Ending Our Indian Journey on the Ganges
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
I crossed the street nonchalantly, dodging electric rickshaws, tuk-tuks, and iconic white Tata cars. I sidestepped a sleeping dog, waved to an old man selling Chai at the side of the road, and stopped on the other side, next to a man receiving an outdoor shave with a straight razor. Nothing unusual – nothing strange. Just another day in India’s West Bengal region.
Today is the last day of my river cruise along India’s Ganges River with G Adventures, and it seems inconceivable to know that tomorrow I’ll head back to Kolkata Airport and leave India behind, just at the point I finally feel like I’m beginning to know this strange and wonderful place.
When I arrived here eight days ago, I was intimidated by a world of foreign sights, smells and sounds. In Kolkata, I holed up in my hotel room in, unsure of my own skills. Even as an experienced world traveller, my first hours in India intimidated the hell out of me.
Over the past week, G Adventures hasn’t just shown me India; it’s demystified it. Laid bare is a country that is filled with friendliness and resourcefulness; a country of paradoxical poverty and ingenuity.
The Kingfisher beer I’m drinking as I write this cost me 300 rupees – about $5 USD. It is more than some of the people in the villages we’ve been to make in a week. But there is little resentment and hostility towards us as foreigners. While the older generation may eye us cautiously as we pass by with our iPhones and our cameras, the younger generation is more easygoing. They wave, practice their English, and greet us as friends.
These kids and teenagers are the future of India. They have a monumental challenge ahead of them; despite our positive experiences, India remains a country of crushing poverty, limited education, and a caste system that flourishes in all but the country’s largest cities. Rail and electrical networks are ageing; and pollution of all kinds is so widespread that after eight days here, I’ve accepted garbage, refuse and choking smog as a natural part of life.
But this younger generation has the tools that their parents -and their parent’s parents – did not. Phones, the internet, and better education in cities will mean that India will continue to evolve and change, just as it has for hundreds of years. This change isn’t always easy, or welcome, but Indian history is full of acts of pride and resilience.
Earlier, I used the word ‘paradoxical.’ That’s India in a nutshell. India has tested me more than any other country I’ve been to, but I love it here. And if you haven’t travelled here, you should. India will confound you. It will frustrate and even frighten you. But there’s nothing else like it on Earth.