Overall score (Dan) = A
Overall score (Jocelyn) = B
Total days = 8 nights, 9 days
Total cost = $813
Cost per day = $91 / day
Flight costs = $540 one-way from Bangkok
Cities visited: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Varanasi
India will have the largest population in the world within five years when it overtakes China. It currently has 1.3 billion people, and the World Health Organization estimates that 1/3rd of the poorest people on the planet live in India. It’s a country where the “haves” have always had, and the “have nots” live in a desolate poverty almost unimaginable – where the caste system is still firmly in place which makes the genetic lottery one of the best indicators of wealth.
India is a country rich in history and culture, with numerous world religions calling it their birthplace; where peasants still make annual or once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimages to the most sacred Hindu river – the Ganges, and where time moves, but daily life maintains traditions that are millenniums old.
All of the way leading up to India, we were never sure if we were going to visit because of the high-profile rape cases and overall quality of life issues in the country. Most travelers we talked to had some very bad things to say about the country, but most also had something good to say. Most succinctly, a traveler from Canada told us it was one of those places you love and hate. Luckily for us, we had a good friend living in Delhi and he offered to host us for the week; we couldn’t say no.
Overall, we spent 9 days in India and visited Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, and Varanasi. Our friend showed us around and set us up on tours; it wouldn’t have been the same experience of we tried to do it on our own.
How far does your money go in India?
In some places such as Australia, we visited at the worst possible time as their currency had peaked out and since dropped, but we visited India at the best time (for us) because their currency is at all time lows and dropping incredibly fast in value. When we started our trip, $1 US dollar equaled 61 Indian Rupee, when we left it was up to 63.5, and since it’s hit over 67.
That being said, we’re glad we didn’t go into India with the same “cheap” mentality as other SE Asia countries because it could’ve gotten incredibly nasty. Instead, we stayed at 4-5 star resorts in Agra and Varanasi which were only $60-$70 per night and ate nicer restaurants which averaged $20 per meal.
Here are our per day spending highlights:
Excursions = $28.9 / day
Transportation = $24.4 / day
Lodging = $21 / day
Food = $20.6 / day
Total hotel points used = Zero
For us, one of the best parts of India was meeting our friend and touring the country with him. Of course it saves a lot of money as we stayed at his place in Delhi for a total of six nights, but it was also incredibly helpful to have his knowledge. He drove us around the “Golden Triangle” which connects Delhi to Agra (Taj Mahal) then to Jaipur which contains many beautiful forts and then back to Delhi. Along the way, he helped arrange tour guides so we had the full experience and learned a lot about the country.
No doubt about it, India has some of the most interesting religious sites in the world and the archaeological sites were also very cool. A majority of the standing forts and temples were erected between the tenth and seventeenth centuries, culminating with the Taj Mahal which nearly bankrupted the country in the seventeenth century. The Ganges River is the most sacred site for Hindus and where it passes through the city of Varanasi, Hindus believe if they die there they’ll go straight to heaven. Because of this, many elderly Hindus will move there when there time is coming, and when they die they’ll get cremated on the banks of Ganges. One of our tours took us to the sites where we saw the cremations in action – very surreal.
Our total spending was much lower per day than it would have been otherwise thanks to our friend’s apartment in Delhi. We stayed there six out of eight nights in India, and on our last two days, we never even left his apartment! We’d already had enough of the country, and since Domino’s and McDonald’s both delivered, we decided to live off of that for two days instead of braving it on the streets of Delhi without our friend who had left on his own vacation.
India gained independence from British control in 1947 when Gandhi led the non-violent resistance that ended the 100+ year British reign. Since then, they’ve continued to make strides economically in their attempts to someday become a world power. However, they have a long way to go.
In fact, you could drop parts of Delhi inside the US and for the most part, it would fit right in. Where we stayed in Vasant Vihar, the houses were priced between $1-$20 million US. However, after you venture out a few blocks, you see the slums crowded with humans, human waste, animals digging through the human waste, and humans living in the animal waste. We hadn’t seen anything like it elsewhere in the world. As Jocelyn and I talked more about it, we realized even the poor countries such as Laos and Myanmar allow their poorest citizens to live with some dignity – even though they don’t have much, they can still live off the land and sleep in a clean little place. However, for most of the poor in India, there is no dignity. Most spots in the city double for a bathroom for humans and animals.
Indians also proved to be some of the most aggressive and annoying touts. Much like every other country, they’d do anything they could to pull you into their overpriced shops to sell you their “authentic goods”. Even on our paid tours, the tour guides would practically force us into a commission shop to try and make a few extra bucks – even when we told them we didn’t want to go.
The worst was in Varanasi when our guide took us to a “hand-woven silk shop” – which we’d seen in at least five other countries and where they all swear the craftsmanship is unique to their own. They first pull you in “as friends” and offer you coffee or tea like they do with all of their friends who visit. After that, the pressure selling is on. Our silk demonstrations lasted a few minutes before they pulled us into the sales floor. They pulled out their finest silk duvets and combated our every excuse with a “we offer shipping to the US” or “these are really expensive because they’re hand made.” In the end we bought a scarf for $5 US which they tried to sell us for $15. I started to get pretty rude with them because they just keep pushing their crap – and when we left, we definitely weren’t considered their “friends” anymore!
India has been all over the international news lately due to some high profile rapes – both of Indian citizens as well as foreign tourists. Because of this, we were very careful to stay away from bad areas and to not travel alone. However, we were still unable to escape the machismo culture which cultivates these actions.
We’ve had our fair amount of stares in other countries such as Indonesia where white people were rarely seen, but never anywhere did we get the stares that we got in India. They weren’t stares because of their surprise to see a foreigner, they were stares because of the pretty blonde girl walking around with me. Stares that didn’t stop at a quick glance, but stares that held a cold, chilling anger about them. At times, our friend would grab their arms to prevent them from taking pictures from their small Nokia phones; sometimes he’d even have to move people (usually teen boys) who’d try to stand awkwardly close to Jocelyn. I picked up this habit from him and by the end I was batting down arms, pushing people out of the way, and telling them to stop taking pictures. We were ok with it in Indonesia because they were respectful, but we felt little respect in India.
It all starts to make sense when you hear about the rapes, see the looks, and also see the ratio of men to women on the streets – there must’ve been ten men for every one woman wherever we were and the usual explanation was that the women stayed home. There’s something wrong going on in the country and it’s deeply seeded in hierarchical structures that allow women to be treated as goods and allow birth to determine success in life.
As long as this is the case, India shouldn’t expect to be in discussion as a world power. As David Landes wrote in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, “In general, the best clue to a nation’s growth and development potential is the role of women”. They need to change the tide and learn to respect their women.
That being said, there’s still a lot of nice, hard-working, and honest men and women in India who are just trying to get by. I’ve worked with many Indians who are incredibly smart, nice, and caring people. They were just hard to find in the sea of humanity we quickly swam through to escape.
In conclusion, we’re glad we visited India once in our lives, even though there are many more incredible things to see, I doubt we’ll ever visit again.