Message to the reader: I went to India recently, for only ten days. In that time I visited the Golden Triangle, in addition to Mumbai and Goa. This is certainly a limited cross section of India, but I hope I can offer a different opinion than maybe one already has. Do enjoy. I broke it into ten parts, and I throw up one section a day for ten days. Please enjoy!!
So I’ll try and break each section off into reasonably sized chunks that read in a more complete way than the jolting format I normally use. I decided on relatively broad headings, and hopefully I’ll delve into each interestingly.
1) My Expectations
2) The Food and Drink
3) The Economy
4) Comparing China and India
5) The People
6) Politics in India
7) The Touristy Stuff
8) Shit that Makes You Do a Double Take
10) The Idea of India Itself
1) My Expectations
The best means I can use to describe the great fluctuations in how my expectations were or weren’t being met is through the smells. When I first left the airport, the unmistakable waft of feces tickled my nostrils. Trash, excrement, food, spices, industry. All these things brewed and stewed in the moist and heavy New Delhi air, creating an unforgettable experience to be sure. They didn’t all hit you at once, and sometimes nothing at all hit you. But as you move from place to place, and even within a matter of seconds, your neurons are bombarded with sensory inputs like never before.
You’re constantly bobbing and weaving through pockets of odor. And while there were highs and lows in this department, at the end of the day, the lows proved most stirring. Because face it: if you’re at a state fair standing amid rows of stalls overflowing with the wonderful smells of sweet candies and savory meats, and someone shits in the middle of it all, you certainly will remember one of these things and it’s probably not the corn dogs or funnel cakes.
And to be sure I got used to the smells eventually, as it becomes part of the daily routine (or ritual, depending on how you want to normalize it). You just deal with 10 seconds of cow dung, as you know you’re about to enter a plume of glorious spices drifting from a nearby restaurant (composed of I don’t know what, as Indian food is still just magic to me). And after a week of just getting used to the scent blitzkrieg, we entered Goa, the place I thought would be completely developed, completely devoid of the animal droppings that I found virtually everywhere else. But nope, even here, the stenches occasionally wreaked havoc, and it was then I realized how my expectations themselves had taken a great journey.
Before going to India, or upon listening to anyone’s story about someone who has been, you’ll probably encounter a fair amount of hyperbole. They’ll describe some grotesque sights and smells, and you’ll think India is a living hellhole. I thought I would be swimming through the sludge to reach my hotel’s front door and chugging cholera-infested water just so I didn’t die of thirst. Obviously that’s not true, but it seems that’s how the country is hyped up. And so, after a few days you realize it’s really not thaaat bad, nor that dirty.
After, you get used to some of the daily goings-on. And then it hits you, that indeed you’ve normalized some of these things in light of the truly stunning sights and sounds and flavors you do encounter. And when you start to write down what happened or really take into account the actual scale of excrement on the streets, you realize it’s not as preposterous as you may have imagined, but it is still ludicrous in reality. So really, the scents cannot be overstated. It is genuinely bad at times and my expectations certainly went in a huge U-shaped curve: from dreading the worst to thinking it’s fine to realizing the extent of the problems is rather far-reaching.
I think, though, that a lot of the “scariness” regarding India is unduly ramped up. Yes there is gross stuff, but you can avoid it. Yes there are some vile restaurants, but you can just pay a bit more and get a decent meal elsewhere (less than $10 for 2 people yields a hearty amount). Yes there are thieves, but keep your hand on your wallet and come prepared. At the end of the day, the major places in India we went are still big cities, situated in a developed society, and it’s easily navigable both spatially and metaphorically if you give it a chance, which is exactly what I did.
Like what you’re reading on India? Check out some other related articles in: The India Chronicles!