Saturday, October 21, 2006

India: First Thoughts on this Crazy Country!

On my past travels I would talk to a fellow travelers about countries we had been to. We would compare notes about favorite stops, people, actvities… Many times people would say “But have you been to India…???” with a long pause. As if India was the toughest challenge there was. Although I didn’t understand what they meant I decided I better come here and check it out myself. I mean, how different could it be from Africa, Asia or Central America??? (You may be thinking Afghanistan, but that doesn't count because I went with a group to visit there instead of travelling alone.)

Anyway, I’m here now and I know what the long pause was about. India is VERY different from all of the places I’ve ever travelled on my own. Mostly I think it has similar chaos with many many many more people. Somehow its hard to get things done here and even hard to get from place to place.

My senses are running at 200%. People come at you from every direction. Cars, bikes, rickshaws crowd the streets. Horns constantly blow. People line the sidewalks doing commerce, sleeping, eating. Touts assault you with “Buy this? Need a guide? Where are you from, Madam?…” And they are good at their game. We are strictly instructed not to talk to them and yet I sort of like to and being a cold hard New Yorker I don’t find it that hard not to buy what they are selling in the end.

Much is written about India being hugely diverse society. Many empires have been through here and settled among its local culture. There are many religions and 24 official state languages with many many more dialects (I think I heard there were 1500) This means that small villages just outside small cities don't speak the same language.

The faces, culture and the street life remind me a lot of Afghanistan, which would make sense considering its two countries over to the East, but I hadn’t thought about it this way though. I had thought Afghanistan was the way it was because of years of war not long-term culture.

And with all the press about India being a IT and call center powerhouse I had sort of forgotten about how much poverty I would see. I knew it would be poor but it’s even poorer. There is little evidence of the progress happening in a few cities to a few people in the country roads I am travelling. This diverse 1.2 billion person country is four times more populated that the US and one third of the land size. Economic progress is happening but it is diluted by vast population growth. I read somewhere that India grows by an Australia every year. That’s 18 million people! One sixth of the world’s population resides here and I read that 33% of world’s poor are here. Anyway the contrasts are incredible. Its very hard to process.

I have 5 more weeks to travel and will go up to the North and then down to the South. I will continue to share my observations on my blog. Check it out now if you want to see some photos. The internet situation is not great here so most of the photos will be shared when I get back to New York.


Susan T said...

I put a comment in here before, and it disappeared! Anyway, love this first write up about your time in India.

Marleny said...

Hi ,Cordelia!

This is Marleny.Great write up! Your mom said you would be in Kerala and i told her i know someone from there. His name is Sajith and he lives in a city now but his family is still there. Jane thought it would be nice for you to meet them so i asked Sajith and he said that they don't speak English;he does,though.I'll send his phone # to your email in case you would like to contact him and make the experience a little more personal.Good luck!