Post script: India

(James) Some of the more observant amongst you may have noticed that we were, well, a tad disappointed and disillusioned with India. We have tried to be diplomatic and not moan too much in our recent entries on the country but are aware of the fact that our writing was often negative and a bit ‘ranty’.  We’re also aware that given that most of those who follow us read our blog whilst sitting at work, and for many doing so in winter, it might sound a bit galling to hear two lucky sods moaning about our problems as we ride on our dream trip.

I should say that we haven’t (thus far) had a single complaint, critical remark or comment questioning our attitude and, almost without question, everyone we’ve met in India or in Nepal (from where I write this) has been of the same opinion. However, we thought we should write a small entry if only to support what we’ve written and to ensure we don’t unduly cause offence (not that we think we can have); something that Fabian, who is of the same opinion of us, has found on his website, where his remarks have (unfairly in our minds) been criticised by a couple of his followers. Fabian, incidentally, had visited India before as part of a tour group (a common way to do it) and had enjoyed his experience – not so this time.

I should start by saying that India is an incredibly diverse country, with an amazing history and rich culture, and we did meet some incredible people, but that can’t hide the fact the India has, in our  eyes, some very real and very significant flaws (yes, I know all countries have flaws) that people seem to either excuse or ignore.

We simply found that everything in India was a constant battle. The guide books refer to it as a ‘sensory overload’ which it undoubtedly is, but that, frankly, is a bit rose tinted. The fact is India is, for the most part, filthy (there, I said it!). Almost without exception every city, town & village is festooned with rubbish piled everywhere. We often saw people walk out of pretty expensive looking houses in affluent neighbourhoods and just throw their rubbish in the street right outside their front door. For the life of us we just can’t understand this. And it’s not just rubbish that fills the streets; animals run round everywhere producing their own waste which, like everything else, seems to be just left there to rot. Cows are considered sacred but in reality a cow’s quality of life in India is something that would ordinarily have animal rights groups up in arms. Left to pretty much fend for themselves, they spend their days lying in the middle of roads, rooting through and eating piles of rubbish and receiving no veterinary care for some of the diseases this lifestyle inevitably produces. Frankly, it’s no way to ‘treat’ an animal, and certainly no way to treat something  you revere.  The result of all this, in the considerable Indian heat, is a pretty awful smell, and clouds of flies which frequently lead to outbreaks of disease. So, if the idea of sitting down to eat at a street side food stall (which we did hundreds of times) next to piles of rubbish and poo (from various animals and humans – yes we often saw people just squat down to defecate in the middle of the street!), watching dogs fighting (or humping each other), having cows, goats, pigs or any other sort of animal right next to you, seeing huge rats running through the rubbish (and over your feet), and having cars, buses & trucks belching out black smoke  as they pass with their horns permanently on, while clouds of flies buzz round you sounds like fun then you’ll love India.

We’ve already written about the driving which isn’t so much crazy as intentionally dangerous so I won’t go into that, but we found this complete lack of pride/concern for others was everywhere. After the incredible honesty and friendliness that we’d experienced in the previous 18 countries, India came as a bit of a shock. We found we really had to watch ourselves, as the locals had scams on scams all designed to rip you off – it seems to be corrupt from the bottom up, and you’re seen simply as a rich westerner there to be fleeced for everything you’re worth. If someone tried to help us they always wanted money for the effort, nothing was free and it slowly made us more and more wary of people’s offers of help  – not something we really liked.

We’re not exactly wet behind the ears when it comes to travel so these things really can’t be put down to cultural differences (an excuse, interestingly, used initially by the head delegate of the Delhi commonwealth games after teams threatened to pull out of the games in a row over conditions and hygiene – he quickly withdrew it!). The few India lovers we’ve spoken to about this tend to give the stock answer, ‘That’s India’….  Well, I’m sorry but what kind of answer is that? In fact, what does it even mean?

 These problems can’t be blamed on the fact that India’s a poor country because it’s not. It’s the richest country (China aside) that we’ve been through since leaving Europe; it has a huge economy, helped by having a cheap labour force in its own back yard. It’s about to spend several billion dollars on new state of the art military fighter jets, and is spending countless more billions developing a space program, and yet, it cannot look after its own people. According  to a recent report India has 42% of the world’s malnourished children – 42%! That’s more than the combined total for Africa (African countries, unlike India, however, don’t have the financial resources to escape the vicious cycle of poverty they find themselves in). Nor can it be blamed on its Hindu culture. Nepal has a Hindu culture, and is a far poorer country, yet its people are friendly, honest, generous, proud and (Kathmandu aside) towns, villages and houses are clean and clearly looked after.

Whenever we spoke about any of these issues with fellow travellers to try to gain some sort of insight into the problem, we simply came back to the notion that (and you’ll have to excuse my French) nobody gives a shit, it’s as simple as that. We’ve seen some pretty horrendous things in India which we’ve not written about and certainly not photographed – we wanted to keep our blog remotely pleasant and (hopefully)enjoyable so we’ve spared you some of the lowlights. Some of you may not agree with what we’ve said, and you’re welcome to your opinion just as I am. But you’ll have to accept that we have tried to walk a fine line, between keeping our entries accurate and honest, yet without making them so brutally honest that we end up put you off your dinner.

