This time next year - Jan 16

Friday, January 16, 2009

And now for a destination that has me both excited and nervous: INDIA!

I'll quote here from, because they seem to sum it up nicely:
Wow, here it is - the epitome of Asia and all travel. That love it / hate it thing that everyone speaks about. Yes, it's damn trying and hard work, but India has so much to offer on and off the tourist trail: English spoken, culturally/historically fascinating, good transport, cheap and just plain brilliant. But take it easy and do a little bit at a time. This really is one of the few places on the globe you can still get serious culture shock and sensual overload. India really is just so much it's almost impossible to introduce and summarise, perhaps the only common theme is you'll feel like all your senses are being assaulted. It's hard to understand and explain just why somewhere so often dirty, hot, ugly and full of hassle has such an appeal. The answer lies enigmatically with it being often the exact opposite. There is just no way that it won't have an effect on you and if (like me and thousands of others) you leave after your first trip loathing it, you'll probably remember your visit fondly and be back many, many times.
I've heard India referred to as "PhD Level Travel" - that's why I chose to fit it into my itinerary after I've been on the road for 6 months. That was part of my strategy for scheduling the whole trip - I start in the British Isles where the language and culture are the most familiar; this way I can get comfortable with the my new lifestyle, and generally figure out how the whole backpacker thing works. Then I move into Western Europe, which is still pretty tame, and then on to the more exotic after that, working roughly west to east.

(Other scheduling considerations: be in the cold places when it's warm, and the warm places when it's cool. Also: no countries that end in "-stan".)

But back to India! India is positively packed with tourist sites. Of course there's the Taj Mahal, but there's... well... lots. Ok, now I have to admit that I actually don't know a lot about India. I mean, I like butter chicken and mango chutney, and I sort of know the deal with cricket, and I once worked on a show called "The Perfect Ganesh", but I guess I really need to look into this a bit more. I kind of thought that writing this post would force me to figure some things out, but the fact that you're not reading a brilliantly researched treatise on Indian history, culture and politics means that didn't happen.

Instead, I'm going to direct you to some posts from a blog called "Around the World" that really caught my attention last summer. It was written by a young American guy named Jake Cooper, who traveled around a few areas that I'm also going to hit. I love his writing - it's casual and genuine and really engaging.

Here's what he wrote about trying to find a hotel after arriving in India late at night, which isn't as funny as a lot of his writing, but really gives you an idea of the place:
I get out at the train station, start walking west. How do you cross a street here? Rules mean nothing. There are no signs. I find a group of people peering out, not blinking, waiting for their move. I join them. We make it across the street one lane at a time, Frogger style. But scary. A couple of them just dashed. Ran for their lives. There are people everywhere. Some stare at me, unapologetic. Beggars tug on my sleeves. Touts are beelining, "Hey boss!" "Hello mister!" "Sir! Sir!" Ignore them, keep walking. One follows me for blocks. Blocks. "I know good place, sir. Where you from? Hot water, clean room." Keep going. The smells are dizzying, piled up. Where are the hotels?! They must be in these tiny alleys, squeezing past honking motos, rickshaws, cows. I find one. Rooms are 350 rupees. I offer 250. 300, fine. It's disgusting. Fine.
And here's one of his photos from the next day:

Check out his posts on arriving in India, meeting some locals, and on going to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal), but really, any of his posts about India are worth a read; I think they really convey what it must be like to be there - the good, the bad and the weird (His bit about trying to mail a package is eye-opening). Reading this blog is one of the things that fired me up about this trip in the first place, so thanks very much Jake.

And I promise before I actually get to India, I'll do a bit more reading.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

India is one of my most-looking-forward to countries! I have been facinated by it for years. As usual, on our twinned paths, I just finished writing my India post to be published in the coming weeks.

Good post. I'll be checking out Jake's blog too.

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