Yep. There is a sucka’ born every minute.

This story left me conflicted.  On the one hand I hate to see ignorant people (tourists in this case) taken advantage of.  On the other hand I feel like all those wanna-be hippies that slurp up exoticised “Indian” culture deserve what they get.  The Guardian reports:

India has always had an embarrassment of riches for the traveller: marble Moghul tombs, grand palaces, palm-fringed beaches and Himalayan treks. Now the country has a new tourist attraction on offer: the village.

To anyone who has spent time in India’s villages, paying to sun oneself while cattle loll and cowpats dry under the sky might seem a little far fetched. But for Renuka Chowdhury, India’s tourism minister, the villages can easily be repackaged as exotic destinations where foreign tourists can enjoy rural pursuits such as drawing well water and churning butter.

“We will encourage people to come and stay with Indians – the way Indians live – and learn from the masters … This will bring the world to the villages,” Ms Chowdhury told Reuters.

The more adventurous tourists can sample the army camps of Kashmir, a state that has been wracked by an insurgency since 1989 and where more than 80,000 people have died.

“Sample” army camps in Kashmir.  That’s rich (although not unprecedented). I bet they charge extra if you want to be introduced as a Dalit into your chosen village.  Don’t get me wrong, there ain’t nothing wrong with slumming it.  Just do it for the right reasons.

38 thoughts on “Yep. There is a sucka’ born every minute.

  1. stay with Indians – the way Indians live –

    Oh, of course. All Indians graze cows and churn butter by hand, for a living. Poor dears.

  2. I wouldn’t want to be there when the androids finally rise up and destroy all the humans…

  3. I am thinking along the lines of a Shantaram tour of Mumbai and adjoining villages; along the lines of the Da Vinci tour. Sure, it gouges foolish faddist flockers to India, but it IS tourism we’re talking about…everything is legit, including $10 bottles of Evian served with a twist of lime.

  4. re: Oh, of course. All Indians graze cows and churn butter by hand, for a living. Poor dears.

    Much as our angst ridden urbanite 2nd gen American Indian cousins would like to think that all Indians are now metrosexual multi-taskers working in the creative arts and IT Solutions, at least 75% of India is still rural.

    Its just that the monied NRI diaspora doesn’t bother paying any attention to them anymore, as they are, frankly, a litle too brown and unglamourous to take any notice of.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/4287310.stm

    Newsnight reported that sari weavers are now starving to death in the face of competition from China, whose mechanised looms can produce cheaper, better quality saris than their hand-weaving counterparts. Not important enough to mention here?

  5. “at least 75% of India is still rural”

    I think that figure is closer to two-thirds, but your point is noted.

    That being said, note that “rural” does not necessarily equate grazing cows and churning butter by hand. But I definitely agree that there are hundreds of millions of people (both the urban and rural poor) who are more representative of the Indian experience by dint of numbers– though not by dint of media representations…

    I mean, the malnutrition rate among Indian children is comparable to sub-Saharan Africa; in aspects like clean drinking water, and literacy, we are behind or at most at par with countries like Syria and Egypt, primary school enrolment as a % of the population is worse than Iran, Egypt, and more than one sub-Saharan African country. It’s appalling.

  6. “I am thinking along the lines of a Shantaram tour of Mumbai and adjoining villages; along the lines of the Da Vinci tour.”

    Some chillum, ganja, dishum-dishum, juggi-patti, and ofcourse, Leopold.

    But no, Evian.

