• Nepal!

    Nepal: Phewa Lake. Go Now!

    Nepal
    This landlocked country mixes the cultures of the Indian sub-continent with the high Himalayas. Explore Nepal!

  • Japan!

    Japan: Traditional foods. Go Now!

    Japan
    Japan has a rich culture that is visible today in the country's dress, architecture, language, food (pictured), and lifestyle. Begin Your Journey!

  • Bahrain!

    Bahrain: Desert. Go Now!

    Bahrain
    This tiny country has overcome the desert and has found a way to thrive, like this tree on al Jazair Beach. Explore Bahrain!

  • Kyrgyzstan!

    Kyrgyzstan: Tian Shan Mountains. Go Now!

    Kyrgyzstan
    The mountains, including the Tian Shan Mountains (pictured), give Kyrgyzstan a unique culture, partially formed from this isolation from the mountains. Go Now!

  • Laos!

    Laos: Karst peak. Go Now!

    Laos
    The simplicity and natural beauty of the countryside make Laos a hidden gem in Southeast Asia overlooked by most travelers. Begin Your Journey!

India

Taj Mahal in Agra

Bangalore

July 24, 2008
MG Road, Cubbon Park, British Architecture, & the Best of America

When we arrived to the airport in Bangalore for a business trip, one of my bags didn't make it, so I had to fill out a couple lost baggage forms. I also had to go through a mess at customs with a British Airways employee because I said I had 3 bags, but only 2 with me.

We (Dr. John and I) found our driver and began the trip to the hotel. The airport is about an hour and 15 minutes away from the hotel and since we landed at about 6am, there was very little traffic, so I can't image how long it would take with traffic. The driving was lawless, seemingly no rules to the road; we ran through about 3-4 stop signs. At one point the road went from four lanes to two with no prior warning; I can't image the traffic jam there would be with some decent traffic.

There are cars of all sorts; there was one truck filled with chicken cages and chickens, but the majority are mopeds and motorcycles, then a much smaller number of cars and auto rickshaws. At one point traffic in front of us was stopped, so we took a small dirt road detour, which was narrow and slightly frightening.

The landscape reminds me of a bazaar combination of Africa's poverty: random people on the streets, and small run down shops made of whatever materials could be found, in combination with Turkey's free market, growing industries, wealth, sophistication, education, and power. It seems religiously diverse given that we passed a mosque, church, and numerous small hidden temples all within about 5 blocks. The temples are very colorful and our driver has some sort of idol on his dashboard.

We were greeted at the hotel by Dr. Sibi and a bouquet of flowers for each of us, which I found rather odd for a meeting of all men. We checked in to find our beautiful hotel rooms, which were state of the art and highlighted by a leather couch and flat screen TV. There was also a great balcony, a welcome fruit basket, chocolates, and a two-person whirlpool. The DVD player and WiFi reinforced that I was at a business hotel, but the TV having no reception quickly reminded me I was in India.

The floor numbering scheme in the hotel was odd. The ground floor was labeled -1, the next floor up was 0, then 1, etc. So the floor labeled "1" would actually be what Americans would label as "3" and most Europeans would label as "2".

I spent the next couple hours on the hotel's rooftop mesmerized by the traffic and the intersection below. The combination of traffic, from people to trucks and bicycles was simply a hodge-podge of anything that moves or in some cases can be pushed. The oddest sight however was a family of four on a single moped. The older child was standing between the father and the handlebars; behind him was another child and his wife. There were also a number of women riding motorcycles and mopeds side saddle.

There's a popular coconut stand across the street, where the vendor chops off the top of the coconut and serves it with a straw to his clients. I'm not sure if they just drink the coconut milk then discard the rest. There have also been a number of cars with the largest hood ornament I've ever seen, literally two feet tall, basically just a phallic symbol.

At about 1:00pm we made our way into the city with two of Dr. John's Indian friends. We first met Mankel, who show us around, a man who arrived in Bangalore with only 200 rupees in his pocket (US $5) and now runs 5 businesses. The first thing he showed us was Ulsoor Lake and he seemed quite proud of it.

Whenever locals show me a city I find it more intriguing to see what they want to show me than I find the actual sights. This man-made lake was nothing more than a green puddle of pollution in the middle of a thriving metropolis from my perspective. The islands were concrete blocks, perfectly round with grass and trees while the outer rim of the lake was again a perfect oval shape with the shore only concrete steps, showing just how abrupt the lake begins and ends. To me this lake was disgusting; to Mankel it was something to be proud of.

We next made our way to MG road, or Mahatma Gandhi Road. This is the heart of the thriving and relatively modern city consisting of shops, restaurants, and bars. We ventured into one of these stores, the state emporium of handicrafts. There were a lot of shawls, pillow cases, stone and wood carvings. I found the wood carvings the most impressive and we spent a good half hour here looking at everything.

After leaving to see more of the street I noticed the number of western stores such as Levi's that dominated this road. At the end we also found a McDonald's, which our host was insistent on going to, because he told us it's "America's favorite." I haven't eaten at McDonald's since I was in pre-school, but our host was so insistent that we eat there, I felt it would be insulting to deny him this gift he so desperately wanted to give. Being in India, there was no beef on the menu, but the menu's highlight seemed to be the "Chicken Maharaja Mac" and with a name like that I simply couldn't resist. While eating I noticed that there were large flat screen TVs on the walls running stock tickers. I found this odd given the fact that we were at McDonald's, but by looking around it was clear the people here had money and it wouldn't be a surprise to find many are investors.

The "Mac" was like a regular burger: bun, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, but the sauce was a spicy curry and the giant un-breaded chicken mc-nugget type thing was doused and cooked in the same spicy curry sauce. It wasn't too bad, but I wouldn't order it again, especially since I spent the next hour focusing on not throwing up; due to that the next few sights I'm going to explain may be vaguer than ideal.

We made it to Cubbon Park with sandwich still in tack. The park is filled with rose gardens, a couple weeks away from blooming, a fitting scene for the city known as "Garden City." The city library was nearby and quite striking in its blood red color.

Following this, we made it to the British colonial heart of the city, the Karnataka Government Building and across the street, the Karnataka High Court. Neither looked Indian as I know it, but rather exactly what they are, British 19th century Colonial.

After a few pictures, I was again struck by the oddities that our new friend showed us, an upscale shopping mall. I can't figure out if this was shown to us because he was proud of it or if he wanted to show us how advanced and rich India is, but from his expression I would guess the prior. This mall was nicer than most in the U.S. and the Italian-influenced interior was adorned by paintings of Venice and upscale shops like Louis Vuitton and Rolex.

