Cricket in the Park (Kolkata, India)

Cricket in the Park
(Kolkata, India)

India is a country of such wide-ranging contrasts. From the many cultural highs and lows, to areas of great beauty and places of such filth. If you want a country to challenge your senses then India is it. It’s a classic love it or hate it country, with most people in one camp or the other, rarely is there a middle ground. Over the six weeks or so I was in India I crossed the northern regions of the country. I visited numerous places, met many people, and tried a variety of foods and experiences, while I watched, listened and observed the local customs. My conclusions were mixed.

All aboard the Darjeeling Himalayan Express (India)

All aboard the Darjeeling Himalayan Express
(India)

Past, Present and Future

To me, India still feels like it is stuck in 1947. The bureaucracy that the British left is still there and does not seem to have evolved. Speaking to local Indians along the way there was mixed views on the recent progress of India. An argument could be made that the standard of living for many has improved. Based on regular meals, multiple sets of clothes now owned and access to education being made available to a growing portion of the population. This may not seem like much to the western world with all its material possessions but this is a move forward for India in the last 60 years.

Sunrise on the Ganges (Varanasi, India)

Sunrise on the Ganges
(Varanasi, India)

Anyone that travels across India will observe the deteriorating infrastructure and the many unfinished structures. India’s inability to finish projects on time and budget have been there to see for many years. Corruption and politics rear their ugly heads everywhere. Most Indians think corruption is systematic and there is nothing they can do. So most just join in the process in some shape or form. Politics has become a family business with many established politicians coming from a long line of family and friends. To get involved you have to know the right people or work extremely long and hard to make a name for yourself. India has been left with a British system, which they have modified to their own ways. However trying to coordinate the 28 states and 7 union territories under a central government that can make changes that benefit the whole nation is a massive challenge. India’s rampant population growth and a glacially slow political process mixed with corruption, both perceived and real, make for governance nightmare. Trying to overcome systematic failures in the governance process may prove to be insurmountable, at least in the near future anyway.

Meanwhile the Kashmir fight with Pakistan continues with no sign of a solution. It has the effect of distracting the people from the other problems at home. Perhaps it’s intentional..?

Views from Baba Imambara (Lucknow, India)

Views from Baba Imambara
(Lucknow, India)

Interestingly though different parts of the country think both positively and negatively about India’s future. In a country where change is extremely difficult to effect the older generation are more positive than the younger. The business man is more positive than the little guy in Darjeeling. The country is so big, and it has so many different cultures, with each having their own concerns and priorities. It’s hard to see a unifying approach being successfully implemented.

If India could harness a future where governance was improved, corruption was reduced, growth steady increased, projects finished on time, the country united under a common approach for the benefit of all, then India could mobilise the second biggest populous nation on earth and make themselves into a real international powerhouse. In reality the opposite appears to be happening. Weighed down by the many negatives it feels like it is fighting a losing battle to keep pace in the modern world and as a result it faces some real challenging problems that it’s not equipped to handle.

The next election in 2014 may well be another opportunity for positive change. Only time will tell if this is a step in the right direction or another false dawn.

Taj Mahal (Agra, India)

Taj Mahal
(Agra, India)

What I loved

I loved my time in the northern hills of India. They were such beautiful places I could have easily spent longer there. I also heard such great things about the south of India which I haven’t had the chance to visit yet. The hospitality of the people that I experienced was right up there with the best I’ve seen. The people who I meet were a massive highlight. Funny, intelligent, caring and great hosts for their guests. The overall human spirit was happy and positive. One of my favourite things about Indians is the head bobble acknowledgment. It is the best way to elicit a smile from a curious Indian. Their faces shift from dour and suspicious to bright, engaging, and smiling faces in a flash. I just love wandering about bobbing my head and waiting for the inevitable response.

Of course there was a number of sensational sites that I visited. Delhi was a delight; the Taj Mahal, and Red Fort in Agra were superb; the tea fields and toy train of Darjeeling were fun; the craftsmanship of Bara Imambara in Lucknow was impressive; the hillside retreats of Shimla and Manali were relaxing and refreshing; the spirituality of Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj enlightening; the sunrise on the Ganges in Varanasi was beautiful; the Golden Temple in Amritsar was spectacular; and border closing ceremony at Wagha was crazy. India truly has a bit of everything for every occasion.

India Gate (Delhi, India)

India Gate
(Delhi, India)

What I hated

The dirt, grime and general lack of cleanliness is part and parcel of India but it did nothing for me. Varanasi and all its religious connotations failed to hide the fact that the water was just plain unhygienic and no doubt the cause of more sickness and deaths than the other way round. The traffic was both a pain in the arse and a massive challenge at the same time. Keeping my wits about me became a daily game of cat and mouse (that I have to admit I actually enjoyed a lot of the time). Due to the sheer number of people in the country it feels like the locals are always in your face, and there is no such thing as personal space. Over time you start to become blinded to the negative aspects but it slowly wears you down, the constant nature of it all.

Surprisingly the impression that I’m left with is one of frustration with the poor governance and corruption that is contributing to what I perceived to be lack of progress in the country. I can’t shake the feeling the country is going backwards, rather than forwards. It feels like they are losing the battle and the poor leadership is disheartening for me to see as well as for the locals to experience.

Sunrise on the road from Shimla to Manali (Northern India)

Sunrise on the road from Shimla to Manali
(Northern India)

Conclusion

I’m 50:50 on India. It was great to visit but six weeks was enough for me this time. I’ve found myself very much with a foot in both the, I love it, and I hate it camps. Didn’t I just say people don’t sit on the fence. Well, I think I just did.

One day I’m sure I’ll go back.

The Golden Temple in the evening (Amritsar,India)

The Golden Temple in the evening
(Amritsar,India)

These are my thoughts and observations from my time and experience in India. I am by no means an expert on India but I was able to speak with a cross-section of people and think about the situation quite a lot during my visit. If you have a different opinion I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

6 Responses to “India in Summary – 100 Miles Per Hour to Very Very Slowly Slowly”

  1. Man it looks amazing. Im so jealous! Keep on enjoying those experiences 🙂

  2. Jon, what a brilliant summary of your drive through India, and I wholeheartedly agree with all your observations. After meeting you in Kolkata at the start, I was intrigued to hear your overall thoughts after the trip. I reckon you and I have exactly the same opinions, and after once being firmly in the ‘love’ camp, I’m much more on the fence now, with an equal dose of ‘hate.’ But like you, I will return for what would be my 3rd visit. I wonder how we’ll feel after going again?
    Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts mate, and congrats for getting through India unscathed…no mean feat.
    Cheers,
    Steve, aka, http://www.twentyfirstcenturynomad.com

  3. Hey John! Looks like we all made it out alive. There were some moments when I didn’t think that would happen! I am afraid to say that after our six weeks, I sided with the haters. I couldn’t get past the dirt and grime and filth enough to enjoy anything. Poor Steve had to put up with me and my anxiety and I am sure that’s why he’s now on the fence about India! Anyway, good luck on the next leg of your adventure! -Leslie

  4. Biren Thapar says:

    Jon it is a very incisive article . It says it all and is complete in all respects and there is nothing to add, except maybe that u either like this country or u don’t like it!!!And u already did, by saying and I quote. ‘ One day I’m sure I’ll go back ‘ unquote :-)))))))))))

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