We will soon be in another country but some random thoughts about India before I move on to the next continent.
I believe one in seven people in the world can trace their roots to India. That is a lot of people! With that many people, life is bound to be messy. With China slowing down and an optimistic new Indian Prime Minister, India is in the news a lot these days.
Travelling there it is hard to know what to think. It’s clear there is a lot of work to do and not all the rich people appreciate the daily lifestyle of the poor people. Those kind of illusions exist in the west as well. Why I encourage everyone I can to travel and see the world and meet the people. Listen to what your parents, friends and the media tell you – but don’t believe it without question. Learn to make your own judgements and opinions.
What I have found to be universally true is that there are a lot of good, kind ordinary people in even the most corrupt and screwed up country. The challenge is how to improve their lives in a meaningful way. Troops, assassinations and even charity often do more harm than good. I’m a big believer in the market economy so one thing you can do is travel and do some shopping 🙂
C did his best to keep me out of the shops (or hurry me along – if he had let me shop longer on our way to Jhansi we wouldn’t have had to spend hours waiting for the train outside the station 😉 but I defied him 🙂 India is a shopping paradise, especially for those who don’t favour black. There is a riot of colour everywhere. There are saris, purses, bangles, shawls, intricately carved furniture, jewelry made of precious gemstones and so much more.
I wish I could provide more shopping tips but it was a tiny part of my Indian experience. What I would say is to be wary of help from guides. Normally in Asia, there is a kickback to guides for bringing in unsuspecting tourists. I didn’t have much choice due to the chock-a-block itinerary so let the guide take me shopping in Agra. You definitely get lots of attention and Indian shopkeepers are skilled salespeople so keep your head about you. It’s also good to not be too enthusiastic as typically prices are not marked.
I’m not much of a bargainer so I enjoyed my time shopping in the hotel much more. It’s entirely possible I was getting ripped off but the gentlemen were charming and the goods were gorgeous so I didn’t care. Compared to my hometown the prices were good and I was hopefully helping the economy a little bit. What I really like is to buy from artisans directly but that isn’t always possible.
I actually had my best shopping experience at the airport. The prices seemed the same and there was a vast array of gorgeous goods – and it was more independent – not all the goods were stacked behind the counter. You could drape the shawl on yourself. I would definitely recommend that you buy at least one shawl on your trip to India. When it’s 40 degrees outside, it can be hard to be enthusiastic about a real pashmina but you will be grateful when you step onto the plane.
I’ve been hauling a black shawl I bought in London onto planes for years now. It’s practical but sometimes seems too dark so I was over the moon to find a multi-coloured shawl made of very fine wool. It livens up the neutrals and is a match to pink, purple, green, yellow, turquoise, orange… pretty much anything. It has become one of my most prized possessions. Worth a trip to India just to get that shawl 🙂
India is a vast and complicated place. My travels only skimmed the surface of its possibilities. Before, during and after I read some great books about Indian history and culture, which I would recommend, even if a trip isn’t on your agenda:
Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann – a very readable history about Indian independence
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo – a poignant picture of modern India and people who would love the chance to use a luxury toilet
Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh – one of the many expat Indians looking for her roots and a primer for train travel in India
Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald – an expat outside perspective on India
We ended our visit to India on a high note. The road from Agra to Delhi is sleek and modern and we made the kind of time we spoiled westerners expect every day. No cows on the road to slow us down! Due to the issues we faced at Bandhavgarth, the original Indian tour company representative met us in Delhi and then treated us to a special meal. The setting was fantastic. It looked very western. We were outside in a park covered with fairy lights and the place was packed with well-dressed locals. The new India obviously. Once again the cocktail was fine but the food was hilarious. While we got to have a special meal, we could not choose from the regular menu so the choices were really limited. I love Italian food so thought I would go for the pasta. I have been cooking Italian food for years and won’t reheat it in the microwave because pasta needs to be al dente. A little overcooked I can handle if I must but this was mush…
Apparently Indians love mush! It was so bad I barely ate any and the server was good so we discussed it. He laughed as he knew what I was talking about but he said Indians would send it back if the chef actually cooked it al dente! I related my experiences with foreign cuisine in India and do advise you not to go there. It’s a little boring eating Indian food every day but it’s all they know how to do 🙂
One of the benefits of writing the blog is that I get to relive my travel adventures and I am feeling nostalgic for India as I type this. Without question, it is not a really easy travel destination but you can organize to live in a bubble if you want – or be bold like the Australian lady and take 2nd class trains. There’s lots going on and it is obvious some progress is being made.
I would love to see the trickle-down economics turn into a flood but I know that may be delusional. But we can always hope. My Viking ancestors could never have imagined in their wildest dreams the incredible life I would lead a few centuries on as I type my thoughts to the world while glancing out the window at the boats on False Creek enjoying the last summer long weekend. Let’s just cross our fingers and hope the new Prime Minister finds a way to bridge the centuries like a time machine and bring the people I saw walking along the road transporting goods on their heads into the 21st century.