India Made Easy: For Whom? (Part 1)

It's almost too easy.

"India Made Easy" is the title of one of the most-emailed articles in yesterday's online edition of the New York Times, second only to an article about the cognitive perils of multitasking. (Among them we have delayed response, reduced concentration, an increased likelihood of mistakes, and distrac-- ooh, look at all the pretty colours!)

Writer Jonathan Allen promises first-time visitors "a satisfying travel experience" in the course of 7 to 10 days, distilling, as he notes, "more than a million square miles" into a few stops stretching from the capital to "the village" and back. Allen's India is "a trip best taken by train, at least in part for the inevitable encounters with locals," providing easily digestible glimpses into cities and towns New and Old, metropolitan and provincial, urbane and sublime. Between these "strange patchworks" and "bustling" hubs, the rest of India is either "a strange, never quite fully rural hinterland," a banal amusement park for tourists that real travelers such as Allen would do well to stay away from (Rajasthan, the Himalayas, Goa) or better yet, not even worth mentioning (nearly all of the peninsular subcontinent).

Funny, how often the word "strange" crops up....

Some stops aren't so strange. They're wonderfully iconic. With nary a mention of the myriad architectural styles and details that produce its pan-Indian Mughal aesthetic, it might appear to lazy readers that Allen imputes a Hellenic, classical provenance to the world's most beautiful mausoleum:

Quite rightly, no one wants to miss the Taj Mahal, especially on a first visit, so our suggested route pivots around that Platonic ideal of tourist attractions.

I'm sorry, but when did Plato ever attribute a substantive reality to his idealism? Can there be a universal "tourist attraction"? Maybe Allen's suggestion is the Mahal-as-ideal is a spectral quality, emanating from the Teardrop of Eternity with its white marble glow.

Or maybe I shouldn't give the benefit-of-the-doubt to a poor use of metaphor.

Spending a couple of days first in the nearby capital of New Delhi — a strange patchwork of imperial Mughal monuments, bustling urban villages, leafy British Raj-era avenues and expanding middle-class housing colonies — is bound to give you a good taste of urban India. Still, some two-thirds of Indians live outside the nation's cities. With that in mind, this route, after passing through Agra, site of the Taj, and the ruins and palaces of Gwalior, culminates in Orchha, a riverside village well-stocked with palaces, tombs, Hindu temples and ordinary village life.

Palaces, tombs, ruins, mosques and temples, people engaged in their "ordinary village" lives-- run down the checklist and it's all available for your viewing pleasure in India Made Easy!

But is that all there is to India? Why, of course not. What visit would be complete without a good ol' dose of India Shining?

You can see Delhi's more contemporary face by taking a chasmic leap up the city's class hierarchy and hanging out with the moneyed middle class, for whom life has never been so good, at the poolside bar of the Park Hotel, which opened in 1987. The hotel's curvy retro-futuristic interior was redesigned by Conran & Partners, perhaps immediately after watching “Barbarella.”

Allen peers into the looking-glass of India's future... and it appears remarkably similar to a space-age era that can only be saved by a young, pneumatic Jane Fonda in kitschy, bondage-lite.

Hmm, maybe things aren't so bleak after all....

When you're ready to dance, move inside to the Agni bar. Delhi nightlife is rarely hip, but it can be fun, providing you have a taste for the bhangra beats and warbly vocals of a lot of Hindi pop music. Ask the D.J. to play the addictive megahit “Kajra Re,” assuming he hasn't played it three times already.

Oops, spoke too soon. Let us take a moment to imagine this scene, and feel that DJ's pain.

That is, the pain of being at the service of entitlement. It's an entitlement to a neatly-packaged experience. For Allen, India doesn't just have bazaars, it is a bazaar-cum-shopping mall, a place to consume with abandon and postmodern panache. Whether buying street-food or dinner at the Oberoi Amarvilas (for those poor souls who can't afford a night's accommodation at $600+ a night), "lurid textiles" in Chandni Chowk or handmade Himalayan shawls (who needs the trails when you can buy a shawl?) and mirrored fabrics at the Crafts Museum, before you know it, Allen's speed-traveller lands up at his/her final destination:

That should still leave time to head for the Atrium, the tea room at the 1930's Imperial Hotel on central Delhi's Janpath. Take a seat near the fountain in this most opulent of Raj-era relics, order tea and cakes, pull out your guidebook, and begin plotting your return to India.

Nothing like a little colonial nostalgia to inspire that return visit.

Allen's Return of the Raj simply reminds us that, sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same. In today's global capitalism, it's India made easy for a floating, cosmopolitan elite of wealthy urbanites, visitors from the imperial metropole and corporatizing institutions alike.

More on that to come.

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Comments

this was awesome - have you

this was awesome - have you seen The Indian Board of Tourism's ad campaign though? There are TONNES of advertising billboards/video screens all over Toronto promoting this oreintalist vision! It seriously cracks me up - because after I've talked to white ppl who return from their trips to india, their first lament is 'how different it is from what we imagined'.

Check out their site: http://www.incredibleindia.org/

I was surprised that Allen

I was surprised that Allen left out "God's Own Country" Kerala.

The Kerala Tourism board has really been pushing the state as a tourism site, advertising its backwaters. I went with a couple of my friends on a tour of the backwaters from Alappuzha (Alleppey).

While the setting was certainly picturesque and serene, the smaller tour boats, which hold 3-4 people, traverse the smaller canals in order to get around, along which people's houses are located. So essentially you're in a boat rowing along through people's backyards in the morning as they do what people normally do in the morning - brush their teeth, do their laundry, bathe... it was a total invasion of privacy and it showed on their faces. I felt awful. No doubt the tourism industry is doing good things for the economy there, but I doubt it does anything for the villagers whose privacy is invaded.

But I'm sure an article like this could sell the experience as "mixing with the locals..."

Yeah. WHOA. Yeah :)

Yeah.

WHOA.

Yeah :)

Some omissions, factual

Some omissions, factual errors, and differences in style in terms of how I would approach something like this:

Jet lag takes me a week, if not two. You should try to time your sleep schedule on the flight and/or take other steps.

You can possibly use your mobile phone in India and I think it's a good idea to try.

If Agni is like most other places in Delhi, will not let a single guy into the bar, though it's easier if you're White. And maybe they're bribable (who knows--I've never tried, nor would I probably want to). This should be mentioned. It should also be mentioned that this policy varies from place to place within Delhi and by city.

Delhi nightlife, at least in my experience, more generally involves bad American and European pop music than Hindi songs or Bollywood. However, the tunes grow on you (who knew that Linkin Park could be so appealing?) I've never been to Agni or Aqua though (see above).

