Surviving India

on Wednesday, May 21, 2008

No pasta please, we’re Indian

He may be loaded but he’s not the best travelling companion. Priyanko Sarkar on the quirks of the Indian tourist

US philosophical writer Dagobert D Runes once said that people travel to faraway places to watch in fascination the kind of people they ignore at home. Obviously he hadn’t reckoned with the average thepla-carting Indian tourist who pays through his nose for exotic holiday packages but has to lug a little bit of Bharat along.
It is not something that travel companies and the hospitality industry acknowledge openly, but the pugmarks left behind by Indian travellers aren’t exemplary. “Indian tourists lack basic hygiene and don’t respect the culture of the country they visit. In spite of giving them clear instructions, they do whatever they feel like,’’ says Puneet Sehgal,’s senior manager on the frustration of having to deal with Indian women turning up in saris for parasailing in Thailand or men gracing formal dinners on cruises in nightsuits and chappals.
Perhaps to feel more at home, the Indian tourist also spits, litters train coaches with food and sticks gum on the trains and stations of Europe’s rail networks. “All this gets quite embarrassing sometimes,’’ says Sehgal who believes that an astounding 40 percent of Indian tourists behave in this way. “In a sense we’re supposed to be brand ambassadors for our country but Indians don’t really set the greatest examples while travelling.’’
Sehgal’s colleague Arpit Seth
avers that Indians create problems even while travelling within the country. “People expect five-star service for 500-rupee rooms,’’ he says. “In Goa, I’ve seen groups who wipe their hands on the sand and then eat without washing. Once, a group of men turned up to swim in the dark after the hotel pool was closed—in their underwear.’’ Adds Jitesh K P, senior executive,, “We get a lot sarcastic mails from customers, complaining about everything from not getting 24x7 water supply to the location of the hotel. Once we even got a mail from a man who cribbed that his hotel room was not built according to Vaastu Shastra. Foreign tourists are calmer and more understanding than Indians. But we have to take care of each customer because the competition is so intense.’’
The great Indian decibel level is another bugbear. An Indian con
tingent is invariably the loudest, say travel industry employees, and on flights, where decorum and silence go hand in hand, it is positively embarrassing. “My foreign colleague couldn’t understand why Indian groups always shouted and wanted the most freebies on flights,’’ says Shreya Nair, an a i r- h o s t e s s with a foreign jetliner. “I told her it was in our genes and laughed it off, but I was pretty mortified.’’
Travel agents are at pains to point out that this conduct isn’t confined to the hard-up and inexperienced tourist, who can be forgiven his gaucheness. “Smart and upwardly mobile young travellers are taking over the Indian tourism scene now,’’ says a travel company employee. “But even they often end up being a source of acute em
barrassment to fellow travellers.’’
Sudeep Barve, secretary of Chakram Hikers, says that he finds Indians littering everywhere he goes on his treks (though he attributes this to first-timers and believes that “generally hikers are decent people’’). But Chandigarhbased Samuel Arthur, who guides people on their treks to the Himalayas, declares that Indians are
by far the worst listeners he has come across. “A group of tourists from Maharashtra came in Tshirts and Bermudas to trek to Kinner Kailash. They were sweating heavily because of the ascent and rebuffed my advice to stock up on woollens, mattresses and food,’’ he says. The expected happened and by the time Arthur received the call for help, one person had already died of frostbite and two lay in a critical condition. “Great mountaineers stay with shepherds to gauge the mountains and weather. But Indians don’t feel the need to understand that the mountain is a great being. They blindly follow their guide who is driven only by commercial interests,’’ adds Arthur who has been trekking in the Himalayas for nearly 18 years now. “Many people have lost their lives only because they refused to listen to advice from locals.’’
Many Indian tourists aren’t
apologetic about their regressive attitude. Arjun Sethi, 24, declares that he pays a bomb to travel comfortably and safely in a package tour, and it is his right to expect quality services, good food and proper hotels. “Even if an emergency arises I would want the tour operator to fix it rather than make me bear any inconvenience,’’ he says. Sethi admits to abusing his tour operator when he was made to wake up half an hour earlier than scheduled on his Egypt tour and when he was told to pick up litter he had thrown on the ground at Mt Titlis in Switzerland (“Why must I alone pick up my stuff ? What about the others?’’)
Yogesh Shah, who runs The Backpacker Co, proudly states, “Don’t be afraid of your Indianness. I can’t live without carrying Gujarati food on my foreign tours.
That’s completely fine I think.’’ Dutifully, Shah carries khakras, farsaan and gathiya on his travels and scoffs at people who visit the Eiffel Tower only to get their pictures clicked rather than enjoy the beauty of the Tower. “The funda of travel is to experience new culture,’’ he says wisely and adds in the same breath, “It’s better to eat what you like than starve yourself in a foreign country.’’ TNN