As with any sustained and repetitive activity of reasonable complexity, traveling tends to have its minor annoyances. We prefer to look at these as challenges rather than problems, but they can become irritating, especially when our energy, and therefore tolerance, is low or our frustration level high. One of the biggest challenges with sustained traveling is to not become cynical. It is easy to develop a ‘been there done that’ attitude, and to become critical of things that we don’t have to deal with at home. We try hard not to do this, and instead try to maintain a positive attitude and find the humour in the day-to-day challenges we face. In that spirit, here are some of the things that we deal with on a regular basis in India, many of which we also experienced elsewhere.
- Dirty toilets – We needn’t say more, but we will in a separate blog entry.
- Hard beds — Some beds aren’t much more than mats on a board covered with a sheet. Diane actually said the other day that she thought she was finally getting used to hard beds, but took it back upon waking the following morning.
- Harder pillows – Some pillows are blocks of hard foam or seem to be packed with old rags. We had some pillows last night that felt like they were filled with lead shot. Once molded into position with considerable effort, they would not change shape through any natural motion of the head or neck. Diane got up in the middle of the night to get her fleece jacket to sleep on instead.
- Dirty linens – The sheets have usually been cleaned, but are usually grey and often stained with mysterious shades of various nondescript colours.
- Old beds — We’ve heard about how mattresses and pillows are filled with pounds of dead skin cells and the dust mites who feed off them. We can’t imagine what’s living in some of these mattresses, and have gotten into the habit of not checking what’s under the sheets. So far, no bed bugs though.
- Higher pricing for foreigners – Entrance fees to attractions (museums, forts, palaces, etc.) are typically 10 to 20 times higher for foreigners. We can tell from the guidebook that this has been in place at some sites for years and also that it continues to spread, as many places that didn’t have differential pricing a few years ago do now. That being said, the foreigner price is rarely higher than $5 US.
- Fees for camera use – Most attractions charge a separate fee for the use of a camera, which can be as much or more than an entry ticket. Very few Indian people have cameras, so they don’t pay this fee, but they do have cell phones with cameras in them and with which they take pictures. So, in effect, this fee is primarily an increased charge for tourists.
- Separate Tickets – Many large attractions, like in North America, charge separate fees for various parts of the exhibit, no doubt designed to increase their overall revenue.
- Negotiating – Having to negotiate for nearly everything. Room rates, taxis, auto-rickshaws, souvenirs, and even the price of bottled water (which we need regularly). Vendors almost always try to extract more money than they charge Indian people. In some cases they have no shame in asking many, many times more than the object is worth, trying to ‘anchor’ (as behavioural economists call it) a very high point for the start of negotiations.
- Begging – The constant requests for money from woman, children, the elderly, and the disabled (or combinations thereof) are draining.
- Taxi drivers — who won’t turn on their meters for foreigners, requiring a much higher fare to be negotiated. They sometimes claim that the meter is broken, but often just flatly refuse to use the meter.
- Touts (including rickshaw drivers who act like touts) – Men who make money by getting commissions in return for bringing tourists to shops or hotels. They are often unscrupulous, and will do almost anything to get you to go with them, for example:
o Taking you to a hotel other than the one you’ve asked for
o Stopping the rickshaw mid route and asking you to visit a shop.
o Claiming that the hotel that you’ve requested is closed, full, or otherwise unavailable.
o Telling you that the price at a certain hotel is lower than it is.
o Claiming that they are somehow affiliated with a particular shop or hotel (e.g. I work there, my brother owns it, etc.)
The reason for all these shenanigans is that the commissions paid by some places are quite high relative to the money that can be earned elsewhere or a rickshaw fare. In some places it seems like the rickshaw drivers are working primarily for commissions, and not as a means of public conveyance.
- Shop owners – who constantly ask if we’ll “come see my shop”. We are polite and usually answer “no thank-you”, but it can get a bit tiring to say this twenty times in one a city block.
- Mosquitoes – this one barely belongs on the list because, to be frank, the mosquitoes here are smaller and leave a smaller bite than those in Canada. The difference is that in most warm places they breed all year round, so we deal with them constantly. There is nothing more annoying than trying to sleep when you have mosquitoes buzzing around your ears and you haven’t bothered to put up the mosquito net. The disquieting thing is that the mosquitoes here are entirely more deadly than those at home, as carriers for malaria, dengue fever, Japanese B encephalitis, and other diseases.
- Noise – the noise levels in India are much higher than at home, and in our experience, even much higher than in big North American cities like New York. The noises we find most challenging are:
o Honking – both when walking or on transport. The buses have air horns so loud they almost certainly damage hearing and they blast them almost continuously (alerting pedestrians, scaring livestock, when overtaking, when driving through villages, when a slow vehicle doesn’t give way, when traffic slows or stops, etc.) Motorcycles also seem to beep constantly, partly out of self-preservation.
o Dogs barking – there are feral dogs in a lot of places that like to bark or fight at night, especially in the early morning.
o Loud Music – Many buses play loud music. It is often so loud that local people complain, and it’s never in English. It is usually played a couple of notches higher than the level at which the stereo system is capable of reproducing clear sound, so not only is it loud, but full of static.
o Cell Phones – everyone seems to have a cell phone, but there doesn’t appear to be any etiquette regarding the volume of the ring tones, yelling into your phone to compete with the background noise, or playing music through the phone’s loudspeaker on the bus so that everyone else gets to listen to it.
- Cutting in line – People here often cut in line. It’s understandable that in a land of scarcity with so many people that they would do this. The most frustrating is when people cut in line at the train station ticket window, which is often long slow queue. Another example is at bank machines, which in some places have long lines. What’s surprising is that other people seem to let them do this. When confronted, they usually back down, but then resort to slipperier tactics, like giving their bank card and pin to another person, or having a woman buy their train ticket in the women-only line. Boarding buses and the second class portion of trains is another challenge. There are usually more people than places, and people use various tactics to increase their chances of a seated journey, for example:
o as the train pulls up, jump on board before it stops and push through the line of people waiting to disembark,
o throw some of their belongings through the bus window onto an empty seat, and when all else fails,
o push and shove to get on board first.
We hope that didn’t sound too negative. We take it all with a grain of salt, and these challenges are greatly outweighed by the benefits of traveling. These issues are quickly forgotten when we meet special people, are offered unsolicited assistance from a local person, or witness something amazing. They all contribute to the experience, and in part, help to make it interesting.