Indian tourists are just as goofy as our own
I started to like India more when I saw that their tourists can be just as goofy as our own.
Indians, too, flock en masse to touristy spots in India. They also eat at overpriced yet bland restaurants overlooking the sea. They buy plastic made-in-China knick-knacks from souvenir hawkers.
And they hold the sunset in their hands or pinch the top of a palace for pictures. Just like we do.
This made me like India more because it demystified a frustratingly opaque people. Since I arrived in the country (through Tamil Nadu state), I haven’t been able to see past the culture shock. I saw a people with markedly different customs and ways of interacting from the other countries I visited.
And these were so alien that I had no inclination to try to understand them.
I saw a society that made the collective decision to make their cities look like garbage dumps. And this is fine for severely under-developed places like some regions in Africa and Papua New Guinea.
But those are places where large-scale social organization is still relatively new. They were clusters of unrelated tribes clumsily packed into nationhood.
Indians, on the other hand, have had organized societies for millennia. They comprise the fastest-growing free-market democracy in the world. Is this the best they can do, I wondered.
Seeing Indian tourists in an Indian touristy town was that critical jigsaw piece that gave me the first idea of what the whole should look like. It afforded that lovely event of long-term travel when one stops admiring how different people are, and starts to marvel instead at the similarities.
Hey, they’re not that weird, I finally reckoned.
And there’s an added bonus: Indian touristy towns were built primarily for Indians. In Mahabalipuram and Manniyakuram, for example, the signs are mostly in Tamil, with the occasional Hindi translation for the truly foreign.
I can still feel like the intrepid traveler despite being every bit the camera-toting, flower-shirted tourist.
Another reason to like India a bit more.