on leaving India

bathersI am glad I went to India to see then Indian Himalayas, visit places off the typical tourist track, witness Hindu religious ceremonies and meet genuinely friendly people.

I found India more difficult than I expected. The language barrier is formidible; people speak Hindi, not English. People who speak English are typically in the tourism business meaning they want to sell goods or services. Transportation is difficult. At least in Uttar Prakesh, the roads are rough and travel is slow. Where trains are available, they are often fully booked. I wanted a foreign, different experience; I got it. After my challenging overland tour of China, a couple of weeks at Thailand’s beaches would have been welcome.

When I return to India, I plan to choose either city or mountains, not both. For mountains, I would book with a trekking organization in advance and let them handle all the logistics of transporation to remote locations (and probably food and tents as well). I would begin the trek right away while I am still fresh. For a city tour, I would either join a tour group or plan to stay at better hotels and have them make local arrangements. I would return in Dcember, January or February (when it’s not 44 degrees Celsius).

Perhaps I had some bad luck, but I was constantly subjected to a unwanted and relentless solicitations that detracted from enjoying the people and geography. Perhaps I am bumping into cultural stereotypes. A middle-class American couple is not expected to take care of their luggage or walk down the alleys of commerical neighborhoods. India still has an active, caste system. I’m not sure where I fit in the hierarchy but traveling upper class is the clear expectation. For example, at the museum we were courteously redirected from the canteen to the VIP dining room. I’m not a twenty-something backpacker, but I don’t always need a waiter to serve me a soft drink.

I am used to traveling and purchasing lodging, transporation and food myself. In India, I probably also need the services of a guide, translator or advisor. I say this reluctantly because I like doing things myself, acting independently, and traveling without a set itinerary.

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