Some honesty

We’ve shared lots of striking images of India, and in this brief post we want to share a few more. Unfortunately, these are striking for all the wrong reasons.

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For everything that we read about India before our visit there – to dress conservatively, to travel in groups, to keep our passports and money close by, to watch our luggage at all times – we never read about this. We had no idea just how unbelievably filthy India actually would be.

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We talked a lot about whether we should share photos like this, and obviously we ultimately decided yes. If everything on the Internet is fake, then we want this site not to be. And when we remember India, some of the most vivid memories we have are of amazing experiences like visiting tea plantations and spice gardens and eating dinner in a Sikh temple with five hundred strangers, but they’re also of the nearly incomprehensible piles of rubbish (and human and animal waste) we stepped around and through and over just about every single place we went.

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To be fair, some parts of India are cleaner than others. We covered nearly 3,000 kilometers in the country over a month, so we do feel as though we’ve visited enough places to form a reasonably educated opinion. Mumbai was lovely, and so was Mysore. But Agra (home of India’s most-visited tourist attraction!) was filthy, and Bundi was – quite frankly – disgusting. What you don’t see in most of the India photos elsewhere on the blog is how frequently N had to crop images or frame things differently to avoid photographing all of the trash.

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There are a lot of things about India that are difficult for Western travelers to comprehend; culture shock was a very real thing for us. More people in India have mobile phones than have access to clean drinking water or toilets; this is an especially dangerous problem for women and girls. The rails of India’s train system have to be replaced, on average, after two years rather than the expected thirty years because the human waste dumped on the tracks corrodes the rails entirely. And in many places, you can’t just throw your trash “away” because there is no “away.” There is no one to come collect it and nowhere to put it even if they did. And if there is a place to dispose of it, people still live there, too. So it most often stays on the streets, and the animals eat it, and the rats come, and it spirals from there.

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Please don’t misinterpret this – we loved our time in India, and we’re so glad we went. And we’re not in any way claiming that solving India’s immensely complex social and cultural issues will be easy, or quick. But travel blogs are full of carefully curated, spectacularly gorgeous photos – and most of the time, ours is, too. This post is designed to provide an honest counterpoint to all that beauty, and to remind ourselves that even in our First World countries, throwing something away isn’t really away, because it doesn’t disappear – it just disappears from our sight. And it’s not typically in a huge pile on the street with animals and people both fighting over it and living in it.

8 thoughts on “Some honesty

  1. I appreciate your honesty but it does make me sad. I have been really bothered recently by the amount of waste in general here as I really try hard to recycle, be less wasteful and just aware in general. But these photos are sad but I wish I had a solution for everyone. Why is Agra visited so often?

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    • You have to do what you can, and if you’re conscious about your waste maybe others might follow your lead. Agra is the only city in the world with three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, an abandoned city that dates from the 16th century.

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  2. Waste management is a huge problem in India. Not only because the system is insufficient but also because people are uncivilized when it comes to hygiene. I am from Mumbai and I am one of the rare ones who gets disturbed when someone throws wrappers on the streets or spits randomly. But for most of the people it is a completely organic thing to do. We are evolving but very slowly blame it on the poverty or illiteracy. I completely agree with you and it breaks my heart when I see people littering around.

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    • Madhura, thank you for your comments; it’s interesting to hear from a Mumbai native regarding this issue. I do hope that the culture is changing, but it will take some time. Thanks for reading our blog.

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  3. Also the horrible air pollution that you can literally cut with a knife; or the constant stream of beggars often with heartbreaking physical deformities and leprosy; and men urinating at will at bus stops or really anywhere they happen to be.

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