Modern India Adventure

Adventure Travel Week

Delhi from a rickshaw
Transportation in Delhi

Destination: India

Book: Planes, Trains, and Auto-Rickshaws,  A Journey Through Modern India (NEW July 2012) by Laura Pedersen

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..

Indian Woman's Food Cart
Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network Event – New Delhi, Photo from Dell, Inc.’s Flickr Page

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.

Women washing clothes in project area in PK Colony.
Bangalore City, Karnataka, India. Photo by Water.Org

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 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.


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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

8 thoughts on “Modern India Adventure

    1. Kerry, Interesting that she talks about some of the same things in her song. Thanks for the reference, and the video on your post is a beauty. I hope people who are interested in seeing more of India will click through to see it and hear the song.

  1. I, too, remember a trip to India (in 1970) and being struck by the enormous contrasts. The paradox of India was best exemplified in Delhi. Crossing over the railroad bridge from New Delhi’s swank hotels and neatly landscaped govenment boulevards into Old Delhi, with its sweltering alleys jammed with people trying to make a subsitence living, was an enlightening experience. (I had been warned not to go over there alone but the people I met were American-friendly.) Also, driving to Agra’s nearby grand Taj Mahal area I passed sprawling mud hut villages– Eternal Mother India.

    1. I still can’t figure out if it is overall a “good” experience, or a “bad” experience. Pardon my cynicism but in what way is it enlightening to go around the world to see people scrambling a living in poverty? That can be seen most anywhere, if you want to peer at the underprivileged.

  2. I can’t help but feel drawn to a country so colorful and spicy. The photo at the top of your post so captured the India of my mind’s eye. Even in the midst of tremendous suffering, the people of India surround themselves in rich, beautiful colors.

    The poverty of my Philadelphia neighborhood was nothing like that of India. But my neighbors didn’t have running water, tapped into our electricity, and their children came running over whenever they saw us arrive home with groceries.

    It wasn’t fun to have people break into my home or to have my husband come home to tell me he had been held up at gun point yet again. But I feel something missing in the sweet, middle class neighborhood I live in now. No one needs me here. But my neighbors in Philly needed me and I relied on them.

    My friends from India have expressed a sense of losing connection when they came to the U.S. I’d be curious to know if Pederson remained an observer in India or if she opened herself to the mass of humanity she encountered.

    The best adventures are those that incorporate beauty and ugliness, community and solitude. India, for me, definitely fits the bill.

  3. As you know — because you know me! — I’m not a glass half full type of person either. But I think what Pederson says *is* a whole-hearted endorsement. It’s the same endorsement you get from the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel — that the country can seem overwhelming and there’s a great deal that’s off putting but if you open your mind and your heart it’s magical.

    Of course I would never agree with anything in Eat Pray Love. I couldn’t stand that book.

    I was in India decades ago and remember being confused and suffering from sensory overload until I got used to the rhythms. I didn’t spend a lot of time — this was my 2-month, grand-tour- of-the-east hippie honeymoon — but would like to go back at some point.

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