Often I read internet write-ups comparing Indian tourist destinations to European ones. Many a times you would find a particularly popular tourist hub being promoted as India’s Switzerland or a certain destination looks exactly like a certain locale in Europe. While per se there is no harm in comparing locales globally, I am very intrigued by the fact why it is important for an Indian destination to look like an European one to become appealing?
As the nation is close to celebrating its 69th independence, the colonial hangover continues to cloud our decision making in many aspects. Perhaps this hankering and craze for European destinations in one such unique element of this. But let me take this occasion to point out why no Indian destination is ever comparable to any other place in the world. Based on my experience of extensive travel across India and fairly reasonable exposure to key European destinations, I can conclusively draw the inference that not just the physical beauty but India’s unique culture of hospitality, the mind-numbing variety of geographical regions and the confluence of cultures make touring in India an incomparable journey.
For example Gulmarg is often compared to Swiss Alps but here is my reason why Gulmarg is unique not just in its physical beauty but also its cultural construct. I toured Kashmir in the height of a summer curfew and as expected many a times our halt was more than scheduled to adhere to curfew norms. My visit to Gulmarg was particularly memorable. The taxi driver who was accompanying us in our road-trip through the valley warned us in advance to pack some extra food and the potential violence we might face enroute. Almost as we were approaching the foothills of Gulmarg, a mob stopped our car but the driver and the angry mob both took cognizance of the fact that we have come to their heartland to appreciate its verdant beauty and took it on themselves to escort us to the safety of our cottage. But the story doesn’t end there. Over the next 3 days, the driver and the locals went out of his way to safeguard us many a times, buy us supplies from the local market, sustain injuries and damage to thecar just to keep us safe. I am not sure if any of our blood relatives could have cared for us as well as this stranger Kashmiris did.
What is surprising is this is not a solitary experience. Once when we travelled the beautiful Himachal, a petrol pump owner gave us petrol supplies for our entire journey on credit as the phone network was down so cards did not work and the next ATM was 70 kms away. Just our promise that we will send him the money after 15 days once we reach the city was sufficient. Am not sure how many other places in the world can match that.
Lost during a difficult trek through the Okhimath region of Garhwal a local villager shared his only chapatti-subzi gladly with me and even let me sleep in his charpuoy while he slept on the bare floor with outside temperatures ranging 3-4 degree centigrade. From being extended hospitality fit for the Gods to being treated as one of their own, my travels through India have been an enriching journey of self discovery.
This in no way means that people in Europe are not helpful. There have been occasions of being assisted by a drunk couple at 4 am in the morning to being guided by helpful locals in many place but the Indian experience is inimitable. The variety and heterogeneity of one locale from another is overwhelming. Perhaps what makes touring in India memorable is the fact that our rich natural beauty and architectural heritage is backed by a unique sense of hospitality that words cannot sufficiently express. You need to experience it to understand. So this holiday, go for a trek up the Himalayas or an expedition through the jungles of Madhya Pradesh or the beaches of Goa to get a taste of the exotic coupled with excellence.
An article by Sumana Sarkar