INDIA: a love/hate story

Ohhhh India, where to even begin?

Flying out of Singapore and into New Delhi was a shock in itself. One of the cleanest cities in the world to one of the dirtiest in the space of 5 hours.

We braced ourselves to leave the airport and enter the dusty Delhi streets, and we were right to do so. Bombarded by people we were nearly ushered into the wrong taxi with the wrong people in the first 10 minutes, without having said hardly a single word.

I don’t really know what we expected of India because I always like to go somewhere with a completely open mind, but the first week has left a questionable impression for all of us.

Delhi is a dirty city. It didn’t help that we were staying in one of the most impoverished areas (that’s a budget hostel for you) and I’m sure there are much nicer areas of Delhi that unfortunately we didn’t get to see (due to us getting ill). But nothing can describe the smell of urine and faeces in the streets that we experienced first hand (because there is actual human and animal urine and faeces in the streets), piles of rubbish, litter, food, flies, dust, cows* and PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. Some (too many) actually live on these streets and in this environment. The poverty is real.

*they are worshipped in Hindu religion and are free to roam the streets as they please, eating whatever they find (which a lot of the time is unfortunately rubbish and plastics, obviously toxic and eventually causing serious harm to these animals) and using the streets as beds & toilets. Animal cruelty is rife, people and animals suffer on the streets side by side and notably monkeys and elephants are abused, especially in cities like Jaipur where they are ridden by tourists and forced to climb up to the forts in the severe midday sun. (Never EVER pay to ride an elephant).

Agra is similar, boasting only the Taj Mahal. A place seen with such admiration and beauty around the world, as striking as the Taj Mahal is, the surrounding poverty contrasts with this ideal image unbelievably. I found it hard to appreciate something as grand as the Taj without being ignorant of the rest of my surroundings.

One thing that made us the most uncomfortable in India was that wherever we went people bombarded us wanting our money or to take selfies with us or photographs of us “because we are white women,” to show their friends/families/strangers ??? I still don’t really understand why they did this, but it was constant harassment, 90% of the time by groups of men. This isn’t to be taken lightly, it was terrifying.

There were separate queues for females, and expect to be treated completely differently to men. I have never in my life felt so unsafe than I did in India. There wasn’t a moment in Delhi and Agra when walking the streets that we weren’t stared at, made to feel inferior, jeered at, shouted at, pushed into or taken photographs of.

Apparently a lot of Indian (and a vast majority of South East Asian) people are fascinated by white skin. It is plastered everywhere and is seen as desirable, no doubt due to the West and massive publicising of white models/actors etc. There is even bleach in moisturisers and body wash to LIGHTEN the skin. This concept was/is so hard to come to grips with and I really hate the fact that white skin is seen as something to admire and be envious of. No one should ever feel like they have to change themselves, OR THEIR SKIN COLOUR to be part of a social norm.

White skin is also seen as a sign of wealth, so it makes sense why people try to hassle you for money all the time.

Ella took these photos whilst a whole family just came over to me when I was unaware and starting having a photo shoot with me and their child! Captured when I turned around and had no idea what was going on…

You may be thinking “why is Ellie being so dramatic? It’s only a photo.”

Well yes, technically they are only photos. But when you have photos taken constantly without your permission, being filmed slyly whilst just walking down the street and asking them not to film you, whole families bombarding you for a photo with their children??? It’s very weird and very uncomfortable. The odd photo is fine if the person asked or wanted a selfie with us, but I found one trick that worked relatively well – if they ask for a photo ask for one of them in return, they don’t like that so much…I wonder why!? Why wouldn’t you want a stranger taking photos of you without your permission!?

India is a man’s country. And if you go there as a man you may have a completely different experience.

We also got ill in Delhi, Annie got very very ill. The cleanliness and hygiene is definitely not what we’re used to in the UK, or in the Western World in general. Our weak immune systems couldn’t handle it. There are no health and safety regulations to be met, especially regarding food and food preparation, BE CAREFUL with what you have on your plate and where you choose to eat. Hand sanitiser will be your best friend and you probably don’t want to use ANY public toilet you come across.