Our final stop with Mankel was the city's business center. I first thought this would be like an American downtown, but discovered it to be more of a large street market. The shops were packed and the people and their products overflowed into the sidewalks. There were constantly trucks and cars delivering goods to these shops and the streets seemed even busier here than anywhere else. The city's main bus station is here as well making the chaotic traffic even more chaotic. This spot made for great people watching and I noticed a lot of male teenagers and men in their twenties holding hands, which seems odd, but again, seems to be normal here. I saw it in more than one case, so this must be the norm and not the exception. It was also here that Mankel had to leave and we were passed off to his nephew, Manheal, who's English was much more understandable.

Manheal told us about English levels being directly related to the level of one's education and that his uncle never went to school, but has self-taught himself the language since arriving in Bangalore. Manheal, on the other hand, has a college degree and attended schools with an English medium, so spoke fluently. By this time my stomach was settled and my curiosity was now on the verge of explosion so my questions began.

Manheal told us about the caste system dying in the cities, but still very prevalent in villages. Bangalore, being a booming information technology (IT) hub and immigration center (primarily for Indians throughout the country) has almost no remnants of the caste system anymore, even less so than some other major cities. Due to this economic boom and immigration, Bangalore is very multi-cultural and for many first generation arrivals Hindi and English are the only means of communication. The local language, Kannada is still the most common language, since most Indians moving here are from Karnataka, but for others there needs to be Hindi or English to survive.

Both Mankel and Manheal are among these immigrant groups; both are from Gujarat in western India, bordering Pakistan. They are Jains, meaning they believe that no living animal should be killed for any reason, a fact that perhaps made our trip to McDonald's and my Chicken Maharaja Mac a little awkward in retrospect. I didn't even notice at the time that Mankel was eating a vegetarian meal. Jains believe in re-incarnation so view all animals as the same: creatures with souls. Some are so strict that they sweep in front of them so they won't step on an animal and many of these people will also wear a mouth mask so no animal flies into their mouth. It's a fascinating religion and no matter their motivation for not killing animals, it's a very peaceful and powerful message.

Spinning off the Jain conversation, Manheal told us that India is very multi-ethnic and this encourages the ability of numerous religions to live side by side in peace, which is exemplified by the mosque, church, and temples within such close proximity.

From religion we moved on to Indian families and I was surprised to find Indian families now typically only have one or two children, which is quite a contrast to the tradition and cultural center of the people, large families with lots of children; you can only have over 1 billion people by these means and clearly India has succeeded.

Manheal also told us that Americans are fairly well accepted in India because most people understand that everything is a two way street and the U.S. brings in all these IT jobs, money, and supports their nuclear energy plants so Indians tend to respond favorably.

Just prior to the end of the tour I was again intrigued by the sight shown to us. We were shown a street with beautiful five star hotels, each seems more impressive than the last, as if they are trying to out-do each other like the casinos on the Strip in Las Vegas. Each did well in accomplishing its task and in the end they are all incredible. Manheal seemed proud and said this is where the IT capital's businessmen stay.

Dr. John and I had dinner in our hotel's restaurant, which was alright. There's a lot of chicken on the menu as are different types of "wet dishes," or what many foreigners call "curries." The oddest thing of the dinner though was that when we ordered water they asked if we wanted it warm or cold. Anyway, dinner was alright and immediately afterwards I went to bed. The day was intriguing, but exhausting.

July 25, 2008
Meetings & Sikhs

There seems to be either a great sense of trust ingrained in business in India or a complete lack of organization. I have no idea what the schedule of my meeting is and have no idea when or where any of my obligations are. I was simply told last night that a car will be here to pick me up at 8am; the car arrived and I got in. The driver didn't speak English and if any problems arose, I wouldn't even be aware of them given the fact that I didn't know where I was going or when I was supposed to be there. Either way, we arrived safely and were again greeted with flowers. I'm just not sure what to do with all of these flowers; I don't want to be rude and just toss them, but that's all I'm going to do when I return to my hotel tonight.

The meeting began without a hitch and I had most of the morning to relax. Everyone here seems to call me, and every other male "Sir" and when anyone asks a question, they stand. Another thing that is striking is that the people always seems to bob their heads from left to right, not like shaking your head "no," but more like the head is tilting on an axis that is parallel to the floor. This apparently means (from what I've been told) they are listening, like they comprehend what you are saying, almost like making eye contact during a conversation in many cultures.

Lunch and tea breaks were common and set in a separate hall; we made our way there each break. The staff here consisted of broken child labor laws, but the person who seemed to be in charge didn't mind given he was just another broken law. The coffee is only served with cream already in it and Dr. John didn't take well to this, so they sent another child across the street to have coffee made black, a task that took a good hour, but did arrive.

Lunch was good and we all grabbed some, then stood around and ate (but only with our right hands, since the left is unclean and reserved for bathroom duties). During the lunch break I decided I needed a walk so began wandering around the building, which is really just an office that has a couple conference rooms they rent out to groups like ours.

I found Dr. Manjit during this break and he told me that bombs just went off in the city. He was laughing and explained to me that they were only small fireworks, then said "Bangalore is really banging!" He seemed more amused than shaken and told me no one had died and that the closest bomb was about a kilometer away from us. He said it was probably the "terrorists" and that we should just ignore them. Indians, he said are too busy with life to take all that time planning to kill people then trying to kill them. Another nearby doctor then joked that it was actually Dr. Manjit that was at fault. Dr. Manjit is a Sikh and the other Indian said it was the Sikhs' job to protect Indian, because Sikhs feel it is their responsibility to "protect the underprivileged from invaders" and this translates to them protecting India from Pakistan both now as well as in the past. I guess I wasn't too concerned about the bombings given his relaxation so soon made my way back to the meeting.

I later asked Dr. Manjit more about Sikhism and he said that the first line in their holy book is "There is one God." This, their first and most important directorate makes them a unifying religion, accepting people of all faiths into their temples and lives. The next line is "speak truth," a simple idea, but as Dr. Manjit said, knowing truth is difficult, so to speak it even more difficult. The conversation was interesting, but soon the meeting began again and our conversation was interrupted.

Back at the hotel we were served tea and coffee, each filled with cream and neither warm. This was served with cold appetizers, which were unfortunately supposed to be hot as well. There were five of us here for appetizers: a professor from New York, one from Baylor (both immigrants from India), Dr. Manjit, Dr. John and myself. Trying to be polite and not entirely sure what was had ordered, I remained silent as the three Indian doctors laid into our waiter. They demanded more food, but this time hot food and hot coffee and tea. Simple tasks it seemed, but from talking to Dr. Manjit, perhaps the norm in India. I'm not sure if it is poor restaurants or poor service, but it wasn't good.

As we were eating and talking, the lights went out for a few seconds. The conversation didn't even pause and I get the impression these power outages happens all the time, I think I was the only one that even noticed.

Round two in our culinary quest was much better and everything was hot, the appetizers were vegetables coated in a light batter and deep fried. I didn't give the tea another chance; the cream was too much for me even though I am a fan of English style tea with milk.

