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Don’t Laugh: Indian Winters Are a Real Thing

Posted by on January 31, 2013

I’m never too sure how much people want to read blog posts about someone else’s vacation. Don’t get me wrong–I love oogling over pictures of Machu Picchu and salivating as I linger peruse images of jambalaya or gelato. But when it comes to my own travel tales, I’m hesitant. I’ve decided to limit myself to one post per week, which might mean you’re reading about our India trip until flip-flop weather.

Speaking of flip-flops. Whoever started the rumor that India is warm, we need to have words. In December, I packed my suitcase while rocking out to Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole. I imagined warm nights in India, wearing tee-shirts and flip-flops. And then I encountered Indian winter.

I can’t say, however, that I wasn’t warned. I googled the weather: it was consistently 15 C in the day, 8 C at night. I monitored it each day before leaving; 8 C is definitely something I can manage. My sister-in-law and mother-in-law warned me: bring slippers, pants, a jacket and woolies (I’m still trying to work out if woolies are sweaters, wool socks, or…?). 8 C? I laughed to myself, That’s nothing. They should feel -20! Ever the arrogant American daughter-in-law, I packed a hefty amount of disbelief along with my scarf, mittens and two sweaters.

Sunrise over Manhattan, Boxing Day 2012

Sunrise over Manhattan, Boxing Day 2012

As we exited the New Delhi airport, it was sunny, breezy and almost warm. I unzipped my jacket and grinned.

Before I go any further, there are a few things I should tell you:

1. Indian buildings are not built for cold; winter is short and summer is long. The concrete homes have no insulation, no heat and tile or marble floors.

2. New Delhi experienced its coldest winter in decades over the course of our visit.

The result?

The week and a half we spent in New Delhi, I spent shivering. Day and night I could be seen wearing leggings, jeans, a tank top, shirt, sweater, scarf, jacket and usually, a blanket. Apparently, when my sister-in-law told me, “It’s sooo cold inside the house, you have no idea”, I actually had no idea.

Do you know what it’s like to try and sleep in a bedroom that’s 4 C? It’s like camping, except without s’mores.

Look at all those Canadians too cold to take off their jackets insider!

Look at all those Canadians: too cold to take off their jackets inside!

Truth be told, we weren’t the only ones who were cold.

Clad in his Christmas-present jacket, Simba sought refuge on the carpet.

Clad in his Christmas-present jacket, Simba sought refuge on the carpet.

In general, I’m not big on being cold. My hands are icy from October to April, I take piping hot showers and frequently sit in front of our space heater. Can you imagine what it was like for me to try and shower in this cold?

Actually, you probably can’t.

Allow me to paint you a picture: After several more than one day of coaxing myself, I decide to take a shower. I turn on the water heater for the bathroom, and wait the requisite 15 minutes. For some unknown reason, the bathroom is by far the coldest room in the house. I creep in, cringing at the chilly blast of air. Gingerly, I peel off layers and begin to fill the bucket. I crouch in the bath, pouring mugfulls of water over my hair and face. As goose bumps take up permanent resident on my skin, I begin negotiations with myself: “Okay. I’ll shampoo, but I’m not washing my face. And don’t even ask about shaving: it’s not happening”.

After a brisk 3 minutes in warm water, a chilled tub and a frigid room, I jump out and begin piling on layers. I calculate how long I can go before needing to bathe again.

India Winter: 1, Amelia: 0.

As you might guess, we spent a lot of time drinking chai. Hanging out at Varun’s parents home, wandering the streets of Delhi or visiting in slums, we were never far from mugs of that delicious elixir.


We stomped our feet and warmed our hands on the mugs, marveling at the cold. How could 4 C be so unbearable?


Speeding across Delhi in open rickshaws with the wind whipping across our faces, we swore never to complain about India’s sizzling summers again. And I, for one, swore to invest in several woolies, whatever they may be.

walking in delhi

12 Responses to Don’t Laugh: Indian Winters Are a Real Thing

  1. zecucumber

    Thanks for the post! Andi and I can totally relate! We’ve had our butts kicked by cold weather in some “Warm” places such as Australia, Egypt, Philippines, Korea, and even Thailand. It’s always a shocker. You’d think we’d have learned by now, but it’s hard to kick a lifetime of expecting anything about -10 to feel balmy!

    • Amelia

      So glad you understand! Everyone kept asking me, why are you wearing hoodies in your pictures from India?!! Wow, even Egypt?

  2. VIcky

    it’s the humidity haha…Taiwan’s the same. the buildings don’t have central heating and they’re also made of cement which traps cold like mad.

  3. Kar

    I love that we both wrote about chai (and how Indian winters are, in fact, bone-chillingly cold) in the same week! I hope you didn’t mind that I pointed people to your blog for a chai recipe! šŸ™‚

    • Amelia

      Hehe, I know! I was editing that post when I saw yours. Apparently the cold is just that inspiring! I don’t mind at all–do you?

  4. Ryan Miller

    Woolies are long underwear, silly.

  5. miranda

    Is it the humidity? 40F in Florida is unbearably cold because it’s so damp and bone-chilling, but I would consider 40F here a nice day. Woolies, I believe, are long underwear.

  6. American Punjaban PI

    It gets really cold up north. In Amritsar we got down to freezing about 10 days a year. We also got all the cold air from the snowy mountains nearby but none of the snow. What a rip off! I learned how to layer my clothes and keep warm under the blankets. It was not fun for it to be so cold with no indoor heat. I did buy a small heater but you can’t leave that on while you sleep so at night I had to make do with the cold.

  7. Ruapli

    True. when I was first choosing my destination in Canada mild weather was my first condition, as you know we are so cold in winters in North India.So I was comparing temperatures and was apprehensive being outdoors in cold.Now after my stay in London I realised being out in the cold just for few ours is tolerable to be compensated with other major time of comfortable temperature.In addition to food and water comfortable temperature is also a basic amenity and human rights should work towards this direction also..

    • Amelia

      Very true, Aunty! Even colder temperatures are bearable if you are indoors most of the time and have central heating!

      Being in the slums during such a cold winter made me feel really sad for people—people definitely do need heat in addition to food and water.

Thoughts? I love hearing from you!