India is a place of joy, a place of celebration and cultural desire, of exotic spices that burn your mouth on fire. A place where even in a dull moment, you will always feel completely alive. It is inevitable.
You cannot ignore the burning ghats that appear in your walkway whilst walking down Varnasis Ganga river, you will not forget the bright children, covered in dirt wearing ripped clothes who beg you for “just 10 rupees” or “1 chapathi?” at the railway stations and on the streets. The chilli that blinds your senses for just a second as you question whether to take the next bite or think that maybe you should slow down is just as encapsulating as the women so proud, and always too stubborn, who push past you in any crowd, any line, no matter how long you have been waiting or walking because… Well they don’t take no shit. After all, why wait in a line? They have been taught their whole lives to fight for what they want. And get it the very second they want it.
It’s an enchanting place, a heavenly hell.
In India it is simple, you are born, you live and you die, just like every where else. But unlike most other places in the world, it is seen as a matter of fact, it’s more raw, authentic. They feel with all their heart, they suffer, they grieve, and most are naive to the fact that anything else outside of their world exists. Death seaks the living and the living seek the dead. Survival of the fittest is a way of life, an every day full-time job.
I have wanted to visit India since I was a teenager, it’s vibrancy attracted me and I bid my time waiting for my moment to shine, to take the leap into a cultural embrace. Since I was young I have followed travel blogs, I have read numerous articles on India. Each one as endearing as the other, as focused on the beauty that my idea of India turned into a romantic, serene landscape with people living as harmoniously as possible, trading and sharing their lives, together and as one.
Though there is a sense of this in India, as there is in many parts of the world, nothing could prepare me for some of the things that you are surrounded by here. And whilst I knew all these factors I am about to tell you existed, I never really considered to what extent, and so I was as naive as ever stepping into a world of pollution, poverty, animal cruelty and little health-awareness.
I felt the need to share with you what romantic travel bloggers sometimes forgot to share about their time in India.
- Pollution – From the second I stepped off of the plane and into a rickshaw, driving down the streets of Kerala, I could not believe the amount of rubbish strewn between the streets. Every crevice you could think of contained rubbish, there are piles of rubbish burning on either side of the streets (this is the only “rubbish system” I have witnessed so far). I couldn’t bare it at first, whilst I have traveled to Asian countries before and have seen the damage that plastic causes, I had never seen anything like this till India. When women and men are done with their food on the train, they just drop the rubbish out the window. When children have finished unwrapping their candy, it’s thrown on the floor of their streets, as their parents watch them. Not a second glance, not even a thought, they are blind to the damage they are causing themselves. As a child it was embedded into my brain not to throw rubbish anywhere but into a trash can, no matter how long I had to wait to find one. My first few weeks in India, my heart hurt, and I really struggled with the consumption of rubbish that is India. I can’t help but to wonder, how long can the earth handle such harsh disaster, how long does India have until it is quite literally, swallowed into plastic.
- Poverty – We all know of India’s poverty, and it’s intense scale from extreme wealth to extreme poverty, with very little in-between. I had mentally prepared myself, and again, having visiting other Asian countries before, I thought the blow would not be that hard… But seeing families placed along the middle section of concrete on roads, at 11pm at night lying on the ground with their young children, their babies, wearing only a t-shirt, their bare bums rubbing into the dirty concrete… It’s not something you take lightly. India is so beautiful, eccentric in ways one would not think, and the immense energy that flows through this ‘other world’ is unforgettable, but traveling through India can be tough on ones soul. On the other hand, it can also help you realise how small and irrelevant we are in this great big world, and how lucky we are to be gifted a life of safety, comfort and education. A nice place to nap.
- Animal cruelty – Cows and snakes are sacred, goats and dogs are abundant. Though hardly fair these animals are born into a world of over-consumption and are seen as a nuasance to humans. What I don’t understand is, if cows are so sacred, so holy, then why do I see men, women, children even, hitting cows all over their bodies with hard sticks as hard as they can for fun? Why do I see men ramming into them on their motorbikes down small alleyways instead of taking an extra minute out of their day to get them out of their way? I have seen cows with chronic deformities, cows that are so mal-nourished that their hip bones and ribs are completely sticking out, and cows that are shunned by people as they walk past. If you are an animal lover, I salute you for backpacking through India. Of course it’s not going to stop you from experiencing a country, but boy is it hard to witness all day every single day. Don’t even get me started on how they treat dogs. I don’t have enough time in the world. And I get it, it’s something they can’t control, animals breed and they are as abundant as people here. I fear it has gotten to the point where it can no longer ever be in control, contained, and so these animals will continue to enter this world, only to endure a life of suffering. Punctured by, I assume another cows horn, an infection grows.