Only Dr. John and I ordered dinner, I'm not sure why everyone else passed, but it made me feel slightly guilty eating; however I was starved and Dr. John already began and I didn't want to let him eat by himself. I had the chicken curry with buttered naan. The naan was great, but the chicken curry was less than ideal. The sauce was filled with onions and the chicken was everything from breast to leg with bone intact. The task of removing the chicken from the bone was difficult and I found it more work than it was worth by dinner's end.

Dr. Sibi, our host and meeting planner was to attend a small reception then join us for dinner, however he never made it. We called him a few times, but he was too busy receiving cancellation calls for the next day's meeting. While Dr. Manjit seemed to pass off the bombings as fireworks, those who hadn't arrived viewed them as a terrorist attack and the fear paralyzed the country and could potentially destroy the meeting. Dr. Sibi said he spent most of the night receiving cancellations and was so busy he never made it to the restaurant. It should be interesting to see tomorrow's turnout given the bombings.

Speaking of calling, everyone here has a cell phone. The technology came so quickly and at nearly the same price as landlines, but often more accessible so it seems everyone has a cell phone instead of a land line.

July 26, 2008
Bombings & Chaos

This morning's meeting started one and a half hours late. Everyone seems to be concerned with the bombings and there was such confusion and chaos that everything was delayed including registration due to the questions and tardiness of both participants and exhibitors, many of whom have already canceled. Instead of delaying the lectures however, they just cancelled all the first lectures of the day, then picked up with the second lecturer for the day.

Having been here for a couple days now, I'm beginning to notice Indians tend to be either very passive or very aggressive. I understand this is a stereotype based on only two days of observation, but for most Indians there is no rush, no real motivation or initiative, they're simply told what to do and they tend to do it, there seems to be very little to no independent thought. On the other hand there is a minority of Indians who are very strong willed, motivated, and determined. These people seem to herd the masses and want to know everything and control everything. Whenever I see an Indian who is motivated and assertive, I am slightly shocked, but also tend to be impressed. I suppose this is the same in any country, most people are followers, but here the difference seems more pronounced and the followers almost seem lazy and the leaders aggressive.

Lunch was interesting; each participant and exhibitor got a lunch ticket and a ticket for each coffee break. When they gave me my tickets I was told I probably won't need them because I'm white and no one will question me. I tested it and sure enough I walked up to the lunch line and they gave me a plate without asking for a ticket.

While I was standing in line, a friend of mine and one of the organizers of the meeting saw me and told me I didn't have to wait in line. He then took me to the front of the line and got my food for me. There was no questioning the act nor were there even dirty looks from those in line. I ate from the "Non-Veg" line; however there was also a "Pure Veg" as well as a "Dessert" line. I got my food and joined everyone else just standing around eating without tables and most without silverware. After seeing the unwashed silverware I quickly joined them in using my hands, which was slightly awkward given I was wearing a suit, but very few people were eating with silverware, so I guess I fit in quite well.

Afterwards I grabbed some ice cream from the dessert line and headed back inside. After a couple more hours of working I was invited by Dr. Manjit to meet a friend of his, Dr. Parmanjit, a three star general and the head of the military dental corps. I accompanied them in the VIP room where we sat around talking about subjects as varied as life, dentistry and the latest bombing.

In this conversation, to put the bombing in perspective, one doctor said "this is the value of life in India, three people die, but 300 more are born" (three died from injuries in yesterday's bombings). Here I also learned that Ahmadabad was hit with bombs today, but this was not a scare like the bombings in Bangalore yesterday. I was told 15 people had been killed and over a hundred more injured, many seriously. In the middle of our conversation, in which no one seemed as all concerned or shocked over the bombings, which was a complete contrast to those who had cancelled the trip, we were asked to go to the reception.

We were led down to the front row of the auditorium and no sooner had I sat down did I notice that there was a long table on the stage with about 8 seats, one of which had a nametag that said "Mr.Justin." Apparently I was sitting at the head table and I'm not sure how or why that happened.

The ceremony began with the line "it is appropriate to begin our ceremony by honoring the gods"; this was followed by a Hindi song/prayer. Soon afterwards I was introduced to the audience and led to my seat on stage where I received a dozen red roses; then the introductions and speeches began. I was invited to light the ceremonial opening candle, which caught me by surprise; then I became quite fearful, because I realized I was expected to give a speech, however had nothing prepared, so began throwing something together in my head for the 3,000 or so spectators. As I was internally writing, another person got up and started yelling into the microphone. I turned to the person next to me and asked "what language is he speaking," the answer was English. All I could think was "I hope I'm not after him"... then I was called to the stage.

When I first looked out into the crowd I realized he had done the opposite of what I feared, he lost everyone and no one was paying attention anymore, so the pressure was off and I threw together a speech that was acceptable and much more comprehensible, or at least understandable than the previous speech. At the end of the reception each of us were given a plaque thanking us for our contribution to the success of the meeting as a "Guest of Honor." The plaque was a nice thought; mine said only "Mr.Justin," which I loved. To Indians the first name is what is important and how a person should be addressed so the plaque was quite appropriate.

As the ceremony was concluding, we were asked to join the crowd again; the tables were cleared and our entertainment came out. Our entertainment was a group of developmentally disabled orphans. They had a costume show and each came out as a different Bollywood star or religious figure. The first one out realized his image was being projected on a screen behind him so he spent the next ten minutes staring at himself as the other children continued the show in front of him. For the most part, the entertainment was sad given their disabilities, but uplifting since these children had a home and each other.

Following our entertainment, we had dinner and scotch, well those in the VIP room had scotch. And we had more entertainment with dinner, a group of Keralian drummers with little rhythm, but much excitement. Dinner was similar to lunch, but we had tables available this time. Afterwards I waited for my taxi, which took about an hour and a half to arrive, so spent my time talking to an Indian doctor, now living in the U.S. He also got on the topic of the bombings and said India doesn't have time to kill people, their motto is simple: "live and let live" no matter the religion, ethnicity, nationality, etc.

July 27, 2008
Robbed Blind & Dysentery

We arrived to the convention center this morning to find we had been robbed. I left very little on our table over night, but enough that someone stole our pens, CDs, and journals. The value of all of it is no more than $5 or $6, but it's frustrating, because I have another full day and now nothing to give out or show to interested doctors.

The meeting started late again and I'm beginning to think the country is on "island time." An Indian doctor here said it's not island time, but rather the people do what's most important and a current conversation takes precedence over scheduled appointments so tardiness is common and accepted.

Today was the same as yesterday for the most part. I noticed at lunch that where we eat there are numerous wild dogs roaming around eating out of our garbage cans. It seems quite unsanitary, but this is normal here so far as I can tell.

