What to expect when arriving in India for the first time

Are you really ready for your trip to India? Source: Shutterstock.

MOST of the things that you hear about India are true – the incessant honking, loud noises, massive crowds and traffic jams, pollution, filth and poverty, pungent smells, and vibrant colors.

As such, it’s completely understandable that you might feel apprehensive – not knowing what to expect from this land of incredible contrasts of sights and sounds.

As crazy as it seems, traveling in India can be an amazing and exhilarating experience.

To have an extraordinary trip, here is information to help you get through the culture shock when arriving in India for the first time.

Initial disorientation

You will probably be struck by two things when you first land in India – the heat and people.

Depending on the season and unless you come from the tropics, the heat and humidity are something you might not be used to especially when it hits your face the moment you exit from the airport.

Adding to that confusion is the sheer number of people thronging the airport – a lot of drivers, touts, and people greeting family and friends.

With the heat and humidity and the presence of people everywhere, you might feel disoriented, not knowing what to do or where to go.

As such, it’s advisable to book your first night’s accommodation with an airport transfer in advance so that you would feel confident upon arriving at an unfamiliar place.

People and personal space

Be prepared for a massive number of people in India. As a result of overpopulation, personal space is a problem.

Do not be surprised if someone jumps the queue or when the person behind you has their entire body pressed against yours when you’re queuing.

Source: Kathleen Poon.

They are not trying to cop a feel or steal your purse but they just do not have the same sense of personal space that we are used to. Try to remain calm while holding your place in line.

Do not be afraid to speak out (loudly) and tell them “excuse me”. Or you can stick out your elbows or move around to keep them from jumping queue.

Honking and all kinds of noise

Remember to bring your earplugs because India is not a quiet country. You will be inundated with horns honking, in fact, honking is probably one of the most exhausting things about being in India.

Indians love to use their horns when driving – they honk when turning corners, overtaking and when other vehicles are in the way.

Apart from honking, there are other loud noises as well such as street processions, loud music blaring, construction noise, and people talking and yelling.

Yes, Indians can be quite noisy too, and that comes with overpopulation when they have to be seen and heard in order to get what they want.

India can be a zoo

They cross the road when they want to; they lie down outside of shops and even meander along the beach. Don’t be alarmed when you see cows on the roads in India as they are mostly quite harmless.

Yes, India can be a zoo. Cows are not the only creatures seen on the roads.

Source: Kathleen Poon.

You might come across donkeys and camels pulling carts through the cities of Rajasthan or wild boars wandering outside a private golf course in Gurgaon, New Delhi.

Smells of India

Traveling in India is an assault on all your senses.

When you first arrive, you might notice a distinct smell that is India, and the smells of India can be the best and worst things about the country.

On some days you would smell the rich aromas of spices and sandalwood incense but on other days, you would feel disgusted by the stench of rubbish and urine.

Glaring poverty

One of the most confronting things in India is the glaring poverty and the huge contrast between the rich and the poor.

You will see posh apartments and luxury cars on one side of the street, and slums or makeshift tents on the other side.

Source: Shutterstock.

It’s something that we, as foreigners, may never really get used to.


All foreigners visiting India will, invariably, receive a lot of attention in public.

People will unabashedly stare at you and take photos of you.

They are just curious, so do not get offended. The best thing to do is to remain calm and ignore them.

Head wobble

Foreigners often find the Indian head wobble quite confusing. They never know if the Indian is saying yes or no.

The head wobble can mean many things: it means yes, good, I hear you, I understand, and sometimes maybe. If you aren’t sure, rephrase your question again and just go with your best guess.

Source: Shutterstock.

But don’t worry, it takes lots of practice to understand the head wobble. In fact, you might find yourselves wobbling your head too after spending considerable time traveling in India!

Practice patience and be persistent

Be prepared that it takes more time to get things done in India as there are a lot of bureaucratic red tape, inefficient processes and people to deal with. You may find that many things in India don’t make sense.

To enjoy India’s charm, you must be willing to expect the unexpected in the midst of all that organized chaos.

Practice patience and your persistence will pay off, for there is a saying in Hindi, sab kuch milega which means, anything is possible.