The things we learn’t about India, a retrospective.


We left Delhi over a month ago now and it’s been more than enough time to reflect on our time in India.

Firstly, we had an amazing time in India. It was a completely new experience for us. Everyday held something new to us. We were like children the first time they go abroad. What is this? What do I do with this? How does this work? It was a great learning curve, for us as individuals and as a couple. One thing that surprised me personally is the accessibility. I really expected India to be a lot more challenging to western travellers. I had thought people wouldn’t speak English so much, or; we would have to work things out for ourselves more. Turns out, India is much easier than I had envisaged. Perhaps if we go to China one day we will discover truly challenging travel.

One thing I can say is that India is intense. It’s a sensory overload, smells of rubbish are constantly being replaced by the scent of sweet chai, incense, street food, sewage, burning plastic, spices and it back to the beginning again. Aurally, Car horns, traffic and the wallahs shouting “chai, masala chai”. Then there’s the million sites fighting for your visual attention. Dogs, pigs, cows and children all rummaging in rubbish (we actually saw all of this whilst the rubbish was on fire and none of the above cared) men casually urinating wherever they felt like, including, but not limted to train stations (both off the platforms and from carriages onto the tracks) in the street, in the middle of the day and I’ve probably lost count of the amount of tuk-tuks we saw abandoned whilst men pissed on nearby walls.

When we first arrived in Delhi, we couldn’t believe how many people stared. I mean a lot. It wasn’t in an aggressive sense, but neither was it inquisitive, it’s a little unusual coming from a country where people actively avoid eye contact. Also, especially in Delhi people would walk along side you and chat to us. We thought this was more underhand behaviour to begin with, like in Bangkok when people say things like ‘hey man! cool t-shirt, where are you from?’  Before you know it they are trying to sell you a suit or take you to a ping pong show. Actually, we worked out mostly people in India just wanted to practise their English on us. It’s quite nice really, and it’s an openness of people you don’t see often enough in England. We felt a little guilty, to think the worst of people.

I could go on and on about the experiences with people we met, and people we chatted to but none will explain India, and Indian people as well as I now know it as much as the border security police we shared a berth with on the train from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur.

We happened to be sharing a cabin with some border patrol officers, who had been on exercise in the Thar Desert. They were a mixed bunch of twenty and thirty somethings who all wanted to practise their limited English on us, except for one. He was from Manipur, a small state in the very east of India close to the Myanmar border and looked far more Chinese or Mongolian than Indian. Turns out, the area he was from doesn’t speak Hindi, but tribal dialects and English. Basically, he had joined the Border security team without being able to speak to his colleagues, he explained to us that he was learning Hindi, but wasn’t so good yet. It’s unbelievable to me to think you could join the police without being able to speak the national language! Only in India could this happen.

They were such friendly people, and enjoyable company, we spent the entire five or six hour journey talking with them. They played us Hindi music, and I in turn got my MP3 player out for them. Immeadiatley one asked ‘Do you have Justin Beiber?!’ He couldn’t believe that only twelve year old girls listen to Justin Beiber in England. Western culture is starting to percolate through to India and only the most commercialised pop music is heard here (In the less developed corners of Rajasthan at least, this may not be the case for Goa, for example) Interestingly, our hostel in Delhi played Rhianna’s ‘Rude Boy’ a lot. Risqué I thought.

When we arrived in Jodhpur we said our goodbyes and got off the train. We waited around outside the train to read up about transport and how much we should pay, and then they all came marching out and harangued a tuk tuk driver into taking us to our hotel, for a locals price!

This mostly sums India up for us. Friendly people who have gone out of their way to help us and unfamiliarity in almost everything.

There is also  the contradiction between beauty and ugliness.

One thing that illustrates this point is the Jaisalmer fort. A resplendent golden castle seemingly growing out of the desert, when we look closer you see it’s covered with rubbish on the steep slopes where people have thrown their waste from the converted havelis. I can’t work out why this is accepted, Jaisalmer is a town almost ran entirely on tourism and the fort is the focal point, so it seems counter-productive to allow it’s decline. India it seems can sometimes be a little short-sighted, in this regard. education is blamed for most things in India; and the lack of sanitation, or recycling is again generally attributed to this. Surely it can’t be hard to articulate to people that if you continue to treat historical sites, areas of natural beauty and tourist attractions like shit, people will cease to visit and you will not earn any money!?

