India – Land of extremes

3 11 2012

It’s time to sum up my experiences as impressions of India. First of all: I am positively suprised! When I talked to someone about my little trip before I was leaving and we came to India thereaction was often the same: „India? Aren’t you afraid of the hygiene and the poverty? Everywhere is waste and you’ll have serious diarrhea at least a couple of times“… These were my concerns, too but I soon realized that it’s not that bad or at leat one adjusts to it. From my third day I even went to the smallest street kitchens mounted on a bicycle. Especially these made the trip the amazing experience it was for me: the curious street workers that couldn’t believe that a foreigner is eating with them at their street stall. Even the annoyances, especially the people from tourist agencies, shop owners in tourity areas and the permantent hooting and inquiring tuk-tuk drivers. After some bad experiences during the first few days I got into the haggling mood and soon I was able to distinguish between a serious offer and a rip-off. In Cochin I met the only tuk-tuk driver asking me „you are not going to haggle about 10 rupees with me?“ 🙂

I think I griped enough about the attitudes of people involved in the tourist business and Indias middle class. I think because of all the touts and the general interaction with tourists, India won’t become a major destination in the near future and remain it’s exotic status, attraction mostly adventurers and backpackers. Talking about exotic, a friend in Goa told me, that she was attracted because of the stories from other travellers telling from exotic smells and colors. Yup, there are exotic smells and colors, but very often it will be the smell of urine, shit, and other waste burning besides the road. I was suprised on the one side, that it was less than expected (still, too many places are too dirty), and on the other side how fast one can even adjust to these smells. I remember that I was trying to avoid smelly places the first days in Mumbai and in Agra, less than 3 weeks later, I was barely shocked when I passed someone on the street at night and I saw he was just taking a shit over some kind of small canal… and he wasn’t the only one! Sometimes the smell is still overwhelming, in a positive way near some food places and markets, and negative, which might happen around every corner.

India also suprised me with having stunning, diverse landscapes everywhere, from the Himalayan mountains, over desert areas with sand dunes, green fields with any kind of crops, to tropical areas with beautiful beaches, palm and lovely rivers. Breathtaking monuments like forts, temples, and other architectural highlights are literaly around every corner with more things to explore in the immediate proximity. Until now, for me India is the most interesting and diverse country I have been to! It is even easy to travel despite the sheer size of the country! Driving with local buses and trains was always one of the most exciting but also annoying experiences.

So India is really a land of extremes. Not only positive, but everything seems to have it’s counterpart here. In one way it is very easy to travel and explore all the great things India has to offer, on the other side, identified as a tourist, you are always only half a step from being riped-off. If one gets in touch with the local people one will feel the warmth and friendliness immediately, but it is hard to meet them because of the language barrier and the general suspicion against everybody a tourist will soon build up, because of the touts. Last but not least, around the stunning sites, no matter where you go, is always a lot of waste and pollution. Even in the Himalayas at a height of over 4000m it was hard to find a spot without plastic bottles. The backwaters of Kerala would be so much nicer if the water wouldn’t look soapy! Why the hell aren’t the Indians follow the signs above their head to use the dustbin! And why are there so few signs resp. dustbins? And it’s not all about waste, they even have problem with sound pollution. More than one week in a major city will drive you crazy because of all the noise from cars, bikes, and buses using the horn constantly. What about sticking to the traffic rules (at least a bit)? That woul make most of it unneccessary! Different shops and even temples try to drown the sounds of their neigborhs with louder sounds.

Still, I would everyone asking give the same advice: Come to India!