Adventure Travel Week
What is adventure travel? While there are many definitions and many degrees of adventure, surely most of us will agree that adventure means going beyond your comfort level. This week we will go on three very different adventures–India, Palestine and the Amazon.
When you are six years old, crossing the street alone is an adventure. When you are sixteen, driving across town can be hair-raising. The first time you leave your home country, going through customs or Passport Control can set your heart racing. Seasoned travelers demand a little more of adventure travel. For Laura Pedersen, who had some preconceived notions about travel to India, India definitely looked like an adventure.
She says, in Planes, Trains, and Auto-Rickshaws,
I’d wanted to travel to India for many years but feared that the poverty and misogyny would be too disquieting. I had read articles about children purposely maimed to beg more efficiently and wives cast out of their husband’s homes after mysterious cooking accidents and forced to live on the streets scarred and deformed..
She had other concerns as well. Mob violence and food, for instance.
…when it came to corndog-fed foreigners, the food and water in India had a reputation for being a dysentery delivery system that resulted in what we called the crabapple two-step back in Western New York.
The introductory chapters of Planes, Trains and Auto-Rickshaws reads like a stand-up comedy routine. The body of the book gets down to the business of discussing various regions of India and the high points for visitors. By the way, it is not about transportation, despite the title. Pedersen imparts a bit of information about the culture as she goes along, and slips in her one-liners here and there. In the south, in the hippie paradise of Goa, she also finds bull fights and “museums and churches galore”. But on the beaches, she finds that “Dogs will stop by and inquire if you have a sandwich that you’re not going to eat or a Coke can that needs peeing on.”
Pedersen devotes one chapter to a capsule version of the major religions of India and a few paragraphs to the prevalent superstitions. Another chapter explains the caste system, but for me was weakened by a comparison with America which has societal differences, but nothing close to an inherited place in society. She then gives a People magazine-type run down of the most famous names in Indian society and moves on to the natural environment before getting to her final chapter which weighs the pros and cons of modern India and gives some astounding statistics on children and on the subject she started with–the treatment of women.
Some of those statistics are a bit confusing, as in her attempt to be utterly fair, she present positives as well as negatives. For instance, one of the forces feeding India’s terrific 9% per year economic growth is a favorable youth to age balance–there are a LOT of children and young people. However, since she tells us that as many of 50% of kids under 3 are mal-nourished, how productive are they going to be as adults? And despite the fast growing economy 40% of the population earns less than $1.25 a day, the World Health Organization poverty line, (although in another place, she says that 54% lived below the poverty line in 1970s and it is now down to 25 %). So you see what I mean about confusing statistics.
Okay, poverty in India is not exactly news. Pedersen shares far more shocking information about what is called “Bride Burning,” and generally attributed to “cooking accidents.” This practice, she says “is a subset of dowry death, where murdering your wife is passed off as suicide or an accident, which is a subset of violence toward women” and it accounts for more than 8000 recorded deaths per year.
On the positive side, Pedersen makes the case that India has an open democracy where people are free to speak out. Despite the atrocities against women, women hold just about any job they wish, including high elected office. Technology is advanced and the economy is growing rapidly. Directly of interest to the traveler, the country contains a universe of varied landscapes and cultures.
She disagrees with Elizabeth Gilbert who said in Eat, Pray, Love, “Outside the walls of the Ashram, it is all dust and poverty.” Pederson says, ”There’s dust and poverty and color and excitement and ingenuity and much, much more.” Maybe I’m stuck in a glass-is-half-full mode, but that does not strike me as a ringing endorsement for visiting India. Despite the funny one-liners sprinkled through the book, and tons of information presented in an easy-to-digest form, I for one am not persuaded by Pedersen that India is an adventure I’m ready to embark on.
Read more about India at I’m Not Home, including this one on getting groped in India. And Cheese Web has a beautiful photo essay on Hindu temples that may make you decide to book travel to India after all.
Disclaimers: This book was provided by the publisher for review, which does not prevent me from giving my honest opinion. The links to Amazon allow you to do your Amazon shopping without extra charge while at the same time earning pennies for A Traveler’s Library. Thanks for supporting your favorite website!
All the photos above are from Flickr, and you can click on each photo to learn more. I would like particularly to draw attention to the photo from Water.org. Their Flickr name is waterdotorg, and they are the charity that will be helped by Passports With Purpose this year. I’ll be announcing this year’s Passports With Purpose fund raiser in November, but my review of Harmattan and today’s review both bring to mind the difficulties of obtaining fresh water in many developing countries.