TRAVELING IN INDIA -2013
The first issue most travelers going to India need to understand is that the majority of Indians do not
speak English; some speak only their state language and do not speak even their national language
of Hindi. Many signs and numerous news publications are written in English.
However, if you speak English, and need help in English you can always go into a pharmacy and
ask a pharmacist to help you. If you are in Delhi or a large city, just about everyone who frequents
the coffee houses; Café Coffee Day, Barista and some other attractive new café chains speak
English. This is also where you will meet people who own computers, for as brilliant as Indian’s
computer wizzes are, only a tiny fraction of people in India own computers. Generally, you will find
that younger Tibetans raised in India speak not only Tibetan but also Hindi and very good English..
For those speaking Arabic, although most Muslims on the Indian subcontinent (including
Afghanistan) speak and read Urdu or Farsi, there is usually an Imam in the larger mosques who
reads and speaks Arabic. (We noted not few television shows in the Gulf, Syria and Lebanon
Of course, there is only one place for French speakers and that is Pondicherry, on the East Coast.
On the other hand, living Saints having an international following, such as Ammachi (Mata
Amritanandamayee) have many people at their ashrams or monasteries that speak languages from
around the world. Dharmsala (McCloud Ganj) where H.H. The Dalai Lama resides, has many
Tibetans who speak English and many, many foreigners who speak dozens of languages
If you come from just about any country except the U.S. or in some cases Britain, you can easily and
cheaply put an Indian pre-paid sim card into your phone. If you are from the two most backward
countries in the worldwide telecommunications industry, then you can purchase an Indian phone
Often to purchase a sim card, you need to register. If you have to register, you are often required to
wait anywhere from a few days to a week before it activates. In reality, there are legal ways you can
purchase a card which can be used immediately. Nowadays, it is possible to keep your Indian
telephone number/pre-paid sim card unused for extended periods of time and return to India and
begin using it again. The length of time varies with carriers, so check on this when buying one.
Mobile phones, pre-paid sim cards and phone calls are very reasonable.
Computer Help & Internet
Those people who own internet cafes are usually quite savvy about computer, internet and wireless
issues. Using computers at internet cafes is easy and inexpensive and of course saves you the
trouble of carrying a computer around. Since so few people, (percentage wise of the Indian
population), have computers (something we hope changes soon) there are internet cafes
The small business people in India selling computers, repairing them or selling accessories
(modems) are almost always kind and willing to give you advice or help if you need it, although
depending where you are, language could present a barrier.
Now the great news about internet in India is that Micromax an Indian company, is selling a 3G
Network, 7.2MB modem that can operate on any company sim card throughout India and around the
world. This modem is a real blessing for people traveling to numerous Indian states, as Tata’s sim
card can be used in Tamil Nadu but not in Delhi and so it goes. As you can see, you might need to
change sim cards somewhere along the line as you travel. This is not an expensive proposition as
you buy the amount of data you think you will use until you arrive at your out of state destination.
And once again, pre-paid sim cards are very reasonable and can almost always be bought within a
block or two of your location.
There are reasons one might want to start out on one brand of sim card rather than another, such as
the amount of GBs, but usually the most pressing issue is the time it takes to get it started up or the
number of states it operates in. Airtel is one carrier that has wide coverage across India. If you have
an Indian sim card in your mobile phone with a fair amount of data capacity, you can move the sim
card from your phone and put it in your computer modem.
Indian companies work quickly, so perhaps by the time you read this, they will have an even faster
modem and as they were advertising fiercely on television, perhaps the price which was extremely
reasonable has also dropped.
Indians have good reason to be proud of their computer industry as they are way ahead of the game
in understanding the needs of their customers where the majority of people are far from wealthy. - If
only the American and British telecommunications industry were as intelligent. The majority of this
industry still think they can extort money from customers charging exorbitant rates and insisting on
long term contracts while their populations get poorer and poorer. The Indian computer industry,
however, has wisely grasped the McDonald’s ideal of “sell it cheap and sell a lot.”
India has a serious population problem. (Even Catholic grammar school teachers in Tamil Nadu told
us that they hoped the government would implement a family planning program.)
