Upon returning home from my visit to India in December 2012 I felt cheated. The India I imagined was colourful and peaceful and charming. The India I saw was dirty and chaotic and corrupt.
The Incredible India! adverts shows a lone traveller riding his motorbike through rough mountainous terrain, happily eating street food, taking majestic camel rides through the desert, tanning on untouched beaches with warm tropical water lapping the shores, dancing around with tribal people in traditional wear, massages, elephants, luxury trains, tigers, festivals. Watch it below:
The advert shows the LONE TRAVELLER – that is the trick: India currently has a population of 1,241,491,960 people (per Wikipedia) and with many sites concentrated around big cities, these adverts do little to prepare you for the onslaught that awaits. Describing the big cities as overwhelming is beyond an understatement.
The traffic is chaotic:
Modes of transport vary from donkey carts to tuk-tuks to overloaded buses – all fighting for their share of the jam-packed roads – often bumping into to each other in the process. Keeping left seems to be a guideline – not a rule – and every so often one would see a motorbike screeching down the wrong side of the road. Travelling between cities is even more nerve-wracking. Our one driver seemed determined to pass every single truck on the road on a blind corner, at night, simply hooting a few times to warn any oncoming traffic – all of this while shouting into his ancient cellphone and digging in his pockets for more tobacco to chew.
The cities are dirty and polluted:
Many Indians chew paan (basically tobacco and some nut wrapped in a betel leaf) and the preference seems to be to spit not swallow – so constantly dodging spit projectiles becomes the norm. If that’s not enough, the smell of urine lurks everywhere and one can never be sure whether is emanates from the cows, pigs, dogs, monkeys and other animals found throughout the cities or whether it is from the open urinals along the side of the road. There are no dustbins – I can say this with a great degree of certainty because I spent numerous hours holding onto empty water bottles in search of dustbins.
The touts are relentless:
The sight of my poor boyfriend carry two 20kg backpacks had every tout in sight alert. My presence – tagging along with my weight in camera equipment, wielding a tripod for defence – did not seem to deter them. By the end of the holiday I felt a bit like Scully from the X Files telling every tourist I came across to “Trust No One”. Tuk-tuk drivers took us to fake government tourist information centres which turned out to be travel agents where they earn commission from. Street vendors sold us freakish toe socks made for children when all we wanted were normal socks for our trip to the colder North. An early morning boat ride along the Ganges, quoted to cost 150INR the day before, turned out to be 150INR per hour per person – something they conveniently omitted.
After all that – I look at the photos I took in India and cannot help but feel an urge to go back there. Yes India was not incredibly colourful or peaceful or charming. But looking back on it now, it was incredible in unexpected ways. Like experiencing a sense of serenity while eating an awesome Indian dish, costing the equivalent of R30, on a rooftop restaurant, overlooking the slum that is Paharganj, Delhi. Or spending a Saturday walking along the Ganges River ghats, watching families bath, wash their clothes and cremate their dead along the same river. Or seeing the yellow glow of the sunrise on the Taj Mahal, wrapped in your loved one’s arms.
Route map and more information:
New Delhi : Read my post Delhi Belly
Varanasi: Coming soon
Agra: Coming soon
Jaipur: Coming soon
Jodhpur: Coming soon
Amritsar: Coming soon
Rishikesh: Coming soon