INDIA November 17, 2012 – March 13, 2013.
It is often stated that you either hate India or love it. I think most western travelers are somewhere in between. It is easily the most completely different culture that you will ever experience. Nothing is like it. I believe it is one the safest countries in the world in which to travel especially for men. Unfortunately western women are viewed as sexually promiscuous by Indian men – being groped is common, and sexual advances frequent, but violence rare. India is certainly the cheapest country in which to travel. With one of the best cuisines anywhere, vegetarians feel at home. Their complete immersion in their religion is inspiring. However with 1.2 billion people, there is a crush of humanity. The noise from horns blaring and the constant traffic wear you down. Indians have few of our social niceties. Poverty is visible everywhere and the wide gulf between the rich and the poor is a problem. Very few speak good English (except big cities and IT centers like Bangalore) and thus having meaningful authentic experiences are difficult to have. The filth, spitting, sewer smells, garbage, and environmental degradation is disheartening. The way they treat their animals, especially the holy cow, seems cruel. Corruption is rife. So much needs to be done. But that is what traveling here is all about and I would not have missed it for anything.
As per my usual travel pattern, I went to no beaches, bars, or ashrams with yoga and/or meditation. I did not have my palm read, get my complete astrology chart done and did not avail myself of a massage or Ayurvedic medical practitioner. I didn’t have henna designs painted on and didn’t buy baggy pants. I bought no souvenirs and took few pictures. But I saw an awful lot of India. I stayed in few places very long and endeavored to see as much of the country as I could pack into four months. In 18 states, I saw an amazing variety of temples, palaces and forts including all but 2 of the many Unesco World Heritage Sites. I saw almost every landscape. I walked through every neighborhood imaginable. Transportation was primarily on bone rattling buses especially the unbelievably cheap, grubby, and crowded government buses and on a few private, “Volvo”, sleeper buses, where sleep was still difficult on the roads. I only used the cheap sleeper cars on the trains and slept well. Riding the trains and buses watching rural India glide by gives a view of typical life. I stayed in bargain hotels and price did not always equate with quality. The weather was spectacular with only a few hours of rain. I had few meaningful encounters with Indians because of my style of travel and the relatively poor English of most Indians. But I had many great relationships with other travelers and I am sure I will see several of them in the future. I lost the usual assortment of stuff, all through my own carelessness, and I destroyed four Kindles and had them delivered all over India. And I hardly spent any money – $37.07/day and that included 2 flights.
There are many wonderful books that one should read before and while traveling here. “Being Indian” by Pavan Varna, is a must read before coming. It gives an insider view into the Indian psyche and how they interact with travelers. Read “City of Joy” before going to Kolkata for a dated but, insightful look at Kolkata 30 years ago. “White Tiger” and “Between the Assassins”, both by Aravind Adiga, tell about southern India. “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts, is on everybodys list and makes Mumbai fun visiting the many places in the book. “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life and Death in a Mumbai Undercity”, by Katherine Boo is a beautifully written true story showing the life of slum dwellers and how common corruption is in Indian society. There are countless others to expand one’s Indian knowledge.
Put it on your bucket list. It is one of the premier travel destinations in the world.