Should I go to India? The Golden Triangle

It’s been over a month now, since Dave and I returned from our 29 days in India. I’ve written 12 blog posts about our trip and have spent countless hours going through photos and videos. I filled a journal with anecdotes and airplane tickets and have reminisced a great deal about our time in that crazy country. So now, before my memory gets too fuzzy on the details, is the perfect time to dole out some advice for my fellow travelers. Is India worth the trip? Let’s take a look at the facts (according to my own experiences anyway!)
Golden Triangle Tours

Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle is THE tourist circuit in India. Tours typically begin in New Delhi, then head to Agra and finish in Jaipur. These 3 stops can be done in a short amount of time (3 days is easily doable), making them popular for foreigners who don’t have a long stay in India. And, because the Golden Triangle covers so many of India’s ‘must-sees’ (The Taj Mahal, The Pink City, etc…), you will not have difficulty finding tour operators or drivers for a trip around India’s most popular tourist circuit.

Let’s break it down…
The Good

Beginning in New Delhi, you will experience the country’s capital, for better or for worse. There is a great deal of history there, which is great if you’re interested in India’s past (both modern and ancient).

In addition to the historical sights in Delhi, the Zoo was surprisingly impressive. The animals seemed to be well cared-for and the park where the Zoo is located is a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Agra has a great deal to offer tourists as well. The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort alone are enough reason to make the 4 hour drive from New Delhi. Best of all, if you leave New Delhi early enough and are okay with a long day, you can see Agra’s most famous sights and then head onto Jaipur for dinner.

Jaipur is the final stop in the Golden Triangle, and it’s a nice little introduction to the state of Rajasthan. Dubbed ‘The Pink City’, Jaipur is full of markets, historical sites and, of course, several forts. It’s a lovely place to spend a day or two, especially if you’re tight on time and want to see Rajesthan, but can’t make it to one of the other cities I’ll be writing about later on this list.

New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur can surely offer you some insight into the rest of the country and are a great place to start if you have limited time to spend in India. I can see what attracts people to these 3 places, but if I’m going to be honest, there were a lot more drawbacks than selling-points for me during my time in the Golden Triangle…

The Bad

I’ll begin with the most trivial problem on my list, though it IS the most relevant for the average traveler. If you are traveling to New Delhi, prepare yourself for scammers! There are an unbelievable number of people out on the streets at any given time trying to get into your pockets and take you for as much as they can. Some of my favourites:

  • Taxi drivers who tell you that your hotel is closed/full/doesn’t exist, who offer to take you to a hotel that their cousin/brother/friend owns. The hotel they bring you to is invariably be cheap and dirty but the prices for the room will be jacked up, because the taxi driver is making commission. You will face this type of scam right at the airport, so beware!
  • Travel agents who claim to be ‘government owned’. They might give you a tour, but I estimate we paid about 30%-40% more than we should have when we signed up for our tour. That’s nothing compared to what some people face…
  • Tuk Tuk drivers who charge 5, 10 or 50X the price they should for taking you places.
  • Tuk Tuk drivers who say they’ve met you…and then try to make you feel bad for not remembering them. These guys will guilt you into letting them take you to an ’emporium’, where everything is massively over priced and where they are given a commission.
  • Counterfeit everything! Don’t buy scarves, or anything for that matter, from any emporium. Once you get out of Delhi, the ‘hand painted post cards’ that the nice painter made in the Emporium go from 350 rupees to 35 rupees…you also discover pretty quickly that they aren’t hand painted…Silk is another big one…most people can’t tell the difference between Cashmere, silk and polyester, so do yourself a favour and skip buying any expensive scarves.
  • You will be told all sorts of things about how you can tell that a person’s scarves are ‘the real deal’….the one I fell for was the ‘burning hair’ routine. They will tell you that burning cashmere smells like burning hair…it does…but so does any silk (low-grade or high-grade), which is a MUCH cheaper material

These are just some of the scams Dave and I experienced (and in most cases…evaded) while in Delhi. It’s honestly an exhausting experience being in Delhi, because you feel as though you can’t ever trust anyone; a feeling I really dislike. Furthermore, Delhi isn’t the only place where you’ll experience these scams. India’s tourism industry is filled with dishonesty, and you’ll deal with this in all of the big tourist destinations (Delhi, Agra, Mumbai and Varanasi are the worst)

The next problem on my list: the pollution!! New Delhi holds the record for being the most polluted city in the world. While everyone talks about Beijing’s pollution problems, China’s capital got to about 500 points on the Air Quality Index this winter (making big news!), whereas in New Delhi, this has been happening for years. They had to actually expand their AQI scale because the city was so often blowing past the highest number ON the scale! New Delhi’s pollution is estimated to cause 1.5 million deaths every year and is causing massive issues for the country’s healthcare system.

From a tourist’s perspective, the pollution is little more than an inconvenience. Staying in New Delhi for a few days isn’t going to kill you, but it WILL make you appreciate the clean air back home!

In addition to the air pollution, New Delhi is also very dirty. You’re told by everyone who’s ever been to India to expect it…but there’s really no way to prepare for some of the things you see. The garbage bins that exist hardly seem to be in use, and people mostly just throw their trash onto the ground. Later on, a cow or dog will come along and eat anything edible…everything else gets burned at the end of the day. Sadly, from what I saw, burning garbage isn’t solely done to eliminate trash…it’s also done for warmth…

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Not taken by me….but we saw things like this often. There are countless stray dogs roaming the streets of New Delhi, and they rely on garbage for survival.

To say that Delhi is poor is a gross understatement. More than 50% of the population lives in the slums. For those of you who have had the fortune of being born in a 1st world country, where slums of this degree don’t exist, I will paint a picture…

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An Indian man sleeps on the roof of his house at a shanty area in New Delhi, India, Monday, April 20, 2015. . (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Slums are basically groups of makeshift houses, built in areas that can’t technically hold buildings (near rivers that are prone to flooding, for example). The poorest of the poor live here, where there is often no electricity or running wate, and therefore, no toilets. People mostly defecate in the streets, creating sanitary issues. Without clean water, children and adults both die of parasites and something as common as a bad case of diarrhea is a death sentence for many of these people.

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Once more, I cannot make claim to this picture, but Dave and I did see countless naked children running around the streets of New Delhi. His belly is most definitely not large because he’s full…parasites are a big problem in India.

It sickens me to say that you can actually pay people to go on tours of these slums, in both Delhi and Mumbai. The idea of gawking at the poor, who already live with so little dignity, bothers me a lot. There are many organizations out there that are trying to help these people, but it’s too big of a problem to be going away any time soon…

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People filling jugs with clean water brought to them by a relief group. This clean water is vital for their survival

So…if I’m going to sum it up…I wouldn’t visit the Golden Triangle again. The Taj Mahal was VERY cool and I highly recommend a visit, but if I were planning our trip again, I would be spending as little time in New Delhi as possible. There are plenty of other places in India that ARE worth a visit, and next I’ll be outlining the pros and cons of travel in Rajasthan. Thanks for checking in!

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!