July 21, 2011

#6: Go to India

"They" say that India is one of the hardest places to travel to. "They" were right. It's hard to wrap my head around the fact that I just came back from 2 weeks of traveling to the one place I've dreamed of going my entire life. Jet lag and being really sick have drained me of any energy to try and process my time in India. But I don't really think that time in India is really meant to be processed because truth be told, nothing makes sense in India. As a friend of mine in Bangalore said, India is "creative chaos."
A street in Delhi
India wasn't easy. It was loud and crowded, dirty and chaotic, but most of all it was confusing. I went home at the end of every night in a constant state of perplexity. The fact is, India just doesn't make sense...and therein lies its beauty. I am so glad I went to India by myself. I think I would have had a really had time being there with anyone else. I needed to just be in India and take my time and try and absorb everything.

A Hindu temple in Bangalore
It's hard for me to say I loved India. It's impossible for me to say I hated it. The truth is, it was hard. I learned a lot about myself and I faced a lot of challenges and tests of strength, patience and virtue along the way. The only regret I have is not paying more attention to the guide books and going in the summer. Everything I read said that the summers are brutal, but I went with this "Oh but I've been to Africa in the summer time, I'll be fine."  Africa was hot when I went there. India was unbearable. With average temperatures in the mid 90s, a heat index in the low 100s and humidity averaging around 84%, it was unbearable. Couple that with the conservative way you're dressed (covering your legs and most of your arms at all times) and it can make you pretty uncomfortable. Bangalore was very comfortable. Temperatures were in the mid 80s with a frequent breeze that made it nice. In Bangalore, the staring stopped bothering me after 2 days. In Delhi, when you have sweat dripping from places you didn't know existed (and it's not induced by a sweaty session but merely by standing around) and people are staring at you and taking pictures, it makes it really easy to lose your patience. I think that if I had gone to India when the guide books recommended, my trip would have been much much easier.

Like I say, it's hard to say I loved India but I can't say I hated it either. I've dreamed of going to India my entire life and it met my expectations. I didn't have some Bollywood fantasy of what India would look like. I knew what I was getting myself into. I just wasn't expecting to be so overwhelmed by it all. So, some of my takes on India:

The Crowds - I will never again complain that New York is crowded. India at any time of the day makes midtown Manhattan at rush hour look like Laramie, Wyoming.

The Staring - I've mentioned it before but the constant staring and picture taking was something really hard to get used to.

The Indian Head Bobble - I think the Government of India should sue whoever 'invented' bobble heads because clearly the bobble head was derived from Indian people. The infamous bobble neither means yes or no but is how Indians reply to you. A question such as "Do you have soy milk" will give you a head bobble in response leaving you confused as to whether or not you will get soy milk in your coffee.  See this video for example:

The Poverty – It’s no secret that there is poverty in India. India wasn’t the first poverty-stricken country I’ve been to either. With frequent trips to the Dominican Republic growing up, mission trips to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, an orphanage in Jamaica and a trip to West Africa after college, I thought I had seen my share of poverty. India is a whole different ball game. What drives me crazy about India though is that India is not a poor country. It has the fourth largest economy in the world. The level of poverty that exists in India just shouldn’t. But what kills me about it is that people in India aren’t poor simply because they don’t have money or resources. They’re poor because there is a whole black market system of people making money off of them being poor. You’ve all seen Slumdog Millionaire…and if you haven’t, you need to…none of that is fabricated. The poverty system in India works a lot like human trafficking…in a lot of cases, it is human trafficking and that is something I just don’t know how to fix. When I was in Togo, I visited a village in the central part of the country that had recently had a well built for them by the NGO I was working with. The well increased the livelihood of the village by almost 75%. That’s incredible. All it took was clean water to increase agricultural productivity, human productivity and significantly lower health risks. I could write about this for hours on end but the real question is: what’s the well panacea for India? There are parts of India where wells will bring poverty alleviation and in fact, well water would be a significant help to the entire country but how do you combat poverty in India when poverty is a profitable business?

