India: A Shock to the Core - David

“What I knew of the world was nothing until I went to India. It's the most culturally impactful place you can travel. It will change your world.”


David in front of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India

Travel host, producer and social media influencer David Hoffman travels about 100 days out of the year. Since starting his blog (Davidsbeenhere.com) in the summer of 2007, he has created more than 2,000 travel episodes (usually focusing on local cuisine) across 6 continents and 79 countries, including in popular tourist destinations like France, Italy, and Mexico as well as in less well-known places such as Morocco, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Kuwait and El Salvador.


But, the most pivotal trip of his life — and the trip that revolutionized his career — was his

3-week long visit to India in January of 2018.


“There are two types of travelers: those who have been to India and those who have not,”

David said.


In the first 8 years of working on his blog, David gained about 60,000 Youtube subscribers. Although he started vlogging daily, he began to have doubts about whether his career was sustainable full time. After his trip, many of his videos from India went viral and he gained 100,000 subscribers in one month. His career took off. Now, he has 701,000 subscribers on YouTube and has been featured by publications like the Discovery Channel, BuzzFeed, and BBC Travel.


“What I knew of the world was nothing until I went to India,” he said. “It's the most culturally impactful place you can travel. It will change your world.”


David arrived in Delhi (India’s capital) at 7 a.m. after an exhausting 24-hour journey from Miami, Florida. After dropping off his bags at an Airbnb, David and his guide immediately went to the heart of Old Delhi Chandni Chowk, a densely populated market bustling with shops and street vendors to sample some of India’s most authentic dishes, including aloo tikki, parathas, jalebi, and fire paan (areca nut wrapped in a betel leaf that is literally lit on fire before being stuffed into a customer’s open mouth).


Left to right: aloo tikki (mashed potato crust stuffed with lentils, cottage cheese, and green beans), jalebi (deep-fried dough served with a thick, milky sauce), and fire paan


“India is a really tough place to travel, especially as a Westerner,” David said. “It's just so different from the Western world: the cleanliness is very different, the amount of people is different, the languages. It’s intense. It was the shock of my life — the first day, especially.”


David said that he was expecting the dirt and the crowds (especially since about 28.5 million people lived in Delhi in 2018), yet he was still shocked by the sheer number of people bustling everywhere he looked.



“It was intense,” he said. “That tiny chunk in Delhi is the most shocking place you'll probably ever go to — the street food vendors, super crowded streets it's a big mess, that array of smells. It's crazy. “



Walking the streets, David saw everything from kids begging to people’s bodies being burned in the river. Seeing such stark poverty made David appreciate the comforts he has and the fact that his then 3 year-old daughter, who was the same age as many of the kids begging for food scraps on India’s streets, never has to go to bed hungry.


“India is the one destination that will shock you to the core and make you a better person,” he said.


David also visited cultural landmarks including the historic fortress Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb (which holds the Mughal emperor Humayun), the India Gate (a monument dedicated to 70,000 British Indian soldiers killed during WW1), the Jama Masjid (a Muslim mosque), the Meena Bazaar, and the affluent neighborhood Hauz Khas. The exquisite architecture such as free-standing red sand minarets, intricately decorated tombs and towering marble gates astonished him.


Top left to right: David at the Red Gate, Humayun’s Tomb; Bottom left to right: The Meena Bazaar (aka the Sunday Market), David and his guide in front of the India Gate



“Contrast is all over India,” he said. “I mean, it’s just everywhere, from rich to poor, from mountain to sea.”


On the third morning, David left Delhi and set off for Agra, a city on the banks of the Yamuna River most famous for the Taj Mahal. During the hour-long speed train ride between the two cities, David got an awful stomachache. For the next seven days, he barely ate but nevertheless pushed himself to continue exploring and creating content. He suspects he contracted Delhi Belly (travelers’ diarrhea) from the street food he ate in Delhi.


“That was a big, big hurdle for me, especially being a food blogger not being able to eat food was crazy,” he said.


One significant cultural difference that David experienced during his trip was the tradition of eating food with your hands rather than using cutlery. Licking your fingers is socially acceptable in India while in the United States, it would be seen as disgraceful.


Left to right: The Bara Imambara, the Chota Imambara


After Agra, David traveled to Lucknow, Varanasi, Jaipur, and Mumbai. He visited landmarks such as the Bara Imambara (a Shia Muslim meeting hall), the Chota Imambara (a monument that served as a mausoleum for Muhammad Ali Shah, the Nawab of Awadh), the Hawa Mahal (The Palace of the Winds), and Elephanta Island (which is known for its rock-cut Basalt stone structures).


“Being on the ground in India and seeing the huge differences in the languages, culture, and cuisine as I moved from city to city made me realize that I had barely scratched the surface of what India is by the time my trip ended. So I made the decision to return to India at least once a year for the rest of my life,” David wrote in an article on his blog.


Already, he has about 7 upcoming trips to India planned out.


“It’s the most unique country and there's so much more to explore,” he said.



David in front of the Hawa Mahal (The Palace of the Winds)