Returning home to London, sitting on the aeroplane, I prepared a response to the question: ‘How was India?’
During the past six weeks while traveling on the buses, trains and in taxis, I took in my surroundings and contemplated the response to the question above, the answer changed from day to day.
Even while sitting still, watching Bollywood movies, I learnt a new aspect of the Indian culture – which is immensely complex and diverse. Indians have grown up watching these movies which have moulded their thinking to a certain extent. Just like in the UK, Hollywood movies have helped form our ideologies.
In six weeks I can’t pretend to have grasped the entirety of the Indian culture. In fact, I am far from understanding even a small fraction of it. Instead I have been lucky enough to have been given a meer glimpse into the world of India.
My journey began in India’s most cosmopolitan city – Mumbai. Everybody I met kept telling me how western it was. However, being my first stop I felt this was not necessarily the case. Noise dominated as vehicles incesently beeped. Slums lined the railway lines and buildings looked outdated. This said, I grew fond of the manic roads and got climatised to the intense pollution. I began to fall in love with Mumbai – the friendly people, archaic architecture and the element of fun that the city provided. I could have happily stayed there for much longer without getting bored.
Yet, I needed to keep moving as I had a lot to see in just six weeks. Next was the state Rajasthan, known for its kings and wealth. While, there I stayed in some stunning towns and visited magical forts and palaces. The state revealed a side to tourist corruption which upset me deeply. It struck me how poor some people are and the extremes they have to go to for money. Children as young as 5 are made to work touring people around on camels. At the tender age of 10 years old in the evenings I was being tucked up in bed while my father read fairytales to me. However, young 10 year old girls in India were being made to dance on shards of glass for tourists during the night.
Rajasthan, a holy state with many temples hosted a lot of poverty. Immediately outside these spectacular religious buildings beggars sat in desperation.
Visiting the iconic Taj Mahal was spectacular. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the famous land mark and relaxing by the impressive palace. While this supposedly perfect building provides a sense of wonder, it is also plagued with imperfection. It’s roof is covered in a coating of yellow smog from India’s pollution. Whatsmore, outside the back gate lay a colourful, carpet of plastic waste.
This waste was not only prevailant in Agra but present throughout the whole of the nation. India a supposedly religious county who cares greatly for animals (most of the population are vegetarian) did not seem to have any concern for rubbish disposal. Instead holy cows which are allowed to roam freely ate the manufactured waste on the side of the roads. I don’t know if this is due to a lack of education or overpopulation or because there are more pressing issues to solved first but there has to be a technological fix. I know there is a plant near Delhi where waste is burnt to generate energy. Some solutions are being implemented but they need to happen on a larger scale.
One of my favourite places where waste disposal was an extreme issue was the intense city, Varanasi. Since my schooling I had learnt about the Hindu tradition of burning bodies in the Ganges River. Seeing this first hand was extremely special. It was surreal sipping a cold lassie drink while dead bodies were being carried past.
I was fortunate enough to stay with my best friend’s family in Punjab (the richest state in India). I learnt about Sikhism and toured fantastic parks. Living with locals is the best way to fully immerce yourself in the way of life. I experienced how hospitable Indians are. I was treated and looked after like a queen.
Next I visited the foothills of the Himalayas which are not only scenically spectacular but also enriched in religion, culture and moving stories.
My last stop in Delhi was short. I briefly saw the busy city but will have to return for another look around.
Going from place to place I used overground transport. The trains and buses in India range from nice Volvo’s to dilapidated public buses. All got me from a to b so I can’t complain. I didn’t experience anything bad on the public transport. The horror stories in the news did not reflect my experience traveling. Being a woman and white I did get a lot of attention. Many stared at me. This is partly because ladies are treated differently to men. They are expected to marry young and rely on their husbands. To be female in India is difficult. Families treat their daughters differently and give them little freedom. When a white woman is seen traveling alone this concept is very strange for Indian people. Women are expected to be house-makers and are given less privileges. To combat this women get a discounted bus fare to encourage them to travel more. However, there is still a much larger number of men than women on the transport.
While supposedly times are changing and women are now going to university and focusing on their careers, traditional ways of thinking are still very much apparent.
This is also the case with the corrupt cast system which categorises people into groups depending on their wealth and upbringing. People can’t marry into different castes and in some schools the caste system divides pupils.
Corruption is seen throughout the entirety of India. From mother’s who deny their children the right to free school so they can beg, to inspectors taking rupees from citisens to pay for their licences and so called training.
This is just the beginning. I have not even scratched the surface. There is so much more that I don’t know about or can’t begin to understand. I come from a developed country. I have a roof over my head. I have a toilet in my house. 70 percent of Indians live in poverty. They will do anything to survive. Who wouldn’t?
I want to give my honest opinion of India but I fear I am being judgemental. At the end of the day who am I to say anything? Being an English girl with a loving family and safe home I have no idea what it is like to be living in poverty or a county riddeled with corruption.
As the plane landed in heathrow London, the air hostesses sprayed the cabin with disinfectant. It stunk. Many choked on it. If this wasn’t being judgemental and prejudice I don’t know what is. India is considered a ‘dirty’ country and so the plane had to be cleaned. I thought this was ridiculous and highly offensive. It also had no effect whatsoever. I still caught Delhi Belly as I am sure my neighbor did too!
My family was waiting for me at arrivals. Happy to see them we jumped in the car home.
My first visit to India has been eye opening. I have revealed just one layer of many. There is still so much more to uncover.
I really hope to go back to India soon to discover more and reconnect with the wonderful people I have met on this journey.
In true Indian style I will not say thank you to you all but I will just say I have loved every moment. See you again one day.