Incredible India
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Incredible or Terrible India?

Information Centre of the main temple of Thanjavur, surrounded by garbage and plastic.

Sea View Park and Picnic Spot at Allepey's beach.

Note the text: Tourism works for you!

 

These two pictures are saying it all! And then the secretary of the Ministry of Tourism asks:

"What is there in Malaysia? What is there in Thailand?" Indeed NOT this. This is UNIQUE for India.

If I was in charge I would hire some tourist experts from Thailand and Malaysia, because it looks India has NO CLUE of what (foreign) tourists appreciate and what they hate.

I experienced India by far as the MOST tourist unfriendly country I have visited in Asia.

I know exactly the moment I became so fed up with this INCREDIBLE India show. After a long train journey from Hampi (where I had to wait FIVE days to just get a train ticket) I arrived at the chaotic train station in Chennai. I read in the Lonely planet guide book that the connecting bus station was 7km from the train station and the taxi drivers were charging a lot of money. Because of the traffic jams it would take a long time to go there. So I decide to take an expensive taxi (the infamous old one with no aircon, aircon is of course standard in Thailand at a fraction of the cost) to Mahabalipuram.
The taxi was several times stranded in traffic jams in the heat, exhaust gases and the dust (all the windows open). Waiting behind a big bus with a large advertisement of INCREDIBLE India on the back I almost freaked out at that moment. Too much!!

But let us look more systematically to this INCREDIBLE India or TERRIBLE India.

From 1978 I have travelled every year for three months through Asia, also about ten times through India, so what I write here is based on a long exploration of all these countries.

So let us start at the beginning: visa, airports.

For several Asian countries, like Thailand, Malaysia (even for three months) and Singapore you get a visa in about one minute on the border. For India you have to go to the embassy (or special visa bureau), you canít wait for it and have to come back the next day. In this way  this costs not only a lot of time, but about 100 Euro (135 US dollars). A lot of extra travel expenses.

If you go with an organized tour and everything is arranged for you, you will of course get more of the INCREDIBLE India feeling. But if you travel on your own you will see the real India. According to stories in the newspaper you have to wait one and a half hour on your luggage in New Delhi. The airports are classified as dangerous, because they have not enough air-traffic controllers. Often in the high season (end of December-start of January) there are foggy conditions, which make it impossible to land in New Delhi. This happened also this time.

On my journey back home from my hotel near Victoria station in Mumbai at 10pm in the evening it took the taxi 1.5 hour for the 12km to the airport (8 km/hour). Because no train connection or a good highway. And this was NOT in the rush hours. On Mumbai airport no benches as usual in the departure hall.

Transport

Train
It is often difficult and not easy to get a simple train ticket. Even when I arranged it three weeks before, I could not have a nice compartment. So I often ended with a very uncomfortable train compartment with open windows. Especially in tunnels all the Indians had there fingers in their ears because the terrible noise and all the diesel smoke coming in was a nuisance. For 12 hours long this was a hardship. The average speed of the special rapid express trains has been 50 km/hour. Several times they announced that the train would go from track 1, which at the last moment was changed to track 4. So everybody has to run and go over all the stairs to the other track to find somewhere your compartment in the very long trains. A very chaotic situation.

Bus
As you can see from my pictures the only buses available were very old ramshackle buses, with no windows and mostly very much overcrowded. Almost a nightmare in this way. Average speed about 40km/hour.  When the bus arrives it will be stormed by the Indians just to get a seat in the overcrowded bus. In the other Asian countries young people or men will rise up for old people or women, but not in India. Everybody only thinks on him/her self.

If I compare this with my last journey in the very tourist friendly Vietnam (of course in this way they get many tourists) I bought a so called open tour ticket for 18 Euro (24 US dollar) from Saigon to Hanoi (about 2200km). The very nice air con bus with large chairs, which you can change in different positions, brought me from the hotel I was to the next hotel I wanted to go. Great way of travelling.

Taxi
Several times I had to take expensive, but very old, no air con, taxis (20 Euro or 26 US dollar) because this was the only way to reach somewhere in a comfortable way.

Expensive Hotels and a VERY STUPID INCREDIBLE bureaucracy.

