Inspired by a post at Flashpackers, it occurred to me that having been in Shimla a couple of weeks now I'd kind of developed a tendency to get on with life rather than being a tourist in a new place (although having made that outlandish claim, I suppose I'm still photographing anything and everything that interests me – we won't dwell for too long on this point). Just like in London, after living there about 6 months, you don't notice that there's a closed circuit camera affixed to almost every flat surface in the metropolitan area – so too after a couple of weeks here you (and by “you”, I mean “I”) don't tend to see the sanitation horror all about you. As it was I was a little taken aback at the claim that India's absolutely filthy, so armed with my trusty yet battered Ricoh Caplio G4, I set out t'other day to see just how dirty this place actually is.
First I had a look around the training centre, and the first thing that caught my eye was the mysterious soup stagnating in the gutter out the front. It had a distinctive bouquet, and some of its ingredients were of questionable pedigree, but it was hardly groundbreaking stuff – hell I stepped in a far more mysterious looking puddle in New Orleans in 1996. The stain never came off those shoes, either. But I digress.
Proceeding upstairs into the centre we get a combination of electrical wizardry and resident grime. I was informed by Shimla's finest dentist (incidentally, if you're ever in the Shimla vicinity and need your teeth sharpened, I highly recommend popping over to see Dr Sood) that a lot of corridor-related grime is due to people chewing on what I think he was saying were betel leaves, and then spitting the stuff wherever.
People tend to be somewhat haphazard about putting their rubbish in bins, and a bacteria propogation vector is the large numbers of dogs, monkeys and cows roaming about the place and often seen foraging in amongst rubbish piles. Earlier tonight on the way home I heard a couple of monkeys shagging in a bin, so I threw a rock at it, and not only did I startle them, but when one of them leapt into the air he smacked his head into the top of the bin (or at least that's what it sounded like what was going on in there).
The trouble with photographing rubbish of course is that people start to think you're weird. But it is sort of interesting to see the little roadside encampments that people have made, used, and vacated, leaving their refuse behind. And this is on the major pedestrian road through the town, not some dingy back street.
One thing that occurred to me was that London's not necessarily any better in terms of litter; it's just that we've got teams of people going about picking it all up (e.g. the army of dudes with carts in Camden). Frankly, if they weren't there, the entire metropolitan area of London would be waist deep in cess within a day or so.
It's not like there's no bins around, but it sort of looks like the same problem exists here as does in airport security at Heathrow – i.e. the people doing the job aren't being paid enough to care about doing it properly.
Let's face it, humans really are adept at buggerising our own planet. Who else can you blame ?
I snapped this cheeky little fella just hopping out after a bit of a rummage. The thing to watch with monkeys is that some of them might get it in their head to come after you, which I'm told is where a solid monkey-beating-stick comes in handy. I had no such thing about my person, so I moved swiftly on.
Anyway, the original point I think I was embarking on with this post was that sure, there's plenty of examples of uncleanliness about the place, and there are goings on that would make many of us westerners cringe (I can't even begin to describe the rich aroma perpetually surrounding the bottom of the stairs up to my hotel – sufficed to say that he who lives at the bottom of the valley grows the richest tomatoes)… but it's not like setting one foot outdoors will give you tetanus! My unqualified & uneducated opinion is definitely that it's better to live in an environment with bacteria and soforth around, so that your body has a chance to buildup an immunity to such things. My learned colleague here Andrew is a case in point – he seems able to drink the water with no ill effects, and is pretty content buying food from roadside stalls that quite frankly give me the willies, and all through a process of weaning himself onto the local gear rather than opting for the sealed bottled water and seemingly spotless restaurants that the rest of us favour.
I remember a few years ago after seeing Trisha Goddard on the telly advertising antibacterial cleaning cloths for sterilising your infant's play area that, without exposure to bacteria and the subsequent development of antibodies & other immunity gubbins, we'd al eventually evolve into a race of pasty wheezy gelatinous life forms who needed to zip themselves up into plastic bags before coming into contact with anything at all.
I'm sure there was a point to all this.
OK, so it's dirty, but it's not THAT bad. The restaurant we went to the other night was immaculately clean, AND they had waiters wearing funky white uniforms.
I think I'll go now.