The country is growing at such an amazing pace and in such a rush to catch up with the western world that I hope it can retain the qualities that make it so different, and fascinating.

I’ve read online from countless people saying they couldn’t decide if they loved or hated India until they left, and realised they absolutely loved it, and it’s entirely true. From mint flavoured crisps, to tuk tuk’s carrying goats and trying to buy metro tickets at one of the busiest stations, in rush hour and being barged out of the way by every octogenarian in Delhi. It’s complete madness, but a massively rewarding country.


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5 thoughts on “The things we learn’t about India, a retrospective.

  1. Ness

    There is no black or white to India is there? We found it hugely challenging, not in the sense of getting around etc, but we didn’t find the people helpful and we were constantly patronised and lied to. Jaipur particularly bad, Udaipur & Jaisalmer not so much.
    Perhaps because we were 2 females but everyone who spoke to us in the street was after something, assumed we were stupid and that became very frustrating, by the time we got to SE Asia i was massively sceptical and intolerant of eveyone! The staring became ridiculous, sat in the Red Fort in Delhi i had 7 men all wanting a pic so i sat with a book infront of my face. Janey was given a very intimate massage! And was propositioned romantically twice more which became a massive joke.
    We loved the local food we ate but found eating curry twice a day challenging, and deliberately avoided any meat or cold food, so we found ourselves very limited for choice. We often lazed in our rooms at nights after very busy days, esp as Janey became ill (as still is!), which meant we didn’t experience much night life. Certainly the tv we saw there had incredibly western styling and were shocked by how raunchy the music videos are for a country where women are hidden away so much!
    The pissing in the street (and shitting) became just unbearable (1 week amusing, 2 weeks annoying, 3rd week couldn’t wait to leave) i arrived home and saw a line of men at a cash point and assumed they were pissing lol. Every tuktuk driver was hard work, several taking us places we didn’t really want to go despite being told no.
    And as for the rubbish, the rest of SE Asia was SO much cleaner so neither poverty nor education can be to blame IMO. Its laziness, they are essentially a lazy nation as admitted to us by several local people.
    So my summary would be “There are 2 billion Indian people whose downfall is that they will eventually drown in their own filth”. I am very glad to have been but i wont be hurrying back. Shame it has so much potential…

    • Yes & no to a lot of that. Personally, I wouldn’t generalise on the whole of India based on my experiences of essentially only Rajahstan. I would like to come back, I want to visit Kerala & Sri Lanka next time, to see what differences there are. I’m also quite curious about the very eastern states near the Myanmar border after meeting the guy on the train..

      The problems for women are obviously under the microscope at the moment due to the Delhi rape scandal, which can only be good for the issues, unfortunate as it is that it’s resulted in a death to highlight it. Oddly, we spoke to an Indian woman in Westpac (Aussie bank..) when we set our accounts up, she was probably first generation Australian and she had LOTS to say about Indian politicians. According to this lady, rape tends to happen often in the home, as such it tends to be incestuous. If a woman approaches the police about it, she is told to go home as it’s a ‘family matter!’ She said that quite often the rapist and raped with be married to cover things up..

      Pretty weird.

      Also, we met a very intelligent Indian guy in Luang prabang, who was also incredibly intolerant of his government and the bribes and backhanders that are apparently an everyday occurrence of getting where you need to be in Indian politics.

      Jess raised a good point as I started writing this, Indian’s don’t really care about tourism, and I kind of agree. The infrastructure and everything is there, you have a great transport network and masses of history, and a government that wants to approach the western world for it’s tourist money. The people on the street, most of which we spoke had barely left the city they live in, let alone the state so the idea of leisure travel must be incredibly alien to them.

      The tuk-tuks, I agree. It’s a massive ballache, but part and parcel of the deal unfortunately, you me, and every tourist are walking ATM’s in their eyes.

      The filth, perhaps when it becomes in the governments interests to get a cleaning infrastructure going they will. until then, it will be a peculiarity with tourists I fear.

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