The hotels were VERY expensive (if I wanted a good hotel) compared with the hotels in all the other Asian countries I visited. In almost all the cases I had to make a choice beforehand and phone the next hotel to make a reservation else the hotel would be full. This I donít like because this is a lot of extra work and you never know what you will get. Sometimes I had to pay 40 Euro (52 US dollars) for a room. If again we compare that with my most recent visit to Vietnam the travel company of the bus most of the time selected an excellent hotel for as less as 6 US dollars (4.6 Euro).

Harassing the poor tourists.

At arriving in the hotel you have to fill in a form and sometimes also a book with a lot of data, which are never checked. Many tourists just wrote something short (as I did with my address). Most of the times you have to give your passport to the next day, which is illegally according to the laws of my country and according the Indian law (I canít indentify myself anymore when going out in the city).
Hampi was the pinnacle of stupid tourist harassment. I arrived at 9 pm and after writing down all my data the owner said I had to go to the police office to register there also. There was a big sign never to go on your own in the dark because people have been robbed at night. But the hotel owner insisted I had to do it. It turned out that the police office was as far from the center and all the hotels as possible, with not any sign where it would be. So there I walked in the dark with everywhere beggars. A beggar girl came to me and I asked her if she knew where the police office was. She said yes and I promised her ten rupees if she brought me there. In the office a long queue of tourists (Hampi has many Western tourists) and only one book to write in. So after a half hour it was my turn. I explained to the police officer that this is utterly stupid and against their own warning, but no reaction. Then 20 minutes walk back in the dark. The next morning I wanted to e-mail this story to my friends and AGAIN I had to write everything in another book.
This is a striking example of a VERY STUPID INCREDIBLE bureaucracy. I know a lot of computers and databases. It is utterly useless to write all this kind of information in books in all kind of places. ONLY if you put all the data in a good central database you have the possibility to retrieve information and do something useful with it.

The solution is so simple, but as I often notice (as a former process optimization engineer and trouble shooter) that even the simplest things in India are done in a stupid and inefficient way. I could give many examples of this.

The simple solution is, when you get your visa, all the necessary information is put in a central database and you will get a simple unique visa number, consisting of lower and uppercase letters and numbers. In this way you need only a few digits.
Checking in your hotel, the owner only has to put this number in his computer (the hotel code, date and time of arrival will be added automatically by the software), or in case there is no computer the owner writes your visa number on a special list of his hotel with the arrival time. This paper can be brought every day or once a week to the police office, which puts these data in the central computer.
And look now you have all kind of very useful information available which you can use to develop tourism more. You know from which country the people are coming, which age, sex and so on they have, which places they visit and how long they stay there. Also the distribution is time. If tourism is developing or declining and where. What is the effect of certain actions and so on. You can use statistical techniques to find all kind of correlations and predictions of future trends, which you can use to develop tourism more.
In criminal or (suspected) terrorist cases it is very easy to trace the person and see where he/she has been and which other people were at the same time in his/her hotel.
With MUCH LESS effort you turn a system which only harasses the poor tourists into an interesting source of useful information.

A same kind of solution can be found for the Indian tourist.

BUT WHY NOBODY OF THESE MORE THEN 1 BILLION PEOPLE THINKS OF THIS??
This is the real question!! For thirty years coming now to India the same utterly stupid system!
When change will come to India??

Excursions

Only in Madurai in the expensive, but excellent Madurai Regency I found the possibility of 1 excursion from my hotel. Unfortunately the guide in the bus didnít speak a word English (indeed incredible). In Pondicherry I found one excursion from the tourist office, but had to wait a long time before it really took off. Most of the time I had to find out for myself and take an expensive taxi to go somewhere.
In Vietnam as in the other Asian countries there were mostly six or more different excursions possible from my hotel for a very cheap price and in excellent buses.

Names

What almost every tourist (and most of the Indians) find also irritating are all the different names for cities and monuments. Sometimes they are almost identical, sometimes much more complicated then the old ones. No one could explain to me what the reason is for it. To give one example of this idiocy: in Mumbai (before Bombay) the Prince of Wales Museum is now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya.
If you mention the last name to a rickshaw driver or taxi he will not understand (if you manage to pronounce it).

I think I could write a complete report about the situation in India, but I did my best to mention some of the important points in the hope for India (and especially the women) and for the relative few tourists still visiting India, this situation will improve soon.

When change will come to India?

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