India Part 2

One point I’d like to make for those interested in going to India is the very high level of security almost everywhere and not just at tourist centres and airports. Every hotel we stayed in had walk-through security, most scanned any large parcels that we took into the building and our handbags were searched.

At Delhi airport no one is allowed inside the building unless they are actually flying or has vetted authority to be there. So our taxi driver was only allowed to take us to the entrance and we were met the other side by an authorised person to help us book in.

Our tourist guide was regularly stopped by the police and asked to show his papers. But, I do have to say, all the security checks were carried out with a smile.

A selection of photos. Please remember that many were taken from some form of transport!

Delhi early morning – young boys playing around who were obviously supposed to be selling the flowers they were carrying.

Underneath the Arches: Delhi style. In this case underneath a flyover. The space under some flyovers is fenced off to stop people camping under them.

The Sikh Kitchen Delhi which serves over 10,000 free meals a day. It is run by volunteers: man women and children. Anyone and Everyone is welcome. Rock up, cover your head and eat! And it was spotlessly clean.

Driving through a typical village.

Rawla Narlai is a village of some 6,000 people. What amazed me was the juxtaposition of small houses, beautiful homes and dilapidated heaps all in the same road.

Some of the larger houses had a notice showing how much money the Government had paid to help them build the place and all the smaller homes proudly proclaimed that the Government had paid for their toilet. Just before we arrived the Indian Government had proudly announced that everyone in India now had access to a toilet and ‘squatting’ was prohibited. Unfortunately, not everyone had got the message and a newspaper report urged people to ‘dob in’ those who weren’t complying!

Right in the middle of the village was this magnificent newly constructed Jain temple. One of our mob was incensed that much money had been spent on a temple when so many people lived in poverty.

It was in the hotel in this village that we first came across notices asking us not to give to beggars: the village had a system for helping their poor. That, however, didn’t stop many of the children asking us for, of all things, pencils!

I know this is a very poor photo – but I can’t resist the story about a young man who loved his Harley Davidson. Unfortunately, he came off his bike at this spot  on the road to Jodhpur some twenty years ago and died. The police took his bike back to the station, but the next morning it had gone and was found here. They took it back to the station, locking it a cell, twice more and it returned to this spot each time. The father asked that the bike be left at the spot where his son had died, and being India, the police complied. It is now a shrine, with all the usual paraphernalia of drums, incense and the rest – along with the usual stories of people being slowed down and saved by a phantom bike rider.

The roads are in pretty poor condition – but they do get mended. Please note that it’s the women who are carrying the bricks and the men who are laying them and quite clearly this guy knew I was about to take a photo!

Beggar with a child – but everywhere else were people working by the side of the road or in garage sized places:


It is apparently the luck of the draw to see tigers – we got lucky!

Dawn at the Taj Mahal – pollution was so heavy we only saw the sky lightening.

The young girl who lit the votive offerings on the boat on the Ganges at Varanasi. We were warned that Varanasi could be confronting and certainly that evening was. We are not accustomed to seeing shrouded bodies lined up in the open or watching the flames from funeral pyres. Some 300 bodies per day are burnt there. 

The following day was a women’s religious festival. None of us could quite believe how many people were standing, swimming and jumping into the water!

And then back to Delhi, home and a large steak!

16 thoughts on “India Part 2”

  1. India has long had real security risks. There is, of course, the perennial headache that is Pakistan. But there are also a lot of other groups that make life decidedly more difficult. Most are domestic. Some are related to organised crime, some are related to religious fanaticism. A number blur the lines between the two. Thuggery is thuggery, whether secular or ecclesiastical. A number of years ago I read an opinion piece by a Sikh community leader about the lack of awareness of Indian realities in the UK. He wrote that during the Raj, however flawed it was, that there was a broad recognition that India had a lot of different factions and communities and they weren’t all on the same page. That has faded away.

    The dunny story… It’s telling. The world really is changing quickly. China, India, Vietnam, etc. are putting a tremendous amount of work in getting their countries together and advancing. In many Western countries, the quality of life is declining. I’m even shocked at the decline within my lifetime. One of my old uni colleagues recently moved out of Seattle because the quality of life has declined so precipitously.