  7. Now the country has a new tourist attraction on offer: the village.

    yea – this concept has taken root – catering to a large extent to the monied domestic segment. The equivalent to this in the west would be the dude ranches – saw a couple of snaps from my uncle from their visit to a faux rajasthani village – everyone got a red turban with little white polka dots,got seated on floormats, fed on thaalis placed on little raised stools with multicolored legs – dancing women in a corner, and men playing on traditional instruments on a earthen platform under a tree, camels parked in a corner, poop cleaned every few hours etc. – after a while, everyone says vaah vaah and drives back home – the other link you point to abhi, as being more ‘real’ – mixed feelings abut that – camel tourism is very popular industry in that part of the country – especially the jaisalmer region – but it is as real life as the indiana jones ride in the theme park – there’s nothing wrong and i did an abbreviated version – but it’s too choreographed for me – i got more thrills in getting nearly overrun by a herd of donkeys, cycling down an alley in udaipur. I did cycle over to such an ‘artisan village’ in udaipur though – got talking with a ‘truly authentic’ villager – ended up dumping the charade and he gave me his card and told me to call him if i wanted to start a business dealing with indian handicraft in the west. yup – and he had an email address – chuckle – yup the trickle down effect is working. yup… ok… there is some reference to this in my wretched blog linked above… why wretched? uhh… because it’s so off the main thoroughfare, even I’ve forgotten my password.

  8. Newsnight reported that sari weavers are now starving to death in the face of competition from China, whose mechanised looms can produce cheaper, better quality saris than their hand-weaving counterparts. Not important enough to mention here?

    As incredibly fun as it must be for you to jump to conclusions, next time, kindly try a simple search of our archives before getting accusatory on our asses.

    I covered it.
    Almost A YEAR AGO.

  9. “saw a couple of snaps from my uncle from their visit to a faux rajasthani village”

    god, i went to a rajasthani village recreated in hyderabad in 2003. it was pathetic. if i was not in a group, i would have bolted. in 2004, i told everyone at the meeting, i’ll go charminar and golconda fort as many times, but no fake rajasthani village.

    the original rajasthani villages are awesome. in eighties, i did some field work there.

    in delhi, they have some good stuff.

  10. I think the response to this scheme has been kind of harsh. Even Mohandas Gandhi is quoted as saying that the true India was to be found not in its few cities, but in its seven hundred thousand villages. Most travellers and backpackers I know and have met along the road really want to find this village experience, but have no organized means with which to do so. I think this could be a really good thing.

  11. DonÂ’t get me wrong, there ainÂ’t nothing wrong with slumming it.

    yeah there is! It raises the cost of living for the quaint/authentic/ghetto/artistic/pastoral folk the slummers descend upon!

    (italics mean sarcasm)

    How unimaginably self-absorbed to you have to be to want to vacation among people who are half-starved..and expect them not to resent your rich fat presence? My god.

    Take advantage of them! I’m all for $10 Evian! Just make goddamn sure some tourist-tax is allocated for a small business development fund for each village or something…

  12. cicatrix said

    yeah there is! It raises the cost of living for the quaint/authentic/ghetto/ artistic/pastoral folk the slummers descend upon!

    I agree on some elements – but disagree on most. The effect you’re talking about is not restricted to south asia. For instance in USA – parts of Santa Fe have been so gentrified, and the municipal laws are so rigid around maintaining a certain adobe look to the city – the local working class has been driven out into the fringes – and the only people who can afford to live there are the very rich, who may choose to live there only part of the year anyway… anyway – this is an old topic. In the Indian context, I think this is a GOOD idea – first – tourism (domestic and foreign) is a big industry. Second – whether you are skeptical about this impacting water and electricity – it WILL ensure that transportation and communication channels will improve to the relatively remote parts of the country. On the flip side, it might cause land prices to go up – anyway.. I’m just rambling now… somebody else take it up – i’m no freaking economist – i want to be a clown and blow soap bubbles out of my nose.

  13. “I think this is a GOOD idea – first – tourism (domestic and foreign) is a big industry”

    tourism with soft footprints can do wonders, for example, Botswana. it has done wonders to the people and the wildlife there……the key is “soft footprints”.

    india is improving but a long way to go. last year, i went to number of tourist spots near hyderabad with guys from around 30 countries. i felt india could do a better job at marketing “india inc.” to them.

    i agree about santa fe.