The article's self-understanding is that it's offering "the tiniest geographical crumb" but then continues to refer to India and makes self-conscious generalizations like "it seems fair to say that Indians are mostly a gregarious bunch, always ready to submit strangers to a cheerful interview." Those two thought patterns make no sense when taken together.

No mention of autowallahs? What?

"Shah Jahan, megalomaniacal even by Mughal standards"
I'm not fully beefed up on my Mughal history, but what? His son killed all his rival brothers, jailed his father, and took over the empire. And I'm pretty sure that Akbar thought he was either God or a sadhu--can't remember which. Someone better off than me can help, but word choice, word choice.

Air Deccan cancels, I believe, 30% of its flights, and, I've been told, the morning flights are least likely to get cancelled. It also has no assigned seating. This makes it, in my opinion, a flying bus. Which is great for a variety of reasons, but if you're a tourist coming for two weeks or so, after having paid roundtrip airfare from NY or London, you might want to spend a few thousand more rupees to take a different airline.

"the usual laws of Indian entropy"?
Even physics has a nationality? But more to the point, the statement is in reference to cities decaying. Most of India's biggest cities (Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, and Bangalore) were built up or created from scratch in the last few hundred years.

It's worth warning people that they're going to be ripped off, almost constantly, and at different rates at different places. For example, don't buy cigarettes from a bar--just go outside and get it from the panwallah at the right price.

Also worth mentioning, if you're going to talk about Delhi, that it's very different for women than for men, that cigarettes are real cheap and you can smoke them in a lot more places, that a 10% service tax is often included on meals but you should give it if it's not.

Street chai is safe, cheap, and worth consuming. And you can get it in a plastic cup.

Water in most touristy restaurants is fine.

...and so forth.

Great googly moogly that's

Great googly moogly that's some good writin'!

Hello Kettikili Thanks for

Hello Kettikili

Thanks for your comments - they were enjoyable to read if not always easy to follow.

Firstly, does it matter that Plato did not attribute substantive reality to his universals? As you said, I was only doing a little metaphor, and metaphors are rarely perfect. Dragons don't have any substantive reality either, but few people would think to mention this when we speak of, say, China, that dragon of global economies. The Taj Mahal isn't *actually* a teardrop either.

Secondly, you seem totally against having a nice, short holiday in India. But why? There might be legitimate arguments against tourism here but I don't think you mentioned them. You vaguely mentioned capitalism and colonialism and cosmopolitan elites and other distasteful things, but it wasn't clear why.

What would you say instead to those people with a week to spare and a desire to visit India? Where can those lucky people able to afford plane tickets and the like legitimately visit? Would you be happy with them going to India at all?

We didn't mention lots of places in the peninsular subcontinent because there's only so much India you can see in a week -- that was the point of the story. Including the Taj was one of the rules of engagements, so, as we said, eveything else fell in to place around that. I'd never claim to have made India truly easy -- I think that formulation was a clever device dreamt up by editors to make people look at the story.

I look forward to seeing your proposed itinerary.

Jonathan.

Jonathan (#10): I’m not sure

Jonathan (#10):

I’m not sure if you’re saying your suggested itinerary is better than my suggested itinerary...

Not at all; however, from reading the first few paragraphs of your story, especially this bit:

Even sampling the tiniest geographical crumb of India over a period of 7 to 10 days can be a satisfying travel experience.

seemed to imply that it's only those with plenty of time who can see all of India, and that everyone else is best off focusing on the tiniest geographical crumb.

I don't disagree with you that in some cases, the tiniest geographical crumb has much to offer. I was just trying to illustrate that it's also possible to have a satisfying travel experience in 7-10 days and see a fair bit (though admittedly not even close to most) of the country.

Hello again everyone, Vivek,

Hello again everyone,

Vivek, it sounds like a very nice trip. I've never been to Chennai, but I've had great times in the other places you mention. I'm not sure if you're saying your suggested itinerary is better than my suggested itinerary (and I stress that it, like all travel stories, was only a suggestion). Also, if you had to say where exactly your friends went in these places, what drew them there and what those places might look like, do you think you'd do it very differently from my attempt? What can you say about the temple at Madurai that doesn't sound trite to people living in Chennai?

Aatish, it’s a bit unfair of you to jump to unflattering conclusions about me based on your observations of some white people in Delhi. What do they call that anyway? Occidentalism?
The story was obviously not aimed at Delhi residents. I used to live in London, and guess I wouldn’t get too excited about a story suggesting visitors should, for example, eat fish and chips, go shopping at the Portobello Road market, have a nice cup of tea, visit the British Museum, have a warm beer in a cozy East End boozer (if only for the chance to meet some real locals), gawk at the seedy strip joints in Soho and then go clubbing with those weirdly-dressed kids in Hoxton – you know, all the worst kinds of patronising Londonism phantasmagoriana. Don't know if I'd go and blog about it though. But foreign tourists want to see what is, for them, exotic only-in-London stuff, for perfectly valid reasons, and it just seems like snobbery to disdain it. Besides, that's a perfect day out for 6 out of 10 of Londoners. I'll look out for you in Agni -- but how would I recognise you?

Kettikili, reading your comments, I really don't think the NYT's Travel section is for you. And sadly the NYT's Philosophy of Travel section is still very much pre-launch. I can't disagree that what you suggest is one great approach to visiting new countries, but it's just not the format of a travel story. We could write all our stories like that: "'Brazil is Not Easy' -- Read widely about Brazil and think very hard about this country before visiting, and make sure to pay critical attention to its social, political and cultural history." But repeatedly telling people that sounds a bit preachy and boring to me.

I don't understand your friends' approach to India, where they create it as a place they could conceive of as "home" -- what does that mean? I can imagine people saying that sounds a bit presumptuous for a tourist only in the place for a week, but maybe I misunderstood. Why go all that way when there's their real home back home? And surely anyone can say that they *really* interacted with India in a deep and meaningful way, not like those awful other tourists?

The main thing I'm interested to ask: why do you seem to say that visiting India or South Asia as a tourist should be approached in a categorically different way to how you would approach other countries? Are you saying tourism "works" in some places, but not India? If so, why? I don't get it. What's so special here? Is it something to do with the fact you've been hinting at that there are more poor people in South Asia than in some other places?

Maybe the best way to understand all this is for you to put me on your holiday postcard list.

Yours
Jonathan.

Thanks for the comments,

Thanks for the comments, folks!

