When we first arrived in India, we knew three things: we were flying into Mumbai, we needed to see the Taj Mahal, and the cheapest flights to Thailand were out of Kolkata. As Kolkata was our final destination in India, we had plans to explore and learn all about what made the city special - but by the time we arrived, we were tired.
We were tired of city hopping every few days. We were tired of being stared at. We were tired of fending off tuktuk drivers, of listening to drawn out stories that always ended in pleas for money. We were tired of always feeling like we were being ripped off. We were tired of having to look down ALL the time to avoid stepping in trash or poop. We were tired of being really careful of what we ate. We were tired of… ok, you get it. We were tired of India.
Part of the reason we took so long to write these India posts is that we felt we needed to find some distance. When we first arrived, we knew India would be a challenge but we were determined to love it. Don’t get us wrong: there are plenty of amazing and fascinating things to love about India, but it is stressful as well. The worst part was when we’d had enough and could not bear to hear another “your hotel is closed but I know a nice place” story. We started to blow people like that off even though some of them were probably just trying to be nice. Another traveler said it to us best: “People travel to India to find themselves, and it turns out I’m an asshole.”
The most positive experience was staying with Lehar’s family. When traveling, you often only interact with those associated with the tourism industry and looking to make a buck off of travelers. It was a breath of fresh air every time we had the chance to meet and learn from “normal” people to see how life really works in India. Between Lehar’s family and the few other genuine locals who let us into their lives, we were able experience India in a way we would have never dreamed of otherwise.
Since we were pretty beat by the time we got to Kolkata, we spent most of the last few days relaxing in our hotel. We did manage to see the memorial for Queen Victoria, a large marble building surrounded by gardens.
We also went searching for craft beer. Unlike in New Delhi, we actually found non-Kingfisher beer, but it was so bad we’re not even going to mention either brewery.
Apart from touristy things, we also got to partake in the Indian currency demonetisation while in Kolkata. A few days before we left the country, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that all 500 and 1000 Rupee notes were no longer valid and all citizens had fifty days to turn them into the bank for new ones as part of a large-scale effort to combat corruption and counterfeit currency. This meant that we had to stand in line at a bank for about four hours trying to change the last of our now worthless money. We felt a bit silly trying to change our notes worth only $45 or so while other people had stacks of cash that may have been their life savings, but it was an eye-opening experience to see.
Looking back, we definitely have a love-hate relationship with India. There are plenty of things we could rant about, but we can’t forget the amazing experiences we had too. We might go back someday, but next time we would do things differently. Either way, it proved to be a learning experience for us even as well-seasoned travelers and left us with memories that will last a lifetime.