Posted by: kathandroger | February 8, 2016

Australia v. India.

Too soon, India is a memory. The second half of our cycle tour from the Persian Sea to the Indian Ocean finished a few days ago. I had to note down each day the sights we had seen, as they were so many and varied that the old brainbox was nearly overwhelmed. Seeing a country, via the backroads, on a bicycle, has got to be the best method of getting the feel of the place. We were eleven tourists with a main, local, guide, and three other Indians in support, driving the support vehicles and supplying the hungry and thirsty riders with sustenance. Having a well informed guide made all the difference, knowing when to stop at little spinning factories or the tiny outdoor sawmills, and even outdoor iron works with the men hammering rods of steel whilst the women worked the bellows. I feel we have seen a part of the enormous country as it really is rather than through the windows of an air conditioned coach. We cycled over the hills of the Western Gats, and left behind the mayhem of the east, to be replaced by the colonial feel of the rubber plantations and later, the huge tea areas. Temples are not really our thing, but the magnificence of them cannot be denied, and they are all over the place. One thing we found disturbing was that in several villaged where we spent the night we were woken at 5am by the megaphones from the local mosques. Only about 10% of the population are moslem, but it is a measure of the tolerance of the other religions that this noisy intrusion is condoned. We found the locals always ready with a smile and encouragement, and never once felt threatened in any way. Local curries, often home produced, were wonderful, although the alimentary tract did react in the expected fashion, spectacularly, one morning. Interestingly it seemed to be cured by lemon tree oil in lemon tea, and although it made the mouth go numb for several minutes, there were no more gut protestations.

We both had a local Ayervedic massage at one stop. This involves being rubbed all over with various oils, cold then hot, and being generally pummelled. All the greasy stuff is then boiled off the skin in a steam bath. Not sure about that one! Not sure, either, about the local Toddy- a drink collected directly from the sap of the coconut tree. We bought a bottle after seeing it being collected, and although out guides thought it nectar, none of us soft bellied europeans could manage more than a few sips. One of the latter nights was spent on a houseboat, cruising the huge lake and canals near the western coast, and trying to identify the dozens of different birds we saw. On the trip there were animals everywhere, even an alligator, and monkeys, squirrels, goat, cows, dogs, cats chickens and buffalo often blocked our path.

The overall impression for me is of a remarkable country, poor in materialistic possessions, but rich in personality and enjoyment of life. Kids and parents rushing out of their one room matted houses to shout and wave, the respect paid to the multiple animals. The children themselves always beautifully turned out for school, with uniforms and lovely matching ribbons and flowers in the girls hair. The religious belief is witnessed by the well kept shrines which litter the country side, and the gentleness people seem to show to one another, despite the overcrowding. The world is a big place, and there are so many places to visit, but India has impressed me enormously.

And so on to Australia to see a daughter and family in Sydney. It has only been one day, but having been here several times before I know it well. What a contrast! A morning on the beach and a swim in one of the multiple sea pools, followed by a trendy lunch outside and watching the locals at their daily routine. There are few motorbikes, and no tut tuts. Traffic is quite heavy but I didn’t hear a car horn. The vehicles are all new, shiny and often powerful and flashy. There is no litter, and each suburban house is immaculately kept and of roughly the same age. This is a booming country, with hugely expensive housing and a multinational population. Leisure pursuits are all over, with the sea close at hand and facilities for all sports. I love it.

But I can’t help feeling we have lost something, somewhere. With all this wealth and possessions I don’t think the overall sense of satisfaction is better. The kids are the same here, although they are often playing computer games rather than with broken sticks, but I cannot feel any greater adult feeling of contentment that in India. Families are often more widely scattered and less often seen; my own children live in three different countries. No more are the parents looked after by their families in their dotage, and in general the family unit is less important than in India. France is a more like the latter country in that respect, but maybe only in the country areas.

Which would I choose? Oz of course; we have been culturally altered over the past centuries and much as we love India, there is no way it could be our home. But huge respect for that vibrant country.


Responses

  1. Very nice post. Thanks for expressing your thoughts in such a cogent fashion. What you’ve said chimes with my thoughts on Australia (although I’m not sure how long the good times in Australia will last, now that they’ve stripped the country of its raw materials and/or nobody wants them).


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