The Real Incredible India

I’m a bit of an anomaly here – surprise surprise! I’m with a tour group of “white people” and I neither fit the typical tourist profile nor do fit the locals. Because I speak the language and because of my looks, as Jer summed it up, I am a bridge between the two cultures. And that’s brought on an interesting awareness – of the real and tourist Incredible India.

Our tour group is 100% foreigners from Australia, Canada, Mexico, Portugal, South Africa and UK. Our tour leader is a Kashmiri Indian gentleman. He told us his story of how he worked for years in banking and was laid off. So a hobby he had for fun (as a tour guide) became a profession. The tour is planned well, we are visiting a number of cities and learning lots about India. The main difference I see between a local and a tourists experience is with regards to shopping and dining. There seems to be this great divide. Virtually all the restaurants we are going to are for tourists only. We have not seen ‘locals’ in these. There are hoards and hoards of “hawkers” in tourist locations very much like in any other tourist areas around the world. The tour guides acknowledged the touristy traps, then asked us to trust them as they will take us to the real stuff with good prices and what they are took us to are an even bigger trap. In speaking to some of my tour group members, pretty much everyone realizes they are being taken advantage of.

Just how much the tour guides are taking advantage of us is real to me. That’s what’s bugging me.

I can’t speak about the carpets and the handicrafts. But the quality of clothes at Jaipur Handicraft, the so called “trusted co-op source” and the price they were charging for those clothes was outrageous. The shopping experience also was totally different in the local vs tourist trap shops. I expect that there will be tourist traps and that tackling the local scene is not for everyone. But to ask for trust, then to take advantage of people is not acceptable to me. And the minute the store owners know that I know what they are doing, they move on to other lucrative customers. It was really bothering me. One of my group members forgot something and had to go back to a store we had already visited, and caught one of our guides being paid by the store – kickbacks and commission being made off of us – not cool. Especially not cool since we paid a fairly generous “tipping kitty” at the beginning of our tour to pay tips for local guides and all extras. Yet we still get asked for additional tips for elephant rides, dancers, group dinners etc. We were also asked to pay a pretty handsome tip to the tour guide after the trip. Why can’t it all be included at once?

Here’s today’s fun fact. So we are in the middle of nowhere (even for India) and our only option to celebrate New Year’s Eve is to pay an additional amount for a paid dinner to get to the actual hotel organized dinner and entertainment.

I just wish there was a good mix. That while I understand livelihoods need to be maintained and tourists (who may be wealthier) can spare extra dollars on a few things, being outrageously taken advantage of is just not acceptable. A silk bed linen set at the “trusted” store started at 18,000 Indian Rupees. In the local market, without my even asking for a good price/discounts – we found the same items for just Rs. 1000 – thats about 90 per cent less – and I wasn’t haggled, harassed or asked to ‘trust’ this was the real deal.

Anyway, I guess it’s not the tour guides but the tourism industry that is at fault here. And we the tourists have some responsibility too. I’ve seen similar activities when we’ve gone on some of the cruises. It just makes me sad that the negatives that people tend to have of India for example were reinforced and some of the pure, good old fashioned hospitality, gems of talent and richness of the culture was missed and replaced by overpriced cheap crap.

Okay I’m done. On to the real incredible India…

Dec 30 in Jaipur was a day of really appreciating incredible india. We stepped into the historic pages of the Mughal empire. Took pictures at the Hawa Mahal in Pink City Jaipur and went on to Amber Fort. Amber Fort is on top of a Mountain and we started our ascend at the base on the backs of elephants. That was a cool experience. I have a couple of videos and photos to show below.

After the fort we went to a handicraft and carpet weaving factory where we learnt how the famous Jaipur block printing is done and carpets are weaved.

Following lunch, Jer and I hopped on a rickshaw and went to Johori Bazaar and Bappu Bazaar. That was one thrilling ride! Got off on the other side of the road, ducked through cars, buses and rickshaws and followed locals to cross the street where Bappu Bazaar was. That too was quite an experience. Bappu Bazaar is a huge area lined with shops of beautiful Jaipur clothes, bangles, handicrafts and more. The shopping experience here is amazing even if you don’t buy anything.

By the time I finished shopping, it was after dark. We hopped on a tuktuk (3 wheeled door less cab) that took side roads to get to our hotel. I admit that was a dumb move because we were simply in the merci of the tuktuk wallah. Luckily, he dropped us safe and sound at the hotel and all was well. We had dinner outside in the Haveli courtyard by an open fire. Watched a puppet show put on by the local puppeteer and his family at our hotel. Our hotel Mandawa Haveli we were told is a 400 year old heritage hotel. We went to check out the pool which our fellow tour companions told us was beautiful.

And there we met Kishan, one of the hotel staff. He gave us a tour of the entire haveli. In turn we taught him how to play pool. It was all fun until Kishan got a bit too friendly (apparently I was like his sister he never had) and kept asking me to get Jeremy to help him get to Canada where he can get a better job and salary. We quickly exited and went back to our room. No harm done.

It was an incredible day in Incredible India!

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