I’ve found it hard to overcome my pre existing prejudices and preconceptions in India. That’s the trouble when you go to a destination where many travellers have been and they all seem to have some sort of opinion on, however divided. Over the last few months of travelling round Asia I’ve collected India stories and opinions from anyone who’d give me one. India has forever fascinated me – it’s somewhere that’s been on my must visit list for years – and finally, back in September last year I booked my trip.
My first day in Delhi
I chose to do a private tour on my first day in Delhi, firstly because I didn’t have any time for research and secondly because I was apprehensive about finding my way round by myself and feeling overwhelmed on arrival. I’ve written about my arrival in Delhi on my blog on gapyear.com but to sum it up, I was terrified and cried in the taxi. This was mostly thanks to my overactive imagination, but also because of the stupid taxi men, yeah two of them. I stayed at an airport hotel that first night and barely slept at all. The next day I moved to The Rose Hotel in Haus Khaz, a cool part of Delhi, as soon as I could. It was 8am, and I was ready to start my Delhi tour.
The tour guide I was given told me ‘not to make any friends’ in Haus Khaz, and to be careful. This was somewhere I’d originally felt perfectly comfortable, for the few minutes I’d seen it that morning, and ready to get stuck into local life. It was early doors for me that first night at The Rose thanks to the lack of sleep the night before but the second evening I wanted to go out for a wander. The guy on reception at my hotel seemed surprised I was going out at 9pm and definitely gave me a raised eyebrow ‘are you sure?’ kind of look. I had felt safe there but as soon as someone sews the seed of doubt or fear in my mind, especially in India, I can’t relax and enjoy myself. I was the same in Guatemala. So I basically walked to the end of the street and back again not wanting to explore any suggested risk.
Just a walking ATM?
One of the main stories people told me I’d experience in India was feeling like a walking ATM, and that I can definitely confirm.
A few children have juts shouted ‘money?’ at me as I’ve walked past. At every attraction someone will latch on to me and offer me all kinds of jewellery and trinkets at prices that get cheaper by the second. Some have done the gesture for food, bringing their fingers together and up to their mouths, others look up at you from pleading eyes, looking pained.
It’s hard to say no.
But having your back up before you even get to a destination is never a good idea.
A man came up to me on the street and muttered something, I replied with the usual ‘no, sorry’… and then he gestured to his car. He wasn’t asking me for money, but to get out the way of his mate’s reversing vehicle. I’m not proud of the horribly negative assumptions but it’s an accumulation of my own stories I’ve retained about India, of what others have told me from the last few months of my Asia trip, and of the attitudes and behaviour of the people I’ve met over the last few days.
Just a little story I wanted to tell
In another incident, which I’m still unsure about, I went to get money out of the ATM. Standard behaviour. But a few seconds ahead of me an Indian guy went in to the shed-like building wearing just a rotting towel around his waist and flip flops. There was nothing in the room but an ATM and a back door. He opened the door with a key and stood in the doorway just looking at me. I had everything I owned on my back, and my front, and as I was working the machine out, and trying to do the currency conversion in my head he was offering ‘helpful’ gestures to show me where to press on the screen. My head was rushing with the weigh up of whether I was in danger or not. All the while he was changing into his day clothes, using the towel to hide his modesty, and grinning from ear to ear shaking his head like only an Indian person knows how.
It wasn’t a creepy or weird grin – it just seemed like he was having a lovely time ‘helping’ me. I had to ask him to stop watching so I could concentrate, as my fear went to laughter, but he didn’t understand. It could’ve been the fact I came in like a whirlwind; all backpack, 5ft 9 and blonde hair full of anxiety about getting money out, but he seemed a little sad as he waved goodbye.
It’s instances like this where I wish I hadn’t got any preconceptions, didn’t assume that everyone I met wanted something from me, and could genuinely enjoy interactions with the locals. It’s the people who make a country what it is so it’s stupid to travel all the way and then not talk to any.
Indians vs India
The people I’ve met on the streets, which is basically limited to the street vendors in Haus Khaz, have been really cool. They went through the menu with me and suggested I try some things – can’t imagine many street sellers doing that. During the two days I spent in Hauz Khas I didn’t have one piece of evidence to show why my tour guide from the first day, and the hotel receptionist told me, or insinuated to me, not to talk to anyone.
One of the ladies on my Golden Triangle tour is a Professor of Business Studies at Delhi University. She helped me to find a delicious breakfast in preparation for the journey as she was worried I wouldn’t have enough as I hadn’t had time to get anything. She told me how strange it was coming back to India after 5 years in London.
“All the social rules here are enough to drive you crazy”.
She was travelling with a guy she wasn’t married to and told me how frowned upon that is. She was saying she’s not meant to wear jeans and has to do this, has to do that. She tried to rebel but it just wasn’t worth it. She also told me how since ‘the attacks’ in India women don’t go around by themselves, they need a male escort, or so they’re told.
Me vs India
I’ve tried to keep a balanced view; tried to ignore the negativity in my mind about the people and the culture but with all the warnings from other travellers and Indians alike I still feel like people are waiting to scam me at every turn. I’ve had it from taxi drivers, from the laundry man at the hotel and today from a man selling me a bag at some ridiculously hiked price. I’ve spent the last few days on a tour with Indian people and the stories they’ve told me and attitudes they have seem to match the stories I’ve been told from other travellers too.
There’s a lot of distrust for India, whether earned or not, but I’d say that a lot of that seems to come from the Indians themselves.