The interesting bits of Lisbon are super small, walkable. Don’t miss the old streetcars/trams and the funiculars.
  • The Baixa is sort of the old downtown (17th c. I think after an earthquake)
  • To the west up the hill is the BAIRRO ALTO. You can take several elevators up to the Bairro Alto. from Baixa.  There are a lot of bars for young people in all the little streets. A few “tascas” (bars) have fado like Tasca do Chico. There are larger fado places, expensive, for older tourists.
  • Further north from Bairro Alto is Jardin Principe Real (lookout and park) with the Embaixada concept store with the best of Portuguese-made clothing and some trendy but more expensive restaurants. Decadente, Cevicheria and 100 Maneiras are very good. You can take the elevador da Glória down to the Baixa or just walk along the stairway – there is a lot of street art along it.
  • At the south side of Bairro alto is a viewpoint Santa Catarina where young people bring their own wine and chill.
  • You can take the cute old ascensor (funicular) da Bica down to the seafront and the Cais do Sodre train station, where you can
    • take a ferry across the water — when you get to the other side walk along the water to the right. It is a walking path with amazing views of Lisbon, along a bunch of abandoned buildings and at the end a stairway up to Boca do Ventro where you can stop for a cheap coffee or drink.
    • from Cais do Sodre you can take a commuter train to Belem to visit the Coach Museum and Moisteiro dos Jeronimos. Or you can take tram 15.
    • LX Factory is a converted industrial space with a lot of galleries, shops, cafes and restaurants. It’s halfway to Belem on the tram.
  • The TimeOut Market is here, unmissable, food halls all handpicked from the best restaurants and shops in Portugal that built branches here. Great and affordable food.
  • Alfama is the other historic area east of the Baixa, it’s super touristy. You can ride old tram 28 up through here around all the bends. Go at off times as it’s very crowded. But perhaps best to walk as there is a lot of architecture here that we missed.

We stayed in the LX boutique hotel, near the waterfront, Cais do Sodre station and the TimeOut market. There are also some more expensive designer options near the Jardin Principe Real.

From Lisbon to Porto

  • Pena Palace
  • Obidos is a very small walled city with a unique hotel called The Literary Man, with books everywhere
  • Coimbra is highly recommended, a medium sized city with Portugal’s oldest university – beautiful and exotic medieval architecture
  • Aveiro is an old fishing town with colorful almost Dutch and Chinese architecture from the golden days of Portuguese trading

Photo albums

2016 album Lisbon and central Portugal

2012 photo gallery from Porto and Northern Portugal


The other major city of Portugal. Famous for port wine, red tile roofs, a bridge by Mr. Eiffel, tiled buildings, and its beautiful river.

North of Porto

Of interest are these towns

  • Guimarãres
  • Viana do Castelo
  • Braga

Poland (South) + Slovakia (Tatras)

It’s long been on my list to really explore Poland. Of course it’s a huge European country and culture. But also, it has such a multinational history.

There was a Polish medieval state (quite powerful and big) but it was carved up over the 1700s-1800s. So there are parts which were heavily influenced by Germany, Austria and Russia.

Besides those parts, the northwest and southwest of today’s Poland were straight up German till 1945. Around 10 million Germans fled or were expelled. Poles were installed. These territories include places like Wroclaw/Breslau, Gdansk/Danzig, Szczecin/Stettin, and in the case of Kaliningrad/Konigsberg the land went to Russia. It is fascinating to see how these cities are now when the architectural shell is German but the occupants are Polish.

In sum, we visited:


Krakow – the medieval capital of Poland – much like Prague or Lviv. Daytrip to the Wieliczka salt mine – interesting, huge, underground “cathedral”…

High Tatra Mountains  in Slovakia – south of Krakow by buses. Cable car ride up to 2500m “Lomnicky Stit” – outstanding. And I can check the Slovakia box.

Katowice – was an industrial city just inside Germany till WWI. Some art nouveau gems but primarily went to see the Silesian Museum, huge, built into a mineshaft. Huge exposition about its history which is totally bicultural.

Wroclaw (VROTS-wuff) – was  Breslau, Germany’s #8 city – has a very Hanseatic historic center. The liveliest of all the cities and my favorite. Def. a hidden gem. Lots of students.