  14. I agree with Sajit. We’ve got dude ranches here, in Europe, everywhere. People like something different, and something different they will find. Let Indian villages make a buck off of it–milking cows and sleeping outside does not necessarily mean half starved. I’m sure there’s a continuum of economic status across rural India, and I wouldn’be be surprised if some of the people on those continuum are happy to make some rupees off the tourists. At the margins we’re talking about, I really don’t see how it would raise the cost of living for the locals. I don’t think it’s that self-absorbed. People go out and try new things, see new places, because they’re interested. This is an important slice of the global world. 660 Million people is, what, 10% of the world’s population? Maybe someone wants to check the lifestyle out and see if it makes them think. Different people have different ways of learning and figuring stuff out.

    I think the mutiny can be a little knee jerk harsh on anyone who isn’t brown taking an interest in South Asia that doesn’t conform exactly to the mutiny’s conceptions of what form aforementioned interest should take. Let’s not tar every non brown person who hangs out in the villages and is interested in religion or traditional culture as a hippie slurping up exoticized culture. Considering the immense size of India’s tourist industry alone, that’s a kind of well, stereotyping.

  15. “Let’s not tar every non brown person who hangs out in the villages and is interested in religion or traditional culture as a hippie slurping up exoticized culture. Considering the immense size of India’s tourist industry alone, that’s a kind of well, stereotyping.”

    Saheli, you’ve got a point there.

  16. Even Mohandas Gandhi is quoted as saying that the true India was to be found not in its few cities, but in its seven hundred thousand villages.

    That’s hardly a defense though. MK Gandhi was also guilty of essentializing which is itself a form of exotification. India has had cities for ages. Why is the rural life any more “authentic” than the urban? More representative, perhaps, but that’s not how they’re selling it.

  17. Much as our angst ridden urbanite 2nd gen American Indian cousins would like to think that all Indians are now metrosexual multi-taskers working in the creative arts and IT Solutions, at least 75% of India is still rural.

    Oh, come off it. Like you who stay in urban India spend all your time mentally “bonding” with that rural population and its issues? Get off your nonexistent high horse.

  18. Suketu Mehta’s in “Maximum City” compared Mumbai’s slums to villages in the city. So tourists in a hurry can jump across the wall surrounding the Mumbai airport and enjoy a quick holiday.

  19. India has had cities for ages. Why is the rural life any more “authentic” than the urban? More representative, perhaps, but that’s not how they’re selling it.

    This is very true. Asserting that “the real India is in the villages” is like someone saying that in order to see the “real” United States, you need to go to some rural backwater small town in the middle of Kansas or the deep South, rather than New York or LA.

    One needs to be careful of deliberate or accidental efforts to stereotype the “average real Indian” as some dhoti-wearing medieval stereotype.

    However, I do of course agree that many Westerners will have very positive reasons for wanting to spend time in the villages, and the fact that (hopefully) it will be of benefit to the villagers concerned too (tourism income, improved infrastructure etc).

  20. Hey, if tourists want to PAY to go and do the daily chores and physical work so they can “experience the true India”, who am I to burst their bubble. Let the residents sit back and let the tourists do their housework, run errands, and clean the monkey poop out of the courtyard… It’s the real India, baby! ;)

  21. “On the other hand I feel like all those wanna-be hippies that slurp up exoticised “Indian” culture deserve what they get…”

    What is slurping up exoticised Indian culture and how does it differ from visiting, seeing, observing, asking, learning? What constitutes the former and what the latter, and where do you draw the line?

    Abhi, why so much disdain for white people who want to learn more about India and maybe see a way of life that’s far removed from their day-to-day urban/suburban existence?

    I don’t understand why there’s often a hipper-than-thou, condescending attitude toward tourists going to India, like if you’re not Indian you’ll never “get it” and you’re stupid to bother trying.

    Sure, there’s always the occasional “Ugly American” type of traveller, but more often than not, if I talk to non-Indian people, outside of India, who’ve been there on holidays, most of the time I hear people talk about how much they loved it and what a great time they had, and they speak of the country with respect and admiration, appreciating that they’ve seen a place that is unlike many others, and yes, realizing that there is not just one India, but many.

