Oh India, What Are You Like?

Snow Line PanoramaWow!! That was an exhausting 6 weeks in India.

During our time in Thailand, Leslie and I spent many hours over beers at Mr. Poong’s Bar discussing our next adventure. We deliberated long and hard between Burma and India, and China was even an option at one stage. But one day we discovered flights to Kolkata from Bangkok for $60, and the decision became an easy one. Besides, I’d been waiting to return to a country I’ve loved since my first visit 12 years ago, and it has been on Leslie’s travel bucket list for years. So decision made, and after a nervous wait for our Indian visas, we, after 4 wonderful months in Koh Yao Noi, said our sad farewells and hit the road once more.Sad Les

I said India was exhausting. Here’s why:

Our Average Temperature: 33°C or 91°F. A high of 39°C.  Very hot!

Our Total Distance Traveled: 3,609 miles or 5,809 km. That’s an average of 85 hot, bumpy miles a day for 6 weeks. Far!

Our Total Hours in public transport: 116. A lot!

The Break Down

Train: 28 hours / 1,710 miles = avg speed 61 mph. Decent if asleep!

Bus: 43 hours / 1,547 miles = avg speed a terrifying 36 mph. Aaahhhh!

Taxi: 29 hours / 1,144 miles = avg speed a mere 39 mph. Shit, felt way faster at times!

Flights: 4 hours / 1,294 = avg speed 323 mph. More like it!

Rickshaw: 12 hours approx, avg speed about 2,409 mph, at least!!

The Other Breakdown– Leslie on a daily basis. Sorry love!

Okay, so the distances aren’t massive, but India moves slowly. The trains are efficient but rattle along at a modest pace. And the roads…what can I say other than horrendous. Buses are cheap, but painfully slow, hot and very uncomfortable. Taking a taxi might be a little quicker, but 5 times more expensive and way more stressful, with drivers dodging in and out of impossible gaps and playing chicken with anything coming the other way. No images, sorry…I was too scared.Real holy man

But our most stressful journey was strangely the last. The bus from Jaipur to Delhi Airport was a manageable 5 hours. Easy, right? Wrong! Half the roads were under construction, and at one point when our psychotic driver thought the traffic was too heavy, he simply cut across the central divider, and for 5 miles dodged his way through the oncoming trucks, cars, buses and motorcycles…even oxen drawing carts had to swerve to avoid death. And all in the dark!! Guess he thought he was being clever. A younger me might have punched him on the nose, but luckily I’ve mellowed enough to hit him with only a few choice expletives. It was shocking, but we made it and lived to tell the tale, and only 2 hours late. Oh India!green 1

Despite all this, I can’t deny that to travel across India is still great fun. The scenery, especially up in the lower Himalayas, is subliminal, and as long as you can hold your nerve while hugging narrow crumbling roads whose edges plummet hundreds of meters into canyons and raging rivers, then it’s well worth the stress. Ind 19

Highlights of this crazy trip for me were: to visit the hill station of Darjeeling, rekindling my love for the Taj Mahal, hanging out with Tibetan monks in Dharamsala, including the Dalai Lama, hiking in the Himalayas at Mcleodganj, rafting the Ganges in Rishikesh, visiting some rural schools on assignment with Leslie in Rajasthan (article to follow), and crawling like an ant around Jodhpur Fort. Just click the links to read the posts and see some cool images.Red picker

Regardless of my love for India and the amazing experiences I’ve had there, India will always have its issues. I got myself into many debates with Indian people about the state of the streets and the poor service I found during the trip, and it raised some interesting questions, some of which will be debated in a soon to be published post. In it I’ll compare how I feel India has changed in the 12 years between my visits, and some dialogue with locals about how they feel their country is developing. Gonna get heated!!Twenty First Century Nomad Taj Mahal

As a nomad who’s traveled to almost 50 countries, some of them many times, I’m often asked, ‘where is your favorite country?’ It was always a close call between Peru and India, as both have given me some of my greatest travel experiences and memories, but when pushed, India came out on top. It is just so unique and spectacular that I have always loved it. But how do I feel now? Well, India is a kind of love it or hate it country, and most people swing one way or the other. I used to love it. Now, I’m torn. It offers some unbelievable experiences, but at the same time constantly tries its best to wear you down, so much so that I have to say my love is slipping. I understand that, having traveled now for 20 years, my patience isn’t what it once was, and maybe my expectations of India were perhaps too high this time. Sadly, I felt a little underwhelmed by some parts of the trip this visit. But…

Do I still love India?  Yes, just about.

