There’s never really one way to live like a local in India as each city you go to is so vastly different. But here’s a snapshot of my typical day when I was volunteering at a school in India.
Mornings are early with a 7am wake up ready for school as you head downstairs for my daily dose of morning chai and biscuits. Best to have a small bite before the day starts, otherwise the first break time is around 10am – where the teachers gather together to share their food. This usually entails chicken tikka, biryani, and mostly vegetable dishes.
Interesting fact about India – they’ll display (veg/non-veg) signs everywhere to cater for the type of food you eat; also you’re unlikely to find beef or good bacon since generally Hindus don’t eat beef and Muslims don’t eat pork.
Your project, work, or studies will comprise of the rest of the morning until lunch time.
Lunchtime is usually at a café, or you can have homemade food from a tabletop stove. You can shop locally at Big Bazaar (equivalent of a small scale Kmart and Woolworths combined) where they have lots of home ware and a mini supermarket, but you do get security checked at the door, and no big bags allowed). You’ll need to source specialty stores for meat, eggs and milk. Milk you receive from a keg, warm from a cow and it’s up to the buyer to boil, cool and boil the milk again. If you ever need takeaway, expect it to be wrapped in newspaper (super economical and less plastic!)
By afternoon, half the day is gone, so it’s good to find something to pass time, whether it’s sitting at a local café, taking photos with friends (read: taking selfies), having another chai, bowling or chilling at the local parks with a game of cricket. You can take a rickshaw or local bus into the city centre over multiple potholes. Many stray dogs, cows (yes, really) and other animals will undoubtedly greet you on the streets.
Dinner may be with friends at a local restaurant. Getting home is either via Ola, Uber or rickshaw – just make sure you don’t get ripped off for being a foreigner.
A lovely bucket shower will await you, but you’re lucky if you have hot water. Depending on the apartment you live in, you may have air conditioners and a good mattress, otherwise a fan and a “table” bed with a thin mattress will suffice. You can spend the night catching up reading, meditating and general hobbies.
If you want to spend the weekend travelling, look forward to super cheap buses ($10 trips), with the choice of A/C, non A/C, and seat or sleeper buses. They’re usually reliable, but often late – if it says 6AM pick-up, it’ll probably be at 6:30AM. You’ll have multiple tea breaks and rest stops along the way, prolonging your journey. If you’re in a city with trains, be aware they are split into gender carriages, and there isn’t a mixed one unless you take the baggage cabin.
Living like a local truly opened my perspective of the opportunities and privileges available to me in Australia. Coming back, I remember greatly appreciating having a proper working shower, driving my own car and the diversity of cuisines available to me everywhere I go. I do miss the lower costs of living, the chai and the people of India. The kindness they’ve shown me and the taste of true chai really can’t be replicated in Australia.