Vivek (#3), interestingly enough, The Hindu's Magazine posted an article on Nepal as another "ideal tourist destination" with the following opening:

NEPAL can, like Kerala, be called "God's Own Country". Well-endowed with a salubrious climate and the scenic beauty of an Indian hill station in many places, its people are friendly and cheerful. Chubby-cheeked, healthy children and fair, delicate-complexioned women are all smiles for the tourist. Many Nepalese move to India and elsewhere in search of work. As poverty is acute, it needs heavy investment in infrastructure and industries. However, Nature has compensated this lone "Hindu" kingdom of the world with snow-covered mountains, ravines and rivers, lush greenery and gorgeous waterfalls.

The article continues in this picturesque "landscapes and people" mode, but with a focus on 'spiritual grandeur.' Its attempt at moving beyond the idea of a "Hindu" kingdom is noteworthy... but the turn to Buddhism remains within a framework palatable to Hindu exclusionism in India.

So maybe as "India" (read, a select number of tourist/consumer-friendly destinations) becomes increasingly popular to foreign travelers, the middle-classes look elsewhere in search of enlightenment?

Jonathan, Last summer, a

Jonathan,

Last summer, a couple of my friends from college came for 10 days (two weekends and the week in between). Their time was limited because one of my friends has a job and could only take off that much time. I've asked them if they wrote about what we did, because I don't remember where we were on each day or what exactly we did.

We started off in Delhi, with a day trip out to Agra and back by rented car. We flew to Bombay from Delhi, and spent two and a half days there before taking a train to Cochin. We took our time in Kerala, spending time in Cochin, Alappuzha, and then moving on to Tamil Nadu, where we spent a day in Madurai and moved on to Chennai, from where they flew out.

From what I could tell, they had a great time; they were happy to see as much of the country as they did, even if it meant limited exposure to each place. Their attitude helped, as well: they were flexible, and not particularly disappointed if something didn't work out. No vacation ever works out exactly as planned, and we were perfectly happy to relax when we were tired, and push ourselves when we wanted to.

Jonathan Allen (#5), thanks

Jonathan Allen (#5), thanks for your response. If, as you say, my comments weren't easy to follow, I'll try to make it a little easier this time.

Firstly, does it matter that Plato did not attribute substantive reality to his universals? As you said, I was only doing a little metaphor, and metaphors are rarely perfect. Dragons don’t have any substantive reality either, but few people would think to mention this when we speak of, say, China, that dragon of global economies. The Taj Mahal isn’t *actually* a teardrop either.

Of course metaphors aren't perfect or meant to be taken literally, they stand-in for something else. They don't denote, they connote.

So my point was, when much of the article is spent gazing upon the 'strangeness' of India, why use this metaphor? What is it meant to connote? I can tell you the kind of work it does on a reader like me, but perhaps you would like a chance to respond.

Secondly, you seem totally against having a nice, short holiday in India. But why?

I am actually not wholly against the idea of "having a nice, short holiday in India." My question at the outset of this post was For whom? and that is what I would ask us all to think about, in addition to "How?"

A number of my own family, friends and acquaintances have spent less than two weeks at a time in various parts of the subcontinent, but with one critical difference: they were not first-time visitors seeking to "grasp" or "sample" India. Their travels were primarily centered around cultivating relationships with people and a sense of place. Places that could be considered or conceived of as a 'home' for many of them, but not out of necessity-- because they imagine and create them as such. While aware of the differences that set them apart, they weren't looking to find radical otherness in "inevitable encounters with the locals" that could be assimilated into a general framework.

Of course, this also entails a certain amount of privilege (to have the money to go or "go back" at all) and it's not this simple, but I'm making a clear-cut distinction for the sake of making a point--

The prompt...

But what about the rest of us who are limited to one or two weeks of vacation a year? Is India completely beyond our grasp?

... is a question that needs to be re-framed.

Seeking India in "the tiniest geographical crumb" is not only an endeavor that is bound to fail, but in such a short period of time, produces a traveller/tourist who arrives with a set of assumptions and expectations that must be fulfilled to create that "satisfying travel experience."

This is what I take issue with. Your article tacks back and forth between making recommendations of places to see, eat, drink and shop, and suggestions of how to avoid tourist-traps. But the article itself is guided by the assumptions of tourism-- that India is something that can be grasped, made known to the traveller in the experience of viewing and consuming.

What would you say instead to those people with a week to spare and a desire to visit India? Where can those lucky people able to afford plane tickets and the like legitimately visit? Would you be happy with them going to India at all?

What I would suggest to a first-time visitor is to read widely and openly, while paying critical attention to the social, cultural and political histories of India (and the subcontinent more generally) before even thinking about making a trip. Not to arrive with 'authoritative facts' that reproduce the same assumptions of exotic/chaotic/strange India, but to create a thoughtful relationship that questions the very desires motivating our travels.

So, sorry to disappoint, but I cannot respond with a pre-fab itinerary. Because I would not presume to see India in a week.

That means that my suggestion does not rule out a visit to other areas of the country-- even if it means not seeing the Taj on a first visit. This was, in fact, my own experience. (And as a disclaimer, I should note: I am not of Indian origin, I am foreign in India as well, even if not always markedly so.)

Including the Taj was one of the rules of engagements, so, as we said, eveything else fell in to place around that. I’d never claim to have made India truly easy — I think that formulation was a clever device dreamt up by editors to make people look at the story.

I understand, you and your editors have to make a living. But the iconic stands in for the rest of India. See the Taj, a few other monuments, buy some things-- it's this excessive consumption that reduces the diverse life-worlds of India to a series of 'things' that is my fundamental problem with the article.

Why should India (or any other South Asian country) be a comfortable playground for those who want the sights, sounds and smells of the subcontinent with none of the stink of our own humanity?

I followed the link to the

I followed the link to the article and found this shocking piece of information:

JONATHAN ALLEN is a writer based in New Delhi.

What?!?!!? This guy actually lives here? So, presumably he has been to the places he describes more than once? I might have excused his trite portrayal of India as one part oriental phantasmagoria and one part ascendant capitalist haven if this was his first, or second or even third trip to India. But, holy shit! He lives among us. I might have seen him in one of those cliques of NGOwallah/World Bank/Journalist white people at Agni. I may have even watched Aigre-Doux go on one of her drunk rants at precisely this type of expat. I'm not being fair here by not quoting him and refuting his portrayal line by line. But...

If the mood strikes, you are welcome to rise up and whirl like a dervish with arms outstretched in ecstasy.

...take solace in the image of a white man twirling as the devotees of Nizamuddin laugh or stare aghast.

Jonathan (#10): I can’t

Jonathan (#10):

I can’t disagree that what you suggest is one great approach to visiting new countries, but it’s just not the format of a travel story.

