be careful what you wish for…

when you travel to another country, if you want to see the famous sites, you’ll end up spending a lot of time in very touristy places. pretty much every place you go, you’re just one of many others who have come to visit. the town will be filled with tons of little tourist shops, hotels, tours, touts, taxis etc. although, it is helpful to have all these services around, after a while, you definitely feel that you’re not getting the most authentic experience. you dont want to be seeing how *tourists* live… you want to see how the *locals* do it. you want to see real life, unadulterated by tourism. it’s for this reason that people often seek out small towns and villages. these places are often still unspoiled, and you can see real life.

it was for this reason that we decided to visit the state of gujarat. it’s one of the least tourity states here in india, and we were very eager to see what it was like. i couldnt wait to check out the small towns of rural india. well, it turns out that traveling out in the untouristed places was much harder than i might have thought.

the main problem was that since peoiple around there hadn’t seen many tourists, everyone was extremely interested in us. we were basically instantly famous. i dont wanna use the word “famous” becaus that would mean that we had actually done something worthwile to get all this attention, but honestly, this is what it felt like. we literally couldnt walk 5 steps down the street without having people shout out to us. now, the shouting wasn’t really a problem… in fact, it was kind of cool that people would yell “helloooo! what’s you rname?” to us from every direction. the problem mainly was the staring.

everywhere we were, people would stare at us. and they werent discreet about it. its not like they would take a quick glance at us, or try looking at us when we werent looking. they would just walk up to us and stare. and keep staring. this happened everywhere we went. i would be standing at a bus stop, and 5 seconds later, there would be about 10 people crowding around me, standing as little as 2 feet away, just staring at me. they’d be reading over my shoulder as well. when i was at the internet cafe, people would crowd around behind me reading every word i typed. when we went to restaurants, everyone in the room would just stare at us. it ended up being very unnerving.

of course, the attention wasn’t all bad. beacuse of this attention, i ended up having a bunch of very interesting conversations w/ locals. people came up and talked to me on buses, in stores, by temples, everywhere. i ended up learning a lot about gujarat and india in general. i ended up meeting a lot of cool people. and almost all of the people i met were very very nice. plus, the other advantage to being in a place that isnt very touristy, is that people there aren’t really geared towards tourism… in other words, most people you meet on the street aren’t there just to sell you a t-shirt/cab ride/whatever… instead, they just wanna chat.

plus, i got to take a bunch of photos of people, which is something i dont always get to do. in fact, people were practically begging me to take their photo. it was almost too much sometimes. a guard near these temples literally refused to get out of my shots and kept putting himself in front of my camera. i couldnt get a photo w/out him!! this actually happened other times too, when i just wanted a photo of something, but people kept getting in the way on purpose. other times, people wouldnt even let me pass until i photographed them.

being one of the only tourists around, eneded up being a mixed blessing. on one hand, it was fun, and helped us meet people. on the other hand, there are times when you dont necessarily want attention. you just want to fade into the background. you’ve had a long day and you want to just eat a meal instead of being on stage. you dont want a group of 10 people excitedly chattering to each other about the fact that you bought a roll of toilet paper. you want some quiet time to read.

who knows. i guess it’s just tough to find a balance. by the time we left gujarat, i was ready for a little less attention. i was glad that we wouldnt be the only foreigners on display… but, as soon as we came back into the tourist world… and started wandering betwen internet cafes, cd shops, sopuvenirs stands, i ended up looking back wistfully to gujarat….


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