HOWEVER, I also have some amazing memories of India!

Further North, as we escaped Delhi, we came to Rishikesh at the bottom of the Himalayas. This is one of the most amazing places I’ve been to. Hiking in the Himalayas and rafting down the Ganges are some of my fondest memories of India. The clean air, hippy cafes, yoga classes, nature trails and some of the friendliest people we met made this place my favourite in the North by far. This is the beautiful, serene India that I loved.

Rajasthan was again completely different. Wild cities in the middle of the desert full of palaces sat on lakes and forts clambering up steep mountains. India is such a huge country that each place feels a million miles away from the last. Jaipur – the pink city – was incredibly beautiful and the light in India is something I could never fully take in. It is so breathtaking at golden hour in each place we visited but especially in Rajasthan as pastel tones fill the sky and light up the coloured city.

It is incredibly overcrowded though. There are just so many people everywhere. If you don’t think the Earth has a problem with the growing human population, go to India and you will be instantly proven wrong.

Architecture in India is stunning and I was constantly left in awe whilst visiting ancient forts, temples, and palaces. Even walking down the streets afforded you views like this one below.

Jodphur – the blue city – in Rajasthan was another place, like Rishikesh, that we loved. Completely different to the hills of the Himalayas, Jodphur is another city, but feels a lot smaller than Jaipur. This was one of the last places we visited before heading back to Delhi for our flight out of India and I’m so glad we left it on a good note.

By the time we arrived in Jodphur we were mentally and physically exhausted from the last few weeks but whilst getting lost around the city we stumbled upon a hidden community that restored my faith in the power of human compassion. Kids running through the streets after us, wanting US to take photos of THEM, playing cricket, shouting hello to us from balconies and their families all sat outside houses together in the streets. These children had very little, but they gave so much just by their kindness and their happiness. And this taught me so much, it was what all of us needed! It was something we hadn’t had since being in India, simple human compassion. We ran through the streets laughing with these kids and we could have been anywhere in the world, completely equal – the way it should be.

We are so so privileged in the UK and in the Western World that we have forgotten what it feels like, or have never known what it feels like, to have nothing. I don’t blame the people that we met in India for giving us weird stares and being fascinated by white skin, the history of the country and white people is a sketchy one (especially concerning the British) and where we were travelling and staying, these people hardly see a light skinned complexion walking the streets just outside their houses, so for that I do not hate India or the people of India at all. (DISCLAIMER there are obviously tonnes of lovely friendly Indians who I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting, these feelings are based on the people I did meet and places I did see).

I think India has a massive problem with parts of its social structure. What year are they living in? It feels like they’ve gone back in time. Although issues of sexism, racism and classism are still rife throughout the world, from the various places we visited in India we found them to be more intense, noticeable and as an accepted part of daily life with no resistance.

The majority of those we came into contact with didn’t even seem to realise that it was wrong. This could be due to a lack of education for a lot of impoverished people in India, but I have hope that as the younger generations become the older, education can become more readily available and some old traditions and values (EG the caste system) can be replaced – creating a fairer, more equal and inclusive society.

Everyone is going to have differing opinions of India and experience places and people in different ways. These are only my experiences and I’m only being truthful with how I really felt/feel about this country.

Don’t get me wrong, Delhi, and a lot of India, could be travelled completely differently if you have money to spend. We are young girls travelling on a budget and didn’t stay in the nicest of areas. You could definitely travel with money and stay in some beautiful parts of Delhi and India, possibly without seeing a single sign of poverty. You could travel around by private car and not have to worry about getting night buses or bartering with tuk tuks.

Would I ever go back? Maybe. Maybe not. India is a country so raw that it cannot be taken lightly. It’s distressing and frustrating and scary but also incredibly big and beautiful and wild, and I will always have a fascination with this country – the good and the bad, because as I constantly hear myself saying, they always come hand in hand.

If you’ve ever been I’d love to know your thoughts on India!

Learning everyday,

E

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