Right. As you asked what I would suggest, I wrote what I would tell someone-- it appears I didn't address the question you had in mind.

Since you're asking what I would offer in the format of a travel story: I would try to write a story that focuses on a specific area (as you did) but without presuming to grasp all of India, or offer a travel experience that escapes "all of touristdom" even as it engages in many of the same activities, and employs the same gaze. More interesting to me are stories that situate these places in a social and historical context, and don't try to shy away from the difficult practical and social situations that also arise in travel.

As Dr. Anonymous succinctly puts it:

The article’s self-understanding is that it’s offering “the tiniest geographical crumb” but then continues to refer to India and makes self-conscious generalizations like “it seems fair to say that Indians are mostly a gregarious bunch, always ready to submit strangers to a cheerful interview.” Those two thought patterns make no sense when taken together.

Rather than writing for 'local colour' to fill in the general picture, I think details like some of those noted by Dr. Anonymous (#12) are useful to visitors (esp. the note on Air Deccan, given the time constraint) and give a better sense of place. And finally, I do think it's important to acknowledge the context of impoverishment, however uncomfortable or difficult that might be for your audience. (In your piece, somehow everyone from the roti-wallah to workers travelling by rail to the DJ are friendly and gregarious, only too happy to oblige the foreigner who can easily move from street to upscale hotel and back. Again, is it really so easy?)

That doesn't mean, as you imply, that I think tourism "works" in some places and not others. My references to India and South Asia were in response to your article and the stated focus of this blog. It's fair to say that I have a problem with this model of tourism more generally.

So yes, the NYT Travel section probably isn't for me. Nor am I writing for it, so I don't see why I should quietly acquiesce to its conventions. That isn't the point of critical commentary, which is what I have tried to do here, whatever you might make of it.

I don’t understand your friends’ approach to India, where they create it as a place they could conceive of as “home” — what does that mean? I can imagine people saying that sounds a bit presumptuous for a tourist only in the place for a week, but maybe I misunderstood. Why go all that way when there’s their real home back home? And surely anyone can say that they *really* interacted with India in a deep and meaningful way, not like those awful other tourists?

I am not suggesting that first-time visitors should plan a trip that makes India home in one week, nor am I trying to create some hierarchy of tourists. What I was suggesting, by referring to people who have made those short trips either once, or multiple times, is that one's general orientation to a place can be different. This model of tourism -- in which the visitor collects local colour and strangeness, treats people in much the same manner as monuments and landscapes in referring to them as anonymous "locals" -- is not the only option we have.

If you cannot imagine how a place could be home, if you cannot imagine others as one of your own, you cannot see people as fully human. They become objects. We all objectify to some extent in this world. Acknowledging that doesn't mean absolving ourselves from trying harder to exercise the little bit of imagination we may have left.

The above doesn't yield a picture-perfect postcard, but I hope you understand what I'm trying to say. And if you don't understand, let us merely agree to disagree. This isn't the place for an extended exegesis on the problem of ethics.

Looking forward to your next piece.

Also, Dr. Anonymous and

Also, Dr. Anonymous and Aatish, thanks for chiming in from Delhi. This is what I was hoping for, and I should have made my intentions more explicit. Given what we've discussed in this thread, I would love to hear more from readers about their own experiences living or travelling in the subcontinent (or anywhere else if you so desire!)

Dr. Anonymous, are you sure

Dr. Anonymous, are you sure you're just an English teacher?

Also, I don't think that Griper McGripey is your true identity. You are Killroy. KILLROY!

Nor am I writing for it, so I

Nor am I writing for it, so I don’t see why I should quietly acquiesce to its conventions.

Nice line :)

Just one point, which I think often ought to be made in critiquing pieces like this--there are multiple levels of influence on a story, even though only one or two people's bylines appear. Assigning editor, writer, copy editors, fact checkers, institutional biases, etc. So although I, to be honest, found this piece annoying, I think writers and writing are works in progress and I appreciate a spirit of honest and constructive criticism towards it.

I'm not saying people haven't done that--just articulating something that I think is important.

And yes, I'm an English professor. At Hamdard University.
Or so I say ;)

I don't think I have anything

I don't think I have anything to contribute that hasn't been said already, but I would like to juxtapose two accounts of Varkala, Kerala. The first, HERE, is from The Hindu's Travel section, and the second, HERE, is my own account of having visited Varkala.

While I fully recognize that the point of a travel article is to get people to visit the particular destination (assuming it's worth it), and I realize that my post was just way too snarky and cynical to ever make anyone want to visit Varkala, let alone make it into a travel journal, I did find it astonishing that the Hindu article failed to mention that one will find nary a brown face on the beach, which is full of foreign tourists. The only thing about the article which gives any indication as to how the dynamics of race, class, and nationality play out is the second photograph.

Simply ignoring these dynamics make the article complicit in perpetuating the status quo understanding that the beach is essentially for white tourists, with the occasional, relatively-moneyed brown couple/family.

Jonathan Allen #10: We could

Jonathan Allen #10:

We could write all our stories like that: “‘Brazil is Not Easy’ — Read widely about Brazil and think very hard about this country before visiting, and make sure to pay critical attention to its social, political and cultural history.” But repeatedly telling people that sounds a bit preachy and boring to me.

But writing about spices, monuments and strange people (particularly in reference to India) is just so novel. Really? You 'could write all your stories like that?' You think its harder to reiterate two hundred year old cliches than actually attempt to engage with a place? I was going to express some regret for the scornful tone of my comment...but now i'll just be 'preachy and boring.'

Jonathan Allen #19 Unless you

Jonathan Allen #19

Unless you have always refused on some unexplained principle to have actively seen any of the fantastic sights in and around Delhi, and would employ the same principle while abroad, I cannot understand your problem. Given earlier comments, I suspect you cannot see past my non-Indian name.

You are still not getting the point at all, though admittedly my asinine way of making it couldn’t have aided in your understanding. I hope the subsequent post better elucidates my problems and frustrations with your article and comments. I too love the graveyards of Delhi, and I chose my present address partially because of its proximity to third city of Delhi (your observation about the giant wicket post was spot on), and I go regularly to the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin to listen to qawwalis. Both visiting these monuments and the Dargah can be profoundly interesting and stimulating experiences, which is precisely why I bring every visitor who comes to Delhi to both. The wicket post comment was a good one because it does actually reveal a local peculiarity as well as an interesting relationship to monuments that is significantly different from attitudes I’ve experienced elsewhere (particularly, though not limited to, Europe and America). It also does this without falling back on metaphors from a colonial officer’s diary. My problem is not so much with where you go and what you do, but rather with how you talk about and understand these places. I'm sorry that this wasn't previously clear, and I accept responsibility for not making it so.