Having some free time during the day, I wrote an essay of my thoughts regarding my trip ahead throughout and my thoughts on travel in general; as you'll soon see I had a lot of free time:
While anxious of what's to come in the next few days, it's the attraction to the unknown, the fear of regret, and the pride of following through instead of running, which pushes me on to the unknown ahead of me. Soon I'll be in a sea of strangers... strangers by culture, not acquaintance. I feel like a floating stowaway on a life raft, alone, no one in sight. The challenge again presents itself: I can immediately find land by going home, but something inside pulls me, the mystery and intrigue draws me. The easy route is tempting, but it's the curiosity of discovery that overpowers that... so I venture on. Only by allowing myself susceptible can I survive, and thrive, on this voyage.

My journey is no longer that of mystery, I soon find the path home, but the land before me is more intriguing. Never fully belonging, skirting the coast, knowing my escape, I anchor and head inland. As I learn the terrain I push further and search more. Like an explorer I continue to search, but for what I don't know, as if Atlantis will suddenly appear and my quest fulfilled. But the quest is never fulfilled, the journey never finished. What I find is not Atlantis and not a sea of culture, only myself, a greater gift than Atlantis could ever offer.

Having reached my destiny, the trip home is no longer an escape, but rather a route I have traveled numerous times but never with such excitement or confidence. The return is that of a victor. The person is the same, but the acquaintance with myself is much more intimate. What was gained is beyond value; it's more than most will ever have and others have ever dreamed of. With a new me, I carry back memories and stories others can only experience through their own exploration. The mind begs of me to go again. The discomfort, the loneliness are forgotten, the excitement of discovery, of land, of courage, of triumph are all that is remembered. The desire to seek new self-discovery is all the mind asks. Until a new adventure is begun, the mind allows no memory except that of growth.

*      *      *

I found it interesting that I gave away over 100 membership forms and only 6 were returned, yet nearly every person who took one said they would return it. I was told it is considered better etiquette to tell a person what he or she wants to hear than to tell the truth if that isn't what the person wants to hear. For this reason, Indians typically say yes even if they mean no and in most cases this is polite in India. Unfortunately, it makes doing business a complete mystery because you never know where anyone stands, unless you want to be that aggressive leader who simply tells your associates what to do.

Before dinner I went back to the hotel to relax and found a local newspaper. The papers said the bombings are only taking place in cities with Hindu zealots or as in the case of Gujarat, as revenge for past attacks the people had on Muslims. For a country whose mantra is "live and let live" there seems to be a lot of violence and the group taking responsibility for the attacks is a domestic Muslim extremist group.

For dinner I joined Dr. Manjit at a five star restaurant, at which the food was incredible and the security seemingly impenetrable. At dinner he told me all about the culture, including what the doctors here want from us, a very different set of products we've been offering them. Our strategy and approach are going to have to change to be successful here; but when you haven't worked with this culture, it is a new learning curve and a completely different approach.

July 28, 2008

Last night I found myself with diarrhea throughout the night. I did well for awhile, but now I know what "Delhi Belly" is, or more medically specific, it was most likely dysentery and it's not pleasant. Today I woke up, checked out, a half hour process due to Indian efficiency, then flew to Delhi.

Delhi

July 28, 2008
Flight Cancellations & Old Friends

I was supposed to go to Amritsar, Punjab, but my flight was cancelled, so I got stuck in Delhi; I went to the government run pre-paid taxi stand and gave him 500 for the 180 fare. He then gave me a 100 and said "I said 180, you give me 100." I tried to argue with him and said I gave him 500, but he refused and demanded more money. I could do nothing; who am I supposed to complain to? He works for the government? Due to my illness and desperation to get somewhere else I gave him the money and moved on.

After taking a taxi to the New Delhi train station, I realized there was a fast train to Amritsar, but it leaves from the other train station, so I quickly headed across town to buy a ticket from a travel agent. Despite warnings, I went to an unofficial travel agent and only realized this after I had left. Despite the horror stories, it is a legitimate company, just not the cheapest company.

There were no seats left on the train to Amritsar, so I was stuck and had a couple days to occupy. I considered going to Jaipur, a nearby city that is supposed to be nice, but the travel agent/salesman talked me into going to Kashmir instead. I bought my ticket to Kashmir, booked hotels in Kashmir, and booked trains to Agra and Varanasi for later in the week.

After leaving the travel agency, I read my guidebook to discover the travel agencies in this area are notorious for scamming tourists and I immediately regretted my decision. The only saving grace was that at the travel agent I met two English girls who took the same trip and said it was incredible.

I had a couple hours before I had to meet my German friend, Sascha, who I went to school with in Poland. I spent my free time walking around Connaught Place and seeing the shops and bazaars. I was constantly approached by people claiming to be college students interested in practicing their English. It didn't take long for any of them to tell me where to go or what to do. When I told one person where I was going he said it was a bad place and that I shouldn't go there. One of these "college students" asked me if it was monsoon in the United States, then followed this up by asking how far the United States is and helped to answer by saying "it's close right, like 5 or 6 hours by train?" The conversation ended there and I went my own way, despite his advice that there are better shops I should go to.

While I was wandering around I couldn't help but dwell on the traffic in Delhi and how difficult I found it to breathe given the pollution and excruciating heat and humidity.

Fortunately, I soon met up with Sascha and we ate at a very nice restaurant. He ordered his favorite, which he wanted me to try. It was chicken in a tomato curry sauce; very good and it went well with our paratha. The first question I asked Sascha was how he liked Delhi and he said he hates it. I found that odd since he's lived here for nearly three years.

After dinner I headed back to Sascha's place and met his girlfriend, Ana, a Czech girl, who has only been in India for a year and a half, but much less content with life here. At times I felt like a psychologist, listening to them complain, yet at the same time they were educating me. I think it was good for them to vent to someone other than themselves, and to be honest I found it fascinating.

Arranged marriages are still commonplace in India and they discussed how the people here look forward to their marriages, but once married, the girls must move in with his family, get an entirely new wardrobe based upon what her husband wants her to wear, and learns how to treat her husband based upon what her mother-in-law tells her to do. In addition to all of this, many times she has never met her husband or anyone in his family. It seems relationships are odd here and sex education is for the most part non-existent.

The next vent session involved geography. Maps are unknown in India and no one has any idea about directions or geography (not that many Americans are any better), which would explain why my taxi driver took the most round-about path to the airport in Bangalore. I had only been there for 5 days, but I knew we were taking an inefficient route. It also explains the comment that the United States is 4-5 hours away by train.

Travel for the sake of travel doesn't really exist here and to find a traveling Indian is odd. The people don't seem to make sense in many ways, but, when explored further, it's just the result of being either uneducated or is simply a different mindset that I don't understand, which seems illogical, although it's simply a logic I don't understand. Of course education here is odd and I was told one story about a couple of girls with MBAs, which I was told were worth as much as the paper they were printed on. One of these girls has a large stomach and asked how to get rid of it. The second girl told her to put her arms above her head and shake them, that should get rid of the stomach fat.

