As recorded by the collection of snapshots in the past two weeks, my first visit to India has been most rewarding and diverse. Obviously, there were downsides, from a certain of level of (personal) paranoia about bugs, germs, bacteria and viruses (!), i.e. about food and water, to a rather unpleasant stay in a medium range traveller hotel in Varanasi (before moving back to a more up-scale hotel, thanks to Nicolas and Pierre!), to a moderate (for me!) impatience when faced with delays and inefficiencies. But the numerous historical places and temples, the diversity of the people, the exotic fauna and flora, the amazing colour pallet of towns (from the Red Fort to the Pink City) and people, the highly pleasurable food, the many discussions with locals in trains, museums and hotels, all those more than made up for the above downsides and made me wish for other visits to India in the near future (and acknowledge my need of a certain buffer in accommodation, alas!).
Beside the feeling of an ancient, rich, and multifaceted culture, what I particularly enjoyed during this trip was the gentleness and helpfulness of most people I met, most of those being complete strangers. Each time, I could not help but reflecting on the immense difference of living standards between them and I, and on the high likelihood that I would have felt strong resentment were our respective situations exchanged. (Hence the communist party snapshot below: it is a bit of a wonder to me that there is not a push for radical changes in the structure of the Indian society from a large majority of people, given the extreme poverty of this majority, worsened by the apparent lack of structures provided by the Indian State[s].)
I often had the impression during that trip that India, maybe like most other developing countries, was a big scale experiment in deregulated capitalism: the almost complete absence of a welfare state and the resulting freedom for any (economical) experiment are strong incentives for entrepreneurship, at any level, as I could witness when driving in rural India or walking in the streets of Jaipur, Agra and Gwalior. The dark sides of the experiment are obvious (and been noticed by many before me!): unlucky ones have the toughest time surviving, there does not seem to be a huge sense of solidarity—as illustrated by the driving pattern borrowing more to thermodynamics than to the driving code—even though I can hardly judge from my sheltered and foreign perspective, the wealth distribution is hugely uneven and does not seem to imply much of a redistribution, religion is deeply ingrained in an overwhelming part of the population, often bordering on obscurantism and explaining in part the resignation of this population about the social structure of the society (thus acting as an “opium” in Marxist terms!), and always threatening to throw one part of the population versus another one, pollution is omnipresent, from garbage piles to open fires (and deforestation) to unchecked factory exhaust (a cement factory near Janshi was specially appalling, repainting the whole neighbourhood in fifty shades of grey…), both corruption [that I never experienced] and begging [that I did experience, although very rarely at an annoying level] thrive due to low salaries, &tc.
Nonetheless, and again acknowledging the harsh and unjust social structures there that call for drastic reforms, I come back with the impression of a dynamic and cheerful people/country. Namaskar India, till next time!