I have to agree with Jonathan

I have to agree with Jonathan on this argument. In ten days there is only so much of the country that you can see, and a lot of people who come to India for the first time try to pack in too many places on their itinerary and end up having a terrible time. Kettikili is being more than a little unfair to state that he is supporting some neo-colonialist agenda--well, that is unless tourism itself is neo-colonialist.

The only quibble with his piece that I really have is making the Taj a compulsory stop. The Taj is a grat building and all, but Agra is so bad that it even garnered a whole ring in Dante's Inferno. As I recall that was where all of the undead touts go when they die ignoble deaths. The 15 minutes you spend ogling the Mughal architecture does not offset the whole day you need to spent in India's most lack-luster city.

Personally, if I was to have written the article I would have cut out Agra and sent people to Shekavati instead.

That's all.

scott

Dr Anonymous, lots of valid

Dr Anonymous, lots of valid tips there. Some of them, and others just like them, were in a longer version but ended up cut due to space restraints, while autorickshaws are mentioned in the service box. But, as we said, best to pick up a 1,000-page guidebook too rather than rely entirely on a two-page article.

Kettikili, you are not obliged to acquiesce in the conventions of travel writing, but I just don't think you understand some of them (or are wilfully playing ignorant). Lots of NYT readers are pretty smart, and realise that all those colourful Indian locals are real people with real feelings and should not be treated as objects. They don't need a travel story to tell them that -- i.e. it goes without saying in a travel piece. (Those that don't realise this, well, a single travel story is hardly going to change that.) Almost everything you say applies to every destination on Earth, so in a weekly travel supplement with finite space, there's no point including the whole "we're all human let's all be friends" boilerplate spiel in every single piece. It's understood.

I have no idea which particular Indians any given tourist is going to be meeting so there's little point writing about individuals in this kind of general guide story (though this would be done in more traveloguey type stories). And I think I did a fair job of keeping sweeping generalizations to a minimum -- I even heavily flagged the sweeping statements about Indian friendliness by pointing out that this was a statement about a sixth of humanity (Still, get a foreigner to travel on glumly silent British trains, and I'm sure they'd agree with my reluctant generalisation). So what else could I do?

I'm quite happy if "the locals" flit across these kind of suggested itineraries in only the vaguest, holographic form, to be fleshed out in individual detail when a visitor finally makes it to India. What do you think of this approach? I repeat: I have no idea who a tourist is going to meet, and so they're on their own in that regard; but I do know what Humayun's Tomb looks like, and that the food is pretty tasty at Karim's.

In very vague terms you talk about "acknowleding the context of impoverishment" -- can you be more precise as to what you mean by this? Sometimes this can be difficult to achieve without patronising both the reader and the impoverished people of India, and is often not worth the effort in a travel section that comes with a pretty decent international newspaper attached. That said, I made an attempt, and originally had a more thorough sketch of the differences, say, between India and Bharat, but this was cut, partly for the reasons just mentioned.

Please don't react too badly to the "made easy" title - I wanted to call it "Here's a merely suggestive list of some impressive sights for the downtime between many unique and thoughtful encounters with India's social complexities which nonetheless can not even be remotely understood within a week" but was shouted down.

Yours
Jonathan

Aatish, you live in Delhi,

Aatish, you live in Delhi, what would you suggest to a tourist who's here for a week from the other side of the world? What does it exactly mean to engage with a place? Anyway, sounds like the historical sights are out, as is the nightlife. I don't mind you rejecting my suggestions, but if you can't come up with alternatives then you just sound like you're being contrarian.
As I said before, I never begrudged those on their first-ever once-in-a-lifetime trip to London their chance to do all those Londony things, not least because Londoners enjoy doing them too. So, after I was told that the Taj was compulsory (I initially had far more recherche destinations in mind), I thought why should it be different in here, where Dilliwallahs routinely enjoy many of the things mentioned?
Unless you have always refused on some unexplained principle to have actively seen any of the fantastic sights in and around Delhi, and would employ the same principle while abroad, I cannot understand your problem. Given earlier comments, I suspect you cannot see past my non-Indian name.
Jonathan.

Jonathan Allen #10: Aatish,

Jonathan Allen #10:

Aatish, it’s a bit unfair of you to jump to unflattering conclusions about me based on your observations of some white people in Delhi. What do they call that anyway? Occidentalism? The story was obviously not aimed at Delhi residents. I used to live in London, and guess I wouldn’t get too excited about a story suggesting visitors should, for example, eat fish and chips, go shopping at the Portobello Road market, have a nice cup of tea, visit the British Museum, have a warm beer in a cozy East End boozer (if only for the chance to meet some real locals), gawk at the seedy strip joints in Soho and then go clubbing with those weirdly-dressed kids in Hoxton – you know, all the worst kinds of patronising Londonism phantasmagoriana. Don’t know if I’d go and blog about it though. But foreign tourists want to see what is, for them, exotic only-in-London stuff, for perfectly valid reasons, and it just seems like snobbery to disdain it. Besides, that’s a perfect day out for 6 out of 10 of Londoners. I’ll look out for you in Agni — but how would I recognise you?

I don't recall making any unflattering assumptions. There were two assumptions made in my post: a) that you might perhaps hang out with others in the expat (Euro-American sense of the term, i.e., middle/upper class foreigners working and living in a country) community and b) that my friend might rant at you when inebriated. The first is logical, and nothing in your article seems to contradict that. I too, by virtue of being an upper-middle class individual with a yuni-net subscription, hang out occasionally with people in that community, particularly at places like Agni. The second was more of a blog inside joke that doesn’t require further discussion. However, my location of you as 'precisely that kind of expat' was based on your article and the concepts and categories contained and employed within.

My frustration with the fact that you live in Delhi is two-fold. I am not an idiot, I understand the imperatives of the global economy and I also understand that the 'globalness' of that economy is not a new phenomenon. I understand that the New York Times travel section is not clamoring for articles stuffed with social analysis. That's not at all what we expect from you. But there are direct linkages between the histories of how particular imaginations of India have been formed (colonialism), how these have been and are functioning in the global economy and what happens to India and Indians as a result. For example, the New York Time travel section has a vested interest in portraying India in a particular manner to their readership, i.e., in a way that is both familiar and titillating. You provide this in a variety of ways, firstly in the basic the fact that you are both 'western' (familiar) and live in India (titillating). I don't know whether you are on staff or freelance, but regardless you use where you live as capital when selling you piece. We all use the capital (social, symbolic, economic…etc) in acquiring what we want and need. I am acutely aware that you work within this framework, and however fucked it may be, I don’t blame you personally for it.

