Dan, my friend from Denver, Colorado stretched his long legs as we sat with a cold and refreshing glass of beer that evening. We were at my Club in Bangalore, in the south of India. I asked him for his first impressions of my country. This was his first visit to Bangalore and indeed to India. He thought for a moment and said “Two things struck me. The first is that I have never in my life seen so many people in any one place. Just how many of you are there? And the sheer diversity! I don’t know what to say!!” His reaction was common enough.
“Incredible India”, is the theme used by the Ministry of Tourism of the Government of India. I think the phrase captures the essence of this huge country, so well.
Dan came from a place with a population of about 600,000 while Bangalore had only about 9 million people more than that! For that matter, while the population of the United States is around 312, 595,011, the population of India is 1,210,193,422 or over 1.21 billion people. In many parts of the United States you could drive for miles, without seeing another person. In India, you would have to drive for miles to avoid seeing another person, if at all that were possible!
Add to that another startling fact; as much as 50 % of this huge population is less than 25 years of age. If you consider 35 years, this figure jumps to 65 %. This is a huge contrast to many countries of the West with their ageing populations.
India perhaps offers more diversity in various facets of human life in comparison with most other countries. Take language for example, we have 18 official languages, with many more dialects and languages being in use, though not considered “official.” Hindi, the most common language in the north of India, alone has over 250 million speakers. Schools in India teach more than 50 languages, we have films in 15 languages, newspapers in 90 or more, and radio programs in 71 languages!
India extends some 3200 kilometers or 2200 miles from North to South and has every conceivable natural form, from the snow clad mountain peaks of the Himalayas, to jungles, deserts, huge rivers and, bordering us on three sides, vast water masses, of the Indian Ocean in the south, the Bay of Bengal in the east and the Arabian Sea in the west. This gives us a coastline of 7517 kilometers or 4671 miles, with many famous picturesque beaches, especially in the south-west of India. The land frontier is of 15,200 kilometers or 9445 miles.
At a time when the rest of the world faces severe economic problems, India has been maintaining a healthy growth rate of about 7.7 % in the second quarter of 2011. Its average quarterly growth rate in GDP from 2000 right up to 2011 has been 7.45 %. But diversity also covers poverty. India has a juxtaposition of the very rich and the very poor. On one hand, 50 billionaires made it to the Forbes List of the World’s Richest People. But we are also home to 37 % of the population who, as estimated by The Economy Watch in 2010, existed below the Poverty Line. For all that, the outlook is promising. A recent article in the Economic Times speaks of how India could conceivably be an economic super power in 2050 with purchasing power of $ 85 trillion.
Let’s put the hard facts behind us and speak of what I believe makes India truly unique. There is a strong cultural heritage that offers considerable respect to traditions, family values and respect to elders. The hospitality of India is legendary. The ancient Sanskrit proverb says it all “Athithi Devo Bhava” meaning “the Guest is God.” Even in the humblest of homes, you will be first be offered a glass of water or something to eat, quite irrespective of how much they have themselves.
We can boast of a large range of tourist offerings, ranging from adventure sports, mountain sports, water sports, and a long list of heritage sites that reflect India’s ancient culture. Our cuisine is again highly diverse as is only to be expected. The average tourist might find our food very spicy but does develop a taste for it over time.
Our age old markets sit cheek by jowl with glitzy modern malls, comparable to the best in the world. Our luxury hotels are considered to be at par with the best. Amongst the more beautiful ones are the former palaces in Rajasthan that have been converted to luxury hotels, perhaps the most famous of them being the splendid Taj Lake Palace at Udaipur.
The typical Indian street is noisy, bustling with people, and everyone seems to be talking at the same time. The colors reflect the myriad personalities of our people. The bright saris worn by the women are now fast being replaced by the ubiquitous North Indian salwar suit. You will take in the jewels that adorn our ladies, the piles of food stuff displayed in the road side eateries, the mounds of vegetables and fresh fruit sold by street hawkers. The traffic is so chaotic it will force you to re-learn your motor driving skills. Every inch of space on Bangalore’s busy roads is taken up by vehicles of all description. From the latest international models of cars to old trucks still chugging along, when they would have been pensioned off many years ago, in most countries. We also have the three-wheeled autorikshaw the ride in one being quite an experience in itself as the driver maneuvers his vehicle into corners and gaps you would not have thought possible.
So as I then told my friend, Dan “There you have it. Ours is a very colorful country, attractive and repulsive at the same time. A mixture of paradoxes. You have some of the most narrow-minded people as well as some who are so spiritual that their thinking spans things beyond this world”.
The sights and sounds of India can never be described fully. They need to be experienced. So if you are planning your next vacation, don’t go to where you have gone so many times before. Explore something new, something so very different. Experience India. Incredible India.
He is based in Bangalore, India and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.