Diane and Blair sold everything and went traveling. About seven months into their trip they went to India. They planned to stay for months. After three weeks they wanted to leave.
Here is a bit of their story.
How was it that you decided to go to India?
Diane: Basically on the name and the food. Blair had an Indian friend when he was young and ever since then he wanted to go to India.
Where we you before that?
Diane: Cambodia. Thailand. Laos. We are in Australia now.
What did you think India would be like?
Blair: Spiritual friendliness
What did you find in India?
Diane: It is such an old culture, I expected a richness to it. I felt it was the least civilized culture I have been around. They spit on each other. They go to the bathroom in the street. They were rude and hostile.
Explain what you mean by hostility.
Diane: A general feeling of not being welcome there. The men, not all of them of course, will stare at you. Like cold blooded stare at you. If you try to smile, in acknowledgement of looking at each other, they don’t smile. It is one of the creepier things I found about the country. Rape is the fastest rising crime in New Delhi. The men will shake your hand there and not let it go. There were women only cars on the subways. There were signs saying visually depicting that it is inappropriate to grab a woman.
Blair: One of the first questions the first woman we met asked, Diane was, ‘Have you been touched or grabbed yet?’ There are signs in public that explain that it is wrong to grab and grope women.
How long were you there?
Diane: Eight weeks.
And at what point in that eight weeks did you think about leaving for the first time?
Diane: Three weeks into it we were on the computer all night looking for flights.
Why didn’t you leave after three weeks?
Blair: I wanted to see something nice.
Diane: I wanted to see the Tibetan exile community. I didn’t want India to win. I didn’t want to not like. It is the only place I have ever been I didn’t like. I tried to like it. It made me realize that traveling is so much about the people and the interaction you have with the people and they make it, or break it in the case of India. You couldn’t get a straight answer from people. In Cambodia you could have asked anyone for help and they would have done what they could to help you. It was not like that in India.
Blair: There was always a level of business in our conversations. Everyone seemed to have a little hustle.
How is this different from the other countries you were in?
Blair: I wouldn’t say it was 180 degrees different. But I would say it is 140 degrees different. There was no real standard of cleanliness except for in extremely high end places. There is a lot more segregation in India. Men and women are separate and there seems to be hostility between the two. The castes are still there and the largest one is the bottom one and those are the people we mostly interacted with. Most of the marriages are arranged in this caste. They have something called “love marriages” and it is when you marry someone you are in love with.
Diane: In Laos, Cambodia and Thailand we had to hunt people down to pay our bills. It was completely opposite in India. It [money] was the first thing you talked about in India. There is a large deficit of female influence, female presence, female touches throughout the India culture and society. Women do not seem prevalent in life throughout India. The women seem to be repressed by the men. However, the men are not nearly as cleaver as they many think they are. I found the men usually surprised and baffled by my approaching them as an equal.
Did you get the impression of how often ‘love marriages’ happen?
Blair: There was an article in the paper that they [love marriages] were on the rise. It was newsworthy.
Is there any chance this experience was exacerbated because you were in the tourist places?
Diane: Yes. People said if you went to the south or in the country it would be different. I think if you sought out people yourself or were doing some sort of homestay you would get a much more authentic experience. We heard the mentality is that they are never going to see you again and they want to take you for all you are worth. Sometimes that is only for $2, but the principal gets exhausting.
Is there something you could have done better in the planning to have had a better time?
Diane: Yes, very much so. India is a place that takes a lot of research and planning. We met a happy couple who was there for 2 weeks had the whole thing planned, transportation already bought for all legs and were having a great time. We did not have plans so we were lead around more so and it was not really to our advantage in the end.
So people shit in the streets?
Blair: People shit everywhere. There is cow shit everywhere too. It smells like urine and curry.
The countries you went to prior to this are not wealthy countries either. What is the difference? Why aren’t people shitting on the streets in Cambodia?
Blair: I think the difference is respect. There does not seem to be respect for the land or other people. It might be a product of the caste system. People seem to be low and stay low. It seemed like they did not think they were worth a lot. They did not seem to have a lot of hope. Even the bus system [in India] reflects the caste system. There is the low level bus and the next [levels] up, but you never see people from the lower class in the more expensive buses.
What is the difference? Why is it that India is like this?
Blair: Over population. Segregation.
