The negatives: pollution, dirt, noise and persistent hassling

West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkand are amongst the poorest states of India and so far, after only 2 weeks of travelling through Kolkata, Ghiridi, the pilgrim town whose name i’ve forgotten, Dhanbad, Gaya and Bodhgaya, I have to say that the negatives makes it pretty tough going at times. Perhaps I’ll get used to it eventually. Anyway, I’m going to try to put all the negatives into a single entry, updating if I need to.

The secret of coping I think is to find a good guesthouse in which one can spend time in away from it all and relax. I’m writing this series of entries from Ram’s Guesthouse in Bodghaya. We’re paying way too much for it because i didnt bargain enough but the price is only expensive by local small town standards and it is still very cheap for what we’re getting – which is a large airy very clean well-lit third floor corner room with an attached bathroom (with hot water shower), two windows facing out into a verandah looking out over a small artificial lake, a village, the local water pump and something that looks like a combination of a field, a small swamp, a garbage dump and local wild pig hangout. It is a good distance from the main road and hence is reasonably quiet and free from traffic fumes. Plus we have the entire third floor and possible the whole guesthouse to ourselves because everyone else is staying in the Burmese monastery who charges a measly 50 rupees per person per night.

I’ve found that the clean guesthouse room criteria is actually quite important to me and this is from someone who lived in a semi-renovated house for 2 years lacking a bathroom and toilet. This is because after Thailand the outdoors of India seems to be strewn with every sort of rubbish, the drains are open and clogged with god-knows-what, any semi-private space seems to double as a toilet and in larger cities the air is polluted (but thankfully not in Bodhgaya).

The traffic noise just makes it worse. So far, i’ve not seen any functioning sidewalks. There are some here and there but they are either populated by stalls or street-people or covered in filth. Much of the time, i’ve been walking on the side of the road on which everyone walks. This means that you then compete with traffic for space and so far, it seems that the horn is an essential safety device in India. The horn is used every time a vehicle passes another vehicle or a pedestrian which means that, given the only road-rule appears to be to not hit someone else while driving as fast as you can, each driver uses the horn every couple of seconds. It can actually be quite painful to walk down a busy street, painful that is until one suffers permenant hearing damage.

Added on top of the traffic, dirt, crowds and pollution is the attention from touts, beggers and people just wanting to yell out a friendly “hello”. The first two are generally very persistent and will not take the first half-dozen negatives as an answer. The friendly greeters are just abrupt because as you’re trying not to make eye-contact with anyone in case they are a tout, the greeting invariably comes as a complete surprise. Unfortunately, many of those who wish to strike up a friendly conversation tends to turn out to be a tout of some sort although i have also met many people who have only wanted to chat and ask questions. For SG, there’s also the added attention from some indian men who stare blatantly and in such a fixed sexual way that it’s impossible to feel comfortable.  

Anyway, after a couple of hours of this, all i want to do is go somewhere quiet and clean, have a shower and wash my clothes. The dirt outside is going to be much easier to bear if you dont have a room where you’re reluctant to touch the walls and which has a bathroom/toilet of which the less said the better. Also, it’s not only how clean the room is but also how well-maintained the actual building is. Crumbling paint, rising damp, cracked walls and broken-down everything seems to be part and parcel of budget rooms. Ram’s Guesthouse is not like that and looks like it has even been re-painted recently. It was the first guesthouse we’ve been to which greeted us with a scent of washing detergent when we entered the room. All these were things we took for granted in Thailand.

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