I TRAVELED IN INDIA ALONE. It was not at all horrifying. All the cobras I saw were in performances. There were no dead bodies lying about. I did not catch a diseaseI didn't get more than a stomach upset or two, and I left India in excellent health. I was not robbed, I was never threatened with physical harm and I never felt endangered for even a moment. The overwhelming majority of the people I met were friendly and helpful. Every day was sunny and warm and almost everything was amazingly cheap.
Traveling alone through India was yet very difficult and hard on the nerves. The privacy, the virtual invisibility I can take for granted when I walk around Boston, didn't exist for me there. In places like Varanasi, dominated by tourist economies, throngs of idle young men and bossy, forward little boys and girls stared at and hailed and pursued me, some of them looking for money, others for kicks. Glancing into nearly any shop brought importunate shopkeepers rushing to every threshold in sight. Sometimes just pausing to take a photograph of a view or to glance at a map drew crowds. As many times as I told myself not to take it personallyI knew I was attracting attention because Westerners in India are generally believed to be in spending moodsI couldn't keep from taking offense, sometimes several times a day, at what I perceived as invasive, inhospitable, incompetent behaviors. Even worse, I couldn't always resist saying so. This was inexcusable. I was a guest. Although I'd been primed by my guidebooks and stateside advisers to feel uneasy and fearful about being taken advantage of in India, the sense that grew within me of being a sour-faced, unfriendly disappointment to the Indian people was much more destructive of my peace of mind.
I'm not sure that traveling as I did, alone, mostly by train, is any more difficult than traveling in groups or by other means in India. I'd see large groups of tourists, the ones who'd arrive at the hotels in chartered buses with guides, being besieged on the streets on a grand scale, and in hotel restaurants later the waiters and I would hear their complaints to one another. (Being alone might have been hardest of all because there wasn't anyone with me to complain toso I complained in my journal.) The difficulties attendant upon traveling in India are faced by hundreds of millions of Indians every day. Mostly Indians suffer from the slow trains, bad air, and ripped-up and congested roads; mostly Indians feel helpless and heartbroken when keening child beggars pound at the windows of their traffic-stalled cars. They can go home, though. Among tourists, in the absence of any genuinely easy way to get around India, only the cheapest, the youngest, the most stoned or the most self-denying could resist throwing money at the problem of physical comfort. By the time I finally reached Varanasi I'd begun spending a lot on hotels.
I stayed at the Hotel de Paris, a running-to-seed sort of mid-range luxury hotel in the Cantonment area of the cityaway from the river and the crowds and the cheaper places to stayaway too from the temples, the restaurants, the humanity. Whether it was away from the point as well remains with me a source of puzzlement and regret. I paid about twenty dollars a day for the room and meals at the hotel and about three dollars a day for my autorickshaw driver Papu to drive me around Varanasi. In the evenings I wrote in my journal. The excerpts I'm including in these pages are fairly complete and not much edited.