Diane: Restrictions on love and freedom. There are a lot of expectations on what you are supposed to do. Your family decides what your life should be. There is not a lot of free will. The expectations are low. They do not expect anything of each other or of themselves. Everybody litters. It was a frightening glimpse into what overpopulation could do to humans and human interaction.
Blair: They seemed defeated.
Diane: We went to Varanasi. It is the most holy Hindi city. The river was flowing with fecal matter and dead bodies.
What was the final trigger that made you leave?
Diane: We knew we would want to leave after we saw the Tibetan exile area. We wanted to leave on a high note. I was so tired of not making eye contact and being someone I did not want to be. I was rude. It was a survival thing. It was constant bombardment of people. When we said no they would just keep going with, ‘Can I? Can I? Can I?’ I would turn around and ask them to give me money.
People were very charming when we were giving them money but then they would usually try to up the price by the end of the transaction. I am sure if you went to India on a 5 Star budget you would have a completely different experience. But no matter what hotel you are staying at once you hit the streets you are going to have some kind of glimpse into what we are talking about.
Where did you go?
Diane: New Delhi for 2 weeks which was too long. I think most people would agree. Then to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is. Trying to travel on your own without going to the travel agent is so confusing. People should pay the fees and go through a travel agent. The Taj Mahal is very beautiful, but Agra is not. Then we went to Varanasi. We did see Heidi Klum and Seal there. Then to McLeod Ganj. Then back to Delhi to Melbourne. The Dalai Lama was in McLeod Ganj when we were there. We met the five high Lamas — which was very cool.
What was the vibe in the Tibetan exile area?
Diane: There was a day where two Tibetan boys set themselves on fire to protest the Chinese and there was a candlelit service throughout the town protesting the Chinese. The message of the leader was, ‘We have the world’s sympathy. We don’t need sympathy. We need people to stand up to the Chinese.’ His point was that everyone is scared of China.
What were the good experiences you had there?
Blair: The food was good. Yellow Dal was my favorite. It was like lentil soup with curry.
Diane: The food was good. It is a place of high, highs and low, lows. We got swept up in a Krishna festival. It was very festive. It was probably our best interaction with people.
Blair: We were there on a big anti-corruption rally. There was a huge protest. There were 1000’s of people. This 80 year old guy went on a 14 day hunger strike against the government. We got these little hats. Once we wore them people treated us differently. Everyone was in a uniform. We had our uniform. We were on the same team for a bit.
Diane: We were walking around this corruption rally and people were asking us if they could take our pictures. They were telling us about how the government was stealing their money. We were all talking like we were all human. As we were leaving, Blair realized he had been pick pocketed. We got money stolen from us as we were talking to everyone about corruption and greed. Honestly, it was easier for them to take the $100 out of our pockets than it was for them to ask us for it all day long every day.
Do you have any advice for people who are going to be going to India?
Blair: Maybe go somewhere else.
Diane: Spend more money. Definitely educate yourself. Seek people out to learn more about the culture and the people. You are not a victim, but you are a target. As we started to dress more locally the bullseye on us got a little smaller. It is a hard place to travel because it is so big and travel is so slow. I would say pick a few places and go and stay there. The longer you stay there the locals running the streets get to know you and I think they will start to ignore you. And definitely go to the mountains.
Blair: Be skeptical of every interaction. Triple check. You need to ask the price three times.
During your travels, what has been the impression of the US?
Diane: They all like Obama.
What about the misconceptions of the US throughout the world?
Blair: They think we are all rich.
Diane: There was not any hostility towards us.
You have been traveling for 9.5 months. Have you had anything stolen from you?
Blair: An iPod and then when we were pick pocketed.
Any situations where you felt unsafe?
Diane: Only in New Delhi. It was nothing concrete, just the vibe.
Did you talk to other people before you went there?
Diane: Yeah. It got a lot of bad reviews but I thought, ‘Eh, I will go see for myself.’
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Blair: The food was good.
Diane: The food was amazing. If someone told me they were going to India I guess my question would be why. We talked to some people who loved it. But what I noticed about the people who loved it is they were younger guys who were traveling alone and I do not know if it was true or not but I did not get the impression that they had not been to a lot of other places. I think once you travel to more countries and you see the ingenuity cultures bring to problems it becomes harder to digest the lack of that in India. The problems were thicker than I ever felt. I think you could have a great time in India. This was just our experience.