Indecisive India

India is fascinating. I say that with equal parts hate and love for the country. I haven’t yet decided which one should weigh heavier, for it’s been only one month, though I do feel I’m beginning to lean toward the latter.

I think I’ve become comfortable with being uncomfortable – from the unequivocal staring and never-ending questions from men (one of which is always, “Are you married?” to which I’ve learned to answer yes, though it doesn’t necessarily prevent the follow-up reply of, “Well, I be your Indian boyfriend.”) and constant begging for business.

It’s not just the homeless and starving who hold their hands out, wanting your money. It’s the rickshaw drivers and hotel managers and shopkeepers with their clever sayings – “You want to spend your money today?” and “Come, come. Looking is free!” – to the more subtle waving of the hand toward the door as a sort of subliminal message to the passersby.

All of the attention, together with the begging and the scams can be downright exhausting, and it’s worse when I’m alone – a single female without the company of a man or a friend – but it’s rather entertaining in its own right as well.

I guess what I’m trying to say is what many others already have: India is a large land of contrasting ideas, behaviors, cultures, colors, etc., and it’s the many contrasts that make my own feelings fluctuate just as rapidly. I can now understand why the advice of so many friends who have been here before always ended with, “You’ll see what I mean once you get there.”

Some things are difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced India.

After just four weeks, I’ve already witnessed a change in myself. In the beginning, it broke my heart to see the sidewalks lined with families caked in dirt, their children running around without britches or shoes while I sat on the bus under two jackets and a scarf, still shaking from the cold. I wanted to give, give, give to every person who needed, though I knew I could never help them all. While my heart still aches for them, I’ve gone from giving 10 rupee notes to candy and fruit – and the foods are accepted with just as much vigor as the coins.

I’ve gone from walking one kilometer through the desert to a local village in search of a toilet without spectators (though the family had only a tree to offer, which they use as well, and I happily accepted), to squatting on the side of the road, not worrying about cars passing by. It’s just a bare ass, after all.

I’ve gone from answering every “How are you?” to walking past without reply. In the beginning, I wanted to trust every stranger who approached me with a question or an offer. I wanted to believe that he was genuinely curious without an ulterior motive, but more often than not in India, that is not the case.

And it has jaded me.

“Trust noone” said a fellow traveler, a Venezuelan girl living and studying in Delhi. The truth in her words saddened me, but hardening my heart, ignoring what seems like a friendly, “Namaste! Where are you from?” and learning not to take any first answer for truth has helped me to understand how best to travel in India. Since I’ve managed to leap from a bleeding heart falang (a term a critic of this blog once called me) to an ultra bitch who refuses to pay for absurd things or to move seats on the bus when asked, I’ve actually begun to enjoy my journey even more.

In fact, I’ve just extended my trip to accommodate a drastic change in plans after succumbing to the fact that it was overly ambitious of me to attempt a journey from north to south in just one five-week visit to India. Kumbh Mela, the largest religious festival in the world, which occurs at it’s best only every 12 years, is happening now, and it’s calling my name. So instead of venturing to the beaches below, I’m cutting across the large northern half of the country to join what’s estimated to be between 60 and 100 million pilgrims in Allahabad to bathe in the two holy rivers that converge there.

The event is supposed to be outrageous in every sense of the word, and I have no doubt it will be. Just when I think I’ve seen it all, India proves me wrong. Just when I have an unbeatable experience, a new one is created. And just when I may have seen the coolest/most beautiful/most surprising thing ever, this country shows me more.

“That’s why it’s Incredible India,” the locals continue to tell me whenever we talk about the country’s extreme things, good or bad. And they’re right. India is nothing short of incredible.

I want to share each and every detail with you, but you’ll have to be patient. I’ve started writing a book so, like many experiences from my previous travels, the best is yet to come. I do, however, have loads of photos, but those will also have to wait. Finding an internet connection that works well enough to do such a task has proved impossible (Hey, Google and Microsoft and all you other technology companies that call India home – what are you doing here if you’re not sharing?).

Coming soon, I promise.

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Indecisive India
Written by:Jessica J. Hill
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27 thoughts on “Indecisive India

  1. People usually do love or hate India, but after my visit I came down firmly on the love side.

    You do have be cautious and jaded of the people on the street, this is true. But off the street, in the train cars, at the festivals, away from the tourist areas, the people are so nice and friendly.

    I imagine you experience as a solo female traveler is much different than my own. My wife was by my side 99% of the time, and yet she still endured the stares and overly friendly males. If they stare at you, you can stare back. That is what I learned.

    • You’re so right, Jeff. I’ve met some of the nicest people here, but it’s amazing how different I feel when I’m alone from when I’m with one of the local guys. Even on the train, festivals and ESPECIALLY away from the tourist areas do I feel like a circus animal on display and countless people approach me, even if it’s just to stare closer.
      It is more fun to give it back though! Not only do I stare back, but when the locals take pictures of me, I hold my hand out and ask for rupees, as they do me. The looks on their faces are priceless when they think I’m serious!
      Thanks for commenting. Glad you loved India in the end.

