In my previous blog posts I have focused on two aspects of India I considered highly visible – the Taj Mahal and butter chicken. Sadly, in doing this I fear I have essentialised India for this classic monument and its cuisine.
When considering a new place (that is, somewhere foreign to us) essentialised aspects like this serve to narrow tourism interests and experiences to these key concepts. For instance, Indian cuisine is no doubt considered by many abroad as central to the culture of the country. Tourism activities such as this “Eat like a Local: Mumbai Street Food Tour” capitalise on this idea, but also imply that this culinary experience mirrors that of locals in the area.
One does wonder though, how eating like a local can set you back over $50AUD in a country where locals usually eat for less than $1AUD. Ultimately, this faux experience framed as an authentic experience leaves us disappointed as we failed to experience the real essence of a place.
Similarly, when considering tourists’ experience of the Taj Mahal we can identify a feeling of deception from the photos we witnessed of this majestic landmark before our travels and the actual experience. The pictures we see of this building in tourist brochures show an empty foreground, alluding to the unsuspecting traveller that they will also experience the grandeur of the Taj Mahal in this same intimate capacity.
However, in reality, majority of the year the complex is swarming with thousands of tourists and locals every day, not quite the peaceful image one was suspecting from those brochures.
Travellers’ reviews of their experiences at the Taj Mahal are also not always filled with awe and wonder. Many travellers feel the amazing architecture of the building is quashed by the inflated tourist ticket price, incessant rip offs and potential theft.
From reconsidering India in this new light I feel I must apologise to her for somewhat oversimplifying her monuments, cuisine and most importantly, people. When contemplating a foreign place, one must not forget that larger social and political processes are at play, underpinned by various imaginative geographies that frame what we consider essential and visible to a place.