For all intensive purposes, our time in India is up. After the Maldives, we’ll pass through on our way to Nepal and then again on our way to Thailand. But even the aggregate of that time will be short and it will be mainly transitory anyhow. With India largely over, the inevitable question is “How would I rate our time here?” To answer that question, I’ll have to look back at the three objectives I had for this portion of the itinerary.
· Introduce Joylani to more of India than Delhi and Rajasthan (which she had already seen)
· Spend time in the regions that I wanted to explore more fully
· Visit and explore a few new places
Goal 1: Unlike some other countries that we’ve visited so far, I’m not writing about whether or not I like India or whether we’ll return. The fact that we’re both visiting for the second time should answer the first question and the fact that we have 10 year visas should answer the second one. Plus, I’m sure my past posts have made it clear that I fell in love with India during the six months that I lived and traveled here three years ago. When Joylani visited me back then, I showed her around Delhi for a week and then we explored Rajasthan together for a week and a half. Delhi and Rajasthan are both interesting places and quite different from one another (urban vs. rural), yet they share many similarities (ethnicity/religious makeup/language/geography/history/etc) and are both what I would call “stereotypical India” (from the western perspective).
But I think the best part of India is its ethno-religious-linguistic-geo-political-historical diversity. And I’d say that Joylani saw way more of India than she even imagined existed before. We started off with three weeks in Ladakh, a historic Buddhist kingdom nestled on the edge of the high-altitude Tibetan plateau, populated by central Asians, practicing Buddhism, and speaking Ladakhi, Hindi, or Urdu. Heading south, we spent some time in the homogenous Hindi-belt, located on the agricultural Indo-Gangetic plateau, named for its Hindi-speaking population, most of which practice Hinduism, and share in the common history of North India from the ancient Harappan (Indus Valley) Civilization through the Moghuls and British Raj. Going down the coast, we hit Goa full of Indo-Portuguese Catholics, speaking Konkan, living on the humid and jungle-covered coast, and were ruled from Lisbon for 400 of the last 450 years. Then we went to Hampi and Bangalore, on the Deccan Plateau, both of which share the Dravidian ethnicity, the Kannada language, are split between Muslim and Hindu, and can claim the rich history of the Hyderabad Sultanate. And now in Kerala, a tropical-coastal state, ethnic roots mixed between Dravidian, European, Arab, SE Asia, and anyone else that’s sailed/traded on the famed Malabar Coast for the past few millennia. They speak Malayalam, have large Hindu, Muslim, and Christian populations, and are governed by communists. And this isn’t even mentioning the smaller regions/communities we’ve passed through or the major regions we’ll be briefly visiting (Tamil Nadu and West Bengal). We’ve gone from mountain desert to tropical beaches, from fields of grains to hills covered in jungle, and tons of Buddhist monasteries, Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, and Christian cathedrals. By the end of India, we’ll have seen the four major cities and a handful of state capitols, as well as have stayed in some tiny and medium-sized villages. We’ve traveled by plane, train, metro, bus, van, jeep, car, auto-rickshaw, and bike-rickshaw. We have seen and done a ton of stuff. Its been fun to hear the things Joylani notices and learns in each new place we go, for its always fun when those closest to us enjoy the things we do. Since Ladakh, I’ve felt like my first objective of showing Joylani more of India has been met. But I knew it was complete when she quoted my dad’s oft-repeated response to people that say they don’t like a particular type of wine (“You mean you just haven’t tried a red wine you like yet”). About two weeks ago, she said to me, “If anyone tells me they don’t like India, I’m just gonna tell them they haven’t been to a part that they like yet.”
Goal 2: When I lived in Delhi three years ago, I only spent extended amounts of time in those regions within a day’s journey of the capitol (Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh). But having traveled all over the subcontinent and having visited most regions at least briefly, I had a couple of regions earmarked for further exploration on this trip- Ladakh and Kerala. During the few days that I had previously spent in both regions, I was both impressed and eager to explore more. On this trip, we spent our first three weeks in Ladakh and our last three in Kerala (which account for about half of our time in India). Both states were awesome and well worth the visit, although I’d have to give Ladakh’s scenery the edge over Kerala’s tropical beaches and plethora of seafood. There remains other regions/states in India that I’ve visited and would like to further explore (mainly Kashmir, Uttaranchal, and West Bengal), but I couldn’t be more pleased with our time in Ladakh and Kerala.
Goal 3: Visiting new places was a mixed bag. For Joylani, everywhere was a new place, but that’s after I screened out a lot of places not worth going. On one hand, I really like Varkala, Bangalore, and the multi-day jeep trips we took from Leh. Hampi and Khajuraho were okay, but I definitely would have skipped Orchha. By the numbers, it appears that this objective was met relatively successfully. But in hindsight, I could have stayed less time in quite a few of these places. But on the other hand, that’s the price of visiting unknown places without any onward travel plans; the price of exploration. Orchha was like the price we paid for enjoying the other new places that we liked. We could have avoided Orchha by not visiting any new places, but then we would have missed out on Bangalore and Varkala. And if I only went to the places I thought I’d like, I would’ve said we shouldn’t go to Bangalore or Hampi (both of which I did like). Plus, we don’t always like the places we think we will (I thought Orchha would be cool). India’s a huge country and there’s still a lot of places that I’d like to visit, but I was happy with seeing the new places that we did. Exploring and visiting new places is always full of surprises and I’d have to say we’ve been fortunate to “discover” more places we liked than didn’t like. Overall, I liked seeing the new places we did.
And so, there you have my evaluation of our time in India. Joylani really got to “know” India, we spent time in and explored what I consider the two coolest parts of India, and we both explored some amazing new places. Two and a half months ago, I was hoping I could say these things when we departed India, and I am. Not just that, but overall it’s been a fun and good time. We’ve seen a ton, talked a lot and learned a lot with and from each other, and it’s also been a good way to kick-off our Asia circuit with a somewhat familiar and English-speaking country. Thus, not only must I rate our time here very highly, but give plenty of thanks for how our time in India has gone.
PS. I should note that I was also going to publish a post on all the things I dislike about India, just to give a balanced picture of the place. But I’ve decided against publishing it, since most of my frustrations/criticisms are consequences of poverty and undereducation. Granted, the undereducated and impoverished make up a majority of the population, but I feel it would be more a critique of the poor/uneducated (littering, constant pushing/shoving, male immaturity, ego/cultural/ethnocentrism, caste/class problems) than a critique of India specifically. Nonetheless, do know that India is a relatively tough place to travel (in many ways) and not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we’ve enjoyed it nonetheless.