Sunday, June 22, 2008

Adventures in India: A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney

There are probably a couple of pessimists out there who are thinking, "It can't be such a great place. He just isn't telling about the bad parts." Well, that's partly true, so now is my chance to say "Don't you really hate it when..." about my trip. On all of these issues, my anticipation of the problem was far greater than the actual problem, but I will list some of the frustrating, annoying, and unpleasant things that my fellow travelers and I encounter in India. In no way do any of these pose serious reasons not to travel. But in order to achieve the highs, you have to have some lows. Here is a short list:

Congestion: Probably the worst part of the trip. In big cities it is dangerous and maddening. Even in small towns, jeeps and motorcycles will plough through narrow streets filled with people, honking their horn and expecting you to get out of the way. The fumes (walking or riding) in the cities are another really nasty side effect of all the traffic. To stay in a large city for a while will eventually lead to health problems. Strangely, the Indians don't really have a grasp of how bad this is. Delhi recently banned smoking inside public buildings, even though I have read that staying in Delhi for one day is equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes. That's India.

Touts: The second worse thing. They are only in places where tourists go in large numbers. In the untouristed towns or parts of town, I have had absolutely no problem, so this is partly our fault. The people are very poor compared to a rich tourist walking by, and they need all the business they can get to survive, but it would make things much more enjoyable not to be hassled. Usually, after a day or two, they recognize you and stop asking you to come in a shop, or buy something, or take a ride in their rickshaw, etc.

Dirt and Washing: Try washing your clothes for one month by hand and you will know what I mean. My pack is filthy beyond description. My shoes are filthy. My clothes smell because they don't get completely dry. India is very hard on your possessions. My camera is broken, my watch is long gone, my guidebook looks like it's been through a war, my glasses are scratched, my boots are coming apart, etc.

Beggars: I could write a whole chapter on this alone. Once again, they only appear in numbers where tourists congregate. No tourists, no beggars. Most of the time it isn't a big problem. Drop a few coins in their cup as you pass by. Dharamsala was really bad, however: aggressive and relentless. You can't give to them all, and it is a moral dilemma whether to give or not. Giving supports begging as a way of making a living. I try to be generous, but you still can't help feeling bad. Some (after giving to them on a regular basis) are actually very friendly and greet you with "Hello, Sir, How are you" every time you walk by. I appreciate that. But many are pathetic and dirty. It seems sad to say that you can block out disfigured and disabled people, but after you've seen so many horrors (missing limbs, lepers, burn victims, etc.) you have to or you'll go crazy.

Travel: Getting from city to city is a real pain in the ass. My words might even be stronger if I was writing this on a bus that has sat for two hours for no apparent reason, but as I write this I'm happy and settled in. When in transit, you really wonder if it is worth it all. When in a town, you quickly forget the 20-hour ordeal you just went through and you'd do it all over again.

Sickness: I personally have had very good luck, but telling "getting sick" stories is a favorite pastime among travelers. It seems that the longer you stay, the more likely you are to get sick. Every day you roll the dice. Some get sick for the first two weeks in every country. I personally have trouble the last couple days and a week after I get back. The vast majority have nothing worse than the skitters, but there are always the horror stories.

We'll I could go on, but I won't. Those are the main things. It has definitely been worth the problems and hassles. I will also add that I never felt afraid or threatened in any way. Violent crime is virtually unknown here. By 1000 to 1, the biggest danger is being involved in a traffic accident.

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