Getting My Ears Cleaned on an Indian Sidewalk


Getting My Ears Cleaned on an Indian Sidewalk

Sometimes, cotton swabs and pinkie fingers just aren’t enough. I’d noticed over the last month or so that my hearing was getting a bit weak. Tired of responding to everyone I met with “What?”, I decided it was time to seek professional help. I found it, at last, at a popular tourist gathering spot in Rishikesh, overlooking the Ganges River.

I knew this guy was a professional because he had a small wooden toolbox with the phrase “EAR CLEANER” emblazoned on its side — you don’t get more pro than that. He sat me down on a bench and pulled a long brass pick out of his pocket but before he started, I insisted that we agree on a price. He asked for 100 rupees but I knew that most personal services like this –shaving, shoeshines, and such– rarely cost more than twenty. We bantered back and forth for a moment before we settled on fifty ($1.25 US), with the agreement that I’d get to take a few photos after he was done.

Tugging on my ear and peering inside, his first words were “Oh my God… oh my God…”

Tugging on my left ear and peering inside, his first words were “Oh my God… oh my God…” Apparently, things weren’t very pretty in there. He poked about carefully with the pick, pulling out one chunk of dried ear wax after another. He’d show me each bit before wiping it on the back of his hand. By the end of the session, he would have enough material to wax a Buick. I’m just glad he didn’t charge by the pound.

He continued muttering “oh my God” over and over as if it were a mantra, then changed to “Very dry. Very bad…” and the sales pitch began. He’d found a large nugget that –he claimed– wouldn’t come loose without ‘medicine’. Opening his box, he pulled out a small screw-top vial of golden oil and wafted it under my nose — it smelled like eucalyptus.

“Very good medicine,” he explained. “From Germany. Only 500 rupees.”

Getting My Ears Cleaned on an Indian SidewalkI made sure the pick was far from my ear before allowing myself to laugh. “Not gonna happen, my friend.” The haggling began in earnest then and we went back and forth for several minutes before he agreed to another fifty for the ‘medicine’. Just as he went to pour the oil, my travel instincts kicked in: “Fifty total. Both ears.”

This, of course, was not what he had in mind and led to yet more haggling before he finally relented and agreed to a total of 100 rupees for the whole job — 50 for the cleaning and 50 for the oil. By now a large crowd had gathered to watch the show, standing around discussing, I suppose, what the inside of a foreigner’s ear looks like. They’re pretty hard-up for entertainment in these parts.

He carefully placed a few drops in my ear, placed his thumb over my ear canal and then shook my head like a maraca. Reaching in with a pair of long-handled tweezers, he pulled out a sticky glob the size of a gumball — if it had been any larger, it would have been a roadside attraction, like those balls of twine you find in the Midwest. Now it was my turn: “Oh my God…”

After probing around a bit more, he tore a small piece of cotton from a wad he had stuffed under his hat and wiped the oil from my ear canal. The right ear got the same treatment, though thankfully there was no more haggling. I hung around a bit afterward to take photos and see what he charged the locals: forty rupees total, including ‘medicine’. So I paid over double, as usual, but ended up with some decent photos and a fun story.

Best of all, I can hear again. Well enough, at least, to hear him muttering in the ear of his next patient: “Oh my God, oh my God…”

54 comments on “Getting My Ears Cleaned on an Indian Sidewalk

  1. OMG you are so funny Wes!

  2. Wes, I actually want to have this done. I think it would be sweet haha. Always thought q-tips didnt reach far enough back.
    Nick recently posted..Yet Another Digital Nomad YADNMy Profile

    • Do it, man! I recommend Vietnam — the barbers there use about a half dozen different tools, complete with little brushes they spin in your ear. Much more of a show ;)

  3. Ewww. What a strange way to make money. I must say though…that I would have done the same thing. That seems like too good of an opportunity for a good story…and it was! :)

  4. I don’t think I’ll get into the ear cleaning business.
    Nick Laborde recently posted..11 things you probably don’t need in 2011 and a kick ass mulletMy Profile

  5. I’ve always been fascinated by this, but still afraid of the size of the picks. Glad to hear you survived and I’m amused by the ear cleaner’s sales pitch.

    In Chengdu, China the ear cleaning happened in a tea garden. It was a bit of a challenge to enjoy your tea in the peacefulness of the garden with the ear cleaner following you around clicking his tools together.
    Audrey recently posted..Panorama of the Week- Coffee Berry Hill at Lake Atitlan- GuatemalaMy Profile

  6. OMG. What a strange job to have. Some people can make money out of nothing. Ew. I could not do the job though.
    Natalie – Turkish Travel Blog recently posted..The Stranger’s GraveMy Profile

  7. This is so great! Having been to India and seeing this action… so on-point (and I’m a bit jealous I wasn’t brave – or deaf – enough to try it myself!)

  8. I think I’m in serious need of an ear cleaner. I’m going deaf, myself. I use Q-tips to clean my ears even though I’ve been told it actually pushes the wax into your ear, and is not good for your hearing. But it’s been a bad habit to break for some reason. :/

    Have you ever tried ear wax candles? I’ve used them a few times. You put one end in your ear and light the other one on fire. It’s supposed to suck out the wax and debris, but who knows if that’s really the case.
    Christy @ Ordinary Traveler recently posted..Big Sunday – A Healthy Dose of Fear 12My Profile

    • I tried ear candles years ago. They seemed to help but it’s hard to say. I burned one by itself and saw that all the wax you find inside after is actually just wax from the candle itself :/

  9. Bonzaibrandy on said:

    Thanks for having the guts to take on this experience ! Its so enjoyable to hear your perspective! Im shocked by the amount of wax he got out of there… Did it improve your hearing at all? Have you seen the eye cleaners? they roll a small metal rod up your eye!

