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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