***Apologies reader but I’ve just found this post languishing in the UTMT drafts folder. It should have originally been published back in early February***
Apologies for the absence but the UTMT clan have been away…in India. It would be wrong not to share a few comments about this bonkers place so below is a random collection of thoughts and observations collected during the trip.
It is Possible to Travel with a Baby
Babies don’t mean an end to your life. Traveling with a baby certainly brings its challenges but we found it also bring its own benefits. On previous sprog free trips we’ve always tended to over do it, packing our days with a never completed list of activities, things to do and places to see. Having a baby with us has forced us to slow down, do less and enjoy the activities we did even more.
Of course to ensure you don’t have a nervous breakdown you’ll need to take a laissez faire approach to ‘routines’, stay flexible and travel as light as possible. When you see Indian mothers bringing up their children without the plethora of tat we tend to buy in the West you realize how simple this parenthood lark should be.
Another benefit of travelling with a small child (with a very cute smile for anyone that will look) is that it helps you meet new people in any/every situation. Of course the more locals you meet the richer the travel experience tends to be.
The Burgeoning Middle Class
As mentioned previously I’m a big fan of investing in companies that have exposure to the burgeoning middle classes of the so called developing countries (like Unilever). Since our last trip here 5 years ago it’s interesting to note some radical changes that appear to have taken place, particularly in the big cities:
- There are many more cars on the roads, particularly in the cities (less auto rickshaws, bikes and semi domesticated cattle!)
- Modern shopping malls are popping up everywhere
- People love all things western (clothes, styles, gadgets, consumables, even the people!)
- Previously dominant local brands such as ThumbsUp appear to have been replaced in many areas of society by their international rivals such as CocaCola
There is a Price for Everything
If you navigate past the big brands and look at unbranded consumable products there is a huge array of quality on offer to the consumer in India. Sarees, stainless steel crockery, rice, and jewelry can all be bought for a vast vast array of different prices depending on the quality of product you want. Of course the main reason is the vast spread of wealth throughout the society.
We complain in the UK about the widening gap between the poor and the rich but it is nothing compared to India. It’s common to see people sleeping in slums (or even on the pavement) and be within eye shot of 5 star hotels. Bentleys and Ferraris jostle on the streets with buffalo and vendors pushing wooden carts of fruit. It’s a well known cliche but the contrast between the haves and the have nots is vast. What’s more, the distribution in the middle is equally huge. Until you see it it’s hard to comprehend.
Needless Complication is the lifeblood of India
In my opinion one of the biggest charms of India is the way that the simplest of things get over complicated. Why should a restaurant have 1 waiter to get your order wrong when they can have 5? Here is a transcript of a conversation I had after checking in to a hotel we were staying at:
Me (to the hotel bell boy in the lift showing us to our room): Which floor is our room on?
Bellboy: 14th floor Sir [as he pushes the button in the lift for the 14th floor]
Me: Wow, the view much be spectacular?!
Bellboy: Yes Sir [head wobble], actually the 14th floor is on the 3rd floor Sir. Hotel only has 5 floors Sir. Reception is on floor zero. 1st floor is on level 12. 13th floor is on 2nd level. Top penthouse floor is on 18th floor Sir.
Me: Er ok…….what time does the bar open…oh and which floor is it on?!
Nothing in India is straightforward. Chaos reigns everywhere but somehow things get done. Something will always go wrong, get forgotten or misplaced but it always works out OK in the end somehow or other. What’s more you’re always left with an amusing story to tell.
On our last night we went for a drink in a bar in our hotel. Having ordered a fresh lime soda and a beer we were a little baffled when the barman brought over a beer and a mojito. After a confusing chat we were told they’d be complimentary and he’d bring the right drinks over. Next time a beer and a tomato juice turned up. Same confused conversation before third time round the correct drinks arrived. The net result was 6 drinks on the house!
The Grass Is Always Greener
We saw a lot of adverts for ‘tanning’ while out and about in the city. Of course in India a fair complexion is revered while a dark complexion implies you have to work outside labouring for a living. As a result the middle classes now pay for ‘tanning’ which is the reverse of and English. I’m not sure how they do it but there is clearly some system to lighten the skin (hopefully not involving bleach).
On reflection it is odd that many of the western tourist (me included) arrive in India and marvel at the relatively simple life it has to offer. Seeing out my days doing some serious yoga every day, eating a simple vegetarian diet with no processed foods and listening to lots of local music is incredibly appealing. Meanwhile most Indians are frantically running away from this traditional lifestyle in a mad rush for office jobs, starbucks coffee and binges on electronic consumer goods imported form China.
Delhi Belly Is Optional
It is possible to visit India, eat local food and not submit to ‘Delhi belly’. Absolute key is to only drink bottled water, avoid ice, ignore salads and only eat freshly cooked foods (avoiding the buffets most hotels and many restaurants offer) by asking locals for recommendations for restaurants.
We ate local food 3 meals a day and survived to tell the tale with the same amount of Imodium in our suitcase at the end of the trip as the start. Hell, we were even weaning UTMT Jnr and managed to continue this while away using predominantly local grub e.g. Idly, Dosa, Roti, Dal etc.
If you ever get the chance to visit India be sure to take it.