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09 December 2005

in the somewhere between the wonderful and the horrible

my summary of india on the night before my departure as i sit in my hotel room...

i've had days when i've thought this country is wonderful and days when i've thought this country is horrible. today i am in the somewhere between the wonderful and the horrible, unaffected by one experience, and this makes me qualified to write about my overall opinion of india now. i must stress that i did everything possible to open myself up to the country and to continuously maintain an open mind. but now i'm tired of disclaimers and diplomacy. i'm tired of excuses. this is my opinion damnit.

i didn't enjoy traveling in india. with few exceptions, the country is devoid of beautiful scenery and architecture and the pollution, overcrowding, traffic, poor sanitation, and constant harrassment from touts and salespeople are oppressively overwhelming. most of the country is a dusty brown flatness covered by a thick hazy blanket of smog and heat, the sky rarely bright blue but rather a dull lifeless gray, the air dirty and heavy, the ground hopelessly covered with garbage. the day to day traveling conditions were physically and mentally draining. i realize that there are reasons for the current living conditions in the country, poverty certainly being one of them, and i could have better tolerated the conditions if i'd had pleasant experiences with the indian people, but to the contrary i had mostly negative experiences and found most of the people with whom i came into contact self-centered, deceitful, and generally unpleasant. i did my best to open up and give them a chance, but each of these instances rarely resulted in a genuine interaction. i tried, believe me.

at best, most of the indian population seemed apathetic to the pollution; at worst... which was the norm... most seemed to contribute to the problem, regularly dropping garbage (plastic, metal, food, whatever) wherever they happened to be standing. i can understand that the poor can't do much about their condition, but living in the _middle_ of a pile of garbage?... i just don't understand it. it's quite sad and i wish i had a solution.

most drivers are so conditioned to honk their horn that the noise pollution resulting from the cacaphony is maddening. i so wanted to transport all drivers instantaneously to a foreign land to show them traffic flowing on the highway efficiently and rapidly _WITHOUT_ horns... see! look! LISTEN! you _DON'T_ have to use your horn so often. but then... in india, the pedestrians are just as much to blame... walking carelessly in front of traffic without ever looking to see if there is an oncoming vehicle. they're _conditioned_ to walk first and then listen for any horns. [sigh...] again, i just don't understand it.

clearly there needs to be some very fundamental changes in india. i've read and heard that the government is horribly corrupt and is a big reason for the slow progress in the country. this is surely a simplified view of the situation, but wouldn't the money going to space and nuclear programs be better spent on social programs and public sanitation? again, i don't have the answers.

i can best describe travel in india as a daily beatdown. whenever i felt like i'd adjusted to life on the road in this country and had an enjoyable experience, more often than not i'd have two negative experiences directly after which would knock me further down. it's truly a shame because i know that in my memories the negative experiences will forever overshadow the positive (and there _were_ positives). despite the negatives, i think i _would_ return to india, but not any time soon and not without a traveling companion. on the few days when i was accompanied by other travelers, i had mostly enjoyable experiences. travel is very subjective and i did meet a few solo travelers who seemed to really enjoy the country. i just wasn't one of them. i'm glad i had a chance to experience the culture but i'm pleased to be moving on.

i'll end with this: one thing that i've learned while traveling is that it's extremely important not to give too much heed to others' opinions about a place you've never visited. all too often i've found that _after_ visiting, my opinion is completely different from that of other travelers. varanasi, for example, was one of the most interesting and heavy cities i'd visited in india. i've heard others say they hated it and would never return. my point is this... while for the most part i didn't enjoy traveling in india, i sincerely hope that my opinion is not a determining factor in the reader's decision to travel there. your mileage may vary... significantly.

posted by paul on Fri 09 Dec 2005 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)


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