Thursday, May 31, 2007

Incredible India: Some Final Observations

Before going to sleep on our last night in the Ashoka Hotel, where we were given exactly the same room that we were given 10 days earlier (a coincidence, I’m sure; their computer system can’t be that sophisticated!), Sally and I discussed our feelings about our 11 days in India. On one hand, it had seemed much longer than 11 days. On the other, there were places that we regretted not getting to see. Initially, when we planned this world trip, we thought we would have sufficient time to travel to the south to see Bangalore and Goa. We still want to go there. We would also like to go further north into the hills, which had been part of an earlier itinerary.

There is no doubt that while we were still disturbed by the poverty, filth and stench of many of the places we visited, we did start to see another side of India during our final days. We really enjoyed Jaisalmer and would recommend it to others, although not in May. I would also recommend Chandigarh to anyone in the design and development world, since it has managed to keep true to Le Corbusier’s original vision, (even if a lot of the buildings and concrete work need attention). We would recommend that visitors try to get to know local residents to get a better glimpse of the true character of the people. There is no doubt that we got a very different impression of the country from the kind and generous people we met on our final train trips. But if India wants to attract more tourists, the government should more closely monitor its Travel Industry. It is simply wrong to allow a private company to get away with using a name that’s almost identical to the government’s own tourism department. Similarly, there is a need to clarify the relationship between the government offices and the private companies that operate out of them. I still don’t understand how Exotic Adventures can operate out of an office with the India Government Tourism’s name on the door. Is the government really getting half of the payment, as one Tour operator suggested to me?

There need to be improvements to the government owned train system. The trains are filthy and the stations are most uncomfortable. Moreover, we weren’t allowed us to reschedule our full fare tickets without having to again pay the full amount, with just a promise that we would be reimbursed! However, we did appreciate the food service on the Chandigarh trip, and a request to fill out a service quality questionnaire! If only they had asked about the condition of the trains and stations!

Delhi Airport needs a lot of improvement. It’s the worst airport we have seen. For example, the business lounge is small, privately operated, with few amenities. There is only one computer, and you can’t use your laptop without going through a complicated payment system. By the time you have figured it out, the plane is leaving. While this may seem like a small thing, I think it is symbolic of the country’s backward attitudes.

On the other hand, our eleven days have convinced us there are thousands of wonderful sites to see, and millions of wonderful people to meet in India. I appreciated the comments of one anonymous visitor to our website who wrote in response to our India postings to say how disappointed she (it sounded like a she) was that we hadn’t had a great experience in India. She had been here 4 times and constantly dreamed of returning.

Well, that’s not us. At least not yet; but we do plan on coming back to visit Bangalore, Goa and some of the southern coastal communities. However, next time, we’ll find another Tour Agency to book our travels. And we will try to not have anything to do with the government, the train system, or Exotic Adventures, if we can help it. Although, in one respect, the latter was true to its name: we certainly had an adventure!

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