Sascha claims that Indians don't learn, they adopt. He tells his employees to do something numerous times, but they never change their habits. They also never seem to fix or address problems, but rather just get used to them. Instead of working hard for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, they would rather work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. The reason is simple; these employees don't want to work hard, they would rather be at work for 12 hours and do nothing than work hard for 8 hours. So problems aren't a concern because they don't care anyway. Money, according to Sascha is all they want and they don't have to be efficient or good to get money, they just have to show up; at least this is the case in the company he works at.

It was at this point that their vent continued to say living in India makes you racist and the longer they're here the more they hate Indians. I think they're simply frustrated and once they leave their memories will be positive, but who knows. According to my European friends, many of the MBA graduates can't turn a computer on and most don't know how to use Microsoft Word. For what's known as a growing tech country, the percentage of people who are familiar with computers is very small.

It was late and I needed to go to bed so headed into Sascha's guest bedroom to sleep. Their apartment seems slightly run down, but still costs $450 a month due to its location in a safe neighborhood.

Srinagar

July 29, 2008
Houseboat, Gardens, & Floating Salesmen

I was picked up at 6:30am for my trip to Kashmir. I met some travelers at the airport, a couple from Ireland, who got the same trip that I signed up for. On the plane I met two local Kashmiri girls who told me what sights to see and told me that the people in Kashmir are Muslims, not ethnic Indians, and identify more with being Kashmiri or Mughal rather than Indian or Pakistani.

The airport in Srinagar, Kashmir seemed rudimentary and I was surprised that there was a lack of mountains in Srinagar. I was welcomed by the Jammu and Kashmir tourism bureau who gave me a registration form, and an evaluation to fill out and return at the end of my trip in case I get ripped off by my hosts. It's tough getting tourists to Kashmir due to the political instability, so they obviously want to take care of us.

I found my host outside the airport and we headed to his boat house. The traffic was typical India: not because of volume but because the roads are so narrow and there are animals everywhere in the streets. I found my place on Nagin Lake, an extension of Dal Lake and the boat house was quite nice and roomy. I had a porch on the lake, a dining room, living room, bedroom and bathroom. My most pleasant surprise was that the toilet was a western toilet and given the fact that I've had diarrhea for about a day and a half, a nice toilet is all I wanted at that point.

After settling in, I headed into the city to see the old Mughal gardens and the downtown markets. Our first stop was at a mosque where I was greeted by a local who asked me if I was Muslim, after my negative response he then asked if I believe in Islam. I wasn't sure what response he wanted and his temperament seemed edgy so I responded by saying "I believe in God." He kissed my forehead and blessed me as he allowed me to pass.

The mosque and the surrounding grounds were well guarded and I was frisked twice before I could enter. The Mughal gardens were very nice, but there's little reason to see more than one. We also went to a Hindu temple at the top of the hill, where we had to remove our shoes. The black stone was incredibly hot and I wanted to return nearly as soon as I had arrived only to get my shoes back on. None-the-less, the temple was interesting and worth the trip.

Following the gardens and temple we headed into town itself and visited some of the mosques. The largest mosque in the city has four sides to represent the "four religions": Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Christianity. The mosque was beautiful and enormous.

Walking the streets of Srinagar was interesting and shops were everywhere. There were a lot of men peeing in the streets here, like men seem to do everywhere in India, but here they seemed to at least try to hide it by squatting down while peeing.

We eventually made our way to a chicken shop. My host picked out a chicken; it was weighed, then decapitated, skinned, washed, and thrown in a bag for dinner. Even if my stomach was fine I'm not sure I would have been able to eat after that.

Once back at the houseboat I found myself bombarded with floating salesmen. Men go from houseboat to houseboat trying to sell anything and everything. The first was selling jewelry and I bought two pairs of earrings for a few dollars. Then the quality decreased drastically and quickly. There were hand-painted paper mache boxes, shawls, and wood carvings. Most of the objects didn't interest me and I had to say "no" at least 15-20 times before each would leave.

After an hour of listening to salesmen, I found dinner ready. It was the chicken I just saw butchered covered in salt and a mild sauce. My stomach couldn't handle it too long and the excessive salt didn't help.

Before heading to bed, my host informed me that there was a bombing in Jammu very nearby and that someone was killed. His explanation was confusing however and I get the impression it was basically just a protest that escalated as one protester was killed; he passed it off as not a big deal.

Himalaya Mountains

July 30, 2008
A Day of Hiking

I slept in today and I needed it. After grabbing a small breakfast of a strange chewy bread and tea I made my way out to the Himalayas. Near the start of the journey we drove through rice fields and sparse forests with little to no undergrowth. The drive was beautiful as the mountains seemed to rise out of the earth very quickly into rocky cliffs and hidden valley villages. We also passed two enormous hydroelectric power plants, a motivation for both Indian and Pakistan to fight over the region.

As we approached our destination, nearly a two hour drive, I was informed that this is known as a "gypsy" valley and the people who live in many of the small, more isolated valleys are "gypsies." This intrigued me because the capital of the Roma (the more politically correct name for "gypsies") is in Moldova, where I lived for some time.

I met my guide in Sonamarg, meaning Golden Mountain and started up the mountain. The scenery began in what seemed to be a hilly forest, then leveled off as we entered the fields. After passing the fields we were surrounded by rocky mountain walls. The hike was peaceful and we crossed ice cold rivers running down from the melting glaciers, over glaciers, and around rocks which had fallen from the mountains above.

The whole valley is sparsely populated, however there are a few temporary camp sites for the Roma during the summer. The valley was also filled with wandering sheep, goats, and cattle probably belonging to the Roma. The Roma have been quite successful in polluting the valley; the river where all the water converges is filled with wrappers and empty water bottles.

I met a group of teachers from Srinagar taking a day trip. Kashmir passed a law a couple years ago that all schools must be taught in English so all of these teachers had incredible English language skills and were very friendly and intrigued by my presence. After a short conversation they continued on and I headed back down the mountain.

Just before leaving the mountain, I met five Roma children who just stared and smiled at me. They spoke no English, but they seemed very interested in me. We rested for 10 minutes with them, but as I started walking, their mother saw them and yelled at which point they started begging and following me for the next few minutes.

I was soon back on the road to Srinagar and couldn't help but be amazed by the number of military officers standing along the sides of the roads. There was a soldier every 30-40 yards, but there wouldn't be a village for miles. They were also stopping everyone at certain checkpoints to see where they were from. There is a very holy Hindu temple in the mountains and in the past the Kashmiri independence fighters have bombed these pilgrimage buses so every Hindu must be accounted for.

As we neared Srinagar, we stopped at a small village to pick up some buffalo meat. I found a man roasting corn here who asked me to take a picture of him. He seemed intrigued by the camera, but has obviously seen them before because he asked to see my picture of him.

