Like Ying & Yang – Travel experiences made in North India
The tag “India” is a big one, is attributed as most romantic, exotic as well as connected to unique religious as well as cultural values. India can be incredible but also most extreme at the same time and regarding all aspects of life. The mighty subcontinent puts Non-Indians to the test as it can be pretty rewarding but also back breaking. The following is a reflection of thoughts and hints as well as experiences made on trip from Calcutta to Rajasthan and Punjab, travelling through entire North India like the Indians do.
When travelling India like most tourists by the use of prepared travel packages, private drivers and suchlike things, then you will rarely get in touch with the actual country; then bargaining for the elephant transport up to Jaipur-based Amber Fort already becomes a highlight in terms of contact with locals. When applying this for example to Berlin, then it’s like equalising new Berlin arrivals with people born here and who did something for this city. If I would have toured North India the protected way, then I surely wouldn’t have met locals dulcifying my travel humanly, culturally and intellectually. If I would have toured North India the protected way, then things would have been less dirty, more quiet and not that unbelievably unhygienic.
When travelling India the good old way, then this country is able to turn your whole world upside down within few hours only. It takes some time until you get used to horribly crowded trains, the general scramble and shoving as well as the most awful traffic you ever experienced. When travelling India for a longer time at some point a civilised person will surely become sick of all, also because there will be a few educated people only to be met along your way. That sounds harsh, but telling something else would be a blunt lie. Hence please do not confuse education, readiness of mind and rationalness with hospitality now.
I was thinking for a long time if and how I will report about my negative experiences; if in a diplomatic way or in the raw. My travel report are having the same philosophy as my photos, they are a document. Hence if there’s a dead human body lying in the streets of Calcutta for more than 3-4 weeks and dogs are already nibbling on it, then it’s as much as a fact like the guys dropping their pants on the roads or at the Ganges Ghats of Varanasi and having a shit. I did not photograph any of those situations as such views are more than only disturbing. Even I, a pretty thick-skinned person, have problems to forget about it. Also I don’t want my website to be R18, I want kids to enjoy the impressions I’ve taken.
Meeting an Indian as individual might a through and through positive experience, might be educated and rationally thinking, however as crowd they make you throwing your hands up in horror as without abilities to assert yourself you will go under within second in a mass of heedlessly acting people. Being forced to hold your ground every day anew is quite challenging and an important experience, but also one of those kinds that make you redemptive saying: Thanks God, it’s going back home!
India is a country where everything and anything can be late. Trains generally arrive their final destination in general about 2-3 hours later than initially scheduled and flights are not really better, as every day anew Delhi Tower is surprised about the air traffic situation or the foggy smog constantly shrouding the Indian capital. Fortunately those things are rarely causing delays longer than one hour.
One of worst habits of Indian people is that they are on the take everywhere and anywhere. Even the hotel staffs (being fully employed!) tries to answer the question for a decent restaurant, tailor, driver, for whatsoever in favour of a friend or acquaintance, to make them benefitting from your enquiry. In terms of pricing in particular in Agra and Varanasi tourists get treated like unprotected game, get hoaxed every two meters they walk. Fortunately souls from Rajasthan and Punjab are living more honest. Of course they know about ways to extra charge tourists as well, but their charges are not that bad and not that blunt.
If you make it to Jaipur then please get in touch with Ali (JaipurAli@hotmail.com, +91 9829 1198 76). This hard working, 100% reliable and punctual small guy was the bright spot of my North India travel. His pricing treats you through and through as equal to Indians; for Ali this is important, he would never ever differ between people with black or white skin. He’s a great guy!
e-tickets & flying
“e” like easy, “e” like electronic – except some individual cases even in Africa every airport in the world is able to process electronically issued tickets. In India the prefix “e” is suddenly nothing worth anymore. To boot “respected” airlines like Kingfisher and Air India are even not able to process the e-ticket they sold themselves without a print out. That’s what I call smashing performance… If you don’t have a printer then you can get your printed ticket at the airline office located at every airport.
When checking in, Kingfisher often “forgets” about the seat reservation you made at the time of ticket purchase. A seat confirmation by their web check-in system is nothing worth too. Don’t cherish the illusion that Kingfisher is a normally operating airline. My India-bound flight got cancelled due to technical problems inducing me a standby time of 24 hours, not to mention the chain of dates and transportation to further stops that just collapsed. Don’t think that Kingfisher ever cared about their liability and their customer.
Do yourself a favour and keep your hands off Kingfisher!
Never ever buy at shops selling sensible goods on the streets. It is more than logic that exhausts and pollution will expand into things like for example spices. Spice mixtures are mixtures and differ from trader to trader, hence there is nothing like THE Tandoori Chicken Masala. You have to look for good quality and prices. On my way through North India I made very good experiences when stopping in Calcutta, in particular at the New Market.
Carpets and fabrics of extra-ordinary quality can be bought in Jaipur at a very moderate price level. Also shipping to Europe goes off without a hitch, even when having prepaid everything. Jaipur’s tailors are doing a good job, though you can find better ones in Jodhpur. They are even that good that you have to wait several weeks to get your order manufactured. In Jodhpur I ordered two custom-made suits made of a Cashmere 240s wool fabric including 2% silk. That is highest quality at affordable prices. On the other hand you have to tell those guys very clearly what you want. Everything that you don’t mention gets a typical Indian finish, for example sleeve buttons…
To be continued…