BUT

You live in Delhi! Which means that, in whatever way, you are enmeshed in life here. You work here, you eat here, you play here, you drink here etc. etc. You most likely have a maid and a landlord, perhaps even a cook, that are likely all Indian (or Nepali). If you distinguish yourself at all from many of the English people who lived here during the colonial period, these people must be real to you, you must acknowledge their material and cognitive existence outside of being objects of your curiosity. The minimum required of you is to render them as such, not as vending machines that dispense free naan if you’re friendly. You have a responsibility to not collapse images of India (problematic already) into traditional representations of the 'Orient.' For example, whirling dervishes are a feature of Turkish Sufism, not South Asian. Offerings of roses are not some crude one to one exchange for blessings, and in fact many eat the roses laid out on the tomb in order to receive the blessings of the saint, to imbibe his spiritual body analogous to taking communion. Portraying Hazrat Nizamuddin as some greedy deity is just plain inaccurate, and while you may think its a small point, it’s also completely antithetical to his life and message as well as disrespectful to the sentiments of his devotees. I’m not asking you to be an expert on Sufism in the medieval period of Northern sections of the subcontinent, just do some basic research. You could have looked at a wikipedia entry, or you could have just read the free booklet they often pass out to foreigners at the Dargah. Both would have given you enough information to make the funny comment you wanted to make with a little bit of sensitivity and accuracy, which is not too much to expect.

On London: I am going to ignore your own ignorance of the vastly different socio-historical conditions that make this a totally offensive and ridiculous comparison. But if an article was written in the manner you described, I would be pissed and I would blog about it. Not because of its hypothetical essentializations white Britons (which would be bad) but also because London is one of the most fantastically cosmopolitan cities in the entire world. Your characterization of a ‘typical’ London is really just a stand in for some image of a ‘typical’ London that is primarily white. Notice how I said ‘image,’ clearly different the reality of London, in which doing many of the activities you describe would involve meeting non-whites. Your ‘image’ however, makes invisible such an immense part of London's population many of whom serve as London’s labour, and articles on tourism like yours do tend to make labour populations invisible (except when they are providing some sort of 'local' service). The variety (both in terms of the point of origin and the class positions they occupy contemporary Britain) of London's immigrant populations is as vast as the British Empire was itself (I wonder why). To repeat a cliché (but you seem to be fond of them, so what the hell?) curry, not fish n’ chips, has become Britain's most popular food. Of course you would not be interested or angered by any of this, since you find socio-political analysis 'preachy and boring.'

On recognizing me at Agni: I am a South Asian male of average height and build with a close cropped beard, glasses and curly longish hair, though my hair is often swept back at places like Agni in an effort to look more like the newly moneyed Punjabis you refer to in your piece. I will most likely be wearing jeans, a button down shirt, a blazer and possibly pointy shoes, and will certainly be rolling my eyes and twisting my face in scorn of the people I have spent so much money trying to emulate. Good luck picking me out of the crowd.

Dr Anonymous, lots of valid

Dr Anonymous, lots of valid tips there. Some of them, and others just like them, were in a longer version but ended up cut due to space restraints

Perhaps if some of the breezy adjectives were cut ;)

This has been most

This has been most invigorating, but I think it could be time to continue this offline and, excitingly, off the record: turns out my friend Raghu knows you, Aatish, and says he can introduce us, so I don't need to print out your description after all. Isn't that beautiful?
Dr Anon - I think you know deep down that perfectly limpid adjectives are one of the most important things about travel writing.
When's "For Whom? (Part 2)" coming along, by the way? Will I be in that too or can I take a break for now?
Thanks,
Jonathan.

A very interesting

A very interesting discussion!

This is what I think: if any of you have ever traveled to a place where you know or meet someone there who is kind enough to inform you, perhaps show you around, or give you the down low, your travels may end up being “stop and run.” Take for instance Vivek’s comment about how his friends got a rich experience out of their travels, even if the trip was a bit short. I’m assuming that since Vivek lives there, he is familiar with the surrounding area and is able to show things and travel in a way that might have been difficult for his friends had they done the travel on their own.

Secondly, it seems like a minor concern, but it can really shape your experience: if you do not communicate well in the local language, it can be very hard to have a substantive trip. Of course, you can (and in my opinion, you should) try to learn some basics, and you can try, but if you can't communicate with others, you may end up being confined to doing the "tourist thing."

The question then is, how do you go about traveling? You can inform yourself as much as possible (and prior to getting to your destination, this education is done via literature and whatnot, so it can still be a bit superficial). You could include places, things, etc that are not the major tourist destinations. This is possible; I’ve traveled to several places where I didn’t know anybody, but I was lucky enough to meet people there who were kind enough to be hospitable and warm, willing to tell me about things, etc. Also, you can have different objectives. I'd much rather hang out in places and meet people rather than see ruins, architectural feats, major monuments, and so on.

I do agree with the criticisms in the comments about how India is “made easy.” The tourist industry- marketing, travel writing, and everything else included- panders to the tastes, expectations, and objectives of Western tourists. I think the problem is that the tourist industry these days- specifically in countries that are major tourist locations/hub for middle class/upper middle class Western tourists (who are predominantly white)- entire nations, people, social dynamics are reduced to a consumerist and capitalist experience. Whole places and experiences are “packaged” for the convenience of a tourist. This is done either through organized tours or even guide books (though some guide books are better than others). A travel destination is basically set up as a playground and/or spectacle for tourists. And in order to sustain the tourist link since tourism for some poor countries is a vital part of the economy, people of the place are forced to put on a show in several ways so that the Western tourist feels satisfied for having gotten what they paid for and will keep coming back. And yes, some of these experiences can come off as neo-colonial. All you have to do is watch French tourists- France being a former colonial power- interact with Moroccans in Morocco, and you’ll see what I am talking about. I’ve seen a lot of atrocious behavior from some Western tourists who treat the people of the area with such disdain, are condescending, and carry themselves with such arrogance and superiority that it’s embarrassing and makes you angry. Furthermore, it's no accident that some countries have an endless supply of tourists from former colonial powers. Apart from the historical linkages, there is an intentional construction of the tourist industry where former colonialists now go visit their former possessions.

Totally random, but I do know of diasporans who participate in this same kind of stop and go itinerary. Not knowing much about their country of origin or lacking intimate knowledge, they opt for this (there’s a segment of the Indian tourist industry which targets rich NRIs for the “experience” and “taste” of the motherland). If there are diasporans who are third, fourth, etc generation, they may not even have any family left there, which corks any experiences they may have had via family and friends who would have exposed them to everyday realities etc (not saying you need to have family and friends there to have exposure, but having family and friends there can make it easier to achieve this.)

there is a weird

there is a weird inconsistency throughout the article, uncannily reminding me of an improperly made lassi.