As soon as we got back into Srinagar I already missed the mountains. The mountains seem peaceful and honest, they convey the power of the planet and the almost nothingness, which represents people's place on earth. The people in the mountains always seem truer; cities like Delhi breed greed and instill poor values such as money into peoples' top priorities. The mountain people find happiness in other things and don't seem corrupted by wants. The air is clean, the scenery beautiful, the people unthreatening. It's a simpler way of life; the choices to partake in are more exciting, more adventurous. Time seems to stop here; time doesn't matter, only people and life matter.

Srinagar

July 30, 2008
Kashmiri Life

I requested wazwan for dinner, a traditional Kashmiri dish that is typically only served at weddings. It is usually 16 courses, however they are only going to make the main four courses for me. The first is goat meat covered in oil and chili over the grill; the toughest piece of meat I've ever had. Next was ground buffalo and lamb kebabs, then sheep meatballs in milk and oil, and finally a mystery meat in meatball form. The sheep was better than expected and the buffalo/lamb kebab was fairly good.

After dinner the mother demanded I pay her 500 rupees for dinner, but I stood up for myself and said I already paid for it (the price included breakfast and dinner each day and I asked if wazwan was included and they said yes). She was not happy, but agreed.

In the evening I learned much about arranged marriages. The daughter at the house is "engaged" to a person she has never met. She told me that her mother "is my mother, my father, and my friend. If she says he is a good husband, then I trust her." The odd thing is that her mother has never met him either; she's only met his parents, which is normal apparently. The two sets of parents get together and make sure everything matches like religion, economic status, astrological sign, if you're Hindu, caste, and if you're in Srinagar if the other family is a houseboat family or not.

On the day of the marriage she will "make her last cup of tea for her brother," the husband's family will collect their dowry and new daughter-in-law. She will then move in with her husband's family and learn how to be a wife to her new husband by learning from her mother-in-law, who will teach her how to cook and clean in the way her husband likes.

Her brother is also getting married the same weekend, probably for financial reasons. He however has met his "wife," because he requested a meeting and both parents agreed given the fact that all the male cousins were present. The family has already started collecting food for the wedding, but neither seems too excited to be getting married.

Soon after making it to bed I found myself up all night on the toilet; apparently goat meat and sheep aren't good on the stomach, or perhaps it's still the dysentery.

July 31, 2008
Floating Vegetable Market

I woke up this morning at 4:00am to catch a water taxi to the floating vegetable market. This whole experience was one of the most incredible and surreal experiences I've ever encountered. Farmers row out to the water's openings with their small row boats filled with vegetables or flowers as other men come to buy. The atmosphere was eerily silent and colorful. There were no motor boats and the feeling was as if I had been transported into another generation and in another world. The scales were simple hand scales with a rock on one end and vegetables on the other. It was mesmerizing and we stayed for a couple hours.

The trip home rowed through a lake filled with lotus flowers on each side, an old Mughal castle to the southwest and the mountains rising out of the lake to the northeast.

However, when I returned to my house boat, reality came striking down. I was told to tip everyone: the boat driver, the two cooks, my two guides, everyone it seemed. It put a bitter taste in my mouth, I'm already paying these people so much money yet they are very direct and pushy in demanding tips. To me that's only motivation to lower the tip, but none-the-less its disappointing when you pay them well, they are kind, then they trap you in a corner and say "give me big tip!" I found it rude and pushy, but I don't entirely understand this culture; the whole idea of a tip as I know it is lost in India.

I made my way to the airport and had to go through security three times. It seems like the attitude here is "more is better," but really the security at each checkpoint is a formality.

Delhi

July 31, 2008
Red Fort & Jama Masjid

My flight to Delhi from Srinagar, Kashmir was smooth and soon after landing I was at Delhi's Red Fort. Again, my driver demanded a tip, but his service was poor and by this point I began to stand my ground so declined giving any tip at all and it felt great.

As soon as you enter the Red Fort you have a market selling souvenirs. Every salesperson is asking you to look at their stuff. This is India; you pay an entrance fee then get bothered by salespersons. I ignored them and just acted confident, like I've been here before and knew exactly where I was going. This seems to be the secret to getting rid of salespersons.

The fort was impressive, as was the nearby Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque. But more impressive than both was the atmosphere in the area and the nearby market. The area is filled with people and seems so alive. The small side streets are filled with shops and the stench of fish permeates the air. I bought some water here and soon headed out to find an auto rickshaw to New Delhi.

Shockingly I found a driver who was willing to use the meter, something my German friend, Sascha told me is rare. I took him up on it and it was much less than I was offering other drivers before I found him. He didn't ask for a tip and he put on the meter without my request. I rewarded him with a nice tip and thanked him for his honesty, a well deserved tip.

I got some money from a Citi Bank ATM, one of the few I trust here and walked over to Humayun's Tomb only to find it closed. I made my way back to Khan's Market to call my friend Dr. Manjit, then headed over to La Meridian for dinner. The hotel was incredible and made me not want to leave. Dinner was Indian, and the relaxation the hotel's atmosphere offered was very welcomed as, for the first time in days, I felt like I didn't have to be on guard.

August 1, 2008
Lotus Temple, Qutb Minar, & a Personal Servant

I woke up at 10am which was the most I've slept in days. I tried to check my e-mail, but the internet in the building was out so I got a car for the day compliments of my friend Dr. Manjit. We started at the Ba'hai Lotus temple, which was very impressive and peaceful.

We then continued on our tour of the city in true tourist fashion. We went to the new state of the art mall, then Qutb Minar, a great old ruin from the time of Ashoka, Indira Gandhi's house/memorial, the president's house, India Gate, a Buddhist temple, Sikh temple, Humayun's Tomb (open this time) and finally Gandhi Smriti. Everything was impressive and it truly displays the history and excitement of the city. Every place I went was full of tourists, not Americans, but tourists, except the Indira Gandhi memorial at which I think I was the only tourist. I have little to write about today, I was simply a tourist and avoided the culture until dinner when I met my friend Sascha at an Italian restaurant.

Dinner was very good, but a large flat screen TV adorned the wall and didn't seem to fit into the environment. This seems to really bother Sascha, especially since it's just showing regular TV and there is no sound due to the "atmospheric music."

After dinner I headed back to Sascha's place for a couple hours until I was picked up by Dr. Manjit and taken to his second condo in the city. He had one of his employees stay there to act as my servant, which was again odd, but Indian I suppose.

Agra

August 2, 2008
The Baby Taj & the Taj Mahal

I woke up at 4:30am today to go to the train station to catch a train from Delhi to Agra. I was seated next to a Swiss girl, who is also in India on business. She was very nice and our conversation helped the trip move very quickly. We arrived to the train station in Agra swarmed by anyone and everyone looking to make a quick buck. Outside, however I found my ride waiting for me and her's waiting for her.

