Back to Incredible India after eight years

In 2008 I embarked on my first backpacker trip. Not sure why I chose India as the first backpacker destination as there are much easier countries to start in. I had a massive culture shock for the first two weeks and loved the six weeks that followed.

I haven’t made it back to India ever since. Recently the country opened up online visas for many nationalities which made the process of visiting a) hassle free and b) cheaper. Previously passports had to be dropped off and collected at the embassy.

So when I started planning a trip to Central Asia, I somehow stumbled upon Amritsar which has multiple flights a week to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (still haven’t figured out why). On top of that, Scoot recently started flying 4x weekly from Singapore to Amritsar and prices are still very low for a 5.5 hour flight. So I did not hesitate long to book Amritsar as a stopover on the way to the “stans”.

The Golden Temple in Amritsar and the daily border closing ceremony at Wagah had both been long on my bucket list, so I was excited to visit those. Due to flight times however, I chose to stay only for one night. So I was curious to see how I’d like India this time around and whether I’d still get a culture shock. Below is a summary of my observations of the first eight hours in the country:

  • Despite having an e-visa, it took as long as ever to pass immigration. I was the first one at the counter but they first had to call an officer, who appeared after about five minutes. Of course he did not have a stamp, so he just borrowed someone else’s. He did not say a word and who knows what he was doing during the 20 minutes he was processing me.
  • The airport in Amritsar is fairly new and looks nice from the outside. Inside not a single display board or signboard is working. Printer papers next to the screens instead inform passengers. When I landed it was raining. An army of cleaning personnel was trying to keep the floor dry as it was dripping from the ceiling
  • A number of birds lives and flies around inside the terminal. I don’t think this is intended like the butterfly garden at Changi Airport as there is bird-shit everywhere
  • The “fixed price taxi booth” was not so fixed price after all
  • Due to traffic jams and accidents we drove on the wrong side of the street. Multiple times. On the highway.
  • We stopped for buffalo herds to cross the road. Multiple times. On the highway.
  • The car we drove in was the most beat up Tata I’ve ever seen.
  • I was asked literally a dozen times to have my photo taken. Surprisingly few Caucasian tourists were around.

In the beginning it was fun but towards the end of the day by the time I was exhausted from the heat and humidity, I struggled a bit. Definitely not a culture shock like in 2008 but I probably would not do a short stint to India again as it does take time to get used to the atmosphere.

The marketing slogan of the tourism board is spot on – Incredible India. In every way, both positive and negative. Stay tuned for some incredibly positive experiences.

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