I recently visited India and it was a very eye-opening experience.
The parts of the country I visited were Bangalore, Mumbai and Mysore. In the cities the driving is insane. Normally what would be a 2-lane road becomes a 5-lane road during heavy traffic. People cram into every small space that’s available and you have to be super aggressive. The vehicles on the road are mostly scooters/motorbikes and autorickshaws. The autorickshaws are basically a motorbike with 3 wheels, a back seat for 2, and a roof. The pollution in the cities is very bad. You can see the smog everywhere around you since there are so many vehicles.
There were, of course, a vast number of poor people, by western standards. I saw people bathing and washing their clothes in river water that is dark brown with pollution. However, even though someone relatively well off may make the equivalent of $100 a month, which a lot of people quote to prove how poor these peope are, these people seemed to have what they needed. I’m not talking about the really poor people, rather someone with a decent low-paying job. Someone like this has a place to live, a scooter, food for their family, the hopes of their children going to University, etc. They may not have the latest plasma flat-screen TV or the latest video game console. The point is that they live. We’ve gotten so rich in the west that we think anyone who doesn’t have all our comforts is poor beyond belief.
Also very depressing was visiting their museums. In the “museum” section the palaces I visited it was sad to see that almost all the items being shown were represented by pictures. The actual items are in England. While showing ornate swords, for example, there would be pictures of the ones made of gold and silver, but the other metals were left – because they weren’t worth much. But I still had a great time visiting the palaces and temples. I visited a fairly new Hindu temple that was really interesting. I visited the palace of the last big emperor of the region before the British came. We also had to take our shoes off in most places, which I’m definitely not used to.
It’s also sad to see the amount of influence the British invaders had on the Indian culture. Suddenly the British were revered (by some, mostly the upper classes) as being better than any of the natives. Why is it that it’s the cultures of militarism and materialism that get spread around the world? Why can’t something like the belief in love, kindness and friendship preached by somehting like Buddhism be spread around the world for once?
Having said that, there were lots of things I liked about the country. I liked the simpler lifestyle. I liked the fact that the media hasn’t (yet) commericialized everything. I like the fact that they’re not violent. There is definitely petty crime, but I was told the occurence of violent crime is much lower than the US. I like the feeling of independence from the “west.” They’re aware of what’s going on in the rest of the world but don’t need care a whole lot, which is a big contrast against smaller countries. It’s kind of like the attitude the US has towards the rest of the world, just in reverse.
One of the strangest experiences for me was having a driver. He stayed with me all day, and only ever went home when I’d go back to the hotel at night. He was a great guy and helped me out in lots of ways. It just made me feel kind of strange.
Anyways, it was a great experience and I definitely recommend it.