One other reason for our ‘stance’ on India is that having travelled through so many other countries, we want to ensure a level playing field, so try judge each country by the same set of rules to maintain some sort of consistency. With this mind, it would hardly be fair to make exceptions for India, who despite everything, benefits from over 5 million tourists each year. If any of the other countries we’ve been through (all of whom can only dream of such tourist numbers) were to have the same flaws on display or simply were to treat tourists in such a way, people simply wouldn’t go there. Yet India survives on the back of this generous, if misguided, attitude that defends every shortcoming with the inane, ‘Well, that’s India!’

Of course, if you don’t believe us pop down to your local travel agent, give them several hundred pounds for a ticket and go see for yourself. As for us? It’s a big world out there, I think we’ll see what else it has to offer….

8 Responses to “Post script: India”

  1. Mary says:

    It is apparent from reading the blogs that you have both been bitterly disappointed and frustrated by India. Thank you for your honesty in trying to bring the reality to life for us with good humour, yet protecting us from the lowest points. You survived it!!!
    Glad to hear your faith in humanity has been restored by some of Nepal, and look forward to reading about it.
    Love to you both
    Mary

  2. Jackson says:

    Damn well written guys.
    I think anyone would be an idiot to criticize you, you are giving first hand accounts from the country and from a perspective that, given your experience, should be well regarded. Yours are grass roots experiences that you have gained from traveling through the country independently and on a budget. A lot of those 5 million tourists a year will be on some package tour, wrapped up in beautiful hotels and shipped between the highlights. they are show the majesty without wading through the shit.
    You know it’s very interesting I have just been sitting eating dinner with 2 good friends – a couple who work out with me – who have just got back from a trip round India. We were both of similar opinions about the country and came to the conclusion: “I am really glad I went, but I would never go back”, that it is a country of superlatives and massive contrasts. “It delights from one minute and appalls to the next” But lets face it, it certainly raises a lot of discussion.
    My view is one of frustration. It has some fantastic things on offer but I can’t help but think that the country is flawed. Now I am not particularly patriotic but I look at my birth country and despite our problems I think we can be proud of where we have come from. Now there is a whole demographic in India that seems proud of what they’ve achieved; the new economic powerhouse, millions able to consume, travel, aspire to bigger things…..but totally shitting of the many many more millions of people below them…..the beggars they step over walking into the posh bars and air conditioned malls. It’s a dog eat dog world out there and unfortunately most people are dog meat.
    having said all this, there are experiences I had in India that were world class and inspiring but they were far from the mayhem and carnage of the heart of the country. Em and James, you haven’t seen the whole country and I know there are parts of it that would restore your faith…..but on the basis of what you have seen, yes most of India is screwed.
    I think I am justified an opinion too given i lived there for 6 months. This written back in 2007

    “So while I look around me out here from the dire poverty, to the super rich bollywood brigade, I try to put things in perspective, to figure out how it all fits together, how I fit in.
    I tried to get an appreciation for what life is like on the streets – an ex street kid showed us around Delhi station giving an insight into a life living in holes between railway tracks, running between gangs and station guards, making a living collecting scrap. And then another day I am at the opening party at the F-bar (fashion TV or something), watching stunning models exit chauffeur driven SUVs, lifting their high heels over the muck of the street to enter a wonderland; mixing with the Delhi elite, taking G&T from a silver tray and looking at who can hold their nose the highest. What is more disgusting than the world outside this bubble is the grim resilience of the average well-off Indian to seemingly ignore what they see there. How can a country with such economic ambition, one making huge strides leapfrogging their position in the world order ignore the millions of destitute who are clinging at their feet? Just where do all the taxes go?”

  3. julian says:

    Eloquence and honesty from both James and Jackson. I’ve been there a few times too. The country disgraces the ruling elite.

  4. Jackson says:

    btw – i DO actually plan to go back in the not too distant future. Specifically to travel the Manali – Leh – Srinigar route on enfield with my man over there, Nirmal.
    maybe i’ll convince you!

  5. Jess says:

    I actually want to go and see it for myself…I can’t believe ‘That’s India’ can excuse something so terrible.

    An extremely interesting read from both of you x

  6. Mama/Kate says:

    Wow! Heady stuff. I remember talking about your Indian blog, Jackson, to my friend Shweta who teaches pilates and body balance at LA Fitness. She said that she was really ashamed of her mother-country.
    I respect the fact that you guys seem to have given a very fair perspective. I keep thinking about that little guy who dove through the sewage in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.

  7. Farzan says:

    Dear Emily and James,

    I am an Indian, by passport, but I do not covet it. In fact I detest the association.

    For me, living in India has always been a struggle, and its deficiencies hidden under the garb of culture and such ingrained excuses are here to stay, I fear, for ever.

    You could not have narrated (I rightly refrain from the word ‘opinion’) your experience more accurately, and more importantly with such dignified restraint.

    Sorry, if my post reminds you of your mis-adventures in India.

    Best regards,
    Farzan

  8. Estobel says:

    Lacking time to read more in depth in the airport, WE ARE NOT BIG FANS ABOUT THE SUBCONTINENT EITHER!!! ;-)

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