The land of Bollywood, curry and Gandhi, India offers an array of majestic adventures to embark upon. Every year roughly 750,000 tourists from Britain visit India for business or pleasure, and with these figures increasing annually India has become the fastest-growing Asia-Pacific market for the international tourist. Package holidays allow tourists to admire the scenery and soak in luxury for relatively cheap prices, while basking in the colourful Indian culture. For me, the prospect of sun and sea during the cold, miserable month of January was too exciting an opportunity to miss. So I hopped on a plane along with many other pale English hopefuls and jetted off to embrace the sun!
Tourists frequent the picture-perfect beaches of Goa in hope of relaxation away from their hectic lives at home. However, I quickly realised that searching for relaxation is a little optimistic as a tourist here. You become the gold dust of the locals’ finances, and they will not leave you alone until they make some form of gain. Before I had even set foot on the beach, an onslaught of taxi drivers, market sellers, boat owners, beggars and hostel workers swarmed in to offer me their ‘best price’. I felt like some prized meat at a cattle market. What was happening to my paradise? Had Shilpa Shetty set foot on Palolem beach, or did the tourist now warrant the same attention from the locals? My precious notion of a picture-perfect Palolem paradise was slowly being washed away by a swarm of these ‘tourist traffickers’ surrounding the innocent tourists. I must admit, my Western politeness often gave way to frustration and annoyance with the constant harassment of beggars and sellers while trying to relax.
Despite this stain in my ideal holiday image, the beautiful scenery remains preserved. You become a human camera, capturing beauty with every angle you observe – up until another seller approaches offering the same items as the seller before, and the seller after. With an untouched beauty and natural surroundings, tourists fall hostage to the colours and wonder. An array of spices, smells and sounds send your senses wilder and deeper into India’s chaotic nature. However, the food is very different to the local Indian takeout joint down the road. The homeland of vindaloo and naan bread, you better ensure you take some pills with you for the infamous ‘Delhi belly’ that follows!
Amongst the gleaming delights, tourists are shielded from the brutal realities of the poor. With the wave of tourists arriving in Goa, it has become a hotbed for the poorer citizens of India who wish to profit from the supposed rich tourist’s finances. I felt like I saw Slumdog Millionaire’s children manning the beachfront everywhere I looked. I now understood why physical deformities defined the majority of these beggars. Sadly, these children highlight the truth behind Danny Boyle’s tale. However, winning millions, getting the girl and ending with a dance are not realistic destinies for many of these poor youngsters. I can’t help but wonder whether there is any hope for these poverty-stricken children or whether tourism is simply helping to perpetuate their overwhelming presence.
I must admit, it’s fascinating to observe a culture whose attitudes and general demeanour are so different to the West. A web of chaos and confusion defines the coordination of the country and personally left me absolutely baffled. With one-hand sided car mirrors creating a cloud of constant beeping to allow for overtaking on extremely narrow roads, it’s amazing that Indians have not all died from road accidents! Cows are given free rein on the beaches while police forces line the front awaiting the next intake of Bagshish (bribes) that are used to supplement their salary. This all occurs around the daily power cuts that blacken out the cities and impede life in the towns. I was in complete awe by what seems like an unstructured web of chaos. When asking locals simply why these things are done, the general response was constantly ‘its India’, as if that was a sufficient and obvious answer to my puzzlement. Fair enough.
Shara Julliette Hikmet