Location/Culture Reports

Location Report – India

"No city—except Bombay, the queen of all—was more beautiful in her garish style than Lucknow.”
- Rudyard Kipling in Kim
Described by many guidebooks as a “litmus test for travelers,” many westerners find the country chaotic, overwhelming, and a complete sensory overload.
Setting: Gandhi, Bollywood, curry or sacred cows—most people have some concept of India. However, the country is so large and complex that these impressions merely scratch the surface of what India really is. India is one-third the size of the United States, but with almost four times as many people (population 1.1 billion). Described by many guidebooks as a “litmus test for travelers,” many westerners find the country chaotic, overwhelming, and a complete sensory overload. It’s up to you to decide whether this is a good or a bad thing.

Lucknow is located on the Gomti River, in the north central part of India, 250 miles southeast of Delhi, and 270 miles south of Kathmandu, Nepal. The city has been called the cultural center of Northern India; it is a place known for perfume, silk, and finery.

History: “Let me explain. No, wait, there is too much. Let me sum up.”
Nature: In the past, the religious influence of the Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists meant that wildlife was protected, but much of this tradition has faded with overuse and greed. The British and the Indian rajahs decimated the wildlife by hunting, and more recently by clearing for agriculture and rampant use of pesticides.

Today, less than 10% of the country still has forest cover and only 4% is protected within national parks and reserves (compare this to 37% in last week’s country, Botswana!). In the last few decades, the Indian government has made an effort to begin controlling pollution, setting aside parklands, and protecting the environment, but with such a large, growing population, the conversion of agricultural land is likely to continue.

Indian wildlife fauna shares some genera in common with Africa (lions, rhinoceros, and elephants) but has its own share of charismatic megafauna, including tigers, king cobras, and of course the insectivorous shaggy sloth bears . Llamas? No.

The People: Again, it’s hard to draw general conclusions about 1.1 billion people. India's economy encompasses traditional village farming, modern agriculture, handicrafts, a wide range of modern industries, and a multitude of support services.

Indian art generally follows religious themes. Dance, architecture, and sculpture are particularly popular, as is film, particularly in the Bollywood section of Bombay. Religions include Hindu (81%), Muslim (12%), Christian (2.3%), and Sikh (1.9%). Despite being a non-religious democracy, India is one of the few countries where the religious structures that help define the nation's identity remain intact, and have remained so for over 4000 years, through invasions, persecution, European colonialism, and political upheaval. The caste system that is part of the Hindu religion has strict rules and regulations that are still practiced throughout rural India. Literacy rates are low and sharply divided by gender, with more men (70%) than women (48%) having the ability to read and write.

Interesting tidbit: Tipping is virtually unknown in India; instead, they use a system called baksheesh, which encompasses tipping and a lot more besides. Passing along a little extra in India is common not so much to get good service, but in order to get things done. Judicious baksheesh can lead to small miracles.

Links:
Lonely Planet
Lucknow, India
India Today (India’s largest English-language newspaper)
Medicinal Plants in India