    Did you go inside the Taj Mahal? I have seen pictures of the stonework and it looks tremendous.

  2. Christopher: thanks for the comment.

    I took some 2,000 photos and videos and it was very difficult to choose what to pick. Since it was the people that most impressed me – I mainly chose those of people. I really did not want to bore people with pictures that they could find elsewhere!

    Our tourist guide was a really nice guy, and I suspect that some of his opinions were not mainstream. He had no problems with the Raj – merely stating that it was the way things were and that India had benefitted from it. He did love to point out when certain Maharajahs had stood up to the British!

    He described what happened to both Muslims and Hindus during Independence as one of the most shameful episodes in the whole of Indian history.

    He, along with others, was incredibly proud of the fact that India had never waged an aggressive war. It may have fought alongside its allies – but had never begun a war.

    It seemed to me that India well understands the problems it has and is trying to solve them.

    I don’t know if I wrote here about my trip to Russia – where I was made so aware of when modern-day Russia started from. I felt much the same about India. We, in the West, took centuries to bring all our people up to ‘modern’ standards: these countries started so much later and have such huge populations and must, at the same time, compete on the world stage.

    Yes, I did go into the Taj Mahal. The stonework is magnificent – and the story behind the Taj Mahal is quite tragic – as I’m sure you know.

    The Jain temple in Rawla Narlai was also stunning – as were all of the other places we visited. I’ll put up photos of some of them if anyone is interested.

  3. Isn’t it the Jains who so revere any form of life that they sweep the ground ahead of them as they walk to avoid treading on any life-form?

  4. Boadicea: I spoke to an Indian man a few months ago about the Raj. He didn’t have much fondness for it, but he said that realistically, India would have been colonised by one or more powers anyway. The British weren’t necessarily great, but they were better than the French or Germans would have been. Another Indian man I have a great deal of respect for, Khushwant Singh, often argued that the British were not inhumane and hardly the cause of India’s problems — but that their smugness was a bit hard to take at times. He also criticised many in India for being quick to blame India’s failures, largely indigenous in origin, on the British.

    India’s was never an especially aggressive society. Part of it, I think, was that they had little need to be aggressive. Until relatively recently, India was more advanced than most other regions. What they didn’t have domestically they could very easily gain through trade. They had the cloth, spices and other luxury good that the world wanted. Another part of it is that Indians were far too busy squabbling with each other. There were countless was fought in what is now India. The Mughal Empire’s collapse was inevitable. That the British were there to assume control and provide order was unusual, but it did prevent the historical norm — a bloody fight for power. In some ways, they were more like the Chinese in that respect.

    In the 1990s, something really started to change in India. People began demanding more from their pollies. Part of it was the fact that China which had once been as poor as India suddenly charged past it in all respects. Another part of it, perhaps, was that with the fall of the USSR, there was suddenly little purpose for the “non-aligned” movement. It is heartening to hear that India is improving and making progress. As much as I like the Chinese, there needs to be a counterweight. A young, dynamic and vibrant India is the best-placed country in that respect.

    I’d love to see more pictures! You’re selling me on an Indian holiday.

    Sheona: Jains value life of all varieties and are staunch vegetarians. However, the sweeping of the street bit is usually reserved for Jain clergy as it’s seen as being impractical for every single Jain to do.

  5. Thanks for that link, Sipu. If Assad has now regained control of most of Syria, a large country, why can the refugees not go home? Even if they don’t like the man, living there must be better than existing in an overcrowded camp on a small Greek island.

    Thanks for your info, Christopher. I’ve been reading too much Kipling.

  6. Christopher:

    Of course we British (English) are smug – we all know that God is an Englishman!

    But, seriously, I had a number of conversations with people from Bali and other parts of Indonesia. I was often told that if they had to have been colonised they wished it had been by Britain. I tend to think that Britain does not have as bloody a reputation as many of the lefties in the UK would have us think. I look at Belgium’s actions in the Congo and wonder why no one ever berates them.

