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Hanging Up The Harem Pants

Demolishing the Hampi Bazaar in 2013
Accents are fast fading in the battered town of Hampi. And by that I mean, the accents of both travellers from all parts of the world and that of the locals who catch them on as an attempt to make the destination more ‘travel friendly’. And while I was never a fan of altering one’s accent to adapt to the traveller (as compared to the other way round), I feel sad at the deplorable condition of the town. The main bazaar street lies battered with shops and cafés uprooted, the beloved Mango Tree restaurant relegated to an unglamorous spot in a narrow street and the whole town reeling under the sudden fall from the ‘top backpacking spot’ of India, thanks to the authorities who have torn down a large part of the main town to restore it. And while I grudgingly hang up the harem pants on ‘hippie’ Hampi, it makes me think of the fate of the other tourist towns of India – the towns that depend so much on the traffic that their own essence is almost jeopardized by Nutella pancakes and well, harem pants! (By the way, I have nothing against harem pants. Infact, I love them). It was disheartening to see the fate of Hampi, but it got me thinking of the all the tourist towns that go through a bell curve.
I was recently in Udaipur looking for silver jewellery in the Hathipol area when I struck a conversation with an eager shopkeeper – the fact that business is down these days is evident. We chatted over twocups of tea over two hours while he smoothly raked up two thousand rupee notes from me. In exchange, I got a perspective from a local, of what it must be like to stay in a city that almost doesn’t feel like your own. Rajenndra Ji has been running his jewellery store amongst scores of others for the last twenty years. Admittedly, business grew as the number of travellers to the city swelled. Silver ones to suit the needs of frugal backpackers replaced gold ornaments. He admits that his spoken English is much better than he could ever learn in school. While business was not altogether bad, the sudden surge of tourists brought with them the need for more havelis to turn into guesthouses. Rents started soaring, the rates of other things like food around the area started following suit too. While economy must have had its role to play, the changes that came with the tourists were faster and much more palpable. The old customers shied away from streets where foreigners wore ‘distasteful’ clothes and switched to shops, which were away from the old city. The changes hit the town fast and without any warning. This season looks a little bleak for Udaipur. Recession, tourist fatigue or something else, Ramesh Ji sits pretty idle in the shop these days! Not everyday will he have someone to chat with for so long and make a killing by selling sub standard silver – he wonders what will happen when they are gone.
Furrow-browed, Rajenndra Ji works on my nose-pins

Having grown up in Dehradun, a city that serves as a veritable pit stop or base to explore the lower Himalayas, I hope it is never consigned to a spot of ‘erstwhile touristic’ glory. I hope cities and their people own the place and others come and fit in.
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