  10. This post should have come with a warning LOL!
    Andi recently posted..Chile- Argentina &amp Uruguay- Day 1My Profile

  11. I think you got a good deal for your money — you bought a story haha.

    Good thing he didn’t try to pull the old scam where the ear cleaner walks away and his accomplice approaches you and tells you that he put poison in your ear, and if you don’t go to “that pharmacy over there” in 10 minutes you are go deaf. Then you go to the pharmacy and pay 5000 rupees for medicine to reverse the medicine the ear guy put in your ear haha.

    As always, good story.
    Wade | recently posted..6 Tips for Free Accommodation When TravelingMy Profile

  12. Folks should also remember that cerumen protects the skin of the human ear canal, assists in cleaning and lubrication, and also provides some protection from bacteria, fungi, insects and water.

    Fear, stress and anxiety result in increased production of earwax from the ceruminous glands…. so perhaps more wax then for the comfort zone straying traveler.
    craig | recently posted..Photos from the Giza NecropolisMy Profile

  13. …and now that I think of it, exactly how clean was the back of his hands? Not very, I imagine.

    Wikipedia: Apart from the danger of punctured ear drum, there is also the possibility of ear infection from the usage of unsterilized ear picks, especially when ear picks are shared among different individuals.

  14. My reactions to this post ranged from eww to lol… You dont find too many of these guys in the larger cities and metros. Whenever i’ve seen them in smaller places have always wondered who on earth still gets their ears cleaned on the sidewalk. Now i know :)
    Enjoy reading abt all the stuff I know am never ever gonna be able to do. Looking forward to the next post.

  15. One thing I noticed about the ear cleaner’s tool is that it is way to scary! Looks unprofessional.

  16. best blog post I have read all week! You are your gumball ears are hilarious!
    joshywashington recently posted..How do you Prepare for Your TravelsMy Profile

  17. LOL Thanks for the great laugh! And an interesting article. Never had any idea someone would fill that particular . . . niche.
    1Dad1Kid recently posted..Two Winter Solstices in 2010My Profile

  18. Getting your ears cleaned is one of the best experiences ever! The only difference between my experience and yours is that I knew exactly where the pick had been. You’re a brave man, Wes!
    Marsha recently posted..Seeing the Word Through New EyesMy Profile

  19. What an interesting job. But I guess being a dentist is worse in terms things you get to pull out of people’s orifices. How does he clean his picks in-between ‘clients’?
    Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World recently posted..Celebrating Christmas In the Largest Muslim Country In The WorldMy Profile

  20. Ah wes your a brave man. I’ve seen videos of these guys at work and yeah no bloody way.

  21. I come from the school of thought not to put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow. I use a syringe with warm water.

  22. Love this post! You’re a brave man…

  23. actually I would love to have my ears cleaned on a regular basis IF I could be sure the person doing it is using sterilized tools so for 50 rupees ($1.25) you get what you pay for IMHO, sorry but I’ve seen this (not ear cleaning) but the mentality I don’t know how much of that holds true outside the US but I”ve seen it enough I’d rather pay higher for the chance their tools will be sterile and I’ll tell you why:

    I was born with a hearing loss, I have to wear hearing aids for most of my natural waking hours so an ear cleaning is much desirable not at the expense of taking a chance his tools are not clean because once I put those hearing aids back on the lack of air flow to the ear will wreak havoc with anything that is infectious or potentially so.

    So I’d be curious as to how to find out if they are sterile or not?

  24. you have the art of story telling.
    makes your travel interesting for others! :)
    will have to follow you now…
    Raji recently posted..Long time- No See !My Profile

  25. Looking at the picture, he does look like a professional:) Very funny post, this is good enough reason to take my bag and head to India:)

  26. Where are the pics of the wax? Come on, man…I was looking for something highly disgusting! ;o)
    Dr. Pretzel recently posted..Twisty Thursday- Philosophical Musings- Vol 4My Profile

  27. Great story, Wes! What a bizarre experience! You have a real talent of making such a kinda gross experience into a really entertaining story – We are still giggling…
    Globetrottergirls recently posted..Polaroid of the week- Climbing for coconuts on Little Corn IslandMy Profile

  28. I enjoyed reading and also the art of your story telling. In the small villages, there are not good docs since most of them are either in Metropolitan cities or abroad to make decent money. So, people have to trust on these people. It’s sometimes like spirituality in any part of the world where when you have no other option left to trust on you have to leave it on God.

  29. Again, another post worth reading :D

    Aaron Schubert recently posted..Wireless Hill PicnicsMy Profile

  30. Mel Fernandes on said:

    been to India a few times & thought this was a scam ? I’m going for 7 weeks @ the end of November so will defo give this a go!!

  31. wasnt so lucky like right ear is totaly screwed..the guy agreed for 20 rs to clean up my ear..then job was done he said it needs to be cleaned more ..and he would charge 200rs..which i didnt agree. now i have my right ear bocked ..had to rush hospital where i was given eardrops and antibiotic tablets..its been two days now i still have my ear blocked! im shit scared!hope that asshole earcleaner didnot put any thing in my ear!!

  32. Wax Vac on said:

    Good post. No matter where you live, there seems to be the same basic problems. Thanks for sharing your views on ear care in India. This story is amusing.

  33. Had nearly the identical experience with the same guy. My right ear had a glob the size of a jellybean, yet conveniently my left one didn’t.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

258,708 Spam Comments Blocked so far by Spam Free Wordpress

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge