Q & A
A collection of information about travelling in India.
Our packs are pretty good. Everything we brought with us has been useful, we don’t seem to be lacking anything essential and nothing seems superfluous. Things like our silk sleeping sacks have been essential because the sheets at the hotels (when there are sheets) are generally dirty and always stained. Most hotels only offer a brown mattress with a thin sheet over top.
The carbon water filter we brought with us we use on a daily basis (we drink about three liters of water a day between the two of us) and we haven’t gotten sick from the water so it’s working really well. Most travellers here have to buy bottled water and because there is no centralized garbage disposal they end up having to throw the bottles on the ground, not to mention there’s a risk that the water is really just tap water that has been re-packaged and re-sealed in someone’s hut. You can see these entreprenerial water re-packagers (or the small children they hire) collecting used plastic water bottles at train stations and carting them off for re-use.
Staring and photography:
We get stares almost everywhere we go but surprisingly not because of my digital SLR camera; simply because of my skin tone, Nat’s hair and our apparently hilarious clothes. Most travellers here have cameras that are comparable or bigger and more expensive than mine, so I don’t feel self-conscious at all about taking pictures, except when photographing people.
The Leatherman multi-tool I brought with me we’ve used a few times and it always comes in handy when we do need it. The one time I was afraid it would be taken away was when we went in to the Delhi subway system. This subway is beautiful; better, newer and cleaner than any subway system either of us have ever been on. Because of such an obviously expensive public transit system, the government is rightly afraid of bombings and therefore, police are set up at every entrance to the subway. Everyone is frisked and if you have a bag it has to go through an x-ray machine like at the airports. We didn’t know this when arriving is Delhi and I’d forgotten I had the multi-tool when we used the subway, so after putting my bag through the x-ray I was surprised when the police asked me to please show them the knife I was carrying. When I finally understood what they were talking about I pulled out the multi-tool and, with a big smile, showed them only the pliers and wire stripper. They looked at me like I was an alien and then decided that the crazy white girl with the weird tool didn’t really pose a threat to their subway system and let me pass without confiscating my Leatherman.
The Ganges is really dirty in the south (like in Varanasi). We read that 5% of the pollution comes from direct use (such as the burning of bodies and people bathing and washing their clothes) but that 95% is from human waste. Most of India has open sewers and whenever it rains all this waste gets washed right into the river, along with plastic and a variety of other garbage. Also, there are no sewage treatment plants anywhere along the Ganges.
After Darjeeling, we are planning on heading to the northeast states which are less explored by tourists (partly because some of the permits are hard to obtain for these border areas) and we probably won’t be going to the south of India. From what we understand, the south is pretty much the same in terms of pollution and population density, but does have the benefit of less hassle.
We have been a little unimpressed by the north Indian cuisine. Everything is made with copious amounts of ghee (clarified butter) or oil which makes the food really rich to eat three times a day. There is also lots of starch in the diet; chapati, rice and potatoes are major staples. We have been forced into vegetarianism because the quality of the meat and the state of the animals is not great. Also, just because the menu says chicken doesn’t mean that you won’t get pigeon or crow, and in the mountains “chicken” really means liver, cartilage, connective tissues, heart, kidney and a variety of other off cuts. So… we are looking forward to the southeast Asian food when we get to Thailand. I think I’ve lost about 15 pounds but – because of the richness of Indian food – I’ve mostly lost weight from being sick and having no appetite. Nat has been losing weight too. Even though he usually eats well, he has also been sick at times because of lack of sanitation.
Hindi has been a little hard to learn because there are so many different languages from one area to another. Where we are now, the main languages are Nepali, Tibetan, English and Hindi, in that order. Where we’re going for the rest of our time in India, Hindi won’t really be spoken at all, we will mostly hear Bengali, Assamese and a variety of tribal languages.