Farewell India


jod-setting-sun.jpg Chinese New Year is the opportunity for a lot of people in the world’s most populated continent to take a short holiday; consequently most flights across Asia are booked weeks ahead which we did not anticipate. For us, this meant that our plans to extend our stay in India in order to continue to visit more of the South at a leisurely pace were foiled. We had to go back to Mumbai in order to catch our next flight to Hong Kong; or we would have to stay for much longer and forget about Africa. This was not going to happen. And so after three months, twenty days, seven hours and thirty minutes in India, we had to leave.

Unfortunately, given the distance between Pondicherry and Mumbai, the time we had, and the time it takes to travel that distance, we had little choice but to book another internal flight. Otherwise this would have meant spending the last three days on a bus or a train hoping that we would reach the airport on time. But past experience taught us that is very unwise to rely on land transportation with a deadline. In India, it seemed like the world conspired against us every time we were on a tight schedule: the wheel of our bus in Ladakh could fall off, our train to Darjeeling was over 10 hours late, waiting list tickets would remain waiting list tickets, etc… Besides, we found that the average speed in India always seemed to be 30km/h, no matter what.

Flying to Leh So to our regret – and increasing carbon guilt – we gave up our snail pace and flew to Mumbai. I later discovered that you can buy off the guilt of flying through organisations such as ClimateCare.org, a UK company which sponsors projects which aim at reducing carbon emissions throughout the world in order to compensate for the extra carbon we emit. Airlines are also setting carbon offsetting schemes, both Cathay Pacific Fly Greener and Qantas Fly Carbon Neutral programs are designed to help us reduce our carbon footprint by proxy.

After spending so much time travelling through a country, the usual exercise is to look back and reflect upon the journey. But as all travel books warn, India is just impossible to pin down. Several books on India like to use this quote from Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian poet:

To a western observer our civilisation appears as all metaphysics, as to a deaf man playing piano appears to be mere movements of fingers and no music

amr-waiting-for-the-train.jpg This rang true on so many occasions. For example, the government-run railway company and its complex tickets reservation system involving obscure quotas and sometimes also baksheesh seems like an insane way of managing tickets – we still don’t fully understand how it works; yet most trains do run (eventually) and a lot of them at full capacity. In fact, we have been told that it is a successful business model that other countries are trying to emulate – God help us!

she-sexy-boys.jpg So many other things appear completely nonsensical. But I think that all these apparent contradictions only further aroused our curiosity. We’ve never read so many books and articles about a country before. We have devoured the local newspaper in the morning and assaulted our Indian friends with questions, to which they patiently replied – thank you Kartik and Rupal. The more we knew, the more we wanted to know; something drove us to go beyond the paradoxes and try to make a little sense.

But India can be an extremely frustrating place. Less than an hour after we arrived in India, we had to endure the absurdity of Delhi airport’s security rules. First, we were denied access to the domestic terminal because our electronic ticket was not printed on paper, but printers are located inside the terminal. Then we could not enter the terminal because no one was attending the x-ray machine – apparently, the operator was on an extended twenty-minute break which lasted for a couple of hours; later we were told the x-ray machine was broken – just like most taxi meters. And when we finally made it inside the terminal, the retiring rooms were suddenly full. This was our first night in India.

Suketu Mehta, the author of ‘Maximum City: Bombay lost and found’ summarises this aspect of India very well:


India is the country of No. That ‘no’ is your test. You have to get past it. It is India’s Great Wall; it keeps foreign invaders. Pursuing it energetically and vanquishing it is your challenge. In the guru-shishya tradition, the novice is always rebuffed multiple times when he first approaches the guru. Then the guru stops saying no but doesn’t say yes either; he suffers the presence of the student. When he starts acknowledging him, he assigns a series of menial tasks, meant to drive him away. Only if the disciple sticks it out through all these stages of rejection and ill treatment is he considered worthy of the sublime knowledge. India is not a tourist friendly country. It will reveal itself to you only if you stay on, against all odds. The ‘no’ might never become a ‘yes’. But you will stop asking questions.

