Indian Phenomena

From the moment you step off the plane,
it’s an assault on the senses
Crimson, emerald saris on the women.
A saffron robed monk
Painted elephants
Tropical fruit, bright as Christmas tree balls.
And the smells:
incense wafting from a temple
spicy food sizzling on the street.
exhaust fumes choking
cattle dung on the road
Chimes and chants – sounds of distant worship.
Tooting horns, revving engines
and dozens of hawkers mobbing you with their wares
All of this, and much much more
a land of contrasts.
Some fall in love with India, and never leave.
Others loathe it, and swear never to return
these are descriptions I’ve heard from India travellers.
And fellow toastmasters, in just under three weeks, I too, for my first time, will join them.
This land of contrasts, this overwhelming assault on all five of the senses, poses many challenges.
Today, I wish to outline some key risks: both health and human
What I am doing and what one day, you too can do to prepare yourself for the adventure
how to find out what to expect and how to prepare?
Lonely planet India, the Internet, and friends who’ve been there.
Firstly, health hazards.
See your doctor at least two months before travel, to get the critical vaccinations.
Hepatitis A/B: two months ago I had my first shot, a few weeks ago my second,
also polio, tetanus boosters,
tomorrow, I have my final typhoid.
Malaria: once you’ve got it, it may never go away
There are two key lines of defence.
Firstly, don’t get mosquito bites
take strong insect repellent.
and a mosquito net to hang around your bed at night.
Second-line defence, medication
there are two main malaria tablets you can take, each with own side effects.
Lariam can induce depression or even psychosis
I heard of one guy who wandered aimlessly for days in the desert in Sudan, practically stoned, and nearly died.
So, my doctor, thank goodness, has given me doxycycline
its problems – more sensitive to sunburn, maybe throat ulcers.
Finally, be careful, what you eat and drink
never drink tap water
only drink bottled water, open it your self check the seal was not broken, no syringe holes in the bottom, where someone refilled it to resell
if you can’t get bottled, boil or purify with tablets like these
it may not taste nice, but it is better than the runs.
Only eat freshly cooked food,
Then, the second area of risks:
human risks
India’s population is one billion, about one third live below the poverty line.
So, they are desperate, and I to them am filthy rich
I’ve heard that wherever you go, dozens of hawkers will latch onto you.
Peddling all sorts of wares
tourist trinkets, pirated DVDs,
offering to transport, feed, house, enlighten, guide you.
It seems a critical skill is growing a thick skin, to keep on smiling, and yet firmly saying no.
And then there are the scams:
my friend here sir, has these expensive gem stones.
He just needs someone to transport them to his cousin in Australia.
If you could just pay the insurance, he’ll pay you back much much more when they arrive.
Or the taxi driver: that hotel, you requested Sir is currently closed, but I’ll take you to a much cheaper much nicer one run by my friend
run by my friend when I get a commission
Worst, the thieves
in the crushing crowds, white faces, will draw pickpockets
so my key items: passport, credit card, will be safely in here:
a pouch under my shirt, with an uncomfortable wire shoulder strap
And a money belt with a zip on the back to slip in some banknotes.
All these technical preparations, fellow toastmasters, are important.
But I, along with many seasoned travellers,
believe the most important preparation, is the preparation of the heart
what are the truly important things to take?
An attitude of humility, a sense of humour.
To learn from the locals, and laugh at yourself when you make a mistake.
A spirit of patience, and peace
To not get wound up by the chaos, the crowds, the corruption.
A heart, in the language of India’s spiritual traditions, free from attachment to material things.
Live simply, and you’ll have less to fear.
Why chase those dodgy diamond deals?
Why stress if someone overcharged you a little?
You still got so much more than them
A healthy scepticism
a streetwise suspicion.
And yet
A childlike curiosity.
A delight in the goodness and generosity of people you meet.
In the words of the great Jewish teacher, be as innocent as doves, yet as wise as serpents.