    I found it quite appalling that a young man from a ‘foreign’ place wanted to tear down a monument to Cecil Rhodes whilst studying on a Rhodes Scholarship. As you may gather, I cannot condemn how people acted in the past – we are all the products of our environment – and I would dearly, dearly love to be around in a few century’s time when the people of that era look with horror on today’s society.

    I read an article some time ago as to why India would eventually overtake China and analysed the very different way that those two countries worked. Quite simply, it noted that China was good at copying, reproducing, but had a problem with ‘free’ thought’. Whilst India’s approach was quite the opposite and encouraged free thinking.

    One of the photos I thought about showing was a vehicle, and I cannot for the life of me remember what they are called, but I will include the photo in another post. There are quite a few around. They are made from all sorts of odd bits and pieces of other things. Not being that technical I can’t remember them all. But, not being ‘motor’ vehicles as in cars, lorries, etc – they were not taxed as motor vehicles nor subject to the same laws, etc – but were simply accepted as a way of moving goods from one place to another. It is this sort of innovative approach to problems that I think is India’s great advantage.

    By all means go to India – but be prepared! It is so very, very different from Japan, which, as you know, I had major problems with. I found it all too restricted and formal. I simply cannot imagine any Japanese doorman singing an out of tune version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in appalling English as we entered and exited our hotel as happened in India.


    Christopher is quite right. Jainists do believe that all living beings are entitled to life, but only the clergy, monks and nuns walk around sweeping the ground before them. Jainists are, thus, strict vegetarians.

    We went to a Jainist restaurant and found that even some vegetables were ‘off the menu’. Onions, potatoes and other root veggies were not included in case an insect was killed when they were pulled up. It was, without doubt, the most boring and bland meal I ate there. Especially since we couldn’t even order an alcoholic drink to spice it up. But, that was, I believe, due to a misunderstanding rather than religious niceties.

    Nonetheless, our guide told us that the Jainist community is, generally, one of the richest communities in India and a massive contributor to philanthropic enterprises.


    You really need to revise your idea of what will cheer people up!

    One of Star Trek’s directives in the original 1966 series was not to interfere in alien civilisations. Would that world leaders thereafter had followed that very sensible suggestion and not meddled in the politics of other countries.

    The West is, indeed, reaping the consequences of its arrogant actions.

  7. Boadicea: The Parsis, Sikhs and Jains are among India’s most successful groups. Hinduism has many virtues, but it also has some darker elements including snobbery and at times caste-based cruelty. It’s not that there aren’t wealthy and successful Hindus — there certainly are and always have been, a number coming from the lower castes or even the untouchables. (Someone had to do unpleasant, dirty jobs and those doing it could set their price) but there is a vein of grim acceptance in orthodox Hinduism. That is, perhaps, why the most successful Hindu-majority regions of India are concentrated in the south. It’s not that I’m terribly fond of leftism generally, but the parties that have dominated the Dravidian-speaking southern India have generally been staunchly secular and reform-minded.

    What you heard in Bali mirrors what I heard from Malaysian friends. They’re proudly, fiercely independent but… Looking at nearby colonies such as the Dutch East Indies, French Indochina or the Spanish Philippines, British rule was far preferable. In French Indochina, everyone was expected to learn French, the language of government and business, but the fact that the French effectively centralised their empire made knowing French largely meaningless. The Dutch effectively prohibited Indonesians from learning Dutch — the language of law and government. However, they crafted a lingua franca that would, in turn, become the language of independence. By excluding them from any meaningful role in governance, they alienated the entire population. The British rather enjoyed ruling, but they encouraged the learning of English and allowed indigenous groups to participate in their own governance, even if only in support positions for a time.

    It’s hard to think of two countries more different than China and India. The Chinese tend to be succinct (unlike me), almost ruthlessly logical and very practical. Yet… They are also discouraged from being too creative. It goes back to the civil service system in which people were expected to remember classical texts verbatim, but not to come up with new ideas. Hinduism has its dark sides, but it does encourage creativity and striving for better, new outcomes. China can grow more quickly — it has grown more quickly. But right now, the limits to China’s model are being laid bare and China’s “issues” are becoming hard to ignore. Threatening to withhold medical supplies from rival powers unless they toe China’s line during a pandemic isn’t about to make them many friends. Nor, for that matter, has being reliant on China for goods and parts been shown to be an especially good idea.

