Do we stay in India, yes or no?
:Bundi (India) to Diu (India), Oct-21-07 / Nov-01-07
Do we stay in India, yes or no? That is a question that we asked or selves last weeks, several times. From the moment on that we arrived in Delhi (after our visit to the states Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir & Jammu), our travel experience in India is not so positive anymore. Of course, it is normal that you have ups and downs when you travel for a longer time. But the travel experience that we had last weeks in Delhi and Rajasthan was not nice. It has by the way nothing to do with the beauty of the landscape or the sights. Travellers do not come to these areas if there was nothing to see. The negative travel experience in Delhi and Rajasthan has everything to do with the way that you are treated as traveller. It is like a traveller that we met in Udaipur put into words so nicely: “They see me as an ATM, ready to spit money at the moment that they want me to”. With “they” is meant the people in Delhi and Rajasthan.

It wouldn’t be fair if we would state that everybody in Delhi and Rajasthan is eager to rip you off. It is mainly the people that earn their money from the tourists, like travel agents, hotels, restaurants, rickshaw drivers, internet cafes and guides. But also the normal shop keepers (of e.g. drinking stalls and grocery stores) are prepared to rip you off if they have the chance. The ‘ripping off’ business is a business that is only done by (young) men. We haven’t been ripped off by a woman yet. So, they are not to blame. The ‘ripping off’ thing makes it very tiring to travel through Delhi and Rajasthan. Everywhere you go, you have to take care that you are not cheated. The hypocrisy is that many people accost you during the day, to warn about the people that want to cheat you. Their strategy is to gain your trust first, and rip you off afterwards themselves. It does not matter that the amounts for which you are cheated are not high (most of the time less than a. Euro). It is the principle that is seems to be normal and allowed, to “steal” from foreigners as much as you can. This make travelling in Delhi and Rajasthan tiring, and no sight (doesn’t matter how beautiful they are) can take this negative feeling away.

Groups of young Indian men hanging around two female tourists
We have experienced last ten weeks in India that the Indian people are less “warm” and more detached than the people we met in any other country that we visited before. It has partly to do with the fact that it is very difficult to get in touch with the women in India. They are very reserved, mainly because the culture forbids them to spontaneously get in touch with strangers. For the contacts with the local people, we are mainly depended on the men, especially young men because they speak better English. And that’s where the problem is; these young men, most of the time with an enormous ego, treat you often with a wickedly laugh. Besides that, most chats lead within a couple of minutes to an invitation to visit the shop of their brother, uncle or friend (of course, where they try to rip you off). Well-meaning friendly and hospitable people are rare in Rajasthan. And that is a pity. Women that travel alone have even a harder time than we have. They also have to deal with the men who think that they are the Indian ‘Adonis’ where every western woman is looking for. We have met several women who stayed in their hotels most of the time, just to avoid the hassle from these young men. Others tried to find a (male) fellow traveller with whom they could travel some time.

To avoid this negative travel experience, we decided to leave the tourist trail after our visit to Delhi and Jaipur. From that moment on, things were not so bad anymore. Of course, you still have be careful, but the “ripping of” is not the rule anymore, but more the exception. We had a great time in Alwar, Bharatpur, Sawai Madhopur, Kota, Bundi and Chittorgargh. Only at the Dusshera festival in Kota, we had a very bad experience. At the end of the festival, when the huge crowds (more than 50,000 people) tried to leave the festival ground, Ivonne was groped. Not one time, but many times. Young men touched her everywhere they could. Because of the huge pushing crowds, they saw their chance to grope without the chance of being grabbed (see also the column: “from movie star to police-escort”). It is a wide known phenomenon in India that young men grope around in huge crowds when they have the chance. For this reason, many travel books advice women to avoid places where a lot of people come together (like festivals).

Ivonne and a group of friendly young men from Rajkot

When we arrived in Udaipur (back on the tourist trail), we thoroughly thought about the option to leave India earlier than planned. Why should we stay longer in a country that we do not like, while there are so many other great countries to visit? However, we knew that the negative travel experience in Delhi and Rajasthan mainly has to do with the fact that it is so heavy on the tourist trail. On the other hand, Leh (in Ladakh) is also heavy on the tourist trail, but that place was really nice to visit. We decided to give India a second chance. We also decided to leave Rajasthan as soon as possible, without visiting sights like Jodphur, Pushkar, Jaisalmer and Bikaner. For us, it is all about the travel experience and not about the sights. For that reason we also decided earlier to skip Agra (Taj Mahal). We are now for more than a week in Gujarat (the state south of Rajasthan), and we really have a great time. We are happy we made the decision to leave Rajasthan. Of course, people are not suddenly “warm” and hospitable, but it is great that they treat you with respect again. During our first week in Gujarat, nobody tried to rip us off so far. That is really relaxing! Slowly our trust in the local people comes back again. In Junagadh, we even had a very positive experience. Without asking, we got a discount of 50 Rupees on our hotel room (250 Rupees in stead off 300 Rupees), just because it was off season. And that, after we already agreed with the price of 300 Rupees. We could not believe it. So, we really look forward to our stay in Gujarat. Gujarat is maybe not as famous as Rajasthan, but it also has great sights. In Sasan Gir Reserve for example, you can still see the Asiatic Lion in the wild. It is the only place in the world where you can find them in their natural habitat. Besides that, we arrived today in the former Portuguese colony of Diu. It is a beautiful place where you can enjoy terrific sea food and cheap alcohol. A bottle of Port only costs 90 Rupees (Euro 1.70). Oh, we also learned in Gujarat that young Indian men can be very nice. During our climb to the top of the pilgrimage hill Girnar near Junagadh (7,000 steps one way), we met a group of young men from Rajkot (Gujarat). We walked with them a part of the pilgrimage trail, and we really enjoyed their company.

And what about the long term planning? We decided not to stay all the time in India till February when our visa expires. We plan to leave India at the beginning of December and cross into Nepal. We plan to stay there till the beginning of January, so we can celebrate New Year in Kathmandu. Afterwards we go back to India again to see some of the north-eastern states. Before our Indian visa expires on February 8th 2008, we will cross into Bangladesh. After a stay of 5 or 6 weeks over there, we hope we can go to Myanmar. It depends of course on the political situation at that time. The monsoon period (rain period) starts somewhere in April or May, so that will be the time that we want to leave Myanmar again (probably for Thailand). But of course, it is just a planning …….. and a planning is made to be changed!


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