I have recently returned from a brief but (largely) pleasant trip around what is known as the Golden Triangle. It's a popular tourist destination that involves seeing Delhi, Agra and Jaipur (conveniently arranged in a geographic triangle of sorts). I am planning on adding a few posts regarding this trip and will be inviting my fellow travellers to share their experiences too. First I'd like to start with one short story:
It's the middle of the day. The sun is at its zenith and, being mid June in north India (pre-monsoon), it's also the hottest part of the year. As you amble through the forest you realise that you're short of money. You'd quite like a drink of water. The sweat is pouring from your face. As you begin to consider returning home you suddenly spot a handy cash dispenser.
"Excellent", you think, "walking cash machines are rather hard to come by at this time of year."
So off you trot and, as you draw near, call out to the mobile ATMs, "Hello money!"
The foreign tourists don't look too impressed. In fact they're walking off. Why? Was it the fact you only put on half your clothes this morning? Were you meant to say 'please'? Maybe giving a figure will help.
It doesn't work. Could upping the amount will help.
"150! 200! 250!"
Alas, despite you best efforts the goras are walking quickly away, leaving you destitute and penniless until you stumble across the next group of Western tourists.
I should add that some of this story is fictional. The kids may not have been that thirsty and I don't recall that much sweat being present either. But the story is meant to lead into some thought about a subject that most people have to confront when coming to India: money.
At this moment in time I have yet to make a judgement on the situation. At times during the trip though it did seem that most of the people we came across saw us as little more than dispensers of cash from which you should try to make the largest withdrawal possible. In fact, during the entire ten days there were only three people we talked to that were not after our money.
An almost inevitable debate that occurs amongst foreign tourists visiting India will centre around the disparities in wealth that are visible, almost from arrival. This is especially in the case of the Golden Triangle circuit, which is a hotspot for people going on holiday, Indian and foreign alike. How we should react to such situations is a very individual matter and will be swayed by many factors but for now all I can say is that even after having stayed in the country for almost eight months I have yet to reach a consensus.