17.02.2010 30 °C
When you travel a lot (as I do), almost inevitably, the 1st question people ask is "What is India like". And, usually, I struggle to reply.
So what IS india like?
Just astounding really.
I am sure other people's opinion would vary depending on whether they were male, female, western or eastern.
As a western woman I expected to find a few things different. And they are. You have a separate "ladies" security section at airports and, being light skinned, many of the kids and local ladies just want to touch you, talk to you or take your photo. Some of the men, yes it is true they can be a bit indelicate. But if you can put up with the urinating wheverer and whenever the urge takes them and the startling personal questions "why are you so fat?" you can have a great time. You just have to remember that when they ask something very personal, they do not mean to be rude it is just a different culture.
Some of the men do stare. But then again, I suppose I am staring at them a bit. Just remember ladies, don't make eye contact with male strangers and don't smile at them - it can be considered a come-on!
But if you take the time and make the effort to be friendly and open you will meet some of the warmest nicest people on the planet. Learn a bit of the language as well (even if it is just hello and thank you) it will make a huge difference.
I am also trying to learn a lot about the culture and religion so that I can better understand and not put my foot in it. I have been blessed in more temples than I can recall (and had the red dot on my forhead to prove it). I have the length of red string around my wrist from one of the priests and I would not dream of removing it. I have had henna designs up my arms (that took nearly 6 mths to fade) and have walked barefoot in places I would usually avoid. And it is all to the good. I have found that my open attitude has helped me learn even more and get answers to certain curiosities that I have had (the bindi - is there a "rule" for the size and shape? what is the meaning behind the different colours and shapes of the marks on forheads etc). My friends are all very willing to answer anything like this.
I also have my usual taxi driver. he is a young guy who works very hard as he has to provide for his 3 sisters until he gets them married off. So, he hasn't had a day off in over a year and openly admits to virtually living in his car. Yet he is happy. And it is a delight to see him waving and smiling at the airport. If we have a day trip out at the weekends I always request him as we can slip him a little extra cash and do himn some good. Once he actually said "if Madam has and problems, she calls Roshan and he comes immediately to help". Now what more can you ask?
It wasn't until i started doing this job and going to india, china, brazil, etc etc that I realised what differentiates all of these places more than anything else - the smell. Every country (with one exception - see later) has it's own specific smell. China smells of soy sauce and ginger, UK of chips and petrol fumes, brazil - roasting meat. India smells of dust and spice. The "curry" odours waft on every breeze and will assail your nostrils when you least expect them.
The only disappointing place was Dubai. I was quite excited to visit that city as I had only ever transitted the airport. So when I got the chance of a days guided tour I was really thrilled. Yeah, right. I just don't get why it is such a draw for people. It is sterile, false and uninspiring. A city of "conspicuous consumption". The buildings are put up by people with more money than the rest of us could even dream of and they just want to be seen to be doing it. The more money they spend on grass and flowers and keeping them alive the more important they seem to feel.
But the biggest disappointment was the smell - or lack of it. It is the only place I have visited so far that smells of absolutely nothing. As I said, it is sterile and featureless. yes, I know there are beautiful buildings but they seem to lack a soul. The Burj may be the tallest building in the world but it looks like what it is - a construction designed to be the tallest with no real aesthetic appeal. Now, if you see the petronas towers in KL (especially at night) they are magical and take your breath away. But the burj just didn't do it for me.
Also went to the end of Palm Jumeirrah where the Atlantis hotel is (it's multi million $$ launch heralded the start of the recesssion!). But it is like disney land. All pink and not impressive.
So I am now fiirmly of the belief that Dubai looks better from the air. I preferred Fujairah - much more normal.
Only question now is what to do with my many 000s of Emirates airmiles. Hmmm! I can see the airlines charity benefitting!