We flew to Delhi from Amritsar this afternoon and checked into the Novotel Airport hotel. We had a nice room but it was way over priced. What really pissed us off was the blatant and obvious gouging of the tourist dollar that is taking place in India now. One example, two 1 litre bottles of mineral water cost $9.80 CAD. GIVE ME A BREAK! A little more on this later.
Tomorrow we fly to Bangkok to start the next leg of our adventure where we’ll first spend a few weeks in Myanmar followed by a month in Thailand where our beautiful daughter and granddaughter, Kristina and Lucy will be joining us for 16 days.
India, the land of worship, harmony, dysfunction, beauty, sadness and joy.
And a great place to lose weight!
Where to start our summary of India? We drove independently without hotel reservations and only a general itinerary in mind in 3 different vehicles with three different drivers with three different personalities through three quite distinct sections/regions covering a land total of 6,301 km’s. We flew 5 sections covering a total distance of 2,969 km’s. Total distance covered in India, 9,269 km’s. I guess it was okay to start feeling a little tired near the end of our Indian journey…..
I’m a little ticked off because since I was forced to upgrade my iPad iOS the map tracing function I became used to suddenly changed. It pisses me off royally when Apple adds or takes away stuff without letting you know. It really bugs the hell out of me. Anyway, below is the area we covered by car in black and by air in blue. Yes, I figured it out.
In India the food is advertised as “Pure Veg” but chicken, mutton, lamb and fish are available but definitely no beef. We did have mutton once at the best Kashmiri restaurant in Delhi and we believe the best Indian food in all of India at the Choc Bizarre (yes bizarre, not bazzare) at our hotel in Delhi. We had veg appies followed by a Lal Masa, a Kashmiri mutton dish with a superb cornucopia of very fresh spices. This style of cooking and the beautiful fresh spices and herbs they use was a style that would be difficult to tire of. The predominant Northern/Southern/Punjabi/Goan food that was available was all very delicious but to be very honest became tiresome. We’ve always loved Indian food but the menus all became a blur of sameness after 2 1/2 months. There were some fast food joints like McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and KFC but the Big Mcvegie and the Whopper Tikka just didn’t cut it. There were two notable copy cats on the block as well. KFC or King Fried Chicken and, I kid you not, Burger Singh! We didn’t try either.
The air quality in India is not good however it was significantly better in the north in the mountains but there was still the ever-present haze which made taking photos of distant mountain ranges and villages difficult. In India the primary source of cooking fuel is wood and dry cow dung patties which we think tended to add a certain fragrance to the lingering haze that existed throughout the country.
The people of India are, and we’ve said this about other countries as well, the friendliest. I guess this goes back to our original post where we quoted “ To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries”. EVERYONE smiled back if we smiled at them. Everyone said “you’re welcome” if we said thank you. Everyone said “yes” even if the answer should have been “no”. Their only objective was to please and be seen as being helpful. The wobbly nod of their heads was a challenge. Was it a yes or a no or a maybe. We learned to rephrase questions because if we gave the slightest indication of our expected answer, we would get the answer we wanted and not necessarily the right answer. It was a challenge and could be frustrating at times but it was fun. The men in India found Joyce to be fascinating based on the constant, without blinking stares she received. If we were a in a Tuk Tuk, motorcycles would speed up for a second look at her. If a bus loaded with men pulled along side of us heads would strain out of the windows to have a look and Joyce would totally disarm them all with her beautiful smile which would make them all blush and smile back and giggle and laugh. At times the staring was a little much but that is the culture however, due to past (and probably present) sex selection procedures being done during early pregnancy, India, like China now suffers a huge, unnatural and socially destabilizing male/female population schism. This seems to be reflected in the high number of rape cases that are reported. I’m not an expert in this field and I’m in no way defending the situation but when you have too many men chasing too few women and the numbers are out of whack males resort to unspeakable crimes. What was blatantly obvious, and we’re sure partly cultural was only men participated in daily out of home routines. At times you wondered if there were any women in this village or that. Rarely did you see any congregations of women. It was men only at the tea stalls, men only serving in restaurants, men only having a drink in a bar, men only eating in a roadside food stalls. Yes we saw women. Carrying loads of firewood on their heads walking along busy roads, babes in arms. Women dusting the streets, but rarely anything coming close to social integration. Very sad but when speaking with some of the younger newer families this might be changing as the fathers seem to be content with daughters only and the focus now seems to be more on their education and inclusion in everyday Indian social fabric and the days of 5, 6, or 7 children seems to be fading into the past. I must however add that this is not the case with the Muslim population and the Hindu population has a real issue with this. They say they don’t educate their children and are not a part of the New India so we foresee further social instability between the majority Hindu and minority Muslims.
