Q & A: India

Sometimes I get questions from readers.  The following recently came in from Earthdrifter subscriber AL:

Despite the heat, beggars, and overcrowding, do you like India?

Every place and thing in life has its pros and cons.  Utopia can’t exist anywhere.  There are things about India that I like very much, such as the unpredictability factor.   The surprise aspect is constant.

The heat this time of year can feel unbearable during the day.  I thought that it wouldn’t bother me as I’ve dealt with tropical places before.  After arriving, I realized  that I’d never been to such a hot place.  In hindsight, northern China sports a much better climate this time of year.  China’s another land I’d like to visit. I don’t think even the locals in most of India like the heat as it’s exhausting. But, as with all things in life, I have no regrets coming this time of year.

I’d never been to a latitude in the northern hemisphere such as India during the summer.  Even if you pay extra for A/C  you can’t be sure that it will work as power outages occur daily, lasting anywhere from a second to days.  Most accommodations have back-up generators so that the fans still function.  At times, even with a ceiling fan, I found it tough to sleep.  But, there are so many people sleeping outside in India that I thought: Who am I to complain as I’ve got a bed in a room?

Up in the Himalayan foothills it’s cool and pleasant now but it rains hard, on and off.  Rain is necessary and beautiful in its own way but it puts a damper on hiking opportunities and potentially great nature pics.

I like most Indian people.  They are genuine and often very interested in foreigners.  I don’t like dealing with the persistent touts when I get off a bus or  train, especially after an overnight journey.

The difference between beggars back home is that in India there are more of them.  Their religion and spirituality give them hope.  In northern US cities the homeless people are generally alcoholics and schizophrenics.   People who ask for handouts are peaceful in India whereas in the U.S. I’ve seen them threaten and yell at each other over panhandling space.

I was scammed by a beggar once.  Others tried similar shams but I learned my lesson the first time.  Even the beggar who was successful tried to get money from me again.  I still felt bad for her as she lives a life of brutal desperation.

I don’t like giving money to beggars as it encourages them to beg more.  When you give to one you might be swarmed by many.  Like back home,  I feel that it’s best if people try to earn money by performing a service.  I only donate to lepers and people missing limbs as they deserve more than someone who’s physically able.

The overcrowding can be nightmarish on local buses,  but I’m glad that I experienced it as it’s how the majority of people live.  As mentioned in a recent post, I didn’t allow myself to get stuck in the lowest class of a train as they cram the people in.   It looked like living hell, especially for a long, overnight ride.

The Delhi and Kolkata subways were very crowded during rush hour.  The people push and shove.  To me it seemed like utter chaos.  I can’t say I liked that.  I’ve experienced it in Tokyo and even in Boston when the old trains get backed up, but without the pushing and shoving.

Drifting though the streets can be tough at times, especially when there are no sidewalks.  You have to watch out for different modes of transport coming at you.  It’s stressful and energy depleting; so meandering is best taken in small doses while in cities.

In what ways has India made you grow and learn new things?
I learned that India is not just India.  India is more complex than that.  It’s many places.  It’s 29 states.  If you look at a map, you can see that the countries of Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka could geographically blend in as Indian states.  Or, the 29 states of India could easily be their own separate republics as they were before the British colonized.

I learned that the 22 official languages and hundreds more that exist aren’t necessarily in the same language family.  They aren’t different dialects but actual
languages.   Spoken Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, is very similar to spoken Hindi.  They can understand each other.  I’ve learned a little bit of Hindi from my phrasebook.  The Hindi word for India is Hindustan. It’s hard to learn from the people as they often tend to be more interested in teaching you the native language that they speak.  This is very often not Hindi.

Contrary to popular western thought, not everyone in India speaks English.   The corporations and universities operate in English.  The educated people speak it very well.  They’ll surprise you with their advanced vocab.  Sometimes the English dialect can be hard to understand, even more difficult than Scottish English. 🙂

Touts speak English well as they need to.  Many others speak very broken or even no English.  Street vendors may or may not speak it.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned is that once you can find a way to empathize with the touts, it makes it much easier to deal with them.  I’ve thought: They’re often super poor and just want to feed their families.  Everyone needs to make a living.  They weren’t born into educated families.  Other than trying to max their earning/scamming potential, they’re harmless.  Try to have a sense of humor with them.

How has India affected you?  How has it changed you?
It may have aged me a bit.  I don’t think I’d want to live there.

I’ve become more desensitized to extreme poverty.

Have you considered traveling by land to Thailand through Bangladesh and Burma?
No.  It’s monsoon season in Bangladesh and I’d need to acquire yet another visa to go there.  Honestly, I don’t know much about that land.  I do know that’s it’s very poor.   I just read a post by a famous and seasoned travel blogger named Wandering Earl.  He  was actually kidnapped in Bangladesh.  Bangladesh is not a country that I’ve thought of or considered yet.

I would love to visit Burma <i>Myanmar</i> and potentially hope to at some point.  I’m pretty sure that it’s virtually impossible to travel freely by land.  You need a visa and then you need to fly usually from Bangkok to Yangoon.  The military junta that controls the country has restrictions on where you can and can’t travel.  I haven’t heard of anyone that’s traveled through Burma to Thailand by land.

Have you thought about visiting Bhutan and Nepal?
From what I’ve read about Bhutan it seems expensive.  I’m trying to avoid expensive countries as they’ll considerably cut down the amount of time I can travel.

I’ve always wanted to visit Nepal.  This time of year isn’t trekking time though.  It’s rainy season.  I need a good internet connection.  In India, power outages occur multiple times daily.  I hear that it’s even worse in Nepal.  But, yes, I hope to get there one day.  Another famous and inspiratonal travel blogger wrote that Nepal is her favorite country on earth.

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Do you have any travel questions that I can try to answer?  Feel free to comment below or send an email: mike@earthdrifter.com

4 responses to this post.

  1. AL: A thousand thanks! Well, if you make it to India, it’ll be impossible to avoid the in-your-face experience. If you like constant surprises, India’s the place for you. 🙂


  2. Posted by Al on July 29, 2011 at 17:13

    That’s what I call a satisfying answer. Thanks for the wealth of detail. The conclusion I get from your words is that a safe, comfortable, nice-side-of-things-only trip may be great, but it takes the in-your-face, full-spectrum of reality for the experience to widen your horizons and make you grow in some way. Your blog has helped me gain some understanding of India, without ever having set foot there yet. Thanks!


  3. EARL: India is a world within itself. That LA/Bangladesh/India post of yours is beyond worthy of linking to, what a captivating story! Talk about getting off the beaten path. Good thing those guys in Dhaka were amatures and that you had the wits about you to blow out of there when you had the opportunity. Crazy stuff.


  4. As an addict of India, I always enjoy reading about one’s experience and thoughts on that fascinating land! And many thanks for the link to my Bangladesh post 🙂


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