- Gender in-equality – So if cows are seen as sacred, holy beings, women must be seen as powerful, exotic goddesses! Right? … Wrong. India is stuck in many traditions, and amongst old traditions new informal traditions (probably incorporated from the western world) have seemed to have formed as the years have rolled past. Foreign women are looked at like animals; with no respect or like a piece of meat. Which would you prefer being as a single white female traveling through India? There are lovely men in this country, it’s true, I am just stressing my point of this downfall. Having a baby girl is seen as an inconvenience to an Indian family. Domestic violence, molestation, and rape is not un-common among young girls. At the ripe ages between 18 and 23 they are wedded off to men they have perhaps seen once before. Most of the time without speaking a single word to each other. If you are an un-married women past the age of 30, well, most Indians would think you have no hope. So that’s Indian women, but how do Indian men treat western women? With just as little respect, if not more. Never have I felt so violated walking down streets or sitting quietly on a train minding my own business. These men don’t just stare, they touch, they grope, they make in appropriate comments and the worst part is most of them get away with it. They treat women as objects, they look at us like objects, and it takes a lot to learn to be fiery with them. Once you learn that it’s ok for you to retaliate back, especially if they are being super in-appropriate, they will be so shamed they may have finally been taught a lesson.
- Health/Sugar – I was so excited to come to India and eat my body wait in Dahl and samosas every day. When I arrived I literally moaned every meal I ate at how good it was, in fact, 2 months on and I still do. However I began to wonder how humans could survive mostly off of dahl, rice, potato and gluten, which is what these guys do, whilst eating moderately and maintaining their health. They live and breathe the stuff. How do they manage to keep a balanced diet? And whilst I have no problem eating delicious curries and lassi’s for the next 6 months, I can already feel my body craving spinach, decreasing my usual energy from ingesting copious amounts of sugar (for me anyway), and lacking in its usual minerals found from the variety of fresh vegetables and grains I eat at home. I also just can’t believe how much sugar they use… In EVERYTHING. The tea, the lassi’s, the Indian treats, all just covered and concealed with spoonfuls, ladlefuls even, of sugar. I just hadn’t really expected it… This morning when I walked out of my guest house at 6am, I saw a group of Indian women sitting with their children. Each child had a packet of crisps or a bar of chocolate in their hands munching away. AT 6AM!! The worst part is, how unconscious they are off what it is doing to them and their children. It’s truly terrifying. But look… I mean you’re in another country experiencing their culture, and they take great pride in their food… I’ll have a lassi here and a cookie there but I would NEVER do that back home I swear 😉 I suppose it’s also a lot to do with providing. For a lot of Indian people, eating is a means of survival, therefore lentils and rice etc… satisfy both criterias of feeding a whole lot of people whilst not breaking the bank, and sugar is a cheap abundant sweetener.
I would like to stress how much I love this country, it’s cultural differences and warm-hearted people. Because I really am enjoying myself and this journey will continue to be life changing as I explore India in greater depths.
I do however think that it is important to express that traveling is not always just rainbows and butterflies, waterfalls and caves. It can be hard work, and hard to adjust. You will question yourself and those around you continuously and wonder if all the dramatic chaos is worth all the uncomfortable twists.
I am a positive person, I love to write my stories with the romantic structure and escaping feeling that I witness when I travel. But it’s important not to leave out all the grimy bits too.
Most foreigners, especially women, have told me that I would start to experience what is know as an “intensified love-hate” relationship with India. Travellers told me to look out for the warning signs as India formed from one end of the spectrum to the other, and as the days pass me by I can know relate to the love and the hate that I feel towards this country. Yet somehow I keep wanting more and more… They warned me off that too. “A vortex”, they told me, “India is a vortex”. She won’t let you leave until she’s sucked you dry.
*These words are based solely on my own personal experiences and opinions.