This means getting on any form of public transportation is always difficult. You can purchase a first
class sleeper on a train and end up with people invading your space to play cards all night while
sitting on your cabin floor. As per capita, India has perhaps one authority figure of any kind for every
5,000 people perhaps 10,000 and it is fairly unlikely you will see one on any train you take, except to
punch your ticket. Many visitors to India are absolutely fascinated at observing how India functions
with the absence of rules, laws and little government involvement. (David Koch take note.) Families
even in the most expensive train cars spread across halls as though it is their living room with
baggage, children and blankets strewn about. Some trains and some particular classes work fairly
well but it can be a toss-up. The upside is that Indian families generally love foreigners and will
include you in the labyrinth workings of their family triumphs and tribulations, but mostly their hopes
for their children or grandchildren, just as though you were one of them. You are lucky to be so
considered, it is a privilege. They also almost always want to share their food with you.
Local buses everywhere are almost always jam packed and most are decrepit, with windows either
permanently open or permanently shut, usually peeling, torn and /or rusty. Most buses have
probably never been washed in their lifetime. Almost all of them are built with seats for people the
size of an average healthy 10 year old, but it is unlikely you will have much time sitting anyway. The
surprising thing is that, amongst all this, people will often get up and offer you a foreigner their seat,
or even more likely an elder gentleman or woman will chide a younger person totally unknown to
them, to give you their seat.
There are long distance buses that are private but this is usually of little help, as to supplement their
income, bus drivers and conductors pick up passengers along the way, letting them stand, sit or
squat in the aisle next to you, so even if you have paid a fair price for your particular seat you are
not likely to arrive on time or to be comfortable. We don’t have an upside for this, buses are a major
grievance of ours.
There is Good News
India has a wide array of domestic airlines flying to just about every city in the country for usually a
reasonable cost. The planes have high standards, are generally prompt in take-off, well-run and
arrive on time, however, you may find you miss the lack of curiosity that you generate on the more
difficult forms of transport.
We are of the belief that amplifiers and speakers larger than a fist, should never, ever be sold in
India. The two worst offenders of noise pollution are surprisingly not politicians, although they create
their own version of noise, it is temples and the almost never-ending round of weddings. The
decimal level quadruples what is necessary to create deafness, and definitely keep in mind you are
not going to get any sleep if either a festival or a wedding is going on anywhere within blocks of your
There are no laws in India with regard to “Disturbing the Peace” and even if there were, there would
be no authority to enforce it. (Yes, David, my old friend, this is the country for you.)
Why Go To India
India is the birthplace of four religions; Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. In addition India
has some of the greatest marvels of Islamic architecture including the Taj Mahal. The archaeological
marvels that these traditions have left behind over thousands of years are beyond compare.
Nowhere else on the planet is there such a wealth of diverse architectural beauty representing so
many religions or spiritual beliefs, nor is there such a massive population consumed with the
question “What is the meaning of Life?”
The following “After-Logue” is for:
All of India’s Idealistic, Unbelievably Patient, Hard Working Citizens & Those Indians in the
AFTER-LOGUE TO TRAVELING IN INDIA
REVIEWING INDIA FROM A DISTANCE
The following are observations made by the Embrace Founders, one who is an Indian citizen and
the other who has loved India and has frequently traveled there for the past 30 years.
In frustration, after this most recent trip, we are noting many of the areas that India leaders and
potential leaders on all levels are failing their people.
There is a growing class of highly educated, talented, creative, well-informed and financially stable
citizens that have the power to take community leadership positions and radically change the issues
we speak about. The time is Now that Indian citizens must consider their country, state and
neighborhood with the same sense of urgency that they consider their own family.
The Indian Psyche - (An Observation)
The nature of the Indian people ancient or modern is one of sophisticated abstract thinking. Indians
were at the world’s forefront in asking and seeking answers to the most complex philosophical
questions a thousand years before Western philosophers even began to grapple with many of the
same issues. Indians have also been among the worlds’ greatest mathematicians - (keeping in mind
geniuses such as Ramanujam.) It is not surprising therefore, that the Indian mind has excelled at
computer sciences. This being said, the Indian psyche in general, does not like to trouble itself
about the physical world all that much.
For Instance . . .
For instance, in a country that has a space program and has developed the atomic bomb, Indians
still construct buildings with bamboo scaffolding. People still break their backs hoeing and shoveling
with the most primitive hoes and shovels known to modern civilization. Work women and men carry
mixed cement on their heads up stairs to construct buildings even in Connaught Circle, Delhi.