My guide was very good and I knew I liked him when he explained that it's his job to take me to overpriced tourist shops because his company gets a kick back. Then he told me that he is going to tell me to hire a photographer at the Taj Mahal, but it's really a rip-off unless I want a whole portfolio of myself at the Taj Mahal. He was very down to earth and it was clear he was ready to find a new job.

The Taj Mahal was very impressive. At first, I was slightly disappointed, since seeing it in real life is just like seeing it in pictures, but then you get closer. What I've never noticed is that the entire building has stones inlayed into the marble. When you see the detail it becomes so much more impressive.

After the Taj Mahal we headed to Agra Fort, which is similar to the Red Fort in Delhi, but less touristy. We also went to the Baby Taj, which was almost more impressive than the actual Taj Mahal. It was build prior to the Taj Mahal and the inlayed stone work was much more extensive. It was also strikingly similar to the Taj Mahal, because the Taj Mahal was actually modeled after this building and not vice versa. To me, the inlayed stone work was too overwhelming, but the skill required is impressive none-the-less.

The rest of the day was slow and filled with attempts to find something to do. At one point we went to the main tourist office to find out what time my train leaves because it said both 1:20pm and 9:45pm depending on the source. Apparently, the train leaves its origin at 1:20, but my stop is at 9:45. Again, it makes no sense to me, but we're in India and the logic is there, it's just very different from my own.

Perhaps the day's highlight was the garden opposite the Taj Mahal. We spent no time in the gardens, but rather went straight to the small pond where the view of the Taj is incredible. It was like being on the grounds of the Taj, but without hundreds of people.

After having dinner, I headed to the train station to catch my train. I arrived early and found the train station completely blacked out. I wasn't sure why there were no lights; it was rather sketchy and I didn't let go of my pocket with my passport and wallet in it. After nearly a half hour the lights went on and I realized it was just an extended power outage.

As the train time approached more and more backpackers started showing up. Apparently I'm on the backpacker route, for the first time this trip. I haven't seen any backpackers or tourists except at the major Delhi sights and Agra; Bangalore and Kashmir I saw no one.

While I was waiting for the train I only saw one other single traveler, Tim, an American from Los Angeles, who is currently living in Sudan. As we began talking we realized neither of us has seen any Americans or single travelers, which is quite different from backpacking in Europe.

The train soon came and we went our separate ways. I found myself in the third class air conditioned cabin, although I bought a second class ticket from the travel agent, which I suppose is just an unwilling tip given without my knowledge.

Varanasi

August 3, 2008
The Holy City Along the Ganges

I woke too early again, at about 6:00am on the train when one of my cabin mates decided to start praying with a very loud, almost shouting "auuummmm." The sign of a Hindu and on the way to Hinduism's holiest city, Varanasi. As interesting a cultural experience as it was, I wanted to sleep, but was prevented from doing so. After he held his auuummmm for about ten seconds and repeated about ten times he went silent for a minute, then began a higher pitched "hhhh-ayyyy." This went on for another few minutes and afterwards I tried to get back to sleep, but before I could do that, he then began with a song/chant/prayer for about 10 minutes. I found it odd that he was so loud with so many people around, but I suppose eternity and reverence is more important than politeness. After this, I slept on and off until we arrived two hours late.

The Varanasi train station has a higher percentage of scammers and cheats than perhaps any place on earth according to what I've read and been told. I made my way to the auto rickshaws and on my short trip was told the hotel, at which I have reservations had burned down, was full, is bad, and is too expensive. Everyone here gets a kick back for taking you to their friend's hotel and everyone told me something bad about my hotel. I finally found a driver who agreed to give me a decent price to the hotel, but once I got in the auto rickshaw he asked where I was going again, then acted surprised and said that's a bad hotel and I can't go there. Next thing I knew I had a phone being held to my ear and was told this hotel was better. I said no and told him to take me to my hotel. He then said the price doubled on my fare, so I got out.

I finally found an auto rickshaw for a poor, but not horrible price so agreed. On the way into town we got in an accident, which both drivers just ignored, and he tried to pass a funeral procession. The procession of course got upset and started hitting his auto rickshaw with sticks and metal poles so he stopped. While we waited for the procession to pass I was mesmerized by the ceremony. It was led by a cattle dressed up in a gown more ornate than most Indians can afford, covered with make-up and it was pulling a cart with the body, covered of course. The procession was enormous and took up the entire street

Once he dropped me off, he gave me directions to the hotel, which he can't take me to since the streets are too narrow for auto rickshaws. I asked people where the hotel was and no one had even heard of it. I wandered for about a half hour before finding someone who had heard of the hotel and as I got close everyone knew the hotel and had no problems getting there in the end, although all these streets feel like a maze.

I spent much of the rest of the day just relaxing on the hotel's patio; it was great.

August 4, 2008
Is That Manure I Smell?

I woke at 4:30am to get a boat ride. I went to the Meer Ghat, where the price was 2000, then to Man Mandir Ghat where it was 1200 then finally to Dasaswamedh Ghat. The area was chaotic, thousands of people in orange going down to the river to bath. I also headed down to the river as one of the crowd. The journey was difficult and as I approached the water I was stopped by a man who told me I had to remove my shoes. I asked him if I could take a boat, but he said they were closed due to a holy festival taking place.

I headed back to the hotel and re-awoke at about 9:30 so got in line for the internet. I got on at 10:10 and stayed on an hour for 35 rupees. I then spent the next hour staring at the ground, exhausted, literally.

Shortly after noon I began my trek through town. Outside the hotel there are about 5-10 people constantly waiting for foreigners to exit. As soon as anyone leaves all of them stand up and start talking to you. If you say "hi" they follow you for 4 or 5 blocks. If you ignore them, they only follow you for one block. In a way it's like Turkey in that everyone is trying to sell you something, but here it's a hard sell, while in Turkey a soft sell. You can't walk one block without at least one person trying to stop you. If, however you actually ask them about themselves they're taken back and the wall they place between you for their sales pitch collapses.

My city tour began with the ATM machine, which didn't work, then on to the Vishwanath Temple. The cattle call lines in the streets head to this temple. The line was nearly a half mile long in each direction. While passing this line in the street I saw another funeral procession, this time the body was dressed in a very ornate red cloth decorated with gold colored metallic objects. Also while walking this street I felt a woman try to reach her hand into my pocket, but I grabbed her hand just as she got it into my pocket, so I graciously helped her remove it; she quickly disappeared into the crowd with nothing.

Throughout the day there were groups of men as small as 3 and as large as about 30 all in orange that returned from the river chanting "Bol-ba" in a single file line. These groups are never going in the direction of the river, only away from it and the one in front first says "Bol-ba" then the rest of the group repeats "Bol-ba." They continue this pattern until they move quickly (fast-walk pace) out of sight. It's only men in these groups and typically they are young, between 18-30.

