McLeod Ganj to Canada
14.04.2013 - 22.04.2013 10 °C
Home sweet home.
I can't believe you can be in a country, in a northern (somewhat remote) town and within hours be able to travel half way around the world and be back home. Still boggles my mind it's possible. But that's what we did!
Our last few days in McLeod Ganj were so nice. Unfortunately for us, Marlee and Huw headed off to their next travel location, Manali (even further into the mountains) so we had our last night together which included dinner at the Common Ground Cafe (of course!) followed by some drinks at a local bar and headed back to the hotel where I crashed early and the other three hung out on the roof of our building.
The next day, Derek and I ended up doing another cooking class with our friend Olga from Germany and her friend, Kabir. It was amazing - we did the cooking class out of a little restaurant in the town at around 2pm, when business had slowed down for the afternoon. We were actually in the restaurant kitchen and it fit 4 of us perfectly. The owner of the restaurant has been cooking for 15 years and his family also works at the restaurant. We made dal fry (lentil curry), chana masala (chickpea curry) and paneer curry (cottage cheese curry although their cottage cheese is homemade and has the texture and consistency of firm tofu). We got to eat the 3 dishes and the owner gave us chapati and rice - total cost of the class was $4/each (crazy). He could absolutely charge more. They were among the best Indian dishes we've had on the trip and we now have the recipes! After the class, we met up with Marlee and Huw one last time at an Italian restaurant (Nick's Italian Kitchen) and they had dinner while Derek and I had our much deserved brownie sundae dessert. Then they left on their bus and Derek and I were solo!
Those last two days were definitely not stressful - we did some last minute gift buying, hit up Common Ground Cafe again for lunch with Olga and Kabir, then went for a drink with Kabir at another restaurant. Honestly, we received more of an education talking to Kabir. He is our age, from Mumbai (they call it Bombay because no one wanted the name changed), was a lawyer and quit his job because he was so unhappy. He was so realistic about life in India. There were definitely more cons than pros to establishing a life here. The corruption, poverty, cultural and religious pressures absolutely made him feel hopeless. He has a rare mindset here... he was told by another backpacker friend that he was born in the wrong country and he agrees. He comes from a mostly atheist upbringing (although his mother is Hindu but tends to be more Liberal in her ideals) so it was very interesting to hear his perspective on his life here. For example, he went through 5 years of law school to graduate, get a job with an American corporate company and guess what his salary is to start. $200/month. Now I know people always say "well, it's all relative". Trust me it's not. India has almost the same cost for gas, food costs, clothing costs and rental fees for apartments. No wonder the majority of the population exist in extreme poverty. Now, he told us he can't move out of his parents house because he isn't married and needs a marriage certificate to secure an apartment. Basically, life here is MUCH easier if you're married. There are apartments he could rent for a bachelor but he needs a $3000 (Canadian dollars) security deposit upfront. Tell me how you can afford to save ANYTHING on $200/month let alone something like that? So like I said... life is somewhat hopeless even for those who have a good education. As for his job, well corporate law is not 'fulfilling' in terms of life goals and after 3 years he was threatened by the company to be laid off (they laid off several employees for cutbacks). They told him that if he produced 100% accuracy on all his work (keep in mind it's in English and is his second language) that they might consider not laying him off. He got to the end of the two weeks... they said even though he produced perfect work they were going to lay him off in two days. So he spoke with his father and decided to quit before having his dignity compromised by a lay off. So now he travels. The kicker is, his girlfriend is also a lawyer at the same firm and because she went to a 'better' school than him, she wasn't on the list to be laid off.
Another fascinating thing he told us was that in India, only 1/3 of the country pays income taxes (of the 1.2 billion people so about 400 million pay income tax). He said that if a man makes less than 180,000 rupees/year ($3600 Canadian) or a woman makes less than 200,000 rupees/year ($4000 Canadian) that you don't pay income tax. Well if the majority of the population makes about $1-2/day max, you do the math... (keep in mind they pay basically the same for food, gas, clothing, etc.). He also said because of the massive corruption that exists, there are many people who are very wealthy and don't pay income taxes because of the 'under the table' transactions. So. Without income taxes being paid what happens? Lack of and poor services for healthcare, education, development, safety practices, proper policies/protocols, the list goes on. How can you have a functioning economy without income taxes paying for fundamental services which are safe and effective? We are so lucky in North America. I can't even explain how lucky we are.
Recently a building collapsed in a neighbourhood outside Mumbai killing over 70 people... well turns out that the land was bought illegally by the developer because they paid off the government officials and not even an architect or engineer designed the building. It was just built by someone who has no qualifications to build a structure. The land was only supposed to hold a 3 story building and they made it 8 stories. Then they took rent money from people who lived in slums and rented them rooms in this building. Then it collapsed and killed most of them. Did anyone hear about this story? It happens ALL the time... actually I was talking to my friend's father about this the other day and how some countries 'sensationalize' horrible events and other countries like India the news is never even heard in Canada. He made a good point and said 'it just goes to show the value of human life' and I couldn't agree with him more. Human life is not valued the same way in developing countries as it is in developed countries. It's heartbreaking. If something like that happened in Canada (which it wouldn't because we have strict protocols which eliminate 'most' of the corruption that would exist to build a building), it would be international news. Yet in developing countries with war, corruption, poverty which leads to death and horrible conditions, we seem to accept it as 'normal' in some strange way but if it happens in a developed country then all hell breaks loose. And it should.
Derek and I ended up having our 'last meal' at Common Ground Cafe and bought two pottery pieces - a sugar bowl and creamer. They were made by a local potter who teaches youth how to make pottery and then they sell it to local organizations. They're so cute! We hired a taxi and drove the 7 (very car sick) hours to Amritsar to catch our flight at 2:30am the next day to Delhi and then to Mumbai. Once we arrived in Mumbai, we spent a night there and the next day hung out at the mall, went to a movie and had some dinner before going to the airport. I don't know what it is but we always get lost right before we need to catch a big flight. Our tuk tuk driver taking us back from the mall couldn't find our hostel so we ended up getting out in the area and walking around before we found out the address we had was for their sister hostel. Thank goodness ours was close, before we knew it we were at the airport and boarding our plane to come back to Canada! It was a long few days but so worth it. Now we are getting rid of our jet lag and spending lots of time with friends and family before we take off on our next leg(s) of our 6 months of travel.
Stay tuned! More to come mid May when we head off for Europe!