Do I hate it a little too? Hmm…yes, a little.

Will I ever go back? Absolutely, 100%. But it can certainly wait a while.

Would I recommend those who haven’t been to go? Without doubt, GO!!!

Namaste!!

Ind 4 Red picker Me on edge of the world Lobsand and me

Have you guys been to India recently, or indeed, ever? I’m keen to hear your thoughts, and how you rate it as an experiential destination.

Love it or hate it? I’d love to know.

All Images By The Nomad

See more of my posts from India here:

Kolkata: City of Color Part One & Part Two

Varanasi: Images & Adjectives

India Is Her Name a poem

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22 thoughts on “Oh India, What Are You Like?

  1. Ahhh, India has been on my “kind of wanna go, kind of don’t wanna deal with it” list for quite some time. It’s also so humongous that I wouldn’t want to shortchange it by only going a few weeks, if I decided to go for it. I’m glad you had a fun trip, though exhausting, and I’m sure you’ll catch up on your rest while in Thailand!

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    • Hello. The Thai adventure is over for now…India was kind of a visa run that continued. I’m now in Oz for a few months hanging out with my brother, who lives here in Darwin, before my birthday in Bali in January then Leslie and I are moving to Paris indefinitely.
      Oh India. Don’t waste too much time thinking about it, just go already. It is truly amazing, and though it sounds from my post that I’m over it, I will always love India and will definitely return. But it’s not for the faint hearted, and you’re right, it does warrant a longer trip. But 3 weeks minimum, and that gets you around plenty of places. I could suggest shorter itineraries if you’d like. But seriously, go to India, you’ll love it. Cheers.

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  2. Hi Steve – still loving your work! I’m with Leslie on this one and hate India. We also experienced the same wrong way up the 4-lane motorway, this time in a taxi. Unlike you, I didn’t refrain from grabbing the driver gently by the throat once I’d managed to get him to stop. I also hate the way Indians agree with everything you are complaining about to them which makes it impossible to argue! Looking forward to news from the Bali birthday bash…

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  3. Know exactly what you mean!! But I imagine the heat most likely made at least half of your decision. I felt the same way during my Europe tour…my body just couldn’t get excited about another day on the road with the year wave. Bless you both!

    Rachel Lynn Sebastian http://www.rachellynnsebastian.com

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    • Thanks Rach. Yeah it was a tough but exhilarating 6 weeks, but I’m still just about in the love camp for India. Your tour sounded amazing…would have loved to have seen a show. Take care you.

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  4. I love this post. Thank you for your honesty. I know I will love India when I go, but know it will wear me down, too… Glad you had a good trip… You guys take care of yourselves!!!

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    • Thanks Jessica. Yep, everyone says it’s love / hate, but for me it’s still on the love side…just. Leslie hated it, though she can see the overall appeal (maybe?) I still believe that everyone should go to India at least once, as anything after that seems like paradise, and you really earn your travel stripes there. Do it!

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  5. Wow what a vividly descriptive write up, it paints n amazing picture and your photos are stunning!
    Pete and I are heading to Kho Yao Noi for Christmas and then to India for Chinese New Year , we’re looking forward to some new adventure. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Thanks for the kind words. I have to ask…did you know I lived on Koh Yao Noi for 4 months, and is that why you asked? Love that island and called it home before India. Check out my several posts about it on the blog.

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  6. Brilliant write up and stunning photos! Pete and I are heading to Kho Yao Noi for Christmas and then India for Chinese New Year, looking forward to experiencing these amazing places. Thanks for sharing!

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  7. As an Indian, It’s always so interesting for me to hear travelers talk about India. I am glad you still love her even with those glaring faults… India tests your patience for sure and yea there are a 100 things that can be improved here… but then… I guess its beauty lies in its imperfection. Enjoyed this post a lot.

