Impressions From My First Trip to India

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Floating Down the Ganges River, Varanasi, India

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A country that I never thought I would visit was India. Being a former British colony like my own nation, New Zealand, there were tentative links between the two countries, such as our mutual interests in such sports as cricket, but India isn’t on everyone’s “to do” list.

But India is such a vast and “exotic” nation the prospect of journeying to this ancient land was daunting indeed. But off we went one day full of excitement and intrepidation.

Happily, the border procedure was very quick and simple and soon we made contact with our driver. Being realistic for my age, there were a couple of changes from the normal travel routine I take when travelling to India. Public transport was out – first time ever – we took a driver everywhere just for the sake of saving time. That was a good decision as we later discovered after travelling on India’s roads.

And I bought travel insurance for the same reason.

So once we linked up with driver we were off into the streets of Delhi. Or is it New Delhi? And is Old Delhi the big part or the small part?

This is India.

Unfathomable, energetic, highly challenging, ancient, unique, illogical and a thousand more descripters. It reminded me a bit of America – it has too much of so many things – good and bad.

The western world used to say repeatedly in the same breath, “China and India” do this, “China and India” do that, etc……. I never bought into that view even before I went to India. Although India and China have some things in common, like many countries do, I find they are not so similar actually.

China’s economy, for a start, is five times the size of India’s and getting larger every year. Although the Indian people are highly resourceful and clever thinking, I see two major things that hold back India, compared to China.

  1. Democracy.

India is touted as the world’s largest democracy, which it sort of might be….I guess. I say, “sort of” as it seems to me that India is a democracy in the same way that the United States is a democracy, or at least, their two systems are equally effective. That is, they aren’t effective at all in reflecting the real will of the people. In India, it seems, that to say corruption is commonplace or endemic is a giant understatement. Corruption there is like breathing. It just “is”.

Or maybe I have just watched too many Indian movies. I’m certainly no expert on Indian affairs. But these are my overall impressions after immersing myself in the culture for several years. Of course, corruption occurs everywhere, but my guess is that few countries could match the “ordinaryness” that is corruption in India.

2) Religion

The other major difference between India and China is religion. They could hardly be more poles apart. In Indian culture, life for most people, big city dwellers and poor villagers alike, revolves each and every day around religion. Or is it culture? Is there a difference? Everything in India is complicated. Or simple. Or both at the same time.

Religion is so much a part of everyday life in Indian culture (or is it religion is so much a part of everyday culture in Indian life ? – that is India…lol) that the Delhi and state governments have taken over the management of nearly every important temple in India as temples are such great cash cows – pun intended. Cows are sacred to Hindus, the majority religion in India.

Even the poorest of people devote themselves to temple life and the practicing of the infinite myriad of ancient rituals that are part of Hindu life. Rituals that start even before you are born and continue after you are dead. Hindus believe in reincarnation. Donating money to the Gods is normal whether you’re poor or rich. Whilst some temples are under private management, many more have been bought under political control as this is a great way for the governments to get their money back.

What a great infrastructure then temples make for political leverage in India. And it will go on forever, as it has already been going on since forever now.

If you are believer that the good of the many outweighs the good of the few (most of the time anyway) then you’ll see the inherent and huge advantages that the Chinese system has over most others, including the world’s biggest democracy, India.

I saw an article on Chinese english language TV once – which was probably partly propaganda in the same vain as our western media does every day – about an old chinese lady in a small town who didn’t want new solar technology installed on her roof, even though it was heavily discounted by the government. The government insisted she have it and it was installed and guess what? The old lady laughed and laughed and said how silly she was. Her heating bills are drastically lower and as the cost of the installation was subsidized by the government, she could afford to have it installed. I don’t think this story would have ended the same way in India.

This story was probably presented in the best possible light, just as we all do, but hey, it makes sense to use the hard earned tax revenue from the people to help poorer and remote people have a better life right? Instead of using the government money to buy more weapons to sell to crooks and dictators overseas.

Sadly, I’m not sure India is doing this, certainly not to the extent that China has done. India knows it has no chance of really keeping up with China and so, sadly, has moved closer towards the United States in an attempt to blunt the outstanding progress China continues to make for its people. Time will tell if this is the correct approach.

I certainly enjoyed my 2.5 weeks in India travelling to many cities and small towns. Visiting one of the oldest cities in the world, Varanasi was a highlight.

It was quite easy to acclimitize to all the choas there in a day or two, but I’m not sure I’ll ever return to India. But who knows, we never can be sure of what life has in store for us just around the corner.

I am glad to have had a small exposure to the different world that is India.

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