  22. you know, villages and cities are integrated into the same economy. lots of people you might meet in a village may have worked in the city, spend x number of months per year in the city, or live in a house constructed with money someone earned in the city, or abroad.

    if the country wants to be open to tourism, let it be open to tourism. i wouldn’t want to tell tourists not to go to the village on grounds that it’s somehow patronizing or inappropriate.

    now, how they get there is another matter. if it’s some package tour that wanders the fields in search of authenticity, well, i can only hope that the locals would quickly tell them where to shove it.

    but the idea of visitors having access to villages, and villagers having access to visitors, seems inherently ok to me.

    peace

  23. “I doubt if UP is like how they showed in that film”

    That comes with the territory– not sure if Vegas is how its portrayed in the network show on it, or if suburban housewives “really” are as in “Desperate Housewives”…

  24. “I doubt if UP is like how they showed in that film” That comes with the territory– not sure if Vegas is how its portrayed in the network show on it, or if suburban housewives “really” are as in “Desperate Housewives”…

    Umair Muhajir, you are completely right, as for the idea, go for it, i say fuck over all the stupid tourists, i’d consider myself a tourist, my own account of visiting my ancestral village in UP was a crazy account of riding water buffalo, farming, getting sick and the most fun getting attacked by a swarm of hornets. If i could give that experience to all the spoiled trust fund babies, maybe things would change. Sure as hell changed my perspective on life.. Just make sure the trust fund money is going to the people who need it

  25. Saheli -

    I think the mutiny can be a little knee jerk harsh on anyone who isn’t brown taking an interest in South Asia that doesn’t conform exactly to the mutiny’s conceptions of what form aforementioned interest should take

    .

    Olinda -

    I don’t understand why there’s often a hipper-than-thou, condescending attitude toward tourists going to India, like if you’re not Indian you’ll never “get it” and you’re stupid to bother trying

    .

    Amen! But…

    I can understand yall’s desire to be cautious & not misrepresent your culture(s). Hell, I often cringe with you! However, I have a serious question,

    If I were to go to India: what would you want me to see/do? what would you NOT want me to see/do? Now I know this 2nd question seems odd, as in “why would I tell her that?”

  26. what would you want me to see/do? what would you NOT want me to see/do?

    uhh… what part of india are yu going to? there’s a reason it’s called the subcontinent. pick up a guidebook – identify a zone – and re-post. i’m sure someone will pipe up. if you are talking generic stuff do - travel using public transit between major cities dont - travel using public transit within a city do - eat at a roadside eatery do - take photographs of people dont - take photographs of people in misery do - smile often and greet people with local greeting. say the equivalent of ‘how’s itgoing?’ dont - frown and say ‘hay-lo! i cant make out what this is. it’s only written in some local dialect. what does it mean’.. – catch my drift – do - wear the local clothes – nothing like a veshti or a kurta-pyjama on a hot day – or a shawl (yup, guys too) on a cold one dont
    - walk over people sleeping on the ground. it’s bad manners. walk around dont - sleep with your feet facing someone, especially if that someone is eating something dont - put your feet up on a book or paper do - try eating with your hands. it’s more hygienic, really. dont - pet stray dogs. poochie’s got fleas or rabies. do - bargain for goods dont - drive too hard a bargain if you really dont know what it’s worth. you’ll end up insulting someone. bad karma. pay what you think something isworth. dont - believe any rules. including the above. i am just making it up. have you read so far. ha ha .

  27. gatamala

    If I were to go to India: what would you want me to see/do? what would you NOT want me to see/do? Now I know this 2nd question seems odd, as in “why would I tell her that?”

    you asked some very good questions. I was less than coherent.
    apologies
    Guidebooks like Footprint India and the lonely planet have sections covering precisely this topic. in case of doubt – post here again. :-) cheers and bon voyage.