    I’m getting older. Today, for the second time in a week I was surprised that someone had nearly the same order as me at Waitrose… Only to realise that it was, in fact, my order. I also momentarily forgot that there is, in fact, a two-pound coin and I had paid using one. This isn’t a good sign. I’d like to take the chance and see different things whilst I still can. I like Japan’s order, but, perhaps, seeing something else, something different will also be good.

  8. I tend to think of China as being like a hive of bees. China is an organism made of sterile homogeneous individuals who work and live for one cause, the hive. I understand that there is relatively little genetic or cultural diversity in China, which has been its strength and its weakness in the past and in the present. For centuries, civil servants were sent out over the whole country to instil the rules and practices as dictated by Beijing. India on the other hand is far more diverse and comprises multiple racial groups. The Hindu caste system has enabled them to live in relative peace, but in a world that increasingly insists on racial, religious and social equality, I cannot see it holding together for much longer. I realise that the different castes are not based entirely on racial grounds, but race plays a significant part as does the millennia of endogamy.

    Those are just my understandings. I could well be wrong.

  9. Sipu: China has 56 ethnic groups. That is a considerable number. Whilst China is roughly 92pc Han, the Han group is realistically an umbrella term. What is considered “Han” in Dongbei is very different to what is considered “Han” in Sichuan and that doesn’t have much to do with what is considered “Han” in Jiangnan, Fujian or Guangdong. It gets even more complex in places like Qinghai or Yunnan where intermarriage and cultural exchange is the norm. The difference between Chinese languages is far greater than between European languages. The Wu spoken in Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou have greater differences than Italian, Spanish and Catalan. People from northern Zhejiang cannot understand people from southern Zhejiang. Even when speaking standard Mandarin, you can tell straight away which part of China someone is from. It has been said that one reason why Xi Jinping has been so successful is that he’s the first Chinese president who actually speaks standard Mandarin as he’s actually a Beijing-native. Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin spoke a western Jiangsu dialect of Mandarin, Deng Xiaoping spoke Sichuan Mandarin, Mao Zedong spoke with such a strong Hunan accent that it was difficult to understand and Chiang Kai-shek was a native speaker of the Ningbo dialect of Wu. There was one overarching them in imperial China: do not cause problems. If imperial edicts were watered down or ignored, so be it if it kept the peace. Better an uneven application of the imperial will than mass riots. The Chinese are not and never have been any easy people to govern. China has as many internal contradictions as India. The primary difference is that China has thousands of years of history as a united empire. The Chinese do not necessarily agree with each other on that much and Chinese people tend to coalesce around people from their home provinces/towns. However, whereas Indians would very happily work with outsiders against rival Indian groups, nothing unites the Chinese quite as much as foreign intervention.

  10. Phew! I am glad I included, the caveat. Thanks to Mr Mackie for that. But judging by your closing sentence, there does seem to be some element of logic in the beehive theory.

  11. Sheona: I had, indeed forgotten that!

    Christopher: I’m not sure that I can agree with your views on Hinduism or on ‘untouchables’, who, as far as I can make out, did the dirtiest jobs and were penalised for that.

    The ‘caste’ system has ‘officially’ been banned in India – and there are countless statues to the man behind the movement to remove the stigma of being ‘untouchable’ – but it is alive and well as any perusal of the matrimonial advertisements in some of the weekend newspapers will attest.

    Many, many Indian marriages are arranged via adverts seeking suitable partners. Many advertisements, from both genders, include the profession of their fathers, and state their ‘caste’. Astrology still forms a major part in the arrangements – and if the charts of the two parties do not align, they are advised not to marry. It is also interesting that many of those advertisements were from people in their late 20s/ early 30s – if that doesn’t solve India’s booming population nothing else will!

    I also have to say that all the evidence I saw of Hinduism in ‘action’ spoke of a very vibrant religion with not a lot of the ‘Oh! God will strike me if I err’ of the religions of the Book. It is, as far as I can see, a religion that promotes self- responsibility.

