Was talking with some friends yesterday, 1 girl that’s been here (India) nearly a year, the other 24 hours, and I’ve been around a while. We were talking about the Real India, but the same question applies to any destination.
Is it the same for everyone? How do YOU know when you’ve found it?
I’m intrigued by the discussion you were having – have you found the real India then? What was your conclusion?
I like to think I saw the ‘real Kenya’ on a trip last year. I was travelling in the north making an extremely low-budget short film for my final uni project and was accompanying a friend doing research for her dissertation. Due to the nature of her dissertation and my film we travelled to areas that very rarely see Westerners (we were the first white people many of the children in one village had seen, they cried because they didn’t quite understand why we were so light-skinned!), and the trip was completely independent so we relied on public transport (which turned out to be cargo trucks carrying relief food) and the kindness of strangers to get around. By the end of it I felt more Kenyan than I did English what with my new-found (vague) grasp of Swahili and a bunch of local languages (although I never quite developed a taste for the local cuisine).
I guess I could say I know I found the ‘real Kenya’ because, when I compare my experiences in the north with those I had in the south just weeks before when I was travelling for leisure with my mum, doing the usual Mara, beaches and national parks excursions, I can safely say I saw two very different sides to the country – and the northern parts certainly seemed more genuine (by that I mean there was almost no tourism infrastructure whatsoever, very little English was spoken etc).
It is probably different for everyone though – travelling is very much a subjective thing so we’ll never all take away the same things from a place. If you asked my travel companion what makes the real Kenya she’d probably have a few different ideas to me
Excellent question my friend!
I think that’s one of those phrases that makes me cringe a little! You know when you get those same questions over and over, year after year, ‘how do I live like a local for a week?’ (get a 9 to 5 job and pay rent?) ‘How do I get off the beaten track?’ ‘how do I find the ‘real’ … wherever.
To be honest, I’m not sure there is such a thing, as Lottie says travelling is a very subjective thing. I mean is ‘real’ the residential town that has no tourist attractions but a lot of houses where people live, go to work and that’s it? Or is ‘real’ the artificially built open museum that celebrates and showcases a countries unique culture?
Are we as travellers imposing our ideologies of what is ‘real’ onto the countries we visit by expecting them to be the living embodiment of our own subjective stereotypes? Is Africa not real if we don’t see a traditional mud hut village with a few Maasai warriors and some wildlife with the Lion King soundtrack playing in the distance? Is England not real if a tourist doesn’t see a suited man in a bowler hat sipping tea with the Queen or a cockerney shouting Oi! Oi! Apples and Pears madam? All the while doing the Dick Van Dyke chimerney sweep dance of course!
Do we think a country is any less ‘real’ or genuine if we come across vast areas of globalised gentrification and towns that look barely different than the ones we have left behind? I think those that live there may disagree.
I don’t know, it’s a hard one.
For me personally I don’t know what is ‘real’. But I do know what is not. Those people who go to the travel agents and spend a fortune to stay in those concrete bunker complexes with swimming pools and high rise hotels that are the exact same weather you are in Miami or Margate. That experience isn’t a real anything!
So I suppose by definition by travelling independently outside of those environments, everything else you see is ‘real’.
Lottie Gross This is all very philosophical for my Friday morning...!
Michael Huxley I know, I don't know what came over me! Haha!
hehe, whether I’ve found Real India or not is, I suppose, irrelevant to others, though I have seen a lot of things that others don’t/won’t see.
It seems that most (ok, some) think that Real Wherever is going to appear, but I’m not sure they know how to go about finding it, unless as Michael says, it fits into one box or another in their preconceived notions of what they’ll experience.
Ah, my cat just came home… Heck, I guess it’s Real India if I have a cat that lives here She’s philosophical. At least when fed…
Michael Huxley Hahaha! Well give her a belly rub from me!