I was sitting on the rooftop of a famous hostel in Udaipur when the clouds started pouring with an unprecedented fervour. I was surrounded by fellow travellers who had found company, just like me, by pure chance. As our beer-infused rendezvous went on, I started counting the metallic red cans that sat bundled together at the centre of the table. Scattered around the evidence of our intoxication were numerous water bottles, ordered by responsible drinkers to stay hydrated. Staring at that bunch of plastic bottles, it struck me, I need to speak up.
Dear White People,
I am not the most nationalist person. In fact, I can give you a list of the fuck-ups my country has made, even before you can even finish spelling 'fuck-ups'. But I am a big fan of responsible travel and a complete adversary of stereotypes. So, when I see you frantically ordering water bottles because, apparently, regular water transfers terminal diseases, and waving at native people as if they were an exhibit on your museum tour, I am repulsed.
I understand that the very premise of travel comes from a place of curiosity; wanting to know, see, feel and learn more. But a little research before the trip would really help your cause as well as ours. So, let's start the education, shall we?
A tip about getting filtered water in India
Did you know that approximately 14 million tonnes of plastic waste is thrown into the oceans every year? Dumped plastic water bottles make up a good percentage of that. Now, I am not saying that risk your health and liver by drinking straight out of our taps (even we don't do that). Instead find smarter ways to get your fix of filtered water. "How," you ask? Well, you are from the first world, figure it out!
If you are unable to, then here a few really cool things you can carry. The Steripen is a portable purifier which works on water from brooks, rivers and taps as well. Whereas the Travel Tap and Frontier Flow are water bottles that filter as well as store water. If you are staying for longer and can store water in large quantities, then try charcoal tablets as well. In case you don't have the budget for these fancy things, then have a little faith! Wherever you are, unless you are in the Himalayas (there you can drink natural glacial water), there will be cafes and eateries around. Go to the place and ask them to fill your bottle. They will fill it with the best quality of water they have and won't ask for a dime.
So, what I really mean is, stop manifesting your insecurities and trust issues in plastic bottles and dumping them in our land in the hopes of some spiritual transformation.
Local People > Lonely Planet
I understand the value of paperback guides in your life. In a strange land where no one speaks your language, that fat-ass guide is your holy bible. Only, that's not the case. India is the second largest English-speaking country in the world. Sure, you won't be meeting eloquent philosophers on your trip to Guntoor, but in metropolitan cities and popular tourist destinations (such as Jaipur, Udaipur, Goa, etc) almost all of us are pretty anglophilic. Now, I am not asking you to sell your guides to your equivalent of raddiwalas (scrap dealers). I am just urging you to take your noses out of those books and strike a conversation with people. A great tip for interacting with locals would be do some research or speak to like-minded Indians beforehand. You can meet fellow Indian travellers in your hostel or ask your receptionist about the general etiquette or guidelines to follow while BFF-ing a stranger.
On my travels, I have noted another annoying behavioural pattern amongst foreign travellers. They have an innate incestuousness about their group formation. From hostels to camping sites, people of similar colour gradient seem to huddle together. Now, I don't mind that. Form a colour coordinated travel group for all I care; but the lack of perspective gets reflected in your skewed understanding of the place. If all the friends you make have the same passport as you, then are you really travelling?
So, how to meet like-minded local people?
The best way to meet local or like-minded Indian travellers is in hostels or cafes/bars where locals hangout. And, I hate to break it to you, these are not mentioned on Lonely Planet. Suggestions on TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet are almost always rated by international travellers who reached there on recommendations of other international travellers. Example: The top-rated restaurants in Delhi are Karim's, Sanadige, Indian Accent and Masala Library. They might be delicious places to dine at, but don't exactly give the wholesome Delhi experience, as it takes an experienced palate to appreciate Karim's; old people go for family dinners at Sanadige; a three course meal at both Indian Accent and Masala Library costs over Rs 4,000, so naturally you won't be spotting young millennials chilling after-office here.
The aforementioned places are quite delicious if all you just want to have a meal, but if you are really looking for the complete 'bar hopping like a Delhiite' experience then search as locals do. Check out blogs such as these to find out where the cool kids are: 'Bars To Visit In Delhi According To Your Salary', '10 Bars in Delhi You Probably Haven't Tried Yet But Should' and '10 Bars In Delhi That You Need To Check Out This Weekend'.
Orientalism is so 20th century!
It's a terrible habit of travellers to treat the people of the places they visit as monuments as well. Just as they (even us) get uncomfortably close to a sculpture to get an obscene selfie with it, we often end up treating the people of the place similarly; as exotic beings we need to have some physical exchange with to validate our trip. And that is something all of us (even Indians travelling abroad) need to fix. From the orientalised imagination of an exotic Indian woman who sets the bed on fire to Indian men chasing after European ladies to show them what a real 'ride' is like; we all have something to learn. Also, your white-ness might have landed you in many cashmere beds, but learn to take 'no' for an answer, otherwise it really doesn't matter whether you are from Munich or Mahipalpur.
Us, Indians, are obsessed with the foreign breed. We had a terribly annoying bunch of them staying with us for over 200 years and still made 'atithi devo bhavah' ('The guest is equivalent to God') our tagline! People have been coming in, judging and exoticizing us for centuries now and we still don't care. But, as a woman from the 'Age of the Internet', I feel an obligation towards fellow travellers of the world and want to introduce them to my country sans stereotypes. Because we are the land of 'order in chaos' (I am very sure we invented it), and unless you get off your hand-sanitized-bug-sprayed-SPF-9000 high horse, you will never get to truly experience us!