Is it a month already? Seems like we came back just yesterday. We’re dearly missing the weather of India—the heat, the sunshine, and yes, the humidity of Kerala’s lush green seaside. There’s a lot we loved there and even more we haven’t seen yet. Must. Come. Back. Some day.
It’s 15C, overcast, with occasional rain outside, as I’m writing this. The middle of a somewhat disappointing springtime in Poland, and summer is still more than a month away. Too easy for the mind to drift back to India, where every day was hot—all day. If the country was any closer, we would be dropping in every other weekend just to recharge batteries.
Admittedly, India’s weather is not suitable for everyone. One member of our posse (of four) found it most comfortable in the cool mountains of Munnar, where the day’s top temperature was a relatively mild 25C. Some places were really heavy—particularly Tamil Nadu with its daytime highs of 40C. But overall, we found it a very pleasant experience to escape Poland’s winter, just as it was becoming unbearably long, in late March.
I mentioned in my first impressions, right after we saw a bit of Bengaluru, that we had found ourselves surprised with how comfortable we felt in the country. How familiar it had been. That’s probably a matter of experience. We’ve been to Bali before, individually to Malaysia, Ghana, South Africa, and the Balkans aren’t too far either in terms of impressions. By the time we started out in India, we might’ve gotten so accustomed to exotic places that one of our group described me walking the streets as “there was Michał, casually strolling through Bangalore, leading the pack as if he was right at home”.
What largely contributed to our feeling of comfort were the people. The beautifully friendly locals we met everywhere, who served us food, sold us groceries, inquired about our experiences or even just stopped us to ask where we’re from and take a selfie. With perhaps the exception of Kochi, we never felt being treated like tourists in the sense that you get in many places, where everyone seems eager to extort money from you. We could mix with the population (well, as much as our skin color permitted—we always stood out) and feel a bit of the local vibe.
Communication was never a big issue. Indians' common language is English, because every state has its own local language and none of them is like any other, so that’s the one they share. The command of English isn’t nearly universlly fluent, therefore we couldn’t expect to have sophisticated conversations, but we were generally understood. The unintelligible Indian accent, of many a joke fame, isn’t that big a deal either, with enough goodwill and patience. (Ever heard a Scotsman speak? Yeah. Even “native” English speakers can be difficult to understand.)
One of our group said that “India has it all—hills and mountains, plains and deserts, tropical seasides, tiny villages and massive agglomerations.” That’s certainly our experience and we barely scratched the surface of what’s available. There’s the whole central and eastern part of Tamil Nadu we haven’t seen. And everything north of Bengaluru—Mumbai, Kolkata, perhaps even New Delhi, if we ever dare. We’re told the north of the country is a socially and economically more complex place than the friendly, sunny, propsperous south we saw. Guess we’ll have to find that out on our own.
We could only realistically cover a small piece of the subcontinent, because the whole country is so vast and the roads wouldn’t permit us to move further than 3-400km per day. On most days in transit we did only half that. We were nonetheless positively surprised by the quality of roads—while not built for speed, they were well maintained.
The amount of litter didn’t shock us. We had been told to expect it, and some places were better than others. Neither did poverty prove to be particularly striking. Perhaps because it usually comes draped in colors. India is a very colorful country—from the land, through spices to the clothing. Even the poorest of people dressed beautifully and if we didn’t see the conditions they were living in, we might’ve never noticed how little they had to live on.
India is steadily on its way to modernity. Just in the last 35 years, since 1980 or so, India’s GDP per capita increased fivefold and life expectancy grew by 12 years. These trends continue upwards. When you consider that it’s a country with a population of over one billion, that’s a lot of children who are not dying anymore, and a lot of economic output.
We met a number of young Indians (including our good friend) who come to study in Europe, who when asked what they would like to do afterwards, all said that of course they’ll come back to India to work. Going abroad, getting an education, learning the good stuff, then applying at it a home. Sounds like a solid recipe for success—not just personal, but the whole country’s.
Yes, we’ll be back. No idea when. There are a lot of places in the world for us to see, and only so much time. If you’re considering visiting India—go for it. And if you’re worried about the heat, the hygiene, the traffic or even the spiciness of food—don’t. You’ll be just fine. And if you ever get in trouble, the locals will be happy to assist. Just go.