  2. Love the writing. Flashback to living in Nepal- nearly the same, became too sick (intestinal worms) to travel onto India.

      • GDP per capital in India is 300 % higher than Nepal. If you live with the people, it’s far more difficult than you may think. My point was to avoid the holy water of Ganges. It’s a daily event, Wash the cow, and the remains of the bathwater are usually drank.

      • Oh of course, Richard. I didn’t mean to offend. Living in a foreign country is never what I would call easy, no matter where you are. Thanks for the tip on the Ganges – I don’t think there’s anyway I want to even put a toe in any of the bodies of water here for fear of what I might catch!

  3. The people of Nepal really loved me, they truly believe that everyone should drink the water from the cow and Bagmati River/ in your case Ganges. 99% of Nepalese people have intestinal worms. After refusing for 4 months, I believe they placed it in my dahl bhat (food). As you know everything needs to be boiling hot in the Indian subcontinent.

  4. In India it isn’t just travelling, it’s an experience. Something intense, personal sometimes and so difficult to put into words. Am currently enjoying in South India 🙂

  5. i’m not sure if my last comment posted or not, but I just wanted to tell you I finally had a chance to read some of your experiences. It was interesting to compare your experience to my own. I totally agree with you though and am seriously head over heels for this country. 🙂

    • Hi, Andrea. I’m going to head over and catch up on yours too! Are you still in India? I know what you mean. I think my heart led me back to Thailand because part of it was still here from the last time. It will always have a special place! Thanks for commenting.

  6. Since ancient times India has been the place which has attracted people around the world, excited & perplexed the visitors based on their own experience with the country and its people. Actually its nothing but the people (and a very large number of them live here) make this geographical location, stretched from the Himalayan mountains to Arabian sea; from Middle-east to the Indian Ocean, whatever it is.

    Bitter-sweet or tangy-spicy, like the food of the country, your experience here would be exciting to say the least, it will never be boring for sure. It is the country where I have lived all my life and my previous generations as well, as far as I could extract the information, so I love it, even the sad, bad and ugly part of it.

    Its not perfect, there are places even in urban/ metro cities which are not at all tourist friendly, its because most of us do not see tourist as a business opportunity (some does, specially the one’s a tourist has to get in touch with – like the hotels, cabs, rikshawalas, the unemployed touts posing as tourist guides, etc. etc.). There is a saying in sanskrit ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’, I’m sure you know its meaning because its being used by many tourist oriented business as their tag-line. But you will surely experience it whenever you will come in touch with common Indian families, who are not there to extract any money from you.

    Poverty and non-development of infrastructure are a curse and it will take a lot more time & efforts to get them right,. We got independence only 6 decades back from 1000 years of occupation by external forces, our survival itself is a miracle and a proof of everything that this country and its culture stands for. There are countries and regions which have done exceedingly well in small period of time (China, Korea, Japan to mention a few in the east), we haven’t been able to do that.

    We are extremely inward looking people, always trying to justify the way we are – not arrogant or pushy, but emotional, touchy and defensive about ourselves. Maybe the centuries of foreign occupation have left some deep scars on our psyche, maybe it is just our survival mechanism, to keep this land exciting for ourselves but maintain a shroud of ‘not worth it’ for ‘outsiders’ to avoid future aggression & occupation from abroad. As you said, your perception changes when you life here long enough to become a sort of insider and drop the ‘outsider’ tag.

    Anyways, we are like that only – read a book with the same title by Ms.Rama Bijapurkar, it offers a lot of Insights, another book you could give a try is No Full Stops in India by Mark Tully, A BBC correspondence who fell in love with India while working here and has made it his home.

    I hope your experience gets better with time and with every new trip that you take – and the experiences here gives you, what it has given to visitors from time immemorial, learnings to live a happy life, wherever you life, whatever challenging circumstances you have to face, and also to take the life as a journey which never ends, a new one starts before the old one could finish.

    • Wow, thank you for taking the time to write such an informative, interesting comment. I love hearing from Indian locals about your views on your own country – and I find it intriguing that you are all able to take a step back and view it as an outsider might. This was quite an old post, and I did end up falling in love with India. After four weeks, something changed – maybe it was, like you say, me dropping the outsider tag – and I completely enjoyed my time there. It was a bittersweet goodbye – I was exhausted and in need of a break, but I left so much unseen! I’ll definitely be back.

      I’m going to make a not of the books you mentioned. I’m always looking for quality material about the places I’ve been, and plan to go.

      Where do you live?

  7. Yes I am reading the other entries on you blog one by one. They are beautiful description of your experience. Sorry for such a long boring comment.

    I have lived in Delhi all my life, but have traveled across India. As you have experienced yourself, its a hugely diverse country and even though I have managed visit almost all the states of India (except few North-Eastern mountain states), I can honestly claim to have seen just a small fraction India till now.

    • It really is a large, varied and magnificent place to visit, but I find it hard to explain to people when they ask what it’s like. It’s so many things all at once, which is precisely the reason I love it.

      I love long comments! It wasn’t boring at all 😉 I love learning things from my readers – especially when locals weigh in. Thanks!

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