If India’s financial moguls; Tata, Birla and Mahindra, etc. can build multi-trillion rupee empires, why
can’t they invest in simple tool companies and up-to-date construction equipment such as: cement
mixers, metal scaffolding and bulldozers?
Why can’t the financiers of Mumbai invest in bus, train and metro transport systems that can
comfortably accommodate the non-stop increase in population? Why not build engineering
companies that can install municipal sewer systems and garbage collection in trucks in conjunction
with community volunteers, (if tax money or bond issues are not accessible?) Where are the
profitable recycling centers?
Indians & Organization
After years of traveling throughout India; East, West, North and South we have come to the
conclusion that the Indian psyche also rebels strongly against most forms of organization, which no
doubt is why Indians are so innovative regarding just about any issue requiring abstract thought.
However, this is not much of a solace for either citizens or travelers who find that there is no such
thing as a queue (or line) in most of India. For anyone attempting to get on a bus, train, into a temple
or see a bank teller, it is usually a quick stripping away of any false dignity. In fairness to the Delhi
Metro they have tried with considerable success to re-educate the Indian citizen about boarding the
trains. . . Can’t our Government, Banks and Businesses use signs to teach Indians to be fair - First
Come, First Served -Give Preference to the Disabled (?)
Leadership - Repair, Recycle!
After so many years of exposure to Westerners and Russians, is it not possible for someone in India
to organize and franchise licensed labor guilds that can train apprentices as; electricians, plumbers,
carpenters, masons and painters who can correctly repair something rather than letting every
building and anything that breaks down fall into ruin?
The widespread burning of plastic bags, plastic bottles and an especially toxic coal is creating a
deadly pollution in several states, but the worst without exception, is in Bodhgaya and Bihar in
general. Monks and tourists from around the wold visit Bodhgaya either arriving with face masks to
filter the pollution, or soon buying one after a day or two. Many tourists contract extreme respiratory
infections and hacking coughs just from short exposure to the pollution in this pilgrimage place
sacred to so many around the world.
Instead of burning plastic bags, is it not possible to finely shred and steam clean them, then use
them for mattress stuffing for both humans - and domestic pets (which then could be exported.)
Shredded bags could also be used for insulation and sound-proofing purposes in construction.
The Wonderful Delhi Metro
The Delhi Metro System is a shining example of what India can accomplish when it puts its mind to
it. The system is so advanced, that we have never been on such a massive, swift, clean,
inexpensive and easily used subway anywhere else in the world. The metro has taken thousands of
polluting vehicles off of Delhi streets and has made transportation to just about any corner of Delhi
swift, cheap and clean.
Health Education through Public Service Ads - Advertising Execs. Take Note
Once again, on this trip, we have begun to see an increase in lepers begging on the streets. We had
not seen many for a considerable number of years; although the Embrace Founders are well aware
of institutions which care for lepers in private quarters, such as the one run by the Divine Life
Ashram in Hrishikish.
The prospect of increasingly new victims contracting this preventable disease is horrifying. On this
trip, we have also seen children walk barefoot through open sewage. Basic safe hygiene is
unknown among too many of Indians poorest citizens. The youngest of these citizens are most often
the ones who are hired to work in restaurant kitchens and act as waiters.
There is a desperate need for a massive educational public service campaign to be broadcast
throughout all state television and radio stations, repeatedly and in the print media with instruction
on correct personal hygiene. In addition, there needs to be instruction on special hygiene and
sanitation for work in kitchens and restaurants. Furthermore, there needs to be cheap access to
soap, disinfectants, mops and clean water. No doubt a few of India’s many television “soap” opera
plots could incorporate the issue in an episode or two.
Although, safe hygiene and sanitation needs to be taught in schools, many of the poorest children,
such as those in Tamil Nadu, do not go to school; nor can they read or understand the national
language of Hindi because some of India’s state governments seem determined on keeping their
citizens poor by not enforcing it. It is common in such states, that only those children coming from
families who are intent on having their children go to college or getting a federal job, learn Hindi.
That means hygiene programs need to be developed in numerous state languages.
Good Citizens of India - Friends
India’s philosophers, saints and sacred places; whether Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Jain, Sikh or
Zoroastrian draw people from all over the world to India. The citizens of Indian should give these
visitors a vision of their country matching the idealism which brings so many here.