On this same street I also noticed that the amount of tobacco and other leafy products people chew in this country is disturbing. People are constantly spitting; both men and women. Along with cow manure, the streets of Varanasi are stained with brownish spots, one is better off avoiding.

On my way back from town a man stopped me and gave me an alright arm and hand massage, then wanted to give me a head, neck, and shoulder massages for 10 rupees. I said no so he lowered it to 5 rupees. I was trying to figure out if he was that desperate for money or if he has another angle for this offer; I didn't stick around to find out, but felt bad for his plea to get some money.

When I returned to the hotel I was told there aren't any boat rides taking place because the water is too high due to monsoon, and those that are taking place aren't safe so should be avoided. It seems like everyone at this hotel is Spanish, plus a few Japanese, then the rest are Koreans, French, or British, but only one American that I've found so far, me.

Bangalore

August 6, 2008
Dinner & Departure

I got a ride to the airport in Bangalore from Abdullah, Dr. Sibi's personal driver. We didn't talk much due to my exhaustion, but what he mentioned that struck me was that he's been married for 24 years. I swore he wasn't much older than 30, so I asked and he's only 29 years old. He of course had an arranged marriage, but to be married at 5 seems a little extreme; his wife was only 4 at the time.

Once at the airport I had plenty of time to write and reflect on India:
Many people here seem to want everything, but are willing to give little. It seems they've learned being pushy and greedy works. I don't want to be a jerk, but at times I feel like I am one. On the other hand I feel like everyone's father, teaching them lessons, lessons they never learned or forgot over time; not rewarding poor behavior and trying to set principles.

Money has corrupted the people, the want of as much money as they can have. They lie to get money, they lie to get more money. Money is the goal, but few Indians I encountered seem to want to do anything to earn it. Everyone demands tips for everything and for nothing. Tim, an American who ran into again at the Varanasi airport had a tour guide who left before the tour was finished, was on the phone half the time, did a poor job, but once done demanded a tip; Tim refused and the guide got upset. This just seems wrong to me from an ethical and moral perspective.

It's like a feeling of entitlement; many people believe they deserve your money for no reason other than you are there and have money. Earning money and customer service don't exist from my experience here. Yesterday in Bangalore I had a taxi trip for which I agreed to pay 80 rupees, while in reality should have been only about 50. He got lost, dropped me off at the wrong place and still demanded a tip. I refused and gave him the 80 we agreed upon. He just started yelling at me as I walked away. The whole idea behind a tip as I know it is that it's for exceptional service for those who go beyond what is expected and you feel deserves more. But tipping has become standard now. In the U.S., even if you receive poor service in a restaurant you will typically tip a small amount, but India has taken it to a new level: they want tips for horrible service or even no service, for not fulfilling their contracts, for cheating you, even irritating "porters" and "guides" who you didn't hire, but stalk you then demand tips. Perhaps I'm being too harsh and either don't understand India or don't understand the dire straits these people are in financial, but I still can't reward lies and laziness.

*      *      *

I had a transfer in Delhi and arrived to the international airport to find the entire place flooded due to the rain, there were buckets trying to prevent, or at least slow the flooding, but they did little. Our transfer to the international terminal took us on a 20 minute trip then we had to re-check-in through three more lines of security. Thankfully I had a six hour layover so I again had plenty of time to write:
What's perhaps worse than the people here expecting everything for nothing is that they are like spoiled children and yell and scream when you don't tip them or if you don't tip them enough. It seems from their actions that asking for tips generally works but when refused they tend to get extremely aggressive and threatening.

I can only guess many people here are like this because it has worked in the past. It's quite frightening when you're in the situation and most people feel threatened enough to tip them. I however learned quickly and stopped tipping them out of principle. At first I tipped because I didn't want to be rude, but I realized all I'm doing is reinforcing bad service and greed.

Backing up to yesterday; I checked into my hotel in Bangalore to find the rate went from 350 to 1275 rupees. I began very politely and said I had reserved a single no- A/C room. The price then dropped to 750. Only at this point did I mention that my quoted price was 350. He refused, but came down to 650. A by-stander heard this and said "I just paid 550 for the same room." The owner then agreed to 550, but I calmly asked why it wasn't 350 (knowing if the locals are paying 550, I'm not going to get him down to 350); he said prices went up. It was already 10:30pm and the locals are paying 550 so I said 550 was fine and registered.

When he gave me the bill to sign I noticed the price went up to 700 again. I again questioned the 700 price tag and said I would pay no more than 550. He then got upset and said "give me my 700 now." I only had 600 on me so I said I didn't have that much and needed to find an ATM machine. He then raised his voice and his tone got aggressive when he said "you have the money, give it to me now!" Knowing I needed a new place to stay since I obviously couldn't trust him, I chose to throw fuel on the fire instead of walking away. I sternly and firmly said "you lied to me and you're cheating me, you said 350, then 550, now 700, I want my room for 350!" He then completely lost it and yelled "give me my money now or get out!" So I got out.

Experiences like this sadden me, because I know this man doesn't represent India as a whole, but he still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The odd thing was that I didn't feel angry after being shouting at, I wasn't upset; I was relieved and proud. On this trip in India I constantly felt like people are taking advantage of me and I always back down, give money, and have a feeling of emptiness. I think that emptiness is a feeling of embarrassment for backing down, regret for giving money to the undeserving, but most importantly the knowledge that all I've done is encourage that person to cheat and lie to the next person. In standing up for myself, I stood up for principles, I re-affirmed the strength in me, I rose above him and perhaps I've helped the next person to cross his path, or by some miracle taught him a lesson. That last thought is naively optimistic, but if everyone stood up for themselves this would be a better place and honesty would dominate greed.

Events like that at the hotel make me ask myself who is at fault: this man or the thousands of people who haven't backed down when confronted? I hate to divide them into two groups, but for this argument I must. The Indians may partake in the actions, but through the tourists we have encouraged these values and lack of morals. With our money, but more importantly due to our naivety to them and their culture, our varying perspective, and our attitude we have only exemplified and then magnified the negatives in these people. I'm not talking about every Indian, only the ones like my hotel clerk, only those who I encounter, or more accurately encounter me as a tourist. I wonder if they should be blamed for their actions or if this is all they know and all they've ever been taught. Is it me as a tourist or these individuals that are wrong? Do they deserve my money because I have it or should they earn it? Do I deserve it?

Being born in the U.S., I've been given more opportunities than most people in the world, but I don't believe it's the money I have that needs to be shared, but opportunities need to be given and perspectives on both sides need to be explained and experienced.

My plane's about to board, but I have a few more minutes so just a few last thoughts... I don't think I'm responsible to changing India, but being here I am reminded I'm responsible to improve myself and I'm responsible to change the world through improving what I have power and capability to control and change. India probably gave me more than I returned to her.

I now have a 16 hour flight ahead of me, good night.

Learn more about India Return to Justin's Travel Blog