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Wandering and Wondering - 1 Month in India & Nepal

INDIA | Thursday, 6 November 2014 | Views [427]

Namaste from Kathmandu, the bustling capital city of Nepal!


I recently said goodbye to Hanga after one month travelling together. We had a really great time and I want to thank her for her awesome company. As a solo traveler at heart, I'm also looking forward to what the future brings me.



In chameleon like fashion, I feel like I have adapted, even embraced and fit in, to the chaotic life in the Indian subcontinent. At least Kathmandu, though a lot like Delhi, has less heat and humidity. As I slither seamlessly in and out of the barely porous traffic and wander aimlessly about exotic streets thriving with small shops and colourfully dressed people, now on my own and without time constraints, my mind is free to ponder, my body free to immerse fully in its surroundings, like an interactive video game come to life.


Being in Kathmandu has reaffirmed my pursuit of the pure raw experience: nothing can reproduce the sensory experience of actually being there. No travel videos, postcards, blogs, nothing. It brings me to the challenge then whether I can effectively translate my experience to my readers, especially after admitting that blogs don't help much. But I digress... I shall do my best!


The sensory experience I will relate to you will not be from my tourist perspective, but through sharing tidbits from my day-to-day experiences of interacting with and observing life and culture in the Indian subcontinent.


First of all, the people are really friendly. I believe it's largely because there are simply so many people everywhere, that they are used to the presence of others and sharing the same space. It's also because they live simple lives rooted in family, religion and in their land, and not in possessions and power.


Their level of intimacy with eachother shows, as men are very touchy with eachother. They are often seen holding hands in the street, or physically resting by leaning on eachother. And, amazingly, in Nepal I've seen women breastfeeding in public. I've seen this happen on a few buses recently. Note that the rides were very bumpy.


In keeping with the theme, Indians and Nepalis are also very hospitable. Fellow travelers I have met profess to knocking on doors, asking for and receiving accommodation and food, getting the local experience (Hanga had a similar positive experience recently where she got lost on arriving in Kathmandu but met a local who she judged to be friendly and ended up staying with his family for one night). Travelers also profess that one can walk into any village, ask to teach English, and they will invite you to stay and teach at their school as long as you want.


Their friendliness, of course, is double edged because the touts and shopowners can be really annoying and deceptive. In India I am constantly pestered for money. Strangely, though, in Nepal for the most part I am left alone. I get very seldom approached for taxis or to buy something, and when it happens it catches my attention, so rare is the occasion.


More often they talk to me because they are curious about me. After all I'm as foreign to them as they are to me. In fact, I appear in their eyes as some sort of new and peculiar species. They ask where I'm from, and I tell them I'm Canadian but I usually need to supplement this information with the fact that I'm originally Chinese, though my parents are born in India... I'm honestly getting sick of this conversation.


Indians or Nepalis generally have a skewed concept of time because they live at a very slow pace. When they tell me it takes 10 minutes by walking to get there, it will almost always take half an hour.


In fact, in the streets, I notice that people on the move do so very slowly. Some carry ridiculously heavy loads on their heads, or strapped to their bicycles. But the majority of people, especially in rural areas, just sit around virtually all day, often gathered in front of shops or anywhere they see fit to sit, and take infinitely small sips on their tea. They appear content doing nothing for hours on end, a mind boggling concept to me and I think to most westerners.


The lack of presence of corporations is also in sharp relief to the western world. The informal and local economy dominates. Instead of big box stores and shopping malls, streets are lined endlessly with stalls the size of walk-in closets, carts on wheels selling sweets or fruits, or blankets with various goods such as clothes and electronics laid out on them. The most common advertising signs on the street are for schools and educational institutions instead of for commercial goods. I've seen American fast food joints only twice my entire trip, in the big capital cities Delhi and Kathmandu.


India is famous for its overcrowded trains, but Nepal may win out on crazy transportation schemes. In Nepalese cities many privately operated microbuses ply the major roads, yelling out destinations to passers-by, then stuffing passengers inside so violently the vans look like clown cars full of tangled limbs. Better yet, the ticket collectors usually hang their bodies outside the van's sliding door as it drives. I use these everyday since they appear more frequently than public buses, and routinely get crammed into them like a sleeping bag in a stuff sack.


Speaking of traffic, if China has the worst drivers, then maybe India and Nepal have the best. Their streets are unbelievably chaotic yet inexplicably work. In fact, I only noticed the other day that I have not seen a single traffic light on my entire trip. A few of the busiest intersections use men with whistles to control traffic, but the vast majority have no traffic controls at all.


I don't even see street signs, and have yet to figure out the addressing system. In fact, Indians and Nepalis haven't figured out their own addressing system either. I've learned that most have never seen a road map to a city. On asking locals for directions, showing them the city map has more often than not befuddled them and hindered the situation. I sat down at a restaurant recently and pulled my map out on the table, as I love to do, and the waiter sat down beside me in awe to stare at the map of his own city. I had to point out where everything


I think in this part of the world, you either know the place or you don't, and if you don't, you can only find a place by sheer luck or by meeting someone who knows. Up to this point I think Hanga and I have gotten by mostly out of sheer luck.


The craziest part of all is that I like the chaos on the streets. I actually think that with the right amount of collective skill and guts of all road users, be it trucks, tuktuks and cars, to bicycles and pedestrians (don't forget cows, dogs and monkeys), the streets actually operate better without traffic lights. Now if only their government had enough money to fix up the pothole-ridden roads, which make Canada's driving experience feel like Mariokart's rainbows in space.


The proliferation of English throughout India and Nepal, even in small cities and in local areas, is a lucky thing for tourists. However, it's also completely senseless at times because of the consistent disregard for correct spelling and decent grammar. Almost every menu in Nepal spells "buff" instead of "beef." A friend of mine contemplated the "craps" on the menu, which I can only assume are crepes.


Above all of my observations on life and culture so far is that while many people are poor and the city appears to be crumbling, people appear to be generally happy. Which makes me happy.


I regularly exchange smiling glances with locals passing by. It makes my day and I hope it makes theirs.


Flickr link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/11monthsandrew/sets/72157649012425135/


This story was copied from my blog website: http://allineedismy2barefeet.blogspot.com/2014/10/wandering-and-wondering-1-month-in.html

Tags: culture, india, nepal, temples, trekking


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