Challenge, Empire, India, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Kolkata, Purdah, Pushkar, Rajastan, Tourist, Travel, Udaipur, Varanasi
Part of me wants to open this post by saying I’m sorry for not posting. But I’m not going to. The reason I’ve been uncharacteristically quiet recently is because I went to India, then I moved house and started back full-time at uni as soon as I got back. I’ve been busy, I suppose you could say.
The first thing you might be wanting to know is why India? I suppose there were a few reasons. Firstly, I took a subject in the first half of the year which looked at European empires in the early modern period (that’s 1500-1800) a large portion of which was devoted to the British in India. I was interested to see some of the places where these fascinating, world altering things happened. Secondly, India is different. It’s one of the most different places I could think of to my home Australia and that sounded like a good reason to go. Thirdly, I’d never been to a country where you needed to get vaccinations – no Bali, or Thailand or Malaysia – I’d only been to Europe, the United States of America and New Zealand, and they’re not really that challenging, you know, culturally they’re similar, or at least familiar in certain ways. And lastly, it was cheap. I knew that I was leaving my permanent part-time job, and would be returning to full-time study, and therefore less income, on my return, so being able to get the experience of throwing myself into a completely different setting without spending too large a chunk of my savings was an important consideration.
The second thing people generally want to know when I say I’ve just been in India is where did I go? Well, I joined a prepackaged tour and we took in Delhi, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaipur, Pushkar, Bharatpur, Varanasi, and Kolkata in three weeks.
I went alone, but I was travelling with a group which had both advantages and drawbacks. The advantages were in having a local guide, who spoke excellent English and could translate for us where required, that the itinerary, bookings, travel etc. were all taken care of, and that I had travelling companions who I got to know quite well. The drawbacks were that the group, twelve in all, were all women, predominantly Australian with a couple of Brits (which says something I’m sure, but what I don’t know). This meant that any time we went out as a large group we were a spectacle. People stared. No, men stared.
I can say men stared because nine out of ten people we encountered were men. Men in shops, men in the street, men in trains and buses, men in restaurants. I suspect it has to do with purdah, the veiling/seclusion of women in both Hindu and Muslim cultures, but when asked our guide insisted that women are uncomfortable being in jobs where they are constantly coming into contact with strangers, and therefore chose not to be in those roles. Although I was in India for only a short time, I was continually aware of the very male nature of the general public I encountered.
India is beautiful. It has a long and rich culture and history. It has some gorgeous and diverse natural surroundings and environs, great temples and palaces, and a people who are proud to follow their traditions and to take pride in their way of life.
India is dirty. The streets are full of rubbish and stray animals – cows, dogs, goats, monkeys, squirrels – the water is polluted, the air is polluted, and there is a serious sewage issue. India is loud and intense. The colours are brighter, clothing is highly patterned and full of bold colour (particularly compared to grey old Melbourne fashion!) and the air is full of noise, from temples to car/bike/rickshaw horns (so many horns!), and people going about their business.
At the end of the trip I have a much better appreciation for what I consider normal. I had an understanding of what I expected, what made me stressed, what I could do to self-soothe, and what I ultimately needed and wanted to feel happy and calm. It’s amazing what you can deal with when you’re faced with a series of things which make you uncomfortable and you have to focus any reaction on the most salient thing and the other things just slide away. For me, the biggest thing I had to cope with was the cows, I just couldn’t get comfortable around them. I kept expecting them to lunge at me, even though they generally just stood there looking docile and not giving a single fuck about the chaos around them.
Visiting India was one of the hardest, most rewarding, most exhausting, most exhilarating experiences in my life. I cannot begin to describe what it felt like to be in a place that’s so completely foreign, to be such an outsider. It feels like I’ve been able to redefine myself through comparison, but I also feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself and hopefully grown from the experience. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming (whatever that is).