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
"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
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
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.
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.
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
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
Expensive Hotels and a VERY STUPID INCREDIBLE
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
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
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
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
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??
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
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.