Finishing a tour prematurely has an element of ego crushing to it. It’s never happened to me before, in all of my excursions, and I’ve always considered myself someone that can endure the most grotesque of surroundings. But with India, I’ve had to admit defeat.
The tour had an auspicious start. I made a friend the instant I left the airport, she showed me Bombay, we had beer during the day, laughed constantly and enjoyed one another’s company. She then went on to travel with me for 3 weeks, where we then became more involved and eventually fell for each other completely.
We toured South India together, a beautiful, welcoming region with much to see and do. We rarely encountered troubles, met some incredible people and had some of the best 3 weeks of consciousness in my 25 years on Earth. I’ve never been as happy.
Things took a turn for the worst when Meetali left. My health deteriorated, everything seemed more irritating, and people got nastier. It’s as if she placed a curse on me when we departed ways. The climate inflamed my skin to such a degree that I couldn’t focus on anything else. Endless heat rashes and bites from 10 different species of insect infected my body and prevented me from enjoying the present moment in any way. I had to stop everything I was doing just to attend to the irritation.
I became ill in Mumbai after visiting Meetali and attending a wedding. I was due to leave for Gujurat, but ended up in another hospital bed after throwing up all over the roads and having my stomach weaken me to a state of paralysis. For days I was instructed not to leave Meetali’s flat or eat food outside.
The final straw came just under a fortnight after this, when I headed to Uttarakhand from Delhi. I’d obviously digested something dodgy in the capital, as I was now awake all night due to my bowels, running to the toilet every hour, unable to sleep. This new illness also left me so weak I couldn’t even talk on the phone properly. Once again, instead of enjoying India, I was glued to a hotel bed. I’d decided enough was enough, and I couldn’t go on travelling if I couldn’t physically travel.
A total disregard for hygiene and the disgraceful sanitation levels across India are what often lead to illnesses such as these. Every single travel writer has used the same annoying words, that India is an ‘assault on the senses’. ‘Assault’ is too weak a word to describe it, and in India it’s more of a gang rape on the senses. If you’re in any Indian town and you don’t know where the train station is, just follow the scent. You’ll arrive to a glorious shitfest with men, women and children defecating all over the rails and pissing on the platform. This despite the railway station providing toilets for people to use free of charge. Poverty isn’t to blame, but cultural habits. Many African countries are just as poor but don’t have the constant stink of faeces lingering in the air wherever you go. People expulsing excrement out in the open pollute their surroundings despite having access to a toilet.
And if you enjoy migraines, you’ll love India. The moment you step out onto any street you’ll be greeted by incessant honking and blaring traffic. Indian drivers believe more honking will actually make any car in front of them magically disappear. A few minutes on the roads in this country and you’ll be questioning the sanity of the human race.
I travelled with a couple for a few days in Uttar Pradesh, from the US and Czech Republic. They’d been travelling together for 13 months, around Australia and over South East Asia. In those 13 months both of them had not once been sick. Yet, after just a few days travelling in India, they were frozen on their beds after catching a debilitating illness, which led to a lot of vomiting. After 8 months in Africa, and 12 different countries, I never became as ill as I did in India. I never saw as much open defecation and such a high tolerance for filth.
I decided I’d had enough and would come home before I caught something fatal or just completely lose my mind. The last straw came in Uttarakhand where I went out to buy medication and within minutes developed a headache from the pointless beeping of cars. I’d walk through the street with one hand on my stomach, the other hand on my head, dodging cow and human shit in the roads and grizzly Indian men loudly and vulgarly spitting at my toes.
In fairness, India does have its wonders, and with some patience a traveller can be overwhelmed with a sense of awe at the majesty of some of India’s sights. The glorious Taj Mahal, despite seeing it a thousand times in pictures I was still taken back by it. The backwaters of Kerala, the beaches of Goa, the hills of Munnar, the spiritual excess of Varanasi; all of these are worth seeing, and I’m still happy I came on this trip and explored the areas I did. And to be fair, most of the problems I faced with people, health and lack of hygiene came from the north (Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal), and not the southern regions, so bear this in mind also.
What keeps me travelling isn’t happiness, or confusion, or trying to escape from something. It’s curiosity. I’m genuinely curious what it’s like on the ground in all countries around the world, from Ethiopia to Turkmenistan. This curiosity will keep me travelling in the future, even at the sacrifice of happiness, and even if I expect to get annoyed by it. Places like India may be uncomfortable and down right difficult on the gut, but one can’t deny how fascinating and beautiful this country is.
My problem is I love my home comforts. I enjoy my Grande Starbucks Latte, my fast and reliable Wi-Fi, my swanky Central London bars and nice restaurants. The issue is my curiosity only just outweighs my need for comfort, and it’s that which keeps me backpacking to places like India and Sudan.
It’s only when one goes abroad to foreign lands and realises the extent to how backwards some countries are does one appreciate one’s homeland. India is a magical place, and it hosts some of the finest scenery I’ve seen in my time. But little differences show the traveller that things just aren’t right in this place; like women having their own carriages on trains, sending the message that Indian men just cannot be trusted. Or Indian cinemas cutting out naughty swear words, showing Indian citizens that they will be treated like infantile babies instead of mature adults that can think for themselves. Or women getting hidden away whilst they get frisked and searched before entering a shopping mall; because the sight of a woman being touched would send any Indian man into a sexual frenzy, according to the people who make these rules. Third world governments have a tendency to distrust their citizens, and patronisingly restrict them from many things we take for granted here in the UK.
For instance, on my flight home I flew with Saudi Airlines, and every movie I watched blurred out the legs of every woman on screen, even if no flesh was showing and they were wearing unprovocative clothing. The very idea that the Saudi Arabian government have resources and people working tirelessly to cover up the legs of women in films shows that they have an issue in getting their priorities right. Again, a backwards government with a mismanagement of priorities will produce backwards thinking citizens.
As much as I’ve enjoyed travelling these previous years and writing to you all, it’s time to slow down a bit and hang up the backpack. I doubt I’ll do another big trip within the next 4-5 years, as I’ve done more than many people in the world would do in a lifetime, so it’s time to be less greedy.
I already have an idea for my next tour, despite how far away it is. South America has been a continent I haven’t explored at all, so here is a place I’m happy to sink my boots into and get to know much better. My rough plan would be to start in Patagonia, right at the bottom of the continent, move on up to the top, onwards through Central America and Mexico, right through to New York City. This will be a crazy adventure, and one that may take up to a year to complete. But this is another 5 years away, and in the meantime little trips here and there for a few weeks at a time will be enough for me. My next destination will either be Vietnam or Bolivia for a few weeks, but I doubt I’ll blog if it’s only a fortnight of travel.
Thank you all for reading, and being a part of this. It’s a joy knowing other people wish to share these experiences with me, even if it’s vicariously behind the glare of a screen. Don’t let me put you off visiting India, as it is a huge country and some areas are definitely worth visiting, and you won’t face much trouble if you go to the right places. I look forward to further adventures, but in the meantime I’m perfectly content with my overpriced lattes and spoilt western existence. Happy travelling!