Below are my somewhat random thoughts on India.
I wasn’t sure what to expect fr
om this country. Before traveling, I went through the Lonely Planet travel guide and noted the pages of scams, druggings, overpricing, thefts, etc. plus I was aware that India is known for it’s poor treatment of women. It really sounded like a scary place to travel. In addition, I was expecting to see a level of poverty I have not yet witnessed and that I would see starving people begging for money everywhere.
On the other hand, I was expecting to see wonderful sites. Being an ancient culture, I was expecting magnificent temples, golden deities, and wondrous examples of ancient civilizations.
I have to say that nothing was like I expected.
First off, the Indian people are without a doubt the most helpful and friendliest people I have come across in all my travels. We received so much help from people when we never asked for help. I’m thinking about the time someone let us know about a lounge in the train station so we didn’t have to sit on the floor with the rats running around us, the time someone else led us to an air conditioned bus to get us to Mamallipuram, the person who helped us find seats in the unreserved train section on the way to Chennai, etc. I could go on and on about the wonderful help and conversations we had from complete strangers.
I did not feel uncomfortable being a woman in India. I was however mostly with Sanford wherever we went. I am also a foreigner which I think somewhat “protects” me. I can however tell this is a male dominated society. Wherever we went we would see groups of men out and about together, but never a group of women. The number of women out is far fewer than men. At first I didn’t realize this but then I started to notice that on a bus going downtown in Chandigahr I was one of three women on a packed bus. When we went out for drinks one night, I was the only woman in the bar. In restaurants, the tables are filled with men, either alone or in groups. There is the odd women in the crowd but very few. Everywhere you look there are more men than women.
According to Sanford when he first visited India in 1977, the Indian people were proud of the concept that a woman could walk alone unescorted at any time and be safe. Not so today. The newspapers are filled daily with rape cases and there are still those that believe that women “are asking for it”. In some reading I did on the Internet, it was reported that despite the good intentions of law reforms to protect women, the conviction rate for crimes against women remains relatively low; around 25% in 2011 as compared to 45% in the 1970s.
Women are working hard at bringing reforms and addressing the issues of marriage dowries, bride burnings, domestic abuse, the stigma of divorce, and other issues, but they are still in their infancy. Real change will take time.
The poverty was not overwhelming. Yes we did see slums and yes we did see people begging. I asked Sanford what he thought as he has been to India over the decades (1977, 1990, 2008, 2009 and now 2015). He feels the poverty is less and that there is more middle class. There are more cars, there are less squatters, and less shit on the road (his words). According to some information from the Internet the poverty levels have in fact come down. Presently it is around 21% whereas years ago it was close to 40%. There is a lot on the web about the causes of poverty in India as well as what is being done but it is too complex for me to go into it here.
As to the sites in India, I have to say I was underwhelmed. I was expecting so much more. My favourite was the temple in Madurai closely followed by the sites in Mamallipuram.
One final note and that is about the food. I was surprised at how challenging finding something to eat was. I found the food choices somewhat limiting and it was very difficult to find foods in restaurants that were not too spicy, nor fried, not over salted, and that didn’t have sugar added to them. I found for the most part I did not look forward to eating. I did try a lot of different things and there were some foods I quite liked but when we went to a different city I was always starting over because the food was often different in different regions. However that was me, Sanford loves Indian food and he feasted daily on many of his favourites. He was never lacking for options and enjoyed all his meals.
In closing, what I most enjoyed about India was the interaction with the people and the experience of travelling around the country using local transportation and walking out and about through the streets filled with people, cows, tuk-tuks, dogs, cars, etc.
Would I come back to India? I suspect I will be back, if only because Sanford loves this country. I would come back willingly too as I know there are lots of places to see and number one on the list would be the Taj Mahal plus we would like to visit Sanford’s friends in Khanna again.
Below is a map of the places we travelled.