Lodz – industrial city which was in the Russian part but settled by Germans and Jews. It was with 300K people one of the largest cities around 1900. One huge mill complex has been turned into Manufaktura – worth the trip in itself, if converted industrial buildings interest you. It’s a mall, 3 museums, cinema, restaurants, etc. There is one downtown street with restored art nouveau gems, and then miles and miles of deteriorated tenements from the turn of the 20th c.

Warsaw – I have been many times before. Really not my favorite place but it’s always possible to have fun and eat well. The Old Town was completely reconstructed from ruins, so it’s bascially fake. The real reason to go is the new Museum of Polish Jews. We spent four hours there. The 1000 year history of them, unfortunately usually we only study the Holocaust.


I can highly recommend the hotels by Vienna House in Krakow, Katowice and Lodz – 4* luxury, including some of the most amazing breakfast spreads I’ve ever seen.

I was really pleased with all the places we visited.

The food is good and natural – Polish and a lot of quality Italian too. So quite some scenery. We used rail and buses and all were easy to book online – occasionally with the help of Google Translate.


Barcelona, despite being the most touristed city in Europe, is still my favorite place to travel in Europe (other than Amsterdam, which was my home for 11 years). Why? It has good weather (for Europe), very low prices (for Europe), good food, sea, mountains, wonderful neighborhoods and architecture, including plenty of my favorite kind – late 19th century and early 20th century in the very large neighborhood called Eixample (pronounced Uh-SHAHM-pluh in Catalan). In the height of summer however, the amount of tourists is so overwhelming that I would want to avoid the medieval core of the city altogether, so for a first time in Barcelona I think May or September is a better bet.

The main street through the medieval core is called La Rambla and although you may find yourself walking it once, you’ll want to avoid it. Definitely do not eat there as restaurants and cafés are tourist traps. However, one side of La Rambla is the Born neighborhood, which is the upscale part of the medieval core, and well worth exploring at quieter times. Also the Boqueria market is on La Rambla which is a must-see, but again, go at a quiet time. On the other side of La Rambla is the El Raval neighborhood, also medieval, and full of more recent immigrants, particularly from Arab countries, Africa, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

I tend to stay in Eixample within walking distance of the grand Passeig de Gràcia, which is full of the major Spanish and European upscale chain shops for clothing and household items.

I love just walking around the central neighborhoods that are quieter like Sant Antoni and Poble Sec and just enjoying the atmosphere, the trees, the cafés.

In summary, for a short stay, choose from the following short list:

  • A stroll along the Passeig de Gràcia (upscale chain stores for shopping, cafés, admire Gaudi’s building “Casa Batlló”
  • Wander through the Born neighborhood from the Plaça de Catalunya down to the Plaça Reial  and visit the Boqueria market – you will see La Rambla along the way – you must do this at as early in the morning as possible as the crowds are awful in the afternoons
  • Visit the individual Gaudi works La Sagrada Familia church (2.5 km from Plaça de Catalunya) and my personal favorite, Parc Güell (a park, 4 km from Plaça de Catalunya) – you will probably want to take the subway, bus or a taxi
  • Walk the busy but wide boardwalk along Barceloneta beach which is immediately adjacent to the central area. Stop for a drink at one of the many beachfront cafés or have a meal at Aqua restaurant (be sure to reserve during peak times)
  • Enjoy an aimless stroll in a neighborhood such as the Eixample, Sant Antoni, Poble Sec
  • Visit the Miró museum (the “other” great surreal artist besides Dalí) on top of Montjuic mountain – you can also admire a castle or two and some of the Olympic venues. There is a fun and slightly scary old teleférico (aerial tramway) that will take you to the old city and Barceloneta beach from here, but the wait can be very long during tourist season.

My restaurant list is not very extensive (just what I know):

  • Cerveceria Catalana for good tapas; however you really cannot go at lunchtime (say 1-4) or dinnertime (say 7-11) because the waits are very long. Carrer Mallorca 236 at Rambla de Catalunya
  • for Basque tapas, Sagardi’s tapas bar (not its restaurant), Carrer Muntaner 70
  • for a casual restaurant meal, Bosque Palermo, Carrer Valencia 163
  • Me, for upscale but casual world fusion cuisine, Carrer Paris 162 at Muntaner, catarsiscuisine.com
  • Agua, on Barceloneta beach, elegant but casual: Passeig Maritim 30, tel. 932251272

The language you see on most signs is Catalan, which is close to Spanish but many words are more like French or Italian; it is not as some people believe a “mix” of Spanish and French but rather an old language with its own history and culture.

