Once upon a time, not so long ago travel did not mean 12 cities and 3 countries in 8 days. Nor did it mean simply following the tourist pilgrimage routes. It did require a bit more from and of us – but such an adventure it was. It still can be.
Try the various ways of seeing countries. For example, in India hire a boat, with crew and go the coast from Mumbai down to the State of Karala. Beautiful and you’ll be able to stop at places that have no “road” access. The real India. Of course, if all you want are a few pictures – you know: “Me at the Taj”; “Me at Elephant Island”;etc., etc.,ad nauseum. Then this article isn’t for you. Rather like spending your visit to India in the Taj Hotel chain. Nice, comfortable and expensive. Why you wouldn’t even know you were in India – ooops! Thought being there was rather the point. Hmm. I recommend some of the Indian family hotels (if you are willing to bring the needful cooking, etc., read as bed-linens, with you) . Or, if you want to not be bothered with drunks and drugies – try the Moslem Hotels. No foolishness permitted. I can commend the Suba Palace, in Mumbai personally.
However, be prepared that until they know you you will be suspect because you are a Westerner. After they come to know you and that you behave as a civilized human being – all changes.
First thing is to ask, politely, for the Rate Card. This is an official document that lists the rates for rooms. Then ask to be shown a room. Never neglect this step. You will, in all likelihood be shown a room with a poor, if any view. Don’t despair. Look it over, tip the Room Boy ( yes, that is what they call themselves) and allow him to get back to the desk before you do. He’ll tell the clerk how you acted and when you inform the clerk that the room was fine, but, you are a person who likes a view. Perhaps he has something with a view? You see how it will go? Of course you do. Works too.
There are some very nice restaurants in India and a chain of all vegetarian restaurants along the highways. These last are named All Veg and are cleaner than your grandmother’s kitchen and the food is better as well.
Throughout India there are , on the city streets, juice stands. Lovely things. The juice is made at your order and the ice is made from safe water. Enjoy! Nothing can compare with fresh , ripe pineapple juice at the beginning of the day.
Now this will, probably, get me in all sorts of controversy: Be sure, while in India, to try the McDonalds Hamburgers. I know, I know – But! Try them. They are made from lamb and are the best I’ve ever tasted. Wish they had them in USA. I’ve tried Mikkie-D’s throughout the world and only those of India do I recommend.
One of the caveats that cannot be stressed enough is how one dresses. If you wear shorts and if the females wear no head scarf…you will be regarded as a Western Fool and one of no taste, decorum or importance – aside from your money. In India women are expected to be chaste-appearing, unless they are old. If they are past …65, and appear to be, they can “get away” with anything – anything at all. Young women should travel with another person and be aware that local women don’t…not by themselves. Complain and kvetch , all you like. But , don’t forget. Men, are expected to behave as gentlemen and with knowledgeable compassion.
Which brings us to beggars. They are all ‘round, especially the tourist areas. For practice and to acclimatize yourself to the existence of beggers as a cultural unit of importance.: go to the Shrine of Haji Ali while in Mumbai. There you will see and give to many who beg and some who are begging their way to Mecca. Some of these people could buy the airlines that fly to and from Mumbai and Mecca. But they have taken a vow to beg their way and to depend upon the kindness of others and the Love and Mercy of Allah. Part of why beggers have importance is that they offer us a chance to show charity. You know: “As it has been given unto you , so should you give it on”. Like the Masonic Shriners with their buckets at the traffic lights? Many beggers and each a story in themselves. Look, learn and enjoy.
Back to the streets and the beggers thereof. Get some Pase, coins, from the bank or from a merchant. Give, but give these. And , as will happen, you are challenged with : “ This won’t even buy a (fill in the blank, pineapple,etc) .” Smile , but with knowledge and reply: “I have given. Let it be enough that I have given.” And that will end the Western-Fool conclusion. Soon, if you remain in one locale, you will be regarded as ,almost, a local. This will require you to have patience and to wait while Western-Fool-Tourists are charged the “going rate” for that which you may purchase for one quarter the price. You have arrived.
Never think that you are unobserved or that what you do is not discussed. You, as a Westerner, a Faringae, are the subject of interest from the beggars to the police. One of the most foolish and ridiculous things is to hear that such and such a person “cannot be found”. Every few blocks, of every town has an “Uncle”. Not necessarily anyone’s relative, but everyone’s group-leader. Nothing transpires without his O.K. and knowledge. He has obligations to his own “Uncle” , who has obligations to …and on it goes.
These “Uncles” can get and do and refuse almost anything. Lovely fellows to know, and most useful. But whether you ever meet one or just float through without doing so – know that they are there.
If you don’t want a hotel of any sort there are families who take in boardes – be aware that you may enter such an arrangement and never leave their family , no matter how far you travel in India. Family and friends, relatives and known persons – in India there is a network to make anywhere else green with envy. Very nice and quite safe…but after a time it can be limiting.
Should you get to Bangalore try the Tree-Top Hotel Roof-Top Restaurant. The Shrimp Bunna Puri was delightful and the Mangalorian dishes – excellent. However, try the New (quite old actually) Victoria Hotel for a lovely, relaxed , shadow-filled room. Be sure to separately tip the fellow who cleans your bathroom. He is usually ignored and looked down on by the other staff. If you see to him your bath will be immaculate. But, I say again, but be sure to keep the mosquito spray to hand. Quiet little devils and loaded with Malaria.
From Bangalore go a bit east to Mysore. After seeing that “most Indian of city’s” go on further east to Makkera. Up in the Western Ghats. Rather like the USA Appalachian Mountains , but tropical. Lovely. If you are wise you’ll not go in the “June” time of year: weddings and awaiting the Monsoon. While you are there, up the mountains, try to stay at the old coffee plantations. Quite cheap and the smells and sounds of the night and day are beyond description. Food is usually quite good and the coffee? Yes, well. ‘Tis a coffee plantation, eh? If you go on to Mangalore, on the West Coast, be prepared for some of the best food you’ve ever eaten. But – spicy!
Now, just the little bit of India we’ve discussed could be covered in a matter of weeks…but, I suggest months and lots of stop and stay along the way. Walk and see. Lounge around and look into things, people and places. You might just find that India is the place for you. Then again, it might not be. Or , perhaps Northern India? Eastern India? Ha! Travel…”once upon a time …”, perhaps even today? It is up to you.