    Don’t worry too much about a fading memory – we have all suffered from that for many, many years! I can never forget the time I lost the place mats – only to find I’d put them in the fridge – and I was a deal younger than you!

    Thank you for answering Sipu -I decided to leave it to you to correct him!

    I was particularly interested in what you said about intermarriage in some areas. One of our most informative guides explained the differences between various ethnic groups, having pointed out that it was only the Han who were limited to the one child policy. In my utter ignorance, I said: “But surely a lot of differences had been removed over the centuries by intermarriage?” He looked at me as if I’d just landed from Mars or even further and replied: “Why one earth would anyone marry outside their ethnic group?”

    He also made the point that even modern governments were very wary of causing ‘mass riots’.


    I think your analogy of a beehive is excellent. Each bee knows exactly how to perform in the hive and does that – and that’s how I see China.

    What Western doctor would have apologised for alerting his government that there was a new virus around? Only a Chines Doctor.

  12. Boadicea: Caste is based on merit from the previous incarnation. If you were born into a high caste, you lived a virtuous life in the previous incarnation. If you were born into a low caste, or, worse yet, as an untouchable you were not a very good person in the past life. There is not much in the way of eternal damnation. It just is the way it is. If you get things wrong, you can get things right. If you err, if you fail, you compensate for that by correcting your errors. If you’re born into a low caste in this life, do your best and work to improve your lot in this life and the next. My point about wealth was that some untouchables do have quite a bit of money simply because some of the worst tasks are also tasks that are very necessary and money can be made in them. Handling dead animals and dead bodies is critical, but it isn’t a pleasant task. They can demand payment. At the same time, not everyone born into a high caste is wealthy. Some members of the highest castes work as cooks, for example, because they’re clean enough (in the caste sense, not the personal hygiene sense) to cook for everyone. I recently read about a block of luxury flats in Bangalore. The quality of the construction and amenities is very high, but they have struggled to find Indians willing to live there because… The door man did not graduate from a university that was prestigious enough.

    Historically, intermarriage was not only normal, it was legally required. The Da Ming Lu, the Ming legal code, officially encouraged intermarriage whenever possible except with Uighurs because their green eyes were thought of as creepy. Yes, that is what the law said! This was done in order to absorb as many potentially troublesome ethnic groups into the Han fold as possible. The Hui, China’s largest Muslim group, are themselves a product of intermarriage between Han women and Persian/Arab Muslim merchants. In places like Yunnan and Qinghai, regions that were brought into the Chinese fold relatively late, there were far more young men settling than women. These are to this day still frontier regions. Young men want to marry, but there weren’t many Han women so they married local women. This was also the case in Taiwan, especially southern Taiwan, where relatively few Han Chinese women migrated from the mainland. Intermarriage between primarily Hoklo (people from Fujian Province, just across the strait from Taiwan) and aboriginal women was widespread. In more recent years, there has been less intermarriage. Currently, between 2-3pc of marriage in China are between people of different ethnic groups. This rate is, however, larger in areas where there are more ethnic minorities.

  13. I am feeling a little braver now, having discovered this.

    “About 36% of the world’s population are citizens of the Peoples’ Republic of China and the Republic of India. Including the other nations of South Asia (Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.), 43% of the population lives in China and/or South Asia.

    But, as David Reich mentions in Who We Are and How We Got Here China is dominated by one ethnicity, the Han, while India is a constellation of ethnicities. And this is reflected in the genetics. The relatively diversity of India stands in contrast to the homogeneity of China.”

    Mind you, I am not so brave that I would actually argue based on my own knowledge. But this site does at least lend some basis to my earlier ‘misguided’ contention about the relative levels of genetic diversity of the two countries.

    It was very decent of you Boadicea to leave it to Christopher to correct me. 🙂

  14. Sipu: In respect to having a dominant ethnic group, China does definitely have that. The Han do often have some non-Han ancestry, but it isn’t that much. There have always been so many Han that they would dominate economically You could compare it to, for example, someone from Kent who has distant Dutch, Huguenot and Viking ancestry. India has far greater ethnic diversity and there is no majority group.

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