We've come to experience poverty in quite a few different places now. Each time I come across it again it's in a different context a different light. I knew India was a desparately poor country, part of the appeal and worry of coming here was just that. So I felt prepared, in as much as you could be prepared, of course its never quite how you imagine.
We'd heard actual horror stories form other travelers about their times in India. Not exactly painting it in the best light. Thank goodness they were all full of hot air. I'd prepared myself for the absolute worse and it is nothing near as bad as all that.
Mumbai, our first port of call, was slightly dissapointing but purely in a tourist way. We found getting around to the 'places of interest' quite hard. Probabaly got a lot to do with the fact that we booked a hotel miles away form anything whatsoever of interest. After our rally style taxi ride to the hotel, we realised this fact and decided a simple train ride would be absolutely fine and dandy. It was neither fine nor dandy. Mumbai trains are so scary. We nearly didn't get as far as buying a ticket as we both whimped out and hadn't eaten anything that morning so were feeling less than adventurous. Luckily I spotted an office with man sat at a desk doing nothing and decided that he would help me. He did and after less trouble than intially expected we got the ticket. Forgot to ask which platform though, not clever. After asking a few people, two of which I thought were having us on, we arrived on the platform just as the train pulled in. And we watched it pull out again. Turns out its separate carriages for girlies and boys and we were unprepared. Dave had the tickets and I had the paper with the name of the stops on it. So we re-organised our stratedgy and awaited the next one. Sorted. We both managed to get off at the same stop, the right stop even.Phew only three more changes to go.......
The scariest thing was that the train didn't so much stop, as pause briefly on its way through. When theres a few hundred people trying to get on and off at the same time its manic. The men literaly pushed, shoved and pulled their way onto the train. I have never seen anything like it. Well it kind of reminded me of a roit at a football match, but never been part of anything like it.
We finally made it. but it was pretty scary. The stations in between changes were packed and there was no way of knowing which platform without asking. Needless to say we got a taxi back!!!!
That was probably the most interesting thing we did in Mumbai. But it was such an exciting experience in itself, on of my favourites of the trip in fact!
Then there was Goa. Beautiful, but a holiday inside a holiday all the same. Its what I imagine some resot type places in Spain to be like. Full of Germans, restaurants serving anything but local food, bars, clubs and sun longers with a massage. We avoided most of it and found what little culture there was. It was an absolutely fantastic week
Next we headed to Kolkata (Calcutta). A place famous for its poverty. Mother Theresa, selflessly devoted her life to providing dignitiy to those in need in their last hours. I knew it would be pretty bad. But as I walk round the streets, I see the people lying on the pavements, their make shift beds set up. Children run around with no clothes on, running through goodness knows what. I am constantly aware of the beggers, they know where the toursits are. They know that if they carry a baby and an empty, dirty baby bottle that they're more likely to get some money. It breaks my heart to say it but it doesn't make me feel so bad. It makes me feel slightly annoyed and threatened. I've seen whole familes happily living in one room sheds in the middle of Laos, or whole villages with nothing but still living independantly in Vietnam. Why do those cultures carry on with pride to try and make it work, but these people just sleep in the middle of the pavemnet?
I'm sure I sound awful and heartless. I assure you I'm not. I know that cicumstances are different. I know that people leave the country side for the city in the hope of a better life and never find it. I know it is a real, sad problem and I think that is what makes be annoyed. Not the people themsleves but the situation itself.
India has a very strong identity and culture. Part of that culture is for the men and women to live very separately until they are married. Women are not to dress in a manor that shows the contours of the body in any way. Men must not be tempted. Unfortunatley with taboos, comes very dark and horrid consequences. Young girls are often taken from their villages in the countryside, against their will, to live and work as prostitues. Many women spend their entire lives in these houses and never see their families again. They are treated horrificaly by the men that use them.
I am not condoning for one second the sex controlled society that we live in. A bit of restraint and self respect could go a long way. But the other extreme holds its evils to. This is the side of India that I cannot cope with. Men brush past me in the street, just to 'çop a feel'. It makes me sick. I was told before coming to India that I should respect the culture and cover up. When I got here I realised I needed to cover up. Not to prevent offending anyone but to protect myself.
The poverty is different to everything we've seen. In some respect its more similar to England in that its highlighted, existing parralel to the wealthier. But for a country with so much pride in keeping face and holding respect, they have very little respect for their country and for their fellow human beings.
The adventure continues however and I continue to be amazed everyday. My remaining experiences may change my feelings, I'll just have to excited;y wait and see.......
Once again, please take everything I have to say with an extremely large pinch of salt. I only know what I have witnessed, not the country as a whole. I realise not all people can be painted with the same brush. I also speak from my emotions, utterly my own opinion.