Here are a few of the things that, together, make India the unique land that it is and, in my opinion, the most gloriously random country in the world.
The head wobble
A friend of mine who's half Indian, half British, and grew up there recently shared this video on Facebook, claiming it's the best explanation of the Indian head wobble she's ever come across. You won't get it until you go there, and then you might just find yourself adopting it by the time you leave.
Expect to queue to get into the queue. If there's a way that a process can be made longer and more complicated, completely unnecessarily, in India, lo, it is done. On our flight from Bangalore to Kochi, no fewer than 5 different people checked our boarding passes in the 100 or so yards from the gate to the plane.
Do you scare easily??
At the best of times, you're spending thousands and thousands of rupees, convinced you're draining your coiffers, yet only a handful of pounds/dollars are actually spent. It's much worse, however, when the Indian government decides to withdraw 2 of the most used (particularly by tourists) notes in circulation. Oh and you can't take out more than 2000 rupees per day from the ATM. So half the holiday is spent trying to exchange foreign currency (for every 2000 rupees/£24 taken out at the ATM, you'll be charged a transaction fee and 100 rupees by the Indian bank, totally around £5 per transaction - even I can see that's not worth it); the other half is spent trying to get change for the 2000 rupee notes!
The "yes sir" confusion
There are many Indians who speak English, and I confess I speak no Hindi so good on them - however, take caution when asking a question or confirming something with your waiter/driver/shopkeeper. Even those who seem to speak English will nod (head wobble) and say "yes sir" when they haven't understood a word you've said. They also say "yes sir" to ladies.
Ambassadors and Royal Enfields are still driven on the roads and amid the myriad of traditional Indian restaurants and modern more international eateries, you'll find gems like Britannia & Co, a famous Mumbai locale serving classic Parsi cuisine such as berry pulav in a vintage, colonial atmosphere. Run by a 93 (I think) year old gentleman who insists on chatting with each and every guest, and meticulously taking down their order before recounting tales of when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge came to visit, the food is as delicious as the host is charming.
India is a feast for the senses. If you're in Mumbai, take an early morning tour and see how the city wakes up by visiting the fruit and veg wholesale markets. Wander through the myriad of exotic vegetable piles and notice what the big bags of chills do to your sinuses! If you're lucky enough to come across a Hindu wedding, you'll have a new appreciation for colour and dressing up.
They're everywhere and they like to stand in the middle of busy roads. Except for in Mumbai (Bombay) where the free cows are now confiscated in a bid to try and reduce the number of accidents occurring as a result of our aimlessly wandering holy bovine friends.
This is actually a bit depressing. Rubbish is EVERYWHERE. You really have to see it to believe it. And when you see it, you'll be disgusted at the human race and wonder what on earth is going to happen to our land and oceans. As you see it floating in the rivers, seas, canals and watch while livestock and poultry pick at it like food, it'll probably inspire you to become vegetarian, at least while you're in India.
A friend of mine recently stayed in Calcutta on business. It took him 2 hours to take a half an hour journey every morning and night. Similarly, we arrived in Bangalore at peak hour and it took over 2.5 hours to make a one hour journey. You'd better really like your travel buddies.
The rules of the road
We've been studying these and have determined that there must be some. Otherwise, there'd be an accident every time you got into a car. But while India is the road traffic accident capital of the world, there does seem to be some sort of method in all the madness. Take honking for instance; it seems like pure chaos when you arrive, but then you notice that, because everyone completely ignores the western highway code of forming lanes and using the outside lane to overtake, honking is used to communicate your presence, at junctions, while over or undertaking, when passing parked vehicles. Occasionally you'll see a very smart brand new vehicle on the road and wonder why it isn't covered in scratches. We've come to believe that these vehicles are given a wider birth by the lesser vehicles like tuk tuks. Interestingly though, nobody seems to get stressed or have road rage in India.
The chaotic busyness
It's like a wave or a very strong wind. You have to flex and go with it. But it's enough to make the introverts among us want to lie down in a darkened room by the end of it.
It's also everywhere. Like the rubbish. And in fact, some of it likely used to be the rubbish. You'll see little fires at the side of the road as bits of used up trash are set alight to try and clear the way. This perhaps contributes to the dull haze that hangs over many cities. If you walk along the road in the midday sun (as only mad dogs and English men do), you'll be taking your life into your own hands, of course, and you'll also end up covered in a fine layer of dust.
No doubt about it, real Indian food is some of the most delicious in the universe. Idly and dosa for breakfast, dal for lunch, curry or masala for dinner. If you're wise, you'll stick to the vegetarian options. And don't forget, when eating with your hands, that using the left is a BIG no no. Let's just say it has to do with what goes on in the restrooms.
Walk through an airport body scanner, set it off, get waved through. Oh well, you're probably not a terrorist. Tell that to the survivors of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The taxis or tuk tuks
"Seat belts aren't allowed in India" proclaimed our elderly (blind as a bat) taxi driver as we were bundled into the cab, our luggage lashed to the roof, as we hurried to get to Mumbai airport on time for our flight to Bangalore. We didn't have much of a choice. Our pre-booked hotel taxi hadn't arrived and we were already over half an hour late leaving. Therein followed the hairiest ride of our lives, burning rubber on bald tyres at 100kms an hour on the motorway, the engine stuttering with barely enough petrol fumes in the tank to keep it going, our driver switching from gas to petrol, gas to petrol, to eek out whatever last remnants of power inexplicably remain, our centre of gravity seriously off kilter, threatening to pull us into the central reservation or all the way over onto our side. "Entire British family dies in taxi to the airport" reads the newspaper headline. Mercifully not.
Pigs and goats share the streets with cars (and several teams of locals playing cricket if it's a Sunday); you'll pass a modern mall decked with fairy lights with tin roofed shacks next door; pavements, if you're lucky enough to be walking on one, will be blocked with large crates of nothing much at all; building materials will be left in the central reservation, spilling out into the road; order something off the menu, you can bet your bottom dollar they don't have it.
To check out more reasons why India is one of the most incredible countries you'll ever travel to, have a read of my North India blog posts. Got anything to add to this list? Let me know in the comments!