Incredible India?

Incredible IndiaIt is strange, before this trip started India was one of the countries that we were both looking forward to. You see the adverts showing the amazing scenery, historic buildings (some of which I had heard of since I was a kid, I even have a minature Taj Mahal that my grandfather had brought back from India), even the vibrancy of the place is somehow portrayed to you. Add to that the stories other travellers recount, some good and some terrible but in all reality you ignore the terrible ones thinking to yourself; “Ahhh obviously they just aren’t made out for travelling, they have probably only ever gone on package tours before, poor people!”in a sort of blind patronising manner. For us there was also an extra dimension, my mother was born in Ceylon (as it was then known, now Sri-Lanka) and spent her first eight years growing up in India so she had a special bond with India that we had hoped we would also find …

In reality though, India wasn’t for us. I think it all revolved around the “attention” we received. When ever we would pull up anywhere within a minute we would be surrounded by people that were in the main staring at us or at the bike generally not speaking, if they did inevitably the first question that was asked was how much did the bike cost which neither of us really felt comfortable answering. If that had been our only issue though I think we would have easily come up with a solution where we used Zoltan just to get us from town to town and then spent some time wandering around casually without any of the paraphanalia but when we did start to wander around the towns the sudden interest in us and our wallets was a bit too much. It seems, well to me anyway, that India is now very reliant on tourism to bring money in, this could also just be down to the fact that while we were there we followed quite a standard and well trodden tourist path but as such you are pretty much guaranteed that various scenarios are going to take place;

1. There will no doubt be a two tier pricing policy at the tourist attractions no matter how big they are, I understand the basis for it, the whole idea that the government wants the attraction open to everyone including the locals and that westerners are wealthier but honestly does the policy have to be quite so stark. For example the Taj Mahal was sixty times more expensive for foreigners than Indian residents, SIXTY times! And really are the people (the poorest of the Indians) that this scheme is aimed to help likely to go off and spend how ever much it is to have a look at one of India’s great tourist sights or are they more likely to use it to buy food or somewhere to sleep, etc. The majority of locals that we saw at these places seemed to have more money than us parking up in their new looking 4x4s and carrying the same expensive cameras that we and all other westerners carry nowadays.

2. As a foreigner you will have to pay more for your hotel room (I think this has probably come about as they have seen the government policy regarding the tourist attractions) and in some cases will not even be allowed to stay on the pretense that they are full even though all the keys are hanging up on the wall behind them and their car park has absolutely no one parked there.

3. Where ever you go you have to bargain and bargain hard for absolutely everything from taking a rickshaw (we even had one rickshaw driver try to pull over halfway through our journey to tell us that he was sorry but he hadn’t realised how far the destination was and now it will have to be double what we had agreed which suprisingly happened to also be the figure he had come up with when we had started negotiations!) to buying something in a shop or even buying your dinner from a guy on the street/restaurant. If you don’t you end up paying the “tourist price” which is basically any sort of price the rickshaw driver/shop assistant/street vendor delete as appropriate 🙂 ) thinks they can get away with based on how stupid they think you are which after a couple of months can get a little exhasperating.

The other area that caused us concern was on the roads. It seems that in India the majority of bikes are quite small generally under 500cc but mostly around the 125cc size which meant that Zoltan himself got quite a lot of attention when we rode around, in fact so much attention that several times motorbike riders that were staring at him were doing it so intently that they didn’t realise that either us or the traffic around them had stopped and so had themselves a little prang. Never usually anything too serious and I don’t think either of us really minded this (although it did get a bit tiring sometimes) but then there were the other types of riders, those that saw us and thought that they had to race us or prove how fast their bike went seemingly almost killing it in the process but perhaps most annoyingly of all were the riders that had to take part in the “lets see how many times we can overtake / be overtaken by them” game which generally went along the lines of us overtaking someone, them suddenly spotting us and then doing everything they could to get past us at which point they would slow down forcing us to overtake them again which would mean that they would have to overtake us again and so it would go on until either they lost interest, I withdrew from the game by pulling over or in some cases I pulled over in a fit of rage and told them exactly what I thought of them which for some reason seemed to make the game lose it’s appeal somehow 😉 The most dangerous part of driving on the roads of India however are the lorry but mainly car drivers who seem to have absolutely no respect for motorbike drivers. In a peverse sort of way I understand this when the driver is coming towards you and basically the “rule” of largest vehicle has right of way applies but the danger comes when you are on a multilane road and the car drivers decide at that precise moment they should be in exactly the same position on the road as you are so politely or not so politely try to push out of the way generally towards one of the verges an act that one time led me to physicaly kick a car, the only time on the trip that this has happened 😦

Now all of these things can be seen as whinging from someone that just wasn’t / isn’t ready for travelling in India and perhaps some of the issues were compounded by the fact that we were travelling on an ever increasingly tight budget but for me having to argue or “bargain” absolutely everywhere you go based on the fact that you are a “rich” foreigner or dodge your way out of danger whilst travelling on your bike isn’t my idea of fun. The adverts are right there are some really nice parts of India, certainly more than we got to see but unfortunately these sights weren’t enough to outweigh the constant hassle and danger we faced whilst we were there. Who knows maybe in another ten years or so I might decided to go back and finish off looking around, after all I still have some of the great sights to see, Darjeeling, Keralla, Varanasi but at the moment I’m not that sure there just seems so much more of the world to see including places where you are treated more as an equal and human being not as a rich foreigner or a “walking wallet”!

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2 Responses

  1. Just stumbled upon your blog and completely agree with you about India. We both felt the same.

    Out of 35 countries on this bike trip, Indians win 1st prize as treating us as walking wallets, obnoxiously so. Lots to see and a great culture to be sure — and many exceptions to this problem (Amritsar and Golden Temple a big exception!)

    But annoying enough on day to day basis that it mostly spoiled the visit for us.

    Our blog gives details. wheezyrider.com

    Great useful advice you offer! Will link to your web site.

    Best – Peter

  2. It’s nice to see posts like this. Despite what some people may say, not all people in all places are absolutely wonderful all the time. It’s perfectly fine to not like a place and tell it like it is.

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