A City of Contradictions

Accidentally supporting the drug trade in India

For me, Pushkar will always be a city of contradictions. As one of the holiest cities in India – the Brahma’s city – I thought it would be cleaner, calmer, and stricter than anywhere else I’d been. 

Instead, it was the city that truly showed me an underlying ugliness of the country. It’s a city of prohibitions – no alcohol, no meat, no drugs, no revealing clothing – but also the city where all these prohibitions seemed most prominent.

Within 10 minutes of my arrival, I met an Indian guy at the hotel who had come to Pushkar solely to smoke weed and get drunk. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around it… and I still can’t. Why in the world would he choose to travel to the one place where it’s illegal to do so? He was far from being the only one.

A city of prohibitions – no alcohol, no meat, no drugs, no revealing clothing – but also the city where all these prohibitions seemed most prominent.

It quickly became apparent that Pushkar is one of the most popular cities to travel to for drugs and other illegal businesses. The city center was completely infested with blank-eyed and aimless-looking western hippies, remnants of dirty clothes hanging from their emaciated bodies. Our local guide told the group I was traveling with that a number of Western travelers continuously got stuck in Pushkar with no money and a drug addiction, selling their bodies to feed their unsatisfiable cravings; slaves of their own needs.

Pundit giving a blessing at Pushkar Lake

As soon as that depressing thought latched itself onto my mind, we had finally stepped off the road and up to the infamous Pushkar Lake – a lake that the city wrapped itself around. A Pundit (Hindu priest) took us through a beautiful prayer ceremony and the city was, once again, holy – the air heavy with his enchanting blessings.

The blessings seemed to wear off overnight, though. As I spent the next day weaving through people and cows in the market with Theresa, an English woman in her fifties, we haggled with salesmen and desperately tried to find respite from the scorching sun. 

Two homeless boys approached us, asking us to buy them food. They were polite, good at English, and couldn’t have been more than 12 years old. Or maybe they just looked young with their tiny gaunt bodies and huge eyes. Nevertheless, my heart was aching and I desperately wanted to help them.

Jaisalmer Market

Now I have done my research before traveling. I knew that you should never give begging children money. But these kids didn’t want money – they wanted food. They pointed to a shop nearby and explained that we could buy them chapatis (Indian pancakes) there. 

And after persistent begging, I finally caved – after all, if I bought them the bread myself it really couldn’t be all that bad, could it?

I let them drag me to the shop and they quickly picked out what they wanted – a very expensive box of flour that I didn’t have the money for. But by now I had already told them yes, and so Theresa and I took out all the money we had, frantically trying to gather enough money for it.

Before I even realized what had happened, the two boys had snatched the money right out of my hands and ran away, leaving behind the box of flour on the counter.

When I later related the story to our guide on our way out for dinner, he told us grimly that drug dealers often “own” the begging children who’ve become “hooked” for various needs at an early age; therefore, they stay indebted to their providers. 

I had likely – and unwittingly – supported an underground drug trade that used homeless children for profit, despite having done my research thoroughly before leaving home.

I felt ignorant and guilty. I had accidentally become one of the worst kinds of tourists – the unknowing tourist who feeds into illegal businesses and dooming children with their Western naïveté. The exact kind I’d so carefully avoided and arrogantly thought myself above.

I had likely – and unwittingly – supported an underground drug trade that used homeless children for profit, despite having done my research thoroughly before leaving home.

To make matters worse, the universe chose that moment to throw all its ugliness at me at once. On that last walk in Pushkar, we passed an area the size of half a football field filled with trash, where a gathering of cows stood eating mouthful after mouthful of plastic. A few moments later, we passed a cow lying on the sidewalk painfully and unsuccessfully trying to breathe – likely as a result of a stomach full of plastic. We passed long chains of homeless people sleeping in the streets. And we passed a camel that had its nose ripped out – most likely from tugging too much at the rope that kept it from escaping so that tourists, like ourselves, could go on rides.

Jaisalmar

Of course, I’d seen glimpses of it all outside of Pushkar too.

The despair and pain and hopelessness is everywhere in India (and everywhere in the world really), and the frustration of not being able to do anything – just seeing it and having to keep walking… and furthermore accidentally supporting it – really got to me on the walk. India’s beauty had dulled a bit.

But that is India, I guess; it’s the dazzling beauty, an abundance of wealth, bright colors, intense flavors, diversity, and of course, a rich culture. It is also horrible suffering, unfairness, pollution, and poverty. 

It is good and bad – both, a series of contradictions.

Udaipur

You shouldn’t judge India solely on its ugly sides, but purposefully choosing to only see that beauty is ignorant. It’s a balancing act to understand a country – to both love it and to see its flaws plainly – and I’m still learning every day.

It’s a balancing act to understand a country – to both love it and to see its flaws plainly – and I’m still learning every day.

What we can do is to learn from our mistakes. We can help through other official initiatives and to keep educating ourselves. And throughout the following seven months in Asia, that experience stuck with me and, through my experiences, kept me from making a similar mistake.

I slowly learned to deal better with my emotions and distress every time my travels unavoidably showed me a new ugly side of the world. But that evening in Pushkar, I was relieved when we took a tuk-tuk back to the hotel, not quite ready to face the ugliness right away once more.

About the Author
Born in Denmark, Charlotte grew up into a family of spirited travelers in the mud and trees of the Danish countryside. With a passion for exploring and a need for always pushing her own limits, Charlotte booked a one-way ticket to New Delhi the first opportunity she got and set out on what would be the start of a life-changing journey.

Published by Badass Female Travelers

It's simple - we're females. We travel. And of course, we're badass. Discover the numinous accounts of women's journeys around the world.

14 thoughts on “A City of Contradictions

  1. I am so sorry you had to face this ugly side of India. But seeing your map with the places you have visited clearly marked on it, I understand that you have only been to the north of India. India is a vast country and unlike any other, it has varying cultures. The North,South, East and West of India have completely different lifestyles, architecture, you name it.

    India is a collection of countries itself, hence the name subcontinent. It would be wonderful if you could visit many parts of India. As an Indian myself, I feel ashamed that you had to go through this side of India and that you probably have a very bad impression of the country. I hope future travels make you realise the beauty of India.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Shreya,
      Please, don’t be ashamed at all, this was only a tiny tiny bit of my trip to India, one of the few “bad” experiences, which for me was really just more of a learning experience about my own way of tourism, for me it didn’t really specifically reflect on India, but more in how we travel in general. I spent two months in India, half of it in the South and I absolutely and completely fell in love with the country! As you said it’s like a collection of countries in one, the cultures, languages and nature so incredibly different, even from city to city. North India was beautiful and an incredible experience, but South India definitely has a special place in my heart. And I’ve barely scratched the surface, I really want to come back again and again! I’m sorry, it wasn’t my intention to make India sound like a scary or horrid place, it was more to tell of a personal experience that taught me a lot. I will definitely write a blog post on the blog one of the many incredible experiences I had there.
      All the best xx
      Charlotte

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m so very glad you had a nearly wholesome experience of India. I understand well that you were only telling your experience because I myself have been scammed in a couple of trips. Looking forward to your blog post about your experience in South India 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s the sad part of traveling to experience all the bad sides of it. My bad experience was in Paris and Munich (people & culture) though we had a bit of fun, unfortunately, the bad side gives more effect than the good.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. lol I have far too many … I’ve been a nomad for decades and did it budget style eg hitching and camping, even snow in RUssia … sure you guys travel in a lot more style these days!

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: