India is anarchy veiled in democracy. In its constitution of 1950, it guaranteed freedom – which our guide emphasized as “free-dumb”. With an inchoate highway system, one will see overloaded trucks, buses, tuk-tuks, sharing divided highways with water buffalo, camels, and donkeys; odder still, on a dual carriageway, one would be seeing all these vehicles coming down the same lane in the opposite direction [video]. While the design of a multi-lane might be assumed as an invention to permit increased speed and shorter travel times, Indians have discovered some other advantage. Or it may be Darwin at work … I am sure that seven people on a moped would not make it into the Guinness Book of records but the frequency might. Even though the licensing seems strict, any 8-year-old could drive a truck, as he would only need to reach the horn – not the brake.
Besides the lack of infrastructure (roads, electricity, waste management, water – both sewage and drinking), there is the added surprise that English is a foreign language; the guess is that perhaps 5% speak English, and that would include those who might only be able to give directions.
Be prepared to be nickel-and-dimed. India may be cheap as an out-sourcer, but at nearly every tourist stop, use of a video camera alone would cost anywhere from 25 – 250 rupees ($.50-$5) Oh, and don’t wait for change; it is not coming.
What would pass as the milk of human kindness – showing directions, even walking you to your destination, would be of the instant variety in India – just add baksheesh.
Someone went to a McDonalds in Delhi. Apparently, the hamburgers aren’t beef, but water buffalo. Well, that’s gnu …
Tiger watching is like whale watching: no guarantees – even in the bigger reserves (e.g., Rhanthambhore)
If you should find yourself in Udaipur, you must go to the Amrit Mahal bar of the Trident Hotel, where you will find India’s most talented bartender, Depunkar. Be sure to ask for the Raj-ito, made with India’s own rum.
The Wily Sand Fish of Thar
I had done some research on fishing in India, and while bureaucracy may be India’s largest industry, that is not to say there are not loopholes Virtually all licensing was done on the basis of water source – not fish species and I certainly did not have a half day to stand in line trying to obtain the appropriate license. As I was to spend a few days in the state of Rajasthan (India’s largest, geographically) I would hunt the wily sand fish of the Thar Desert. Being a desert, no license would be required! Normally a fly-fishing trip, but it would take too long to rig a nine-piece 5-weight, so stuck to my 3-piece spinning rod. Much like a bonefish in appearance, but more translucent, I had packed Zoom lizards (for “field fishing” – anything else on which there was a 30-1 chance against catching), Mepps spinners, midget Gitzits. The good news was that I could probably land one as there had been no fishing pressure; it is not considered a game fish. The bad news, while I did not need a license, the fish is considered endangered and I could have found myself in a lot of trouble if it died in my hands. Using circle hooks and EWG hooks, I felt I could take the chance.
I was uncharacteristically using two-ounce sinkers; no crank baits, as I would never be able to get them down deep enough.
Naturally, I would be fishing without a guide this trip, unable to find one on such short notice. I heard tales of some tribes hunting them, rather like noodling catfish, but with those sharp teeth, maybe once or twice a hand.
I would check the land for some likely hangouts, like the back of small sand dunes, just off the edge of the wind.
Imagine my disappointment when we ventured no further than the scrub plain to visit some hippy Hindis drinking opium tea … I had to content myself with fishing for langurs, an illegal sport tolerated on private property …[video? Nah …]
Yes, there may be four Indians in the Forbes 10, but that is not the rising tide that lifts boats the way Microsoft made millionaires of thousands, both directly and indirectly. Despite the breast-beating, the caste system is alive and well and the OBC [Other Backward Class/Castes - India’s affirmative action statement] requirement of 27% in all Public positions and government has angered and bred resentment, particularly in Delhi and the major cities/states.
Infrastructure is appallingly backward for a nation supposedly on the rise, and this is to be all better by the Asian Games in 2010? To be investing in a subway system in Delhi when power is so problematic? Don’t think so …
In short, if you only have six months to live or only so many dollars for travel, go to China/Hong Kong/Japan. India is a country of 500 years of conquest by more advanced cultures (Moghuls, Brits, Portuguese) and has surprisingly little to show for it. You may love/hate China, but you will find India only irritating..
[The terrorist bombing in Jaipur took place less than three weeks after my tour – May 14]