As I laid in a gurney in Kuala Lumpur Airport’s emergency medical clinic shivering with intense rigors and screaming out in pain as a nurse dishonourably stabbed a needle into my bum cheek, I started to question why I went to India and for the first time in my life, I asked myself if I was getting too old for this shit? I asked myself if backpacking on small amounts of cash to some of the most deprived places in the world is all that it’s cracked up to be? Did it make a difference to the places I was visiting or was it just another passport stamp to me? It was also the first time that I made the realisation that I’m not Superman and that under the right (or wrong) situation, anyone can quickly fall incredibly ill.
All these thoughts ran on repeat as Niki and I were raced across the tarmac in an ambulance heading for some major hospital in KL. Looking back it had been one of those days, in fact it had been one of those months and this is where this blog series starts. I had arrived into India just over three weeks before hand, in what now seems like an eternity ago with such high expectations. To me, India was going to represent a pinnacle of my travels and a place where culture and spirituality cataclysmically collided in a sensory overload.
I held other travellers who had visited India as legendary in my eyes. You know the type: the old school type of travellers who had waist long dreadlocks, should have been born in the 60’s and took everything in their stride. This, along with the enticing heritage link that Niki’s Indian born Grandparents had with the continent, would make for a tantalizing travel adventure.
However as my second day in Mumbai was coming to an end with us bee lining for a hurriedly booked “get me out of here” flight to Delhi and me throwing my money across the counter at an irate Indian hotel manager who had overcharged me for a whole lot of extras I never used, I started to wonder where the India portrayed in old travel literature and coffee table photos books had gone? It was about this time as I jumped in the taxi as fumingly irate as the hotel manager, swearing not to look back at a city that I never saw eye to eye with, that Niki followed after me hurriedly saying “Hold up, you paid the guy in Sri Lankan Rupees”. Whoops!
Mumbai whilst architecturally stunning with The Taj Mahal Hotel and the Gateway to India to mention two particular buildings of interest, the military presence (or at least when I was there), high level of homelessness and nearby slums provided a constant reminder that this not a place to mistake for some idyllic tourist touting city. It was a hard working city in a country that whilst moving progressively forward also has many social and security issues to deal with. The nightlife which I heard great things about, I unfortunately found little of as my hotel had a curfew for security reasons. Which all just added to my sense of uneasiness in Mumbai.
Needless to say I was suffering from culture shock and more so than that, I was shocked at the level of poverty within an urban setting contrasted with extreme wealth. It just didn’t sit well with me and I wasn’t conforming to India’s organizational structure. I was arrogantly rebelling as I tried to hold on to my Westernized way of how things should be done and letting the intense pressure of a large population get to me. Escaping to Delhi, India’s second largest city, for some reason seemed like the best option to me…clearly I didn’t know what I was thinking.
To be continued. This is part one of our India Blog Series.