Being dumb is the birthright of a traveller. And why not- you land up in a totally new place with specific expectations, knowing not much (or worse is knowing nothing), and then you try to figure out one thing at a time. For example, it is a heated afternoon, empty road and you can either look at the google maps or the signal while the traffic cop doesn’t know that it is very normal in your own city to skip signals in the afternoon. We like to ask for directions as many times as possible. It’s the tourist’s right to stand right in front of Red Fort and ask where is Red Fort. It can get tricky to be dumb in Mumbai or Pune because you’ll get one back:
“Bandra kis taraf hai, bhaiya?”“Har taraf Bandra hi hai madam ab toh. Aap Bandra mein hi khade ho. Ab aage kaha jaana hai wo socho.”
This one time I was travelling with friends and we were in a small town of Satara (2 hours from Pune) and we went to a small coffee shop managed by a Marathi aunty. We had miserably mentioned twice that we need strong coffee with less sugar while what she served was the exact opposite. When we went inside the kitchen (it was a seemingly friendly place, we were wrong) to ask aunty, she snapped at us:
“Isse zyada coffee nahi daalegi me! Achha nahi hota hai!”
She didn’t mean to be rude I’m sure but when you are from Gujarat, the land of unimaginably sweet talkers; incidents like these break your comfort bubble and reality strikes. It’s the duty of the traveller to accept the cultures as they are, try and not cringe much. There’s just so much to learn from the other cultures, figuring out why they eat what they eat, exploring their cuisine, their language, even their signboards and hoardings.
Udaipur has the most mind-boggling Graffiti Art. Ever.
Pune can have the funniest warning boards outside homes that would say
“Please do not ring the bell between 2 to 4 PM. The owners are trying to sleep.”
The locals find it difficult to understand what is wrong with the tourists. They want to click pictures everywhere- not just the heritage and the site seeing places but clicking selfies with the cow, the camels, birds, local kids or some of the coloured walls. (Do not hurt your ego before knowing that India tops the list of countries with most selfie deaths.)
The tourists want to dress up like the locals haven’t seen even their forefathers dressing up and get clicked in the fancy dress clothes.
It is also interesting when people want to visit slums and brothels, but it gets particularly weird if done in an elite, poverty darshan way. It’s this gullible nature of the tourists that some of them perhaps like messing with. Like the rickshaw walls of Rajasthan- for the tourists, this is one breed of men who’d begin with 80 rupees to 100 rupees even if you want to go for less than a km, then you bargain with them and they judge your calibre before quoting the final price. In most of the cases, doing the ‘indifferent walk’ and walking away helps. Then they’ll come behind you like a serial stalker and make sure you come into their ride for 30 rupees. Apart from that, the state emporiums should be renamed as fool’s paradise because in the name of handicraft and speciality we can be sold whatever. We clearly have no idea.
It is always interesting to find guides at national or heritage sites speaking all sorts of languages- German, French, Spanish- forget English! If you are local and you listen to a guide describing your city, you’d want to stop him at multiple points and say, “Hey, that’s so not true, dude!” I remember this interesting incident at Mani Bhavan, Mumbai (Gandhiji’s place for his political discussions when in Mumbai which is now turned into a Museum+Library.)
The Guide got a British couple inside and exclaimed, “Truly! I have never been to this place myself! It seems to be interesting! One of them replied, Surely, at times you need foreigners to show you your own heritage.”
It’s still interesting to see them make stories about how the royal queens used to wear such heavy ghaghras that they could not walk, and had to be carried on a carriage from one room to another. I’ve just had one question, I have never asked, “Well, how did they pee?”
With its beautiful scenery, delicious ‘South Indian food’, exotic spiritual treatment, there are enough odd points for the ‘South India’ to boast.
Special mention to the fact that there is nothing called South India. These are really different states with very different languages (and accents), behaviours and attitudes. They hate to be compared. It’s like saying Jats and Punjabis are just the same. Stop. Please. Now.
Kerala (also my hometown) is an interesting place to be when it comes to food. They may have huge menus to enlist on the menu-card but you need to ask beforehand what is available. There are high chances they don’t serve each and everything listed there. In one of the ten weird instances on our road trip in Kerala, we had ordered 2 Kerala paratha each for the 8 of us with other vegetables, rice and sambhar for lunch. After 5 minutes, this extremely polite guy comes out and tells me,
“We have 6 Kerala Paratha. Is it fine?”“Meaning? We need 2 each. So that makes it 16.”“Yes, but we only have 6. So….”“So…what will the other people eat?”“There’s rice no? Others can eat rice…”
He smiled politely. Another shocker in Kerala is that the vehicles literally stop for pedestrians. I mean, literally! There are policemen on every crossroad, just to make sure that the pedestrians cross safely. You feel so important and all your damaged ego as a walker (with cars zooming past you all the time) gets a nice massage.
Then there are some people (everywhere) who like to fool you just for fun. They’ll give you the wrong directions leading you to absurd places and then your eyes look like infrared- full of disgust and distrust. But then the beauty is that there are some people everywhere- that fill your heart with their niceness. This one time I found myself dumb and clueless on the Borivali station (Mumbai), after a lot of initial asking around, I found this Aunty who was coincidently going to the same station. Not only did she guide me, she took me with her, told me her family story, pictures of her son and newly wed daughter-in-law and dropped me on the way in the rickshaw she took.
These are some of the unexpected experiences waiting for you, every time you are ready to open your eyes while travelling- whether for work or fun- there’s a lot to learn out there. We make fool of ourselves all the time, and never want to accept that we did. But it’s fun to laugh at ourselves. We must never stop.
This is obviously my personal opinion. And that too about a small aspect of the encyclopaedia that is TRAVEL. You’d have had a very different opinion about the places described here or a different experience as a traveller, which I would love to know. Or if you’ve had similar experiences, share! I have not seen the entire country yet. But I know India is a never ending journey. India is a journey I never want to see the end of.