Dr. Anon/Gripey McGriper

Dr. Anon/Gripey McGriper (#16): Thanks for the point about the multiple levels a story goes through-- in making my comments, I haven't made my awareness of that clear. My initial post wasn't motivated by an attack on the author who, in his comments, has made it clear that he has thought quite a bit about his writing. It's about questioning the general form I've seen in much travel writing on India.

Jonathan (#18), I'm neither unaware of the conventions of travel writing, nor willfully playing ignorant. My problem isn't with (most of) the specific sites you have chosen, it's the form of representation. I'm not asking for some "boilerplate spiel" on humanity, that should be able to come through in the piece itself. Maybe the constraints of writing a general guide for a short visit exacerbates the tendency to essentialize and rely on a standard corpus of images -- i.e. there's only so much to do/see and thus represent in 7 days -- but that doesn't account for it entirely.

If my initial post was excessively snarky to make my point, it didn't communicate what worked in the article and what I do appreciate about it. That there are other ways to write about these locations is something visible in your own piece, as Aatish pointed out in his comment about the wickets.

Lots of NYT readers are pretty smart, and realise that all those colourful Indian locals are real people with real feelings and should not be treated as objects. They don’t need a travel story to tell them that — i.e. it goes without saying in a travel piece.

If readers are consistently presented with these exotic imaginings of India and arrive with the expectations and desires they engender, don't you suppose that that might inform how they travel and interact with people? How do they 'realise' what evidently 'goes without saying' when the opposite is reiterated time and time again?

(Those that don’t realise this, well, a single travel story is hardly going to change that.)

If everyone were to resign themselves to a statement like this, nothing would ever change. No wonder we get the same images over and over again....

Aatish (#20) says it better (both on the count of representing India, and later, on the counter-example of a 'typical' London) so I'll leave him with the last word:

I understand that the New York Times travel section is not clamoring for articles stuffed with social analysis. That’s not at all what we expect from you. But there are direct linkages between the histories of how particular imaginations of India have been formed (colonialism), how these have been and are functioning in the global economy and what happens to India and Indians as a result.

This is what I think: if any

This is what I think: if any of you have ever traveled to a place where you know or meet someone there who is kind enough to inform you, perhaps show you around, or give you the down low, your travels may end up being “stop and run.”

Oops, what I meant to say was if any of you have ever traveled, you know the difference when you travel to a place where you know or have met someone there as opposed to not knowing anybody and traveling on your own.

Dr Anon - I think you know

Dr Anon - I think you know deep down that perfectly limpid adjectives are one of the most important things about travel writing.

Fair enough. But you raised the issue of space. Personally, I'd rather know that some women might not feel safe traveling alone at night in Delhi or that there's a foreign passport office that will give you train tickets on a different and much faster queue than "stylish" writing.

My initial post wasn’t motivated by an attack on the author who, in his comments, has made it clear that he has thought quite a bit about his writing. It’s about questioning the general form I’ve seen in much travel writing on India.

I know. Criticism of journalism (my own included) generally needs to be reminded of that point, in my opinion.

Jonathon: You vaguely

Jonathon:

You vaguely mentioned capitalism and colonialism and cosmopolitan elites and other distasteful things, but it wasn’t clear why.

The tourism industry by and large is defined by capitalist principles, whereby countries are packaged for consumers. The consumers that are targeted are white, middle class ones because they are the ones who have the money. And it is their tastes that are pandered to.

The point you seem to be missing is that the way countries are packaged- which you do in your article- rests on colonial definitions: orientalism (your references to Hindus, religious monuments, and other "exotic" religions which Western "spiritual tourists" dabble in), the presumed "differences" that define "us" from "them" and how the people of the place are seen.

Furthermore, ask yourself why and do a little bit of research as to where the majority of tourists come from in a given destination, like the Italians in Libya, the French in Morocco, etc. If you don't see a historical link which was based on colonialism, then I don't know what to say.

What would you say instead to those people with a week to spare and a desire to visit India?

Unfortunately, writers like you define the desires of potential visitors. They don't know anything outside of the US, but here you come along and tell them about religious monuments, yummy food, those mystical "Hindu holy men." So many of them go to see just that, because that's what India is to them, since you laid it out in a "respectable" major national newspaper.

can’t disagree that what you suggest is one great approach to visiting new countries, but it’s just not the format of a travel story. We could write all our stories like that: “‘Brazil is Not Easy’ — Read widely about Brazil and think very hard about this country before visiting, and make sure to pay critical attention to its social, political and cultural history.” But repeatedly telling people that sounds a bit preachy and boring to me.

See, this is the problem and your article is indicative of a larger trend: making everything effortless and convenient. There's no need to think about any country beyond the superficial. The "format of a travel story" in the US in general is full of this crap: here's x country, it's a playground and amusement park, go have fun. A country is just a vast exhibit, and go look at inanimate objects instead of going deeper. Why try to engage with the most dynamic thing of a given society or locality- people?

And are you joking about sounding a "bit preachy and boring" when you try to provide a critical angle for a traveller? Says who? Lonely Planet tries to do this; so does Let's Go. They are both widely popular amongst travellers. I travelled for four years, and I met people (along with myself) who sought books out like this for even a 7 day trip. You're assuming what people will like and dislike.

Furthermore, given the general ignorance of the American public- how remarkably inclusive we are, how ignorant we are of anything outside of our borders (and even within), how we think that America is the world and the world is America, and this inability to know that other nations and people exist on equal terms- don't you think it's about time we start writing about other nations in a critical and more informative manner?

Don’t know if I’d go and blog about it though.

why do you seem to say that visiting India or South Asia as a tourist should be approached in a categorically different way to how you would approach other countries? Are you saying tourism “works” in some places, but not India? If so, why? I don’t get it. What’s so special here? Is it something to do with the fact you’ve been hinting at that there are more poor people in South Asia than in some other places?

Are you trying to be cute? Tell me that you realize that each nation, people, etc has its own specific circumstances and that they don't stand ahistorically? That there is a difference between tourism in India vs. in the US?