– Maximum City, Suketu Mehta

she-wedding-party.jpg But we stayed on; and it was rewarding. If India has not revealed itself to us, we are certainly keen to discover more and continue to explore the country. We felt our trip was being amputated when we were told we had no chance of postponing our departure.

It is a strangely addictive place. India somehow manages to draw travellers back. Indeed, we have met several travellers who had been here dozens of times. Our Spanish companions in Ladakh had made the trip over thirty times – though they had stopped counting. I don’t know that we will be back that many times, but we are poised to come back.

8 Responses to “Farewell India”

  1. 1 Richard Clark Posted February 22nd, 2008 - 15:27

    Hey man, love your trip. It looks amazing. Is that a picture of Kartik and Rupal above? you can’t beat experience.

    Love the photos too. What is your camera? amazing colours… keep it coming.

  2. 2 christophe Posted February 22nd, 2008 - 19:04

    Hey Richard,

    Thanks! Actually, the photo comes from a wedding in a street in a village of Rajasthan – most weddings end up in the street at some stage, often with the groom coming on a horse adding to the craziness of the traffic!

    Kate took half of the photos, she’s got a little Sony camera. And I just got myself a new Nikon D40x in Hong Kong when we visited Gilles and Vanessa.

    BTW, we saw quite a few people travelling with toddlers… and even saw a couple with a young baby; so you might have been right after all… although their backpacks must be fully loaded with nappies.

    Anyway, hope all is well in Sydney.

  3. 3 Greg Posted February 25th, 2008 - 20:19


    Ca faisait un petit moment que je n’étais pas venu voir votre journal.
    A ce que je vois, tout s’est bien passé en Inde et cela restera une expérience inoubliable.
    Où en êtes-vous maintenant de votre périple?

    Grosses bises

    A bientôt

  4. 4 christophe Posted February 27th, 2008 - 1:26

    Salut Greg,

    On est maintenant au Nord du Laos, on se dirige vers le Yunnan en Chine dans quelques jours. Pour l’instant, on suit le developement des evenements au Kenya afin de determiner la suite de notre programme en ce qui concerne l’Afrique.

    J’espere que votre demenagement s’est bien passe et que l’on aura l’occasion de discuter plus longuement lors de notre passage en France en fin juin / debut juillet.

    Bises a Marie et Ambre.

  5. 5 richard lebreton Posted March 4th, 2008 - 1:04

    Where are you going to plant you trees? My mother like fruit trees and I asked her to live a bit of space in the garden.
    Forgot the adress so I googled “Christophe Kate” and you guys where the first in the list.
    Live and direct from Singapore. Done one of the four flights I need to reach Reunion Island. I wonder if I’ll remember my name on arrival! Haven’t started to drip on my Tshirt yet by my eyes look like I got to many magic cigarettes.
    Richard le breton

  6. 6 Richard Lebreton Posted March 4th, 2008 - 1:12

    I meant dribling (or whatever you write it) on my Tshirt.
    By the way, Dear Kate, “Kate Christophe” works as well.
    Love your work!

  7. 7 christophe Posted March 4th, 2008 - 1:17

    Hi Richard,

    Reading your comments from Jinghong, Yunnan in China…
    Even if you had left the comment as anonymous we would have guessed it is from you! We’ve had a couple of rough trips ourselves after insane connections – good luck with it all.

    BTW it looks like we are not going to be able to leave Asia until some time so I’m afraid the RDV in Paris will not work. 🙁

    Have fun on Reunion Island!

  8. 8 Philippedelmas Posted March 11th, 2008 - 1:59

    Salut Kate et Christophe,

    Les photos sont magnifiques, le voyage passionnant, ça donne envie de partir.

    Carpe Diem

    Ton cousin (parisien)


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