Monday, March 31, 2008

Looking Back on India..

I spent my Spring Break in India- one week of sights, sounds, smells, colors, food, heat, sun, and pollution. India was my down-fall in updating this blog. I wrote four entries before I left for the airport and then next to nothing afterward. I think I was hesitant to put my true impressions of India out on the web but now I believe it's important to be honest and not rosey about the experience. I still have mixed reactions to the trip.

On the plus side,
I've been to Asia.
We were able to put it together less than a month before we traveled.
The tour provided a relatively tame introduction to India (even if Irmgard later wanted the spontaneity and freedom).
We went before the bombing in Jaipur (at the exact spot we visited!).
I rode an elephant and a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw).
I met some cool Brits, South Africans, Kiwis, a Scot, a Mexicana, and of course- Indians.
I can say I've seen the Taj Mahal and also the Lotus Temple (Baha'i).
I have more of an appreciation for everything I have and more of an understanding how problems in a nation such as India are not solved easily or quickly.
I found and purchased the exact wood-block print blankets that my family had and used as beach-blankets during my childhood. I associate the smell of those blankets with the beach and play-forts.
The Delhi metro is quite nice.
India is cheap!
The food was good.
Color! Color! Everywhere and practically nothing left unpainted!
I normally sweat like it's my job and yes, it was hella warm, but my punjabi tops kept me relatively cool and sun-burn free.
I got my brother some sweet birthday presents (an Indian cricket jersey and a mock-turban).

However, there were parts I wasn't crazy about or at the time proved too much and left me perfectly willing to leave India..
I've never witnessed extreme poverty and it was startling and upsetting.
There are a lot of people in India, all with a different definition of personal space. (Immediately in the Delhi airport guys queuing up in line for immigration stood and stayed right (touching) next to me and didn't bat an eye.)
Traffic can crawl. I think it took us two hours to crawl back into Delhi at the end of our trip.
Squat toilets (could be fine any other time of the month...)
Toilet attendants who give you paper to dry your hands and give you pleading eyes for a tip. I understand it's crucial to give someone even that small job, but it feels like slightly fancier begging and hard to comply when it's very difficult to get small bills in the country (this also may be a tourist problem).
Roads can be bad and or they just drive slower (in general) The ~225 km during one of our legs of our journey took ~5-7 hours (with an hour stop for lunch).
It's pretty dusty/dirty most everywhere (I heard this attributed to Indians focus on the family not the community, which is how you have spotless homes with piles of trash outside).
We received lots of aggressive touts and sales pitches and 'very good price! Excuse me- excuse me! Kama sutra- kama sutra? Bangles? Book of Taj Mahal-Delhi-Agra-Jaipur?' It gets old. I don't know how bad it would be if we weren't in a group.
As Western tourists, we were overcharged on autorickshaws, bike rickshaws, taxis, horse carriages, camel rides, etc. But it's still fairly cheap.
People piss/crap in the street. Animals shit, sleep, and die on the street. Near the end of the trip I just got sick of intense smells everywhere I went (food included).
There is trash EVERYWHERE. In both big cities and small sleepy villages. Never before have I had such a strong compulsion to clean something...
You need to only drink bottled water and even brush your teeth with it. I thought I had an iron stomach at the beginning of the trip as nothing had come up but later realize other plumbing wasn't working as it should. I had a nasty last day and a half in India and was fairly ill and delirious upon my return to Qatar. Imodium later helped... I wonder if it was the Thali meal I had our third to last day in India. I haven't really had Indian food since...

And things that weren't bad or good but just interesting...
Cows wander the street. They are sacred and are left to fend for themselves after they've stopped producing milk. People might feed them- but mainly they just eat whatever- shit wherever- and some people might collect the dung to make fuel.
Literary rate in India used to be 30%, it's now doubled to roughly 60%.
Qatar like a variable melting pot compared to India, where all you saw were Indians, Indians, Indians, and the tourists at the hot spots.
'Masala' does not necessarily indicate 'spicy' as in 'hot' but rather it literally means it has a lot of spices and therefore can be very flavorful (and sometimes hot).
I saw more camels in India than in Qatar.

I could possibly go back to India- see the Northern mountains, the southern areas, and the party spots (Goa comes to mind). However, I certainly do not feel the need to race back there as soon as I can. I had a taste of India and for now, it was enough for me.

For some visuals to go with my commentary, check out my India photos.
Also- check out the video of our trip made by Tom, a freelance videographer who traveled with us to make the video for OnTheGo Tours. I'm a few of the shots. :)

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