First of all, India specifically is referred here because you wrote about it, and we're discussing how you depict India. It's not that we have a colonial hangover and we're being overly sensitive about racism (ie we're getting mad because we're of Indian descent). I lived in Italy for four years, and even Italians noticed how American tourists in general viewed Italy: no attempt to understand Italy beyond ruins, stuff they've been taught in school about art. That's it. And obnoxious behavior, as if Americans naturally rule the world, and expect that everyone else speaks their language, knows their way of life, etc. while they make little attempt themselves to be adaptable and appreciate the living social dynamics around them. At the same time, these Italians would then go to a country like Turkey and treat people just the same. Surely you see a power dynamic in play?

And it's not always about being in a foreign country. I don't know if you have ever been to Arizona and the southwest, but have you seen how the Native Americans have been marketed and encouraged to put on a specific kind of show for white American tourists? It's shameful, hypocritical, and frankly, neocolonialist.

Secondly, what didn't get said here is that it's not only India. The same could be said about most third world countries- which are also the former colonial possessions and presently neo-colonial possessions. It's not that India is "special" but that India, like, say, Brazil is seen the same way in regards to tourism.

Lots of NYT readers are pretty smart, and realise that all those colourful Indian locals are real people with real feelings and should not be treated as objects. They don’t need a travel story to tell them that — i.e. it goes without saying in a travel piece.

If "Indian locals" are "real people with real feelings and should not be treated as objects" then why do you objectify them as "colourful Indian locals," thinking that is what people are going to see? Might it be because of the way much of travel literature is set up?

In addition, you assume way too much. First you think it'll be preachy and boring to go beyond the tired formula of what India is like (monuments, religions, monuments, food). Then you think that NYT readers are smart and know that Indians are not exotic, colorful, locals.

Secondly, most American tourists who are largely white and middle/upper middle class may already have a superficial understanding of a country, whether they read the NYT or not. A lot of this is done through our mind numbing mass media, our education and popular culture. It can also be shaped, formed and reinforced by articles and pieces like yours. They then go to the said country and see what they want to see. You live in New Delhi but apparently, you haven't been able to meet a variety of Indians. No mention of the mega slums in New Delhi, the millions who are barely surviving at a sub human level. If you don't see it, what makes you think that tourists who go for 7 days will?

I have no idea who a tourist is going to meet, and so they’re on their own in that regard; but I do know what Humayun’s Tomb looks like, and that the food is pretty tasty at Karim’s.

No offense, but what are you doing in New Delhi? You don't meet, know, and interact with Indians, whether rich or poor, etc? Are you just eating good food and scoping out monuments?

Do you know what the slums look like? Do you know what the villages which are divided along religious lines are like? Have you spoken to people in Delhi who are refugees from Partition?

In very vague terms you talk about “acknowleding the context of impoverishment” —can you be more precise as to what you mean by this? Sometimes this can be difficult to achieve without patronising both the reader and the impoverished people of India, and is often not worth the effort in a travel section that comes with a pretty decent international newspaper attached.

You've got to be kidding me. Acknowledgement of the context of impoverishment??? Again, what the heck are you doing in Delhi? What have you seen? And you're asking us to be a little more "precise"? For god's sake, you live there! Don't you see it?

And this is the NYT, the newspaper whom millions of Americans look towards for credibility and authority...

I'm starting to suspect that you are defending your choice of not having gone into issues such as poverty, sectarianism, and other realities because you don't see it. It seems like since you don't see or understand the poverty, history, and so on, you think it's trifle to present to the readers. Frankly, I think you are patronizing your imagined readers by suspecting that people can't be engaged if you present them with something deeper.

I suspect you cannot see past my non-Indian name.

None of the bloggers here said anything about your being non-Indian (unless I missed it in the comments). There are plenty of posts where we've taken issue with Indian folks. It's not that you are non Indian, so don't play the race card to trump what others are saying here.

At first, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt, thinking about the power editors hold over writers and their pieces. Perhaps you had been more sharp and deep, and it out cut out. But judging from your comments here, it doesn't look like your thoughts stray too far from what was published. And prior to having read your piece, I thought maybe space was an issue. But it wasn't- that was one long article.

BTW, Jonathon: We could write

BTW, Jonathon:

We could write all our stories like that: “‘Brazil is Not Easy’ — Read widely about Brazil and think very hard about this country before visiting, and make sure to pay critical attention to its social, political and cultural history.” But repeatedly telling people that sounds a bit preachy and boring to me.

In very vague terms you talk about “acknowleding the context of impoverishment” —can you be more precise as to what you mean by this? Sometimes this can be difficult to achieve without patronising both the reader and the impoverished people of India, and is often not worth the effort in a travel section that comes with a pretty decent international newspaper attached.

What a freaking disappointment- the NYT, a "pretty decent international newspaper" should be informative and do more stories to make people aware of those complex issues, not merely be an advertisement and market countries like products. But your words are a good reality check: providing a substantiative piece is "preachy" and "boring," but being a marketing pamphlet for ideologies, countries, foreign policy is better because presumably, it is guaranteed to attract the largest amount of readers.

I think the problem is that

I think the problem is that the tourist industry these days- specifically in countries that are major tourist locations/hub for middle class/upper middle class Western tourists (who are predominantly white)- entire nations, people, social dynamics are reduced to a consumerist and capitalist experience. Whole places and experiences are “packaged” for the convenience of a tourist. This is done either through organized tours or even guide books (though some guide books are better than others). A travel destination is basically set up as a playground and/or spectacle for tourists. And in order to sustain the tourist link since tourism for some poor countries is a vital part of the economy, people of the place are forced to put on a show in several ways so that the Western tourist feels satisfied for having gotten what they paid for and will keep coming back. And yes, some of these experiences can come off as neo-colonial.

Yes, that's well distilled.

And that's why it's impossible to answer J. Allen on how to make the article or itinerary "better"--there are deep-rooted assumptions at work there. And no, i don't imagine it's all about "Johnathan Allen is a Bad Imperialist Person, Much More So Than Everyone Else." There probably -isn't- a quick fix, especially if your bread and butter is being a travel writer for a major mainstream newspaper; that's why it's uncomfortable. I do think it's possible to just sit with the ideas here, and the feelings they might bring up, before either getting defensive or moving to do something specific. I don't see anyone advocating any more concrete prescription here ("give up your imperialist job" or at minimum "start writing and doing your work in a completely different fashion"). It's a critique/set of observations.

...of course, i write that

...of course, i write that not having read through all the rest of the comments...

For Allen, India doesn’t just

For Allen, India doesn’t just have bazaars, it is a bazaar-cum-shopping mall, a place to consume with abandon and postmodern panache.

I thought you were going to write, " For Allen, India doesn’t just have bazaars, it is bizarre!"

hi

hi

Let's face it, there is no

Let's face it, there is no way India can be made "easy" for anyone.

That country is intense!

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