The Great Indian Tourist: Defiling in the Name of Travel

Social Commentary

The Great Indian Tourist: Defiling in the Name of Travel

Illustration: Arati Gujar

My long cherished dream of driving through the majestic Ladakh terrains while fighting off altitude sickness has now sunk to the bottom of the frothy Yamuna. How can I show my face to my Ladhaki sisters and brothers after a video of Indian tourists rampaging through the ecologically sensitive Pangong Tso lake in their Audi surfaced on Twitter. You could bet it would be a bunch of men setting a new low bar, but then sometimes you still have to see it to be able to believe it. The obnoxious Indian tourist is everywhere, but thanks to the birth of gramming and vlogging they are louder, more annoying and frankly asshole-ing their way across many of India’s most delicate, at-risk destinations. Thank you dear men (who else), for lowering the bar of senility.

The obnoxious Indian tourist is everywhere, but with the birth of vlogging they are asshole-ing their way across many of India’s most delicate destinations.

A part of me gets the mad excitement a identity-conflicted, testosterone charged male experiences on witnessing a pristine blue lake away from the cacophony of traffic, buffalos, ‘abey chutiye dikhtaa nahin hai kya’, and the sweltering heat of whatever city or hellish corner of the country they come from. Why admire nature’s marvel from afar in awed silence like a sissy, when one can drive their chariot through it like a boss, with Diljit Dosanjh blaring from the speakers and call a few locals ‘Oye Chinkis’ for that ghar-wali feeling.

Sometimes it’s the racism, the brute etiquette of a man without a leash, that makes even far-off places feel like home. We seem to carry this feeling everywhere we go. Remember when a family from India was caught by the hotel staff for trying to leave a resort in Bali, their suitcases packed with hair dryers they had stolen from the bathrooms, along with glass jars, hangers and even a table lamp? In comparison this is only India. Everyone’s a tiger in their own backyard, even if they are behaving like jackasses.

Ideally, Indians should be banned from exploring India itself. Because they don’t explore, they devour and destroy.

Money seems to bestow upon us a strange sense of entitlement. An entitlement that whispers into our ears – Jaa jeele apni zindagi Simran as we stuff our handbags with croissants, cookies, samosas from the breakfast buffet table to munch while on our way to Mt Titlis because hell, we have paid for it. It persuades manners to leave our body and fly away to a higher realm so that we can go aww as we watch our kids pocket fistfuls of candy from the hotel reception. We think our hotel tariff includes the privilege of driving the staff mad with our incessant demands. Running amok on a cruise ship with our bhai log, staring shamelessly at ‘bikini clad kyaa maal hai women’ on the beach while fancying ourselves as Shahrukh Khan is our idea of a paisa vasool vacation. It’s not even a friendship if our peers don’t encourage us to be raunchier, crazier and cross boundaries into full lunacy.

You could bet it would be a bunch of men setting a new low bar

You and I may try to distance ourselves from the ugly Indian tourists by trying to dismiss them as small-towners with too much money but unlike them, we are as generous with our tips as we are with thank yous and sorrys. We talk softly in our public school accents, and laugh loudly when someone comments how good our English is.  We peck delicately from our breakfast bowls, and complain gently when our rooms have not been cleaned to our satisfaction.

Yet when we step out in the markets somewhere in Thailand and get cold looks from vendors who mutter ‘Indians’, we realise we carry the weight of the sins of every tourist from the subcontinent.  You and I represent every Indian that drank so much booze on the flight that they threw up…haggled mercilessly over that crochet top at the beachside stall and then walked off without buying it, pushed past passengers waiting patiently for the train to stop so that they could get that window seat.

Everyone’s a tiger in their own backyard, even if they are behaving like jackasses.

If you think your strong condemnation of the errant ways of our ill-behaved counterparts saves you from the hostility reserved for Indian tourists, you are being delusional. We are lucky we are even invited or welcomed in places. Ideally, Indians should be banned from exploring India itself. Because they don’t explore, they devour and destroy.

But since delusion is a vice I prefer nurturing, I’m hoping as the average Indian travels more, gets exposed to newer ways, their worldview will become more accommodating and sensitive. And till that happens, I can snigger when I see a loud group of Chinese tourists behave embarrassingly, shake my head with disgust when I read about the American tourist who was arrested in Spain after insulting a ticket seller at the Palma Cathedral for not being able to speak English. Sigh in relief when a survey declares the French as the worst tippers, the least likely to learn a new language, more likely to complain about hotels and to engage in scandalous behaviour. Because, if we are to be pains in everyone’s arses, we should go international. Aim higher I say, let the Eiffel tower have it, Greece tremble at the sight of Indians and the US, literally put it hands up saying “humse naa ho paega”.

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