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    • Hello…namaste.
      Thanks Bharti for stopping by the blog.
      Yes, India will always be a special place for me, and I’ll certainly return someday in the future, even if it does wear its visitors down sometimes. I’ve written plenty of other posts sharing my thoughts about her on the blog too. Maybe check them out? It would be nice to get an Indian following, so could you perhaps share the blog with your friends and family? Many thanks.
      And thanks again for the nice comment.
      Cheers,
      Steve.

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  8. Hi Steve, it’s great to read your post and even more so having just been there. For me your post was a great read and helped to capture some of the great things and not so great! I agree it’s a country everyone should experience for at least three weeks. For me the food, trekking and warmth of the people were superb. Downsides were the constant touts for rickshaw,shops or whatever they thought would bring money…..that being said a very firm and polite no usually did the trick. Although it can be from one to another at times! I really look forward to your love/hate post as it will make a fascinating read. Best wishes, Nigel (Rishikesh)

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    • Hello Nigel. India challenges even the most hardened of travelers, but there is more to love than hate, and there are worse countries for touts and hassle, that I’m sure of. Egypt was on another level for certain. But like everything, it can be dealt with, and if you can get through it, it’s always worth the battle.

      Thanks again for stopping by, and hope you guys are well.

      Cheers,
      Steve.

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  9. Great article. Loved the pictures. I think tourists who visit India consider their journey incomplete without a photo of them in front of the Taj Mahal. This is ironic. Several of my friends, including myself, have never even been to Agra, and we’re all Indians. I get what you mean about India being a Love it or Leave it country. It’s an acquired taste. Unless it’s your home. Then you are born with it. 😀

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    • Hello Krishnan. Thanks so much for checking out my post, and I appreciate the comments. I know what you mean about not visiting things in your own country. I’ve hardly seen many of the beautiful things in my own country England, yet have visited 48 countries and many of them many times. Guess we take things for granted when they are so accessible, right?
      There are plenty of other posts on India here too…please take a look and make share your thoughts.
      Cheers, and have a great weekend.
      Steve.

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  10. Good article! For me India filled me with mixed emotions before, during and since my 4 week visit recently. But now that I have been it’s got under my skin and I certainly feel there is unfinished business between India and I. Sure, I hated the rubbish, tuk tuk drivers quoting three times the correct price for a fare and the hawkers at Connaught Place in New Delhi. But I loved the scenery, so much greener than I expected, the food, the trains. I loved that it was easy to travel and that all the travel guides’ dire warnings were, for us, not a reality. I could go on, just wanted to say I know what you mean and that I will be going back!

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    • Hello Nicola, and thanks for stopping by the blog.
      I still feel I have unfinished business with India too. I think it can wait several years before we resolve our issues, but I WILL return.
      I appreciate the comments, thanks.
      Steve.

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  11. Steve,
    What a great wrap-up of your time in India. It seems that you and Leslie both, in your own ways, worked hard to embrace the experience. We traveled throughout India 20 years ago … but we haven’t been BACK to India. We both agree that it was one of the most challenging places we’ve ever traveled, and we came away with pros and cons that mirror yours.
    But we did have an experience similar to yours with Bali. We first visited 10 years ago and it was the most magical place we’d ever set foot on. We vowed to go back. When we finally went back last year, it was still a special place, but the magic was gone for us. It seemed a combination of the enormous commercialization and attitude shift of the people of Bali was hard to move beyond.
    Gorgeous photos – I particularly love the little boy and the pump and the speeding yellow taxi. Thanks for a wonderful series on India, and I look forward to your further insights.
    All the best, Terri

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    • Hello Terri.
      Thanks as always for the nice comments. Yes, it’s interesting isn’t it how our perceptions change over time. Funny you mention Bali. It was the first place I ever visited outside Europe, and at 19 yrs old in 1994, it was simply amazing to me. And when I go for a family get together in January for my 40th birthday, it will be my 5th visit. And for me, it’s still a magical place if you just know where to go. And that’s not Kuta Beach, for sure. I can’t wait to take Leslie there, as I know she’ll love it.
      Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and make a comment, it’s always appreciated.
      Cheers, Steve.

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  12. Pingback: The Cage Of Death | Twenty First Century Nomad

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