All over bar the hassle
Trip Start Jan 09, 2007
49Trip End Jul 18, 2007
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I went with Annette in a taxi to the airport at about 9.00pm for a midnight flight only to find that I wasn't allowed in. There was a huge crowd of people outside the terminal, all waving through the windows at people inside. Even the airport has its own Indian peculiarities.
The next two days in Delhi I tried to keep as uneventful as possible, spent a lot of time reading and using the Internet. I became quite friendly with a lot of the touts but started getting sick of people offering me drugs, some right sleazy bastards
The night before I left I had one disturbing incident. I met a bloke from Bhutan who said that he was a retired school teacher. We went for a cup of tea and he told me his story. It seems that he lived in a remote village in Bhutan without any electricity, his daughter had finished school and was wanting to go to university but had no money. Someone suggested that it would be a good idea if he went to India to get some private students. He said that he only had one student and made 140 rs a day of which 35rs went in rent. He was sharing a room with 4 other men in atrocious conditions. Communications with his family weren't possible because in winter the mailman can't get through to his village. He seemed a broken man. I think that he wanted me to contribute towards his fare to the border and even offered to take me to his room to see if I wanted some gift from him. I'd been asked for money all over India so it's hard to say why this one got to me. I suppose it's because he seemed so sincere and was missing his daughters. Sadly I didn't have any money to give him as I was trying to get by on the rupees I had left. I felt very bad about this later but it really is a moments decision and when you've been hassled for three weeks you tend to be on the defensive.
I had a wonderful time in India, there were experiences I'll never forget. At the same time there were unforgettable experiences that weren't so positive but above all my memories are of the interesting people I met and the sense of optimism the seems to prevail
You visit a country to observe, soak up a little of the culture, see a few sights and, hopefully, have a good time. It's not right to go somewhere with the intention of changing the way that things are done. Indians do things the way they do because that's how it's done in India, regardless of whether it makes sense to us. I saw a couple of backpackers walking down Main Bazaar in Pahar Gang, the woman was getting quite upset because a car was tooting its horn trying to get past. She made quite a show of not getting out of the way and yelled at the driver for trying to get a car down there in the first place. Whilst I agree that letting cars down bazaars and motorcycles into market places seems unnecessary and dangerous, it's really none of my business. None of the locals were complaining about the car because what he was doing is considered acceptable. There are lots of things you see in India that wouldn't be accepted in Australia, Great Britain or the United States but surely that is the point of going. India comes as a package and you can't just take out the bits you want.
Having said that, there are some things that need to change in India because they are unsustainable. Indians can carry on being Indians with chaotic traffic rules and mind numbing bureaucracy but the pollution problem needs to be addressed. Air and water quality is of major concern. Rubbish lies rotting in the streets and on the roadsides, huge piles in the middle of residential areas, maybe if it all rotted it wouldn't be such a problem but plastic is a relatively new variable in the equation and it's not going away. Indian politicians can hide behind the fact that per head of population India doesn't actually produce an excessive amount of pollution but this is of little benefit to the people breathing the air. Australia has a problem with waste disposal and sewerage emanating from a population of less than 21 million in a country larger than India so it's not surprising that India has a problem with the waste of over a billion people. It's hard to make judgments on peoples standard of living when you've merely cruised through in 3 weeks but I saw some appalling living conditions; a whole village of people living under plastic sheeting on the banks of an open sewer; estates of plastic and straw, these places would be even worse in the wet season.
The overriding impression I got from the Indian people was one of tolerance and acceptance. I was surprised to learn that there were more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. Mosques are very common and I got the impression of different religions being quite accepting of each other. People did tell me of extremist groups, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh, and the occasional problems but none of this was evident on my travels. I never saw anyone get really angry in traffic despite the chaos and near misses on the roads. In many ways Indians seem much more tolerant of other peoples behaviour and beliefs than they are mindful of other peoples needs or requirements. It's perfectly acceptable to make whatever noise you like in the middle of the night. We were woken by all sorts of noises at ungodly hours, car horns, televisions, shouting; no one seemed to complain. We got a 2 tier sleeper from Bhopal to Delhi, this means that there are 4 people in a curtained off compartment. A young fellow had one of the top bunks and an old lady the bottom one, Annette and I joined them at Bhopal and took the other two. The old lady had a younger man helping her, a relative or manservant, but he wasn't sleeping in the compartment. I don't know where he went but he certainly made a fuss of her; made the bed, got her drinks etc. When we got on she was very friendly and even offered to share her food. She chatted to us about this and that before going to bed. At some ridiculous time in the morning, say 5.30 am, a long time before we were due into Delhi, the manservant came in with a cup of tea for her. This was in no way discrete, he turned on the lights and sat on the end of her bed talking loudly. Anywhere else someone would have told him to shut up but this was India. We had to be accepting of his behaviour but he wasn't sympathetic to our needs. I got the feeling that this was perfectly acceptable and no one complained. Tolerance is accepting that kind of thing but it doesn't mean that you have to be considerate of others. Alternatively, maybe it's just my Western idea of what is required to sleep because I saw Indians sleeping in all sorts of positions and situations, like cats.
It's hard to imagine that Delhi is due to host the commonwealth Games in 2010. I can only suspect that they are going to be held somewhere outside of Delhi at some location far removed from what I saw. I don't know how many people are expected but Delhi airport would be all on coping with the athletes let alone the spectators. Getting in and out of the airport could be one of the events. The touts and dodgy travel agents are probably licking their lips in anticipation. There'll be 30000 people on houseboats in Kashmir waiting for the swimming to start. "That travel agent said we'd have poolside seats."
I'd like to go back at some stage and see the south of the country, I don't think that there are any major sites I particularly want to see, temples are okay but they all start to look the same after a while. I'd avoid the major cities as much as possible and try to stay out in the rural areas. The most enjoyable times we had were in Orchha and Sanchi, smaller, quieter places where you have a chance to meet more genuine people other than people who see you as a chance for some easy money. I'm not critical of the touts, they have to make a living, but it's nice to meet people who have a genuine interest in meeting you.