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Published: June 26th 2012
India is a place where everything exists at the same time, even the most opposite extremes can be found side by side. For example, you can find villages or people still living like in the stone age while others are pushing the frontiers of technology, and everything else in between. Colaba is an area in Mumbai where the most expensive real estate in the world is found but 18 km up the road is Dharavi, the biggest slum in the world. Walking down any street in Mumbai, you’ll find this kind of contrast side by side. A super modern building can be next door to rubble, and an ultra slick Nike store can be right beside a shanty shack. Staying alert at all times is crucial when walking down any street as well-paved sections are interspersed with broken pavement, holes, piles of garbage, rubble, open sewage, cows, a whole family of beggars, abandoned carts, and anything else you can imagine. I had to watch every step or else I’d find my foot in something undesirable or find myself tripping. The really beautiful and the really ugly, the most wonderful and the most horrifying, and any other opposite adjectives you can come up with, were all juxtaposed and thrown at me from every which way, while I stopped and ran, stopped and ran (stopping at obstacles and running from traffic about to run me down). It was a continuous overstimulation of the senses. And not just when walking around. It happens when you’re tasting food, interacting with locals, trying to do anything at all. Any day I had to go out, I would come back exhausted, mentally, physically, and most of all, emotionally.
In terms of social and ethical extremes, people would be exceedingly religious--or superstitious is more like it--adhering obstinately to rituals and traditions, and uncompromisingly to their beliefs and social/ethical behaviour, while the complete opposite ritual, tradition, ethical behaviour can exist at the same time with nobody batting an eye. For example, a certain level of conservative behaviour and dress code is expected in public while Bollywood glamourizes a totally different level of behaviour and dress code. Homosexuality is strictly forbidden and nobody will even discuss the topic but the biggest transgender festival in the world takes place in India every year (Koovagam, Tamil Nadu) where mass orgies transpire among the 25,000 to 30,000 attendees. I remember reading the newspaper and learning about the most horrendous atrocities beyond anything imaginable, and then about the most wonderful stories of human love and kindness. I came across the wisest and most stupid things I’ve ever heard in life, the strangest and the most bizarre, and basically whatever the human race could possibly come up with. It’s a country where anything goes and nothing goes, where the strictest social rules are upheld amidst an environment of utter chaos. I can go on but I’ll never be able to describe even a smidgen of what goes on in that country.
I’m digressing again but the other thing that boggled me was the disparate spread of cultural development in India. In most societies that have existed for so long, people would exist on the same level of development, but in India, there would be people living in primitive states while others lived in highly developed states. I’m not talking about poverty versus wealth. I’m talking about cultural development. Would it be because segregation and exclusivity were quite pervasive throughout Indian history? How does one explain such phenomenon? The fact that tribals in India have been excluded from society all throughout history is very telling.
In summary, I went to Mumbai and areas around there, Goa, Kerala, Delhi, Saharanpur, Joshimath, and I passed through Gorakhpur and Rishikesh. I did not like it anywhere except for Kerala. Everything in the north was such a pain in the butt, especially Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Bear in mind, though, that my main focus of visiting any country is to learn about the people, to mix in with locals, and to see what life is like for people who live there. I have yet to visit Tamil Nadu, West Bengal (Kolkata), Andra Pradesh, Ladakh and Assam. I’m not interested in any other areas in India because when I think of all the crap I have to put up with to be there, it’s just not worth it. Admittedly, if I were 20 years younger, I wouldn’t feel this way. Unfortunately for me, the decrease in tolerance is directly related to the increase in age. So my final advice for backpackers is, visit India while you’re still young.
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