Friday, 27 September 2013

Peace and Quiet in the UK (Goodbye India)

Sometimes the best part of travel is the contrast between two different places. In the last week I've been relaxing in the English countryside, after spending a month travelling through India. The contract could scarcely be bigger.

This past week has seen me living with my sister and brother in law on their narrow boat, living the life of a “boatie”, travelling up and down the Kennett and Avon Canal and checking out the local beers and in bunch of local country pubs. Life has been pretty relaxed to say the least.

My home for the last week in England, the "Pirate Princess"

It has been that relaxed, in fact, that anyone paying attention will notice it has been two weeks since my last post. It seems I've fallen into “boatie” time, where things just get done, when they get done. It's been great.

India is anything but relaxing. Everything you do involves a lot of people wanting you to use their services, buy their products or just be part of their life. Try walking down a street trying to find somewhere to eat and you'll have at least one person from each restaurant almost dragging you into their business, stopping just short of kidnapping at times.

Walking through the busy streets at night in Varanasi is sure to get you many new "friends"

Normally it doesn't come to that and is just words. But oh so many words. “Hello my friend, where are you from?”. You'll hear this 20, 30 or 100 times a day. Wow...I've got a lot of friends!

What I found in my five weeks in the country was that Indians will try any form of connection to make you stop and talk to them. From talking about Ricky Ponting (or cricket in general) to the unfortunate rash of violence against Indian students in Melbourne several years ago, there was no line of conversation which didn't eventually turn into an invitation to a shop selling pashminas that their good friend ran and could give me a good deal.

“I don't want a pashmina”

“But it's very cheap”

“I don't care if its free, I don’t want one”

“Just come and have a look”

“Bye now...”

In some cities, there was a theme. In Jaipur, a beautiful city with at least three historic forts, a palace in the middle of a lake and numerous other great attractions the line of choice went as such, “Why don't tourists like to talk to Indians?” The first time I heard the line I explained that as it always turns into business, it can be tiresome talking to every single person who wants to sell you their goods. To his credit he made a case for treating every person you meet and to try not to stereotype people so much. He had a point. After making this point he invited me to join him for some chai at his friend's silver shop, who could also give me a great deal because we were now “good friends”.

Well played sir. Goodbye.

I then proceeded to hear this line three more times in the next hour and countless more times in my three days in town.

Tuk Tuk drivers were among the most persistent of the touts 

At some point I found myself doing anything I could to not engage the touts in conversation. From simply ignoring them, to pretending I don't speak any of the many languages they engage you with, to inventing a new country (Colac) or even answering every possible question with “Hodor!”

If Burmese are thefriendliest people on the planet, Indians are certainly the most persistent. It does, at times, make you feel bad to be shrugging off all of these locals – most of whom are just trying to make an honest buck – but when its all day every day and you only want to talk around and enjoy the city, it can get trying.

While it sounds like I didn't enjoy my time in India, nothing could be further from the truth. I loved the contrasts, the food, the historic sights and the many people I was able to meet who weren't trying to sell me things (and even some of those that were). I met many other travellers who were in India for months on end – far longer than my five weeks. I did really enjoy India, but the hectic pace of day to day life there was certainly beginning to catch up with me, and any more than a month may have been too long for this nomad.

But for now I'm enjoying the quiet life of the canal, sipping a cup of tea and relaxing before I get back on the tourist trail.

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