India, you beautiful mess #2Comments Off on India, you beautiful mess #2
Time for a break in the back waters – Alleppey. We meet my friend Sachu, who lives and works in Alleppey organising boat trips and packages for tourists. He takes us to a lovely little homestay right on the beach where we are warmly greeted by a bubbly lady who shows us our palm thatched cabin, complete with tiny beach puppy. We love it, we love India. The sun sets right over the ocean and dips into the sea as we swim.
The next morning we wake up to all the sounds; amplified temple music, crows cawing, and through it all the sounds of waves. And then the smell, burning. My sleep laden brain tells me our little hut is on fire before I realise that no, it’s just rubbish burning time and the pile happens to be right by us. Fine I’ll get up then.
Our friend Sachu meets us and we chat about his business before we head out on a boat trip. He says it’s tough, there’s so much competition and so many houseboats. It’s not the idylic place it once was. Unregulated tourism means there are more than 1000 large houseboats out on the water, mostly with big dirty engines, pumping out fumes and polluting the water. We chose to explore the waterways in a canoe, no engine, no pollution, just one very strong boatman who did let me row for a bit! We move very slowly (there are four of us in the canoe) but we can fit down the smaller canals and waterways where tiny villages perch on thin strips of land and where people are cooking, washing and drinking. It’s still beautiful here but you can’t help noticing the colour of the water and all the floating rubbish.
You might, quite understandably think the rubbish is down to tourists, but you would be wrong. One running joke through our trip was trying to find a bin when you needed to throw something away or recycle it. They are very rare, you won’t find them on the street, at bus or train stations, even at hotels. The rubbish is just out there on the street and it’s mostly plastic so it’s there to stay. Sometimes, in Splott when I see someone litter I will pick it up, tap them on the shoulder and tell them they dropped something. This would be a full time job in India and a pretty pointless one at that. Things are thrown out of buses, rickshaws, windows, onto pavements, beaches and backyards. Admittedly, if it’s vaguely edible the street cows, dogs and crows will clear it up pretty sharpish but the piles of plastic just sit there stubbornly, decorating the streets and beaches.
Another frustration of mine was bottled water – you can’t avoid buying it. Drinking the tap water would almost certainly make you ill in most places and in a months trip I only found two places that would re-fill my reusable bottle. I know all this is a huge generalisation and just my experiences in a short time, of course there are Indians that have bins, recycle and reuse, but they are not the majority.
However as we made a last stop off before the long journey home I was in for a pleasant surprise. Fort Kochi, is an old fishing village with a romantic blend of Chinese fishing nets, old Portuguese and Dutch buildings, churchs and basilicas. But for me the real surprise was the bins, yes there were bins all along the shore and of course threatening signage to remind you that littering is a punishable offence! Further down the coast we stumbled across an even bigger surprise – an art installation of a giant schol of fish upturned with actual plastic bottles sticking out of their stomachs. A clear message that India is aware of what all the plastic we generate is doing in the ocean.
Now it might just be a coincidence, but also whilst I was in India it was announced that all forms of disposable plastics are being banned from it’s capital city, Delhi. I was quite pleased with myself, just incase. This could be huge.
It’s hard not to feel a strange, useless pang of guilt when you see what our Western aspirations have done to a huge, vastly populated and fast growing developing country. Maybe we should be hanging our heads in shame as we walk around the city, maybe they hate us for this. It appears not, well not unless they want a selfie with you so they can be mean about you behind your back. In the less touristy places being white seems to grant you celebrity status, we lost count of how many pictures we were in and even got dragged into a scene for a music video. Many of them admire us, maybe for how we look, maybe for what we have, our freedom and opportunities. Everywhere you turn people want to chat, ask questions, learn something new and tell you about their lives. The people are beautiful, funny, patient, kind, laid back and eager to help.
So despite it’s flaws it’s hard not to fall head over heels in love with India. It’s taught me a lot and I feel so grateful. No one and nowhere is perfect, we are all just a beautiful mess.