India seems to be one big works in progress. There is construction and infrastructure projects going on everywhere but they mostly seem to be just a works in progress. Nothing makes sense. Roads are partly paved or re-paved for small sections then the project ends with endless partially graded areas full of pot holes and debris. Buildings are half built and then left decaying. So many times we said “ this should be nice in a few years if they ever complete it”. Maybe in 10 years all of the pieces will magically come together.
The garbage problem in India is huge. Some villages seem to care and are relatively clean, most don’t care and garbage is left strewn down riverbanks, streets, alleyways, well, everywhere. The cows and goats eat some of the food wastes but there is a very high mortality rate among these animals because they ingest all of the plastic refuse along with the food refuse. This is a huge problem, not just here but everywhere, PLASTIC BAGS!. Some places we visited in India have now outlawed plastic bags. It’s a good start to a huge problem and one can only hope that the next generation will be smarter than the last. So much to say on this topic but we all know the plastic situation throughout the world so time to make a change.
There are no traffic rules in India. The car horn is used incessantly and sometimes it seemed without reason. The driving culture relies on the horn and the constant honking can literally drive you nuts. There were times, especially with our 2nd driver travelling through Rajasthan that we were ready to strangle him and jump out of the car and raise our arms and yell “enough is enough!”. It was very grating on the nerves, especially after 5 or 6 plus hours of driving. On separated 4 lane highways there were always cars and trucks and motorcycles heading towards you on the wrong side of the road. In the city intersections it was a mass tangle of honking vehicles of every description vying for a small opening to continue into a further mass of soot belching trucks and people crossing and chaos and smog and smoke and cows lazing in the middle of the road and no one seemed to be very bothered. The honking became deafening and we wondered how the hell do you know who’s honking at you? In all of this mass mess of traffic madness, we did not once see any accidents. There is a method to the madness however road fatality statistics tell a different story. India is home to the worlds most deadliest roads. One person dies on the roads every 4 minutes. Delhi records an average of 5 deaths per day. Every year there are over 500,000 accidents leaving 150,000 people dead. More people have died in road accidents than in all the wars India has fought. India has witnessed 5 wars where 10,253 casualties were reported. There is huge volume of motorcycles in India. Some are used as family cars carrying 3 passengers and we saw up to 5. Three per cycle was not out of the ordinary. About 28 two-wheeler riders die daily on the roads. When you drive in India, the stats although unfortunate are not surprising and the thought always crossed our minds if this would be our last day. It really is that bad.
India is no longer a cheap country to visit but is generally inexpensive. I guess it depends on your age and what you are willing to accept but accommodation is significantly higher than when we were there about 8 years ago. A reasonable room, clean (can be a challenge) with a shower and AC runs about on average $60.00-$80.00 CAD per night. Food is still very reasonable but you must be very careful where you eat. Stick to hotels and nice clean-looking restaurants. Transportation by auto rickshaw/tuk tuk and taxi is cheap. Usually about $1-$3 for a ride. Beer is expensive except in Goa where a 650 ml bottle of Kingfisher Lager costs $2.00 otherwise look at $4-$6 for the same and in many cases $4-$5 for a 320 ml bottle. It’s much cheaper to buy at an “English Wine Store” although they are few and far between and then you basically have to drink in your room which is not the point of having a few drinks but common among Indians. The drinking culture in India is like nowhere else. There aren’t “Pubs” to speak of except in high-end hotels otherwise only very dark and dingy “Bars” that are generally attached to shady hotels or “Bar” means they sell alcohol in their restaurant. People/men in India like to drink in the dark and you never see females imbibing. There are very few if any social bars with music etc. outside of Mumbai and Delhi. This is fine but outside of Goa, don’t expect to go out for an evening for a few drinks and meet people. You’ll need night vision glasses to see who is sitting next to you and the beer will be warm
We saw the true India by driving the main roads, side roads and everything in between. The way of life is like nowhere else. The villages hum with an ancient tribal existence that hasn’t changed much in centuries. The dress is colourful and beautiful and extravagant while the children parade down dusty streets donned in their clean school uniforms, the girls with braided hair with flower garlands tied to the ends swinging as they laugh and talk and the boys with vests and ties and backpacks, all of them showing the world change is coming. Education is important in India and it was wonderful to see so many children making their daily pilgrimage. Sadly however, there are still untold thousands who work the streets selling knick knacks to support their families and education is a far off dream. Some villages have resorted to fining the parents if their children do not attend school. School is free and meals are provided at no cost so there really isn’t an excuse to not attend but unfortunately the realities of poverty and desperation dictate the future of these many poor children. India is an enigma. There is vast wealth and potential among it’s 1.3 billion people and Prime Minister Modi is trying to position India onto the international stage. We think there is great potential for this country and we wish them well. We loved our time here. It was a challenge at times, heart breaking at times, full of laughter at times and always an eye-opening experience that words cannot truly describe. We paid for a 10 year visa so who knows, we may be back and if so we hope to see that the seeds of change planted thus far will have borne fruit in the future.