A Country of Contrast

Today was a much better day for my relationship with India.

We are currently in the town of Udaipur.  With a tiny population of only half a million, Udaipur has a small town feel…by Indian standards, anway.  It sits alongside a gorgeous lake and the buildings are well maintained and clean, unlike New Delhi.  The pollution is so much better here and it was actually warm enough for shorts today, so it was bound to be an improvement from our experiences 2 days ago!

However, the biggiest differentiating factor was neither weather nor pollution related.  As is so often the case, our attitudes made all the difference.  Today, instead of lamenting over the price we paid for our tour, and complaining about the cost of every attraction, we walked around absorbing local art and the winding streets of Udaipur.  We stopped in little shops and spoke to artists and even took a time out from the crowds to enjoy some coffees at a cafe.  It gave me time to write in my journal, which is excellent therapy in of itself.

Of course, we weren’t able to escape all of the unpleasant aspects of India.  Poverty is aparent here too and we saw far too many skinny dogs on the streets.  And, as was the case in Jaipur and Delhi, we were always given very inflated prices at the shops.  The difference today, however, was that we weren’t afraid to bargain hard.  We purchased a beautiful painting and got it for less than half the price he originally asked.

Of course, on the other hand, there is also enormous wealth in this city, as is obvious when you see the hotels in the area…

Such contrast..

After days of sight seeing, we decided to skip the city palace (which, we were later told, was a good idea!).  At this point, we’ve seen palaces in several countries and I saw enough Hindu temples in Cambodia to last me a lifetime.  Instead  of spending our money on those sites, we took a sunset cruise which provided me with infinite opportunities for photographing the beautiful city.

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Tomorrow we head to a small, sleepy little city named Pushkar.  I’m excited to see it; we’ve heard from several other tourists that it’s a quiet little place, with set prices and friendly people.

The Problem with People

 

The world is a funny place.  All I have wanted to do, for as long as I can remember, is to travel.  And I have.  In the 29 years I’ve lived so far, I’ve seen 6 Canadian provinces, 5 US states and 9 Chinese Provinces (plus Hong Kong and Macao, which don’t actually count as Chinese provinces but sort of are…).  I’ve  also visited Cuba, Thailand, Cambodia and now India and I’ve gotta say…everywhere I go, people are pretty much the same.

We all basically have the same needs,  no matter what our religion, ideology or race may be.  We all want to feel safe and to have a place that we can call a home.  We all suffer defeats and achieve our goals and feel defiance and pride and a great deal of other emotions.  We all have families and loved ones and we all want what’s best for them.  Everyone you meet is looking for the same basic things you are…but it’s hard to remember that when you are in the face of a strange culture where you are ‘the other’.

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A store selling Indian rugs.  None of them can fly…

I made a new friend in Suzhou recently.   He found a good job as a chemist in China and is currently dealing with Culture Shock.  When he was at our place a few weekends ago with his girlfriend, he mentioned that nobody ever writes about that stuff in blogs.  Everyone writes about how lovely travel is; how rewarding it is to learn about other cultures.  I laughed and said that although some of my posts can be downers, most of the time, i try to put a positive spin on my experiences.  Mostly I do this because I find it helpful to look for a positive when I’m in a negative situation.  But if I’m being perfectly honest with myself, part of me really wants to hang onto that idea that travel is all lollipops and rainbows…

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Nobody talks about the line ups you wait in so that you can go see an overpriced attraction.  And nobody wants to talk about the traveller’s diareha!  It’s real and it’s awful!!!

So let’s be honest for a moment…

Today was one of those rotten travel days.  We’re beginning to realize how much we overpaid for our tour and we’re both getting tired of being treated like walking piggy banks.  We had a group of children follow us through the bazaar today, trying to sell us something (we aren’t sure what) and we’ve had countless people grab our arms and try to bring us into their stores to sell us their goods for 10x the price they’d charge a local.  It’s exhausting knowing that you can’t really trust anyone when you are travelling….being a tourist can really jade you in that way…

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Can you spot the difference?  This isn’t actually very surprising or unfair.  We don’t pay taxes to keep up these beautiful places so it’s only fair that we pay more than the locals.  What’s unfair is that we had been told by our tour operator that all the sights we’d be seeing were free.  This one was the cheapest one we could find today…

Of course, we do have some coping mechanisms.  Sometimes it’s an inappropriate joke (every tourist makes them).  I recognize that it can be culturally inappropriateive or offensive to laugh at Chinese medicine or to make a joke about Ganesh and his giant elephant head, but it’s sort of like laughing at a funeral…sometimes an inappropriate joke is the only thing you can do to relieve the tension that has built up with every encounter you’ve had throughout the day.

Because really, at the end of the day….people suck!   We are a sefish group, we really are!  We are destroying the earth because we are too lazy to recycle plastic bags or to walk to the store.  We allow corporations to treat their employees like garbage because it saves us money on our groceries.  We use animals for entertainment when we go to Swim With the Dolphin programs or when we go on an elephant ride.

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Disclaimer:  This animal was tortured for months so that you can ride on its back!!