The Traffic – Even in Delhi where public transportation is easily accessible, traffic is still insane. Road infrastructure is non-existent. People drive on whatever side of the road is open and because of that, there area always back ups. Lanes aren’t easily demarcated and where they are, they just aren’t abided by. I don’t know how I never saw an accident while I was there. Somehow the incessant horn honking works and the traffic “flows”…if you can call it that, but something really needs to be done to reduce the amount of traffic on the road. It seems that for every person in India, there’s a car, truck, bus, rickshaw, cow, etc. on the roads. In a country with nearly 18% of the world’s population, I shudder to think what the air pollution in Delhi is like. It’s probably worse than it is here. 
Women ride scooters helmet-less and side saddle...most of them in saris.

This is how close the rickshaws drive to one another
So that’s India. I can't say I had a bad time. I loved being in India. How could I not? I've always wanted to go there and I would wake up every morning with this "Oh my God, I'm in India!" But India was hard. Would I go back? Sure, but not for awhile and definitely not in the summer. And I think next time I go, I’ll spend some time in the city and then make my way to Goa or Kerala and spend some time unwinding on a beach before I come home. Truth be told, being in India has made be really anxious to go to China. From an academic perspective, I’m really keen to see the difference. I’ve written papers comparing the economic rise of India with China and now, I think China might have to be my next trip. But first, I have to get over this insane jet lag I have! 

That's #6 off The List and the truth is, it should have been number 1. I said that the list was written in no particular order but going to India has always been the biggest dream of mine. On the way to Bangalore, I watched the movie "Tangled" on the plane and this scene just fits so much with how I felt about India: 

Rapunzel: I've been looking out a window for eighteen years, dreaming about
what it might feel like when those lights rise in the sky. What if it's not everything I dreamed it would be?: Rider: It will be.
Rapunzel: Hmm. And what if it is? What do I do then?
Rider: Well, that's the good part I guess. You get to go find a new dream.

India is everything I knew it would be. So now, it's time to find a new dream.

More India pictures to come soon!


  1. This post was so beautifully written Christy that i have goosebumps. I don't think I've ever read or heard a more real recap of India. Ending it with that scene from Tangled brings it all together too. I'm glad you survived and you can look at the trip as such a learning experience.

  2. What a wonderful post! I'm glad you got to visit it and fulfill your dream and that it met your expectations, even if they weren't all that great. I can't wait to hear about your next dream and trip!

  3. What a beautiful perspective! My best friend just moved from Toronto to Kolkata and we laugh when we compare my weather (Swampland of Florida) to hers. They're very similar, I just have cleaner air and better waste management (if you get my drift come rainy season).

    Living in Tanzania, I find her and my experiences intertwine so beautifully. We've been able to see parts of humanity that are hard to find over here, where consumerism reigns.

    Can't wait to read about your travels to India!

  4. :) so excited for you!
    India is intense, with no real way to describe it as you said. I learned to love my time there...it just takes time to process I think. Everything you've said in your post I've found to be true :)
    Hope you get over jet lag soon!

  5. i love your honesty. you've also brought up some really good points and questions.....

    glad you're home safe - enjoy the "nice" weather!


  6. very beautiful post...

  7. I lived in India (New Delhi) for 5 years so I just loved reading this post. I'm following you from Rome, have a nice weekend!

  8. I have a lot of Indian co-workers and there is definitely some head bobbling :)

  9. Wonderful! Fantastic!
    Thanks for sharing, Christy! I enjoyed the visit. :)

  10. Amazing! So thankful for your honesty and your perspective.

  11. wow what an interesting post! i've always wanted to go to india. i appreciate all of your honesty! stopping by from mingle mondays! xoxo jillian:: cornflake dreams

  12. Hey, stopping over from Mingle Monday. I'm soo glad you posted this. My friend is getting married in Delhi this November, and it was great to see such an honest and thought provoking post about the area!! Definitely gives me a more realistic perspective- thanks!

  13. What a wonderful read. Thanks for sharing that. Congrats on realizing one dream and moving on to the next.



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