Some surprises are good, and some are a bit less so. Whatever else might be said about the country of India, one thing certainly rings true, it’s a land of undeniable surprises. If you’re planning a trip to India, we guarantee the following five things will make your jaw drop!

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1. Traffic

On the streets of India, you’ll witness tuk tuks, cows, expensive sports cars, donkeys, artfully painted vans and motorcycles packed with entire families and seemingly operating against the laws of physics, all competing for space.

In general, traffic functions very differently to what we expect in the West. In India, legal regulations are viewed more as well-intentioned guidelines. But the formal rules of the road and what actually happens on the streets have exceedingly little in common. It often seems as if he who honks loudest wins. The “No Honking” signs, a common sight in areas of high congestion, seem almost ironic against the ear-splitting backdrop of the frenetic traffic. One way streets are commonly used as regular two-way thoroughfares, in particular by the small, agile tuk tuks. Rickshaw drivers are a common, almost iconic part of traffic in India.

2. The juxtaposition of past and future

In India there’s an app for just about anything you can imagine, but at the same time there are shortages of water, and periodic power outages are common even in major cities. 15th-century architectural monuments hug the narrow, multi-lane streets; brand new, luxury SUVs overtake heavily laden donkeys, their bags brimming full with stones for a construction project. The quiet past and the deafening blare of the hyper-technological future exist in startling juxtaposition here.

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3. The crowded masses and photo stress

Nothing defines the experience of travel in India more than the sheer quantity of people. In the inner cities, at well-known attractions, at the train station: in places where people all around the globe congregate, India nevertheless stands apart for its bustling masses. Especially on religious holidays, this country manages to impress even experienced travelers who, in spite of claiming indifference to crowds, are often shocked by the seemingly endless mass of souls.

At tourist attractions, it’s often the case that as a foreign tourist you yourself become part of the attraction. Whether it’s entire families with children in tow, young people, or even chic young women: everyone seems to want a picture taken with the foreigner. Be prepared to be asked for your photograph at least every five minutes.

4. Sophisticated scams and tough haggling

It was my first time at the train station in Delhi. I was alone, ticket in hand, looking for the right entrance to find my train. A helpful-seeming man pointed me to it. At the entrance stood another man, professionally dressed, in clothing that looked almost like a uniform. He took a look at my ticket and told me that my train had unfortunately been canceled, but he could show me where to purchase a new ticket. After a brief moment of panic my good sense kicked in, and in the train station I found my train displayed normally on the departure board.

But it’s not just elaborate scams you need to watch out for here: even if you consider yourself to be a top notch haggler, you’ll find your equal in India. The prices charged to foreign tourists are often exorbitantly high, and the rickshaw drivers in particular are known to be particularly good when it comes to haggling. But it’s also worth noting that even the official tourism industry is structured such that foreign tourists pay more for entry to sights and attractions, since the average Indian visitor has far less disposable income than the average foreign tourist.

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5. Places of unbelievable beauty and energy

Sure, most people come to India with a certain expectation of seeing imposing historical structures; but it’s impossible to capture the feeling of being here. Although in real life the Taj Mahal is a bit smaller than it seems in photographs, it’s just one of the countless magical, spiritually-charged structures that bejewel the landscape of India. The pulsing energy exuded by religious Sikhs and visitors alike as they make their nightly journey around the Golden Temple in Amritsar is simply beyond compare. The Mehrangarh Fortress reaches for the sky, a fairytale castle above the blue-painted houses of the old town of Jodhpur. Even the “Baby Taj”, a comparatively tiny mausoleum in the city of Agra, where the Taj Mahal itself is also located, has a particular enchanted glow.

India is an experience beyond description. And even the best informed and most well prepared travellers can’t help but be amazed!

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