Another article in our OBT series. This stop on our roving retirement found us on a three-week tour of Rajasthan.
I wanted to call this article Impressions of India because I want to describe how India is different from every place else we have visited. But every time we would see something really bizarre like a motorbike coming towards us on our side of a divided road, our Driver Mr. Joe would say “everything is possible in India” and then chuckle.
India is a country of huge contrasts. Cows lying in the road (read freeway), in front of shop doors, and on train platforms. Hindus on a 200-kilometer pilgrimage on foot or with 5 people on a moped, beautiful 700-year-old temples, palace forts and lots of people who don’t need a drivers license to drive. Hence, the title of the article.
A friend said they would be uncomfortable visiting India because of the filth, but Mike and I both feel that it is easy to overlook because there are so many other fascinating things to see here. And some of the friendliest and most helpful people we have ever encountered in our travels.
About Our Tour
India is probably the most foreign, exotic place I have ever been and this is the first time I’ve been here as a tourist all the other trips were for business. Mike had never been to India before and I was really interested to know how he felt about it.
Knowing how challenging travel in this country can be, we opted for a private guided tour, which turned out even better than I expected. We had our own driver for the entire time in India and we picked up local reps and guides in each city we visited. Our driver kept Mike well supplied with cold Diet Coke for the entire trip, which admittedly involved more than a few days with 6+ hour drives between cities.
Our tour was arranged through IVAT and I can’t say enough about the great service we received all through the trip. If we had issues or needed help with anything, they were always there to help.
Traveling in India
We flew between some cities, took a train once, but mostly we drove. Travel in India is so slow because the roads are so bad and full of speed bumps. There are also lots of obstacles on the road. Besides cows everywhere, there are dogs, ox carts, horses, pigs, dromedaries (camels) just hanging around or pulling a cart. There are tuk-tuks in towns, donkeys carrying building materials, water buffalos, bicycles, pushcarts, lots of people walking, and so many motorbikes, some with 5 people on them. We saw many women walking along the road still carry things (including luggage) on their heads.
When you do see a truck, it is often overloaded and over-decorated, most with hand-painted license plates. Honking is encouraged as a way of saying “here I am” and “get out of my way”. The back of trucks say “honk please or blow horn.” Busses and tuk-tuks are generally “well used” and frequently overstuffed with riders; sometimes people are hanging off the back or on top. Despite the traffic chaos with lanes and directions being suggestions and people and animals going anywhere they like, there are few collisions, but a hundred+ near misses every day.
What Makes India Fascinating – The Cows
There are cows; they are everywhere. Basically, they go where ever they want and frequently are found laying in the middle of the road, which always makes me chuckle. It turns out people feed the cows every morning and they feed the dogs in the evening, but the only cows of value are the females who produce milk. Since they won’t kill the cows or bulls, they just let the cows who no longer produce milk and bulls just wander around. We did hear that there are old age homes for the cows, supported by charities, but apparently, not enough.
Having cows on every road makes moving goods and people from one place to another very slow and must limit development. But it doesn’t seem like it is going to change anytime soon. We also saw leather goods for sale and wondered where the leather came from. The answer is water buffalo. Water buffalo are not cows and therefore Hindus have no issue slaughtering them, but they don’t eat the meat.
Pilgrimage and the Ganesha Festival
It was so interesting to be here during both a pilgrimage and a festival. This time of year, the farmers don’t have much work, so they can go on a pilgrimage, which apparently many Hindus do. Along the pilgrim route, there are small camps and parties with free food, drinks, music and dancing, all donated to support the pilgrimage. Even regular people will buy a box of biscuits and give them away along the side of the road. In one town, the Ganesha festival went for 6 kilometers. Busses packed with people inside and on top brought them to the festival. Another case of “everything is possible in India.”
Having our Pictures Taken
We were asked by strangers to take a selfie with them in every city and town we visited. We also got openly stared at several times a day. Because of the pilgrimage, many farmers and people from the country were traveling and had never seen a white person before. On their way, they were visiting the same historic sights as we were, so we encountered many more rural people than we normally would. Mike and his hat got quite a bit of attention.
As fascinating and colorful as India is, my recommendation is to spend 10-14 days. Any longer and it gets a little tedious. I definitely recommend a visit here, but make sure you have a guide with you and pick nice hotels because they are frequently the best places to eat. For more on the food, look for our article on the food in India, coming soon.
Everything is possible in India.