  28. “‘Swades’ effect! I doubt if UP is like how they showed in that film.”

    Yup , it is shot almost entirely in the small town called Wai, in Satara District, Maharashtra…..except the scenes from NASA Mohan finds his nanny, Kaveriamma (Kishori Ballal), the symbol to him of motherhood and family. He finds her in a village called Charanpur, a small village in Central India, besides three other villages near Wai in the interiors of Maharashtra, where Charanpur was re-created with the expertise of art-director Nitin Desai.

    Definitely NOT UP

  29. I see the reason for tourists to go to the rural parts of India is because they are the part of India that have been less diluted by Western – I mean American influences. How refreshing it is to stay in a village in the Punjab and really feel the wind, feel the rain, feel the space and smell the earth. Sure, it occasionally smells of cows, but its all good peeps. When my family visits India, you know we gotta go to the villages and its always the best part because of the vast difference between city life and rural life. True, nobody can say that rural India is somehow more authentic than urban life, but it is definitely less adulterated by Westernisms. If a tourist wanted to see an Indian city, I’d just take them to Southall and save them the air fare and malaria tablets. The world is getting smaller, and capital cities are beginning to morph into each other. For a unique, truly once-in-a-lifetime trip, an Indian village could be just the ticket, because I have never been able to experience that kind of lifestyle anywhere else. And I wouldnt wanna begrudge anyone who wants to share the love, baby.

  30. yo, MIA on MTV Europe as I type. Can’t help but feel that I wore those clothes when I thought I was the Fresh Prince.

    sorry to bring her into this post – realise that there are MANY others to pick from :)

  31. ‘Swades’ effect! I doubt if UP is like how they showed in that film.

    Well, it’s obviously a fairly sanitised version of North Indian village life, although they did touch upon a number of the social problems that occur in such environments, which I thought was good. In “real life”, however, I doubt the average Panchayat would necessarily change their obsolete/unfair ideas and practices so easily — they’d be more likely to accuse the Shahrukh character of being “another arrogant NRI” and tell him “not to get involved in matters he doesn’t understand”. Shahrukh’s premarital, unchaperoned sneaking around with the heroine would also not have been discreetly ignored by the villagers like it was in the film.

    But hey, I enjoyed the movie anyway, it basically had a good motto and I can understand where they were coming from, and what they were trying to say. Some nice music too.

    There was another mainstream village-based Hindi film called Virasat a few years ago which also addressed some of the same issues; I thought that movie was pretty good too.

  32. touchy, touchy dhaavak – I’m quite aware that it’s a subcontinent. It was a simple question, no need for the condescending litany.

    Lonely Planet? It’s just that simple then :) I’m going to have to plan a trip & come at you with something more.

    I am not a hippie trustafarian backpacker, just trying to get a sense of “your” India. It’s just that everyone seems to have so many concerns/complaints as to what people do/don’t do that I merely want to get some insider input as to what I should do.

    This trip is definitely in the FUTURE, as I will need to take some time. That said, I MUST see Punjab! Specifically (I hope) Amritsar & countryside. I’m Southern & want to see some land! Can I get into Harmandir Sahib (sp?)

  33. Yes, anybody can get into the Golden Temple / Harmandir Sahib. It’s open to all. You just have to check your shoes at the front, and cover your head.

  34. Gatamala, Hard to say what to see, what not to. To me India=see everything. Check out indiamike.com – for, of, & by India lovers from the world over. You’re sure to read very interesting perspectives on your question.

  35. touchy, touchy dhaavak – I’m quite aware that it’s a subcontinent. It was a simple question, no need for the condescending litany. Lonely Planet? It’s just that simple then :) I’m going to have to plan a trip & come at you with something more.

    haha… condescending litany… no gats.. no condescension there… it’s all true and part of the trip…
    but yea, will look forward to your adventures and a blog with the pix.
    btw i found footprint india to be richer and carry much more detail than lonely planet.