All the tell tale signs were there before we ever left home; the population figures, the overbearing service in Indian restaurants in Dublin, the harsh reality depicted in the movie Slumdog Millionaire with it’s romantic plot making it more digestible to the Westerner. But no… we were suckered in by the Incredible India ad campaign portraying the country to be what it simply is not.
As the plane embraced the New Delhi runway, we peered out of the tiny window and for a second saw a train passing with possibly more people on top than inside. We had finally arrived in India.
Nothing could have prepared us for what we encountered throughout our time there. As we strolled out of the cool air-conditioned arrivals door the combination of people asking us all sorts of questions and the Delhi sun hit us like a tonne of bricks. We were quickly ushered to a auto rickshaw and bundled in. We gave the address of our couchsurfing host and although he’d never heard of it, our driver accepted the challenge.
When we arrived, our host was out of town but we were welcomed in to our accommodation for the night by a lovely man who taught us about the presence and role of Sikhs in India. The building was an orphanage school in the middle of the slums. Poverty was everywhere, but our minds were too focused on our own survival to empathise. After a few moments in our room, we managed to acclimatize both to the humidity and the culture.
We were quickly introduced to the children and thrown into helping out in homework club. We had to laugh at how all our preparations for staying hygienic went out the window when these affectionately filthy street kids climbed on our laps and proceeded to sneeze, fart and pick their noses. From that point on our concerns decreased. That is of course until we got to Jaipur for the bout of vomitting/diarrhea which I’ve decided to call “The Rumble in Rajasthan”.
One thing that tested the very boundaries of my tolerance for other cultures was seeing the (so called sacred) cattle resorting to grazing in the many mountains of garbage that blocked the streets and alleys. Once, I saw a cow eating from a used nappy. I am both a vegetarian and the son of a beef cattle farmer and for the first time I realised that although far less that good enough, at least cows in Ireland are treated to fresh air and grass throughout their shortened lives.
One reason for travelling to India was to experience a more simplistic way of life, rich in spiritual and psychological exploration and an appreciation for nature. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. What we got was a constant stream of pestering by too many people intent on either selling us something or killing us with their eagerness to help us find food, accommodation or transport.
India seemed to consist of little moments… pockets of space and time to rest and take in what’s happening while instincts for self-preservation can relax for a second. The moments spent alone in the sanctuary and tranquility of the occasional decent toilet cubicle was like reaching enlightenment. Then it was back out to avoiding high-speed rickshaws and listening to the endless honking of horns.
Much like a computer game, the famous Monkey temple in Jaipur consisted of various levels. Once we passed the pushy street vendors, we climbed through the chubby-faced children begging for money (I’ve worked with children as a therapist for quite some time and know that these are not the most impoverished in India. The real priority cases are hidden behind closed doors, down alleyways, dying and unable to afford medical care). Upwards through the aggressive monkeys who like to bite tourists and finally we reached the top of the hill with it’s beautiful sunset and moment of blissful silence.
After being completely ripped off, we entered the Taj Mahal in Agra – another oasis of calm in a city full of chaos. Behind the temple gates, we could hear ourselves think and make decisions more effectively. We treasured these moments and could take in the beauty of India such as the colourful dresses worn by the Indian women.
We see more clearly now, how our expectations led to disappointment, how we despise the tourist trails and how as predominately introverted, the in-your-face attitude of the Indian people was always going to cause us stress. After Agra, we headed north into Nepal and found exactly what we had been looking for. But that’s another story.
I have heard so many people say so many wonderful things about India that I feel I owe it to the country to give it a second chance at some stage. Perhaps I will, but not for a while. And not as a tourist.
Click Map: http://goo.gl/maps/P6aMk
- Delhi Agra Jaipur Tour- an unforgettable journey (rahulrathoragra0.wordpress.com)
- The Golden Triangle (daroomiesroom.wordpress.com)
- Golden Triangle Tour : One Affair Delhi Agra Jaipur (rahulrathoragra0.wordpress.com)
- Rickshaw. (silencesaid.wordpress.com)