The missile in Kerala state.
On leaving India I really felt like I had travelled. India has an array of worldly travellers. It’s no place for the first time backpacker. I saw travellers who pick up languages where others pick up infectious diseases. I've met travellers who are so physically sturdy they could drink a shoebox of water from a Kolkata gutter and never get sick.
India has taught me a lot. I have now learned the art of how to arrange my face into that blank expression of competent invisibility that is so useful when travelling in dangerous threatening places. It’s that super relaxed totally in charge expression that makes you look like you belong there anywhere, everywhere, even in a riot in kathmandu! I also have proudly mastered the infuriating (when on the receiving side) puppet-like wobble mixture of a head shake and a nod that can mean anything and nothing. When exhausted and in search of a room I know better now than to feebly enter reception with rosy cheeks and a face of desperation that says “Rip me off I’m willing to pay anything for a horizontal surface”. I’m more tactful than that now, I opt for a sugar kick of sugar and a drop of “chai”. No that’s not a typo there is more sugar than tea in the tea here. When my cheeks are a little more subdued I then tackle searching for a room with enthusiasm in an attempt to work off the sugar hit.
’ve learned that Indians never queue. I’ve learned that there is not a single rubbish bin in India and toilets are almost equally as scarce. I’ve learned always to ask for directions 5 times and take the average. I’ve learned only to ask for KM distances from someone actually riding a bike. A pot belly hotel owner hasn’t a notion of Km's or terrain. Never complicate the situation by asking for a town further than the next one. In rural villages few people have left their own village so you may as well ask for directions to Paris as a city more than 30km away. I’ve learned if the word “only” is in the price then I’m being ripped off. I know that if I’m told a hotel is closed it is not and they are just looking to send me to their friends hotel. I know all too well from experience the words “Fancy, Deluxe, High class, Quality, Grande” in the name of a hotel means they are exactly the opposite. Sadly it takes more than words to make a good hotel!
The land of spices.
The advantage of the coastal route.
I’ve also learnt something about myself. This is after all a country of spiritual enlightenment, a place where westerners flock to for ashrams, months in yoga and meditation retreats in search of their inner self…or something to that effect. I’ve learnt that although I am largely a passive person and of the non violent persuasion I have ironically uncovered a more aggressive streak in the land of Ghandi. In total I have slapped 7 men for staring at me up and down like they are buying a leg of lamb (or dahl if he’s vegetarian). 3 men in Tamil Nadu are now wearing Lassis (yogurt drink) as it happened to be my beverage at the time and 4 men on motorbikes got a kick as they stuck to me like a magnet while cycling. In my defence the last one is highly dangerous and they were given a warning which fell on deaf ears and the others were clear winning cases of sexual harassment back home. So I have a clear conscience.
I’m leaving India a bit worse for wear. Thanks to the pollution my skin is leathery, as dry as a stringy bark and clogged with black dirt. Although when looking to rectify the situation I was told it was "butiful white and fair" I just can’t seem to get rid of my cold which has been clinging to me like the sleazy men from Tamil Nadu. However I know solace awaits me in the tourist haven of Thailand, Normally I’m sceptical of the trappings that come with tourism and feel it forsakes the authenticity of real culture. However on this occasion I can’t wait to be catapulted from the harsh almost post war zone of downtrodden Kolkata to the gleaming bright lights of Bangkok boasting 7/11 stores and massage parlours in place burning rubbish heaps in India.
When all is said and done I will miss "Incredible India" very much because it is as advetised, incredible.
The Deirdre Barlow of India.