And for some reason…we (and  I’m referring to all of human kind) think that people from other countries are somehow ‘less’ than we are.  Canadians have the resources and space and jobs (yes jobs!) to take in refugees but many are against it, because they think Canadian lives somehow matter more.  Somehow we have to fix ALL our  problems before we can hep anyone else…why should we all have to be living at 100% happiness before starving children and families fleeing war can be helped?  How are they less important??

It’s the same on this side of the planet.  I’ve been taken advantage of in nearly every country I’ve visited because of my white skin and my accent.  Somehow, because I’m Canadian, it’s ok to take advantage of me because I have ‘so much money’ and I can always make more.   I came here with a budget that I need to stick with….so all our tour guide did by charging us 30% more than he needed to, was to take away from what we would have spent on the second half of our trip.

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This also means that we have less money to tip musicians and artists who are trying to make a living without begging.  These are people I like to support.

And yes, these are trivial problems.  I’m sure some of you at home are rolling your eyes and hating me for ranting about my ‘first world problems’…but there are bigger issues too…

I did a lot of research before coming to India because I knew it would be very easy to get sick here  Disentary is something many travelers suffer from while in India and I did not want to be one of those unlucky travelers.  Basically, the water in India is very contaminated and dirty.  So dirty, in fact, that you are told to brush your teeth with mineral water and not tap water.

This means that all raw fruits and vegetables are off limits to us…because if they were washed with tap water (and they probably were), we will get sick.  And I’m not talking about a tummy ache….many people need to be hospitalized and are on medications for months if they catch something from the water here.  It’s no laughing matter.

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We are also on a vegetarian diet while we’re here, because meat is often unsafe.  We’re only ordering it in top notch restaurants, and even then, I find myself sticking with Dhal (lentils and chickpeas)

So when I learned that you are suppose to crush your empty water bottle when it’s finished, so that scam artists can’t refill it with TAP WATER and resell it in the market place, I wanted to scream.  These aren’t just people who are trying to make an extra buck off of me…I can understand why those people resent me.  I am no better than them…i was just lucky enough to have been born in Canada.  I can forgive them for taking as much as they can… After all, many of them are supporting extended families as well as their own children.

But there are actually people here who are knowingly getting people sick to make a few extra rupees…. That’s a completely new level of behavior.  That goes so far beyond ‘doing what you have to go get by’.

So that’s how it is.  That’s what it can be like to travel in foreign countries.  Tourists aren’t protected by the same laws we have in Canada here, because let’s face it….their government has bigger fish to fry.   The number of homeless people in India is astounding and my tourism dollars can go a very long way to help those people…I just wish so much of that money wasn’t in our tour operator’s pocket…

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The number of stray dogs is astounding…you see them curled up in the boulevard between lanes, trying to sleep like this

But I will leave you on a happy note..

We had a lovely walk today through Old Jaipur.  We set out early and were walking through as everyone was just getting set up for the day.  The crowds weren’t out yet, and we were able to walk along slowly, taking in the Pink City.  And the most wonderful thing, was all the smiling.  We had several people give us the warmest, most genuinely beautiful smiles.   They couldn’t communicate with us verbally (now that we’re out of the capital, fewer people speak English), but they spoke in a way that they could.  Indian people, as a whole, are so wonderfully inviting.  It’s a shame that the bad apples all flock to the tourist industry, where they tarnish the name of a country that is otherwise, welcoming and vibrant.

And we finished our day at Tiger Fort, where we watched the sun go down over the Pink City.

And while today i do feel that people suck….my love for animals remains…

And there is an abundance of them in India…

I will be back soon!

Culture in the Capital

Our second day in New Delhi was one of cultural discovery.  The day began with some very heavy smog, but that cleared up in the afternoon, so we considered ourselves grateful.  We also didn’t spend the first few hours of the day in a tuk tuk (which are open and very windy), so we were able to watch the city fly by fro the comfort of our hired car instead of huddling together for warmth.

After visiting this beautiful UNESCO world heritage site, we were brought to some shops where retailers tried to sell us Pashminas, paintings and Saris.  I left with a Kashmir scarf and some tea, which didn’t leave the salesman very happy, but I felt pretty good about my purchases!

After a tasty Indian lunch, our driver took us to the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial.  There, we learned about this national hero’s life and death, and visited the place where he was assassinatedIndian.  The country owes a lot to Gandhi, and it’s apparent from the time you enter the country.  His face is printed on all of their money and many buildings are named after the man.

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Where Gandhi was killed

Our final stop was at the National Museum, where we were able to see art that dated back to 3000BCE!  Having studied classical history in University, I was so excited to see some of the artwork, pottery, jewellery and weapons that have been found across India.  The artifacts provide crucial clues regarding the lives of our ancestors and without them we would know very little about the people who lived before written records were kept.  Through studying classical Greek history at the University of Winnipeg, I learned that what may seem like a pot to you, can actually tell an archaeologist a lot about the people who made it.

Tomorrow we head to Agra, the home of the famous Taj Mahal!!!  I can’t wait to tell you all about it!