Friday, July 13, 2007


It's been a while since we've had time to sit down in front of a computer. We've been busy - with India. It's an entirely consuming country to travel in, and LIFE takes all your focus and energy. Everyday choices and decisions are never simple or straightforward, and very rarely unfold the way you think they might. (I wanted to say should but refrained, because I'm trying to expunge that entire notion from my brain - it's just easier that way.) Directions are vague nods or subtle gestures, most often incorrect. Bus schedules are an unknown concept, with three terminal attendants giving three different answers. Restaurants sometimes serve you, and sometimes don't, although they always make you wait a healthy amount of time first. Hotels are a crapshoot - hot water? clean sheets? - double check carefully; appearances are often deceiving.

Life here is hard, and for once, travellers don't seem to get a free pass above it all. It's frustrating, but at the same time refreshing knowing that you are dealing with the same things that Indians deal with day in and day out. This is their life. As a result, (or perhaps as a cause?) people are unbearably selfish, yet possessed with a level of tolerance that is truly mind boggling. The contrast between those two characteristics confuses me to no end. I've spent hours trying to figure it out, and really haven't gotten very far.

How can people be so cut-throat, where everyone has to fight for everything, all the time, yet stand patiently in a stuffed bus full of sweaty, smelly, vomiting peers, and not blink an eye? Why do they put up with a life that requires constant attempts to put themselves above the masses fighting alongside them for every little scrap? There's no concept of greater good, or social benefit, because people are too busy trying to outwit each other. I want to scream at the top of my lungs "STOP!", and then give people a lecture on how if everyone would chill out, just a little, and consider the people around them when trying to do their own thing, it would be better for everybody. I suspect my rant would fall on deaf ears. Or at the very least, uncomprehending ones - I don't speak Hindi.

Why are things so fucked up? Your first and most logical conclusion is simply that the country is disfunctional. Yes, yes, disfunctional, you think. THAT'S why everything seems to be hanging by a thread, tattered and battered. It's an easy answer, and a seemingly good answer, but sadly, not the correct one. Disfunctional is a strong word, and any country with a growing economy, a large proportion of highly educated individuals, and cell phone towers at 5000 metres can't be doing everything wrong, right?

The real answer is that the country is functional at the lowest possible level. To illustrate the concept, let's use the example of a television. A disfunctional television won't turn on. You can bang it and bump it as hard as you want to, but nothing happens. Turning the knobs, checking the cord - all to no avail. Maybe the remote batteries are dead? Nope. The power's out? Uh-uh. Sorry dude, your tv's busted. (!!!!!!! - relax, it's just an illustration. I promise there's nothing wrong with your tv.)

A television functioning at the lowest possible level, on the other hand, has wires and cords and sprockets and vaccuum tubes sticking out of it in a jumbled mess, smoke coming from unseen parts, lots of twisting and turning and fussing about to get any reception - but you do eventually get a picture. It might not be the channel you were hoping for, or even a program that you have any interest whatsoever in watching, but you have something tangible to look at as a reward for the effort you put in. THIS television is India.

We've been gradually working our way north since leaving Delhi. We managed to reach the mountains just as the monsoon hit, and while we've been getting wet regularly, it isn't a daily occurance. Before arriving here, I had heard almost nothing about Northern India. Nepal and Tibet are talked about all the time, as is Bhutan, and even Pakistan, but the Indian Himalaya covers more area than all of those countries combined, and offers all of the same things. I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out why no one's ever told me about the place. The only thing I can come up with is the season - you need to visit during th monsoon to avoid the snow, and most people give India a pass during the rainy season. Abby and I, being the terrible planners we are, seem to have stumbled onto something good due to nothing more than our lack of foresight. We've started to explore the mountains some, and plan on being in the area for another month and a half or so. There are mountains EVERYWHERE, and loads of trekking opportunities.

Stay tuned...


Yvonne said...

Wow! Writing about your Indian adventures seems to bring out superlatives of all kinds. So far I don't feel inclined to rush out and plan a vacation in India. Hopefully exploring the mountains will provide more positive experiences.
In the meantime, you should definitely consider publishing your travelogues. The writing is awesome.
I'm writing this from the fresh clean air of Paradise in Newfoundland :)

Shannon said...

Steve-I'm really enjoying your postings. You, my friend, are quite the writer!
I watched an iceskating competition and went out to dinner with Krista Crum last night. She is my first official random visitor and it was great to swap stories and catch up on AK gossip. Oh, and the iceskating was quite entertaining also.

Neel said...

sorry that you're having a difficult time in India and haven quite taken to it. i would suggest however that your own experience is not necessarily the same or even similar to the billions of people who live/lived there and have travelled there. it's a bit unfair to pass such harsh judgement on a place with such limited experience and understanding. for many of us, it's a magical place and we can't wait to go back! i regret not having a blog for my journeys there to show a very different perpsective. nevertheless, i hope everyone will take the time to go visit it once in their life - there is truly nothing like it.

Stephen and Abigail Rideout said...

Hmm, well, I wouldn't call posting my thoughts on my experiences UNFAIR - limited, perhaps, or imcomplete, certainly - but they are, after all, what's been possing through my head. I have indeed warmed up to India, and I agree that everyone should visit. But for me, the entire point of having this blog is to share my experience as it happens, and to have it change and grow over time. That's why I travel...