28 Days Later: The Dirt on Traveling India
We are seasoned travelers. We’ve been to over 30 countries. We’ve taken beat-up buses through dangerous switchbacks. We’ve shared rooms with snakes, rats, and who knows what else. We’ve spewed liquid out of both ends in both hemispheres. And to be honest, I kind of like that aspect of travel. Unpredictability makes life exciting.
And then there’s India.
Twenty-eight days of new experiences and a whole lot of frustrations. Our travel resume didn’t prepare us for what India has to offer. Or maybe I’m getting old…
I’ve always said that my favorite cities are the ones that don’t offer a ton of attractions, but they give you a good sense of what it’s like to live in the country you’re in.
I didn’t want to experience the tourist industry in India. I wanted to experience India. Perhaps this wasn’t a great idea. Why? Cause India is a shit-hole? No, I promised myself I wouldn’t say that in this article.
For the first time, I actually enjoyed the tourist towns more than the gritty typical cities. I think if I had stuck to the tourist trail I would be using more of those Lonely Planet words in this article.
Breathtaking, exquisite, majestic, meditative, spiritual, sacred, colorful, mystifying.
One of my favorite things about India is the food. Going out for Indian food appears on my itinerary more often than posting to this website. The cuisine has the complex spices of Asia, and fresh breads and dairy that are more prevalent in western cooking. I could eat Indian food for every meal – is what I once thought.
Let’s be honest. Bread and dairy make you fat. It’s a heavy meal that’s hard to digest. Believe it or not, there are a lot of fat people in India.
After 33 meals of Indian food, I was begging for a salad. And I got one. Unfortunately, eating a salad in India is like signing a contract with diarrhea. A day later, my appetite was gone. My body was making a horrible combination of noises and smells, like a jackhammer drilling through a sewage pipe.
It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll get sick in India.
It took a week for me to get back to normal. That’s a quarter of my vacation spent uncomfortable.
I met a few very friendly people in India, however the majority of people I was approached by were only nice because they wanted something.
For example, the guy at the bus station who wanted to chat. He told me about how he had cancer, how he was a former priest, and how he needed to borrow some money. All the while, reeking of alcohol.
And then there are the rickshaw or tuk-tuk drivers who you basically have to treat like criminals. You can negotiate until you’re exhausted, but you won’t get the local price, which is generally a quarter to a half of what they’re charging you. They’d rather not get the business. So, you pay it. When you arrive at your destination, they’ll sometimes demand an extra 20 rupees for no reason at all. Of course, refuse to pay it and give them the exact change. If you don’t have the exact change, that might cost you. They’ll pretend they don’t have any small bills. If they count out the change for you, be sure to double-check it. One guy made a big deal of counting the money to me, “one, two, three, four” and then he only handed me 3 of the bills. I laughed, “Haha, you’re a terrible human being.”
I’ve only lost my cool 3 times in my adult life. One of those times was with a rickshaw driver. He demanded an extra 20 rupees. I said no. He followed us in the hotel and continued to argue, saying the location was further than we had told him. I had given him the business card of the hotel, so he knew exactly where he was going. The hotel workers gathered around. One suggested I pay him. The look I shot him told him to stay out of it. After a few minutes of arguing, the rage popped-in for a visit.
I put my hand in his face and pretended it was a mouth.
“Blah, blah, blah! This is you! All you do is talk!”
Meanwhile sensible Sara, a woman who has been by my side for over 10 years and knows me very well, got the money out and handed it over.
“Take your money and get the %&#$ out,” I yelled.
He started to say something. I stuck my hand 2 inches from his face.
“No, you got your money! Now get the %#&$ out of here!”
All this over the equivalent of 30 cents US.
But the fact of the matter is, it’s not about the money. It’s about making a deal and sticking to it. It’s about treating someone fairly and not trying to take advantage of them. It’s about being respectful.
I know incidents like this come with poverty, but I’ve traveled to poor countries like Laos and Myanmar, and I found the people to be extraordinarily friendly.
India is such a mix of cultures and religions. Perhaps that puts a stress on the country and its people. One hotel owner told us, “Don’t trust the tuk-tuk drivers, they’re all apart of either ISIS or the Taliban.”
While that would explain a lot, of course it’s not true. In fact, a lot of them aren’t even Muslim. But it shows there is some divide between the people. Maybe the more divided a country is, the more inconsiderate the people are to each other. Perhaps a country like Myanmar feels like they are in it together, so they treat each other as equals.
If you want to be thoroughly depressed, pick up a local newspaper in India. You’ll read about rape, acid throwing, and a whole bunch of awful things that happened in the province the day prior. When you can’t read the newspaper without fighting off tears, you know the country has it bad.
Air pollution is a big deal in India. They are 2nd in the world when it comes to death due to bad air quality. Exhaust fumes will surround you as you walk down the street. I found myself getting headaches after being outside. My nose would run, and my eyes would itch. That, combined with having to shoo-off people looking for money, and the heat, made walking around incredibly annoying.
Most tourist attractions in India are temples. I very much enjoyed visiting my first Hindu temple, and my second, and my third. After that, I got a bit templed-out.
The beaches were pretty nice, but totally un-swimmable at the time of year we were there.
I hate to be a bummer. I’d like to be able to talk about the amazing experience we had, but that wouldn’t be honest.
So do we regret going to India?
We travel to collect unforgettable moments. Memories that we’ll be able to talk about when we’re old and wrinkly. Some of those will be good, some bad.
An example of a good one: drinking tea and eating sweets at an Indian bakery.
An example of a bad one: driving by a man shitting in the streets.
Two very different experiences, but both are memorable.
We don’t regret our 28 days in India. There are things we wish we would have done differently, but not all adventures will be a success. If they were, they wouldn’t be adventures.