India is big, twice the size of Alaska, with a population of perhaps 800 million. Only China has more people. The Indian people are backward and poor. Over 60 percent of the population are illiterate. The vast majority of people have a marginal existence. The British tried hard to change India, to get rid of its caste system that bound millions in semi-servitude. They tried to eradicate illiteracy and disease. Today’s government is still trying, but not very hard. India is suspicious of change. Of all institutions that are supposed to enlighten and lead the way to a better life, the university is supposed to be number one. If numbers of students were a criterion of excellence, India would be paramount. The University of Calcutta has 200,000 students at its Calcutta campus and the 257 other colleges stretched over three states. What do the students major in? Courses mostly unrelated to the needs of India, courses for which there are no jobs following graduation.
India’s cities are not attractive as cities, too big, too poor. If the traveler is not very careful he ends up with Delhi Belly, traveler’s diarrhea. New Delhi/Delhi is the capital, population four million. Calcutta is seven million, Bombay six million, Madras 3.2 million.
One reason more foreigners are not attracted to India is its extreme poverty. The squalor of the slums of Calcutta, with dead bodies being picked up on the streets, is something never to be forgotten, and preferably missed. The State of Kashmir, by contrast, is a fertile green valley at the foot of the Himalayas, a place with a magic ring to it. The climate is cool and the place is known for its lakes and gardens. About one thousand houseboats, many of them lavish, are for rent on Dal Lake or Nal Lake. Fully furnished, these boats, many of them left over from the British raj, come equipped with staff including a chef who operates from an attached cook boat. Prices are cheap. To keep occupied, visitors trek into the nearby mountains, shop for Kashmir rugs, ski in the winter or fish the several streams and rivers in the area.
About 850,000 foreigners visit India a year. Though the number is relatively small, the average stay is long, almost twenty-five days.
Amongst tourism specialists, much ado is made over the percentage of money left by a tourist in a country that remains in the country. Only 6 percent of the tourist dollar leaves India. This is a very low figure for a developing country. In some countries such as Fiji as much as 75 percent of tourism income goes out of the country almost immediately in the form of purchases from abroad, profits sent out and so on.
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