least expensive ways (airfare, train, ship) to get to India?
Airfare in off season when schools are in session is dramatically cheaper. The price from the United States can be from $1,400 to $1,800 depending upon the season.
>How safe and efficient is the rapid transportation (bus, subway, taxi)?
Trains are the most efficient way to travel in India. But it takes planning, for they get booked way in advance. Within a city, taxis are good.
>What are two places where you can experience the real India, the non-touristy part?
The area around the India-Nepal border is very quiet and very beautiful. I will recommend Shravasti and the outskirts of Gorakhpur.
>If your in-laws were to come visit you in India, where would you have taken them and why?
It will depend upon two things: if they are high-maintenance or in poor health. If one of those two conditions applies, I would keep them in New Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore. If they are neither of those, then I would add Varanasi, Bodhgaya, Rajgir and Darjeeling.
>How would you describe the locals' attitude toward tourists in their midst?
It depends on the place. Usually Indians are curious and can overwhelm a quiet, introvert and private Westerner without meaning any harm. In places like New Delhi, it can be unsafe for women as there have been several incidents of misbehavior. Most Indians treat tourists with curiosity and warmth.
>What is the one place not to miss when in India?
The Taj Mahal.
>Would you ever consider going back, either to visit or live?
What I have learned in the United States, I am sharing with my folks in India like not staring at people you don't know, and the value of punctuality. I am moving back to India in a few years to take up teaching of small children.
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