Monday March 31, 2015

We’re home now, settling back into normality (whatever that’s supposed to be). Hard to believe that, just seven days ago, we were still in India. Hard to believe that we did all that we did, saw all that we saw, experienced all that we experienced. And hard to know how to answer the question we’ve been asked by friends as we’ve caught up: “So what do you make of India?”

The truth is, of course, we were only in the country for three short weeks – barely enough time to do more than just scratch the surface. But, for what it’s worth, here’s how Robyn and I might sum-up India in a word:


  • The crowds were overwhelming … wall-to-wall people in city after city, even the smallest of which seemed to boast populations in the mind-bending millions.
  • The traffic was overwhelming … a horn-tooting outpouring of cars, taxis, packed-to-the-roofline buses, gaudily-painted trucks, motorscooters-made-for-four, clapped-out pushbikes, ancient wooden carts powered by tired bony men, and swarms of colourful buzzing tuk-tuks (just hop aboard and hold on to your hat!) … all going in all directions at once, whilst somehow dodging sacred cows (that have the right-of-way) and ducking/diving pedestrians (that don’t).
  • The rubbish was overwhelming, especially in the north … untidy piles of garbage spread along a thousand roadsides … gazillions of discarded plastic bags clinging to fences, hedges and trees … landscapes littered with half-built structures and the kind of debris you get after an earthquake.
  • The poverty was overwhelming (although we were spared the worst) … slum-like shantytowns right next-door to posh hotels, families in rags living under bits of cardboard, rusty iron sheets, and tangled electric wiring that doubled as clotheslines … and equally overwhelming: the satellite dishes sprouting from the most unlikely looking roofs!
  • The hawkers were overwhelming … like flies around meat at every touristy site … and even harder to handle: the beggars, especially those with bent bodies, absent limbs or limp babies (although we didn’t see many beggars, to be honest).
  • The heat was overwhelming, especially in the tropical south … energy-sapping temperatures plus sky-high humidity that caused Kiwis who never normally perspire to leak like sieves.

A rather unattractive report so far – right? Makes you wonder why anyone would choose to go there – right?

But here’s what’s weird: despite this depressing list (and we could add to it, I’m sure) … INDIA IS STILL MASSIVELY ATTRACTIVE … and there’s an even longer list of MUCH MORE POSITIVE OVERWHELMINGS!

  • The history, culture and religious mix is overwhelming … Rajputs, Moguls, Maharajahs, Emperors, Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, Jaines, Jews, Christians, high-caste, low-caste, and who-knows-what … a wonderful melting pot (once a British colony) where people who seem to believe bits of everything (one god or a million different gods, take your pick) manage somehow to get along.
  • The grandeur, wealth and opulence is overwhelming … palaces rising like a mirage from glassy lakes, forts and towers and ramparts on a scale that blows your mind, mausoleums and memorials to rival anything anywhere, and overwhelmingest-of-all: the Taj Mahal.
  • The food is overwhelming … tasty, flavourful, spicy … colourful and interesting (not remotely bland) … as-hot-as-you-want (and even hotter) … with plenty of European options for those who hate curry.
  • The scenery is overwhelming … where wheat-fields meet distant horizons in Rajasthan’s north, where green tea and spice-groves carpet southern hills, where food crops and rice paddies cover central plains, where gently-flowing backwaters criss-cross swampy land with palm-fringed canals, and where frothy surf from the Arabian Sea washes white sandy beaches.
  • The wildlife is overwhelming … the giant, intelligent elephants that let us eyeball them, touch them, sit on them, ride them … and the huge, elusive, gorgeously-striped tiger that chose the right moment to saunter past our open-topped jeep, leaving us silent and gob-smacked.
  • The people are overwhelming … their smiles are overwhelming … their welcomes are overwhelming … and The Best Exotic Marigold Garlands that beautiful young girls kept draping around our necks were overwhelming. The staff we met at every turn (on the train, in hotels, our tour guides, bus drivers, you-name-it) were open, helpful and warm-hearted – and the Indian shopkeepers, stall-owners and strangers we met on the streets were as interesting and interested as people anywhere. Especially when they knew we were Kiwis … who were willing to talk about cricket!

INDIA OVERWHELMS YOU, pummels you, and leaves you reeling. You want more, but you’re not sure how more you can take. You reach the point where you wish a referee would call time-out – and that’s where those final two-and-a-half days in that peaceful Ayurveda resort provided such a good ending for us.

Our Mad Midlife group coped remarkably well. A few rumbly tummies, an occasional bad hair day, but no raging Delhi Belly – in fact none of the dreaded complaints that make people reluctant to risk travelling to India.

Would we go back? For most of us, probably not – but not because we didn’t like it. There are some places you only have time to see once in your life. (Although a British couple we talked with had holidayed there 45 times!) But we’re SO GLAD we went. And we wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

We’ve seen things most Kiwis never see (except on TV) and encountered things we’ll never forget. And we’ve made friends with some truly lovely Indians – gracious, courteous, talented, funny, rightfully proud of their fascinating country, and ever so nice.

So thank you India … from all of us!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

PS: Enjoy these final random photos – snapped by myself and my best friend/wife/photographic assistant. Thanks Rob …