However, in the city, a slight majority actually has Spanish as a native language and is the more common language of communication. I have never had any issue whatsoever speaking Spanish in Barcelona, although I have heard this is completely different outside the city. Of course many or most people in the more touristed areas know English to some extent.

Favorite hotels is the Cram as it’s well priced, in Eixample and near the Passeig de Gracia.


Why Australia beats the US with dynamic downtowns

Visting Australia I was struck by the similarities with the United States — only a few hundred years old, a shared language and much shared (British) heritage, prosperous, lands of immigrants – both historically and currently. Plus, the different Australian landscapes remind me so much of the different parts of the Western United States. Of course, there are many differences – my impression is that Australia is more “English” in some ways, and more liberal – they are extremely fortunate to not have to deal with a *large* radical minority of extreme religious fundamentalists trying to turn back the clock to the Middle Ages. It also doesn’t have to deal with the painful after-effects (poverty, broken families, and embedded anger) that we Americans still can feel as the wake of the most inhuman system of all, slavery.

Another notable difference is the downtowns, or as Australians would say their “CBDs” (Central Business Districts). In Australia these are pulsating, dynamic places where people come to work, shop, study, sightsee, visit service providers and government offices, and eat, drink, and go out.

By contrast most American large cities have downtowns that have died, though many are resurrecting to different degrees. With the exception of Manhattan, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston, the story of America’s downtowns mostly goes like this:

The average income for the middle classes allowed many families to afford a car – some already in the 1920s, and many more in the postwar boom of the 1950s. This level of income was much, much higher than Western Europe at the time. If we look at Atlanta, which had 1 million people in the metro area in 1950, we see that by the 1950s most of the middle to upper middle class was living in commuter suburbs about 5 to 8 miles from the city center.

Shopping and services were still in downtown Atlanta – a congested, tiny grid of streets built to serve a town one tenth its size. It didn’t take long before developers figured out that shoppers would gladly come to a suburban shopping mall to do all their shopping. Cinemas followed. Places of employment followed.

This happened in most US cities. In Atlanta it was exacerbated by racial integration. As black Atlantans found ways to move into neighborhoods with better housing; and as parks and restaurants removed barriers to black patrons, some whites reacted by abandoning the city altogether – “white flight”.

On top of this, city streetcar networks were systematically ripped up in a conspiracy by vehicle manufacturers and tire companies, and these were replaced by buses. (In Atlanta, exceptionally, they were first replaced by trolleybuses – electric buses with overhead wires. Only later were these replaced by buses).  Over the long term this represented a serious degradation of public transportation. Serious attempts at more efficient public transit made little headway in most cities – for example Atlanta did get a subway in the 1970s; actually the truncated remains of what was supposed to be a fast regional railway system like Paris’s RER.

Only now are American cities starting to revive mostly due to changes in lifestyle. Some Americans are tired of long commutes, driving miles in a car to get to a grocery store, and the lack of diversity and cultural opportunities in the suburbs and exurbs. Some fall in love with the charm of the older houses. And as more middle class people move back into the city, the better the neighborhoods become, and the safer they become.

Melbourne public transportation – Metro Melbourne is about the same size as Metro Phoenix, a bit larger than the Twin Cities MN

So why does Australia have – and why did it never lose its dynamic city centers? I am curious.

My theory goes as follows. *I have no idea if these ideas are valid* In any case, the situation in Australia would be due to a combination of factors:

1. Incomes in Australia were not high enough for the majority of the population to own cars until much later than the United States – therefore most people remained dependent on public transit

2. Planning occurs at the level of the entire metropolitan area – unlike the US where zoning and planning power rests at the city level – and the city only controls a small percentage of the total metro area. This allows for regional power for planning in Australia – and if this means an emphasis on public transport, the Australian region can effectively implement it. In the US regional planning is dependent on multiple power centers (counties, etc.)

3. The Australian city governments – by the time most people could afford cars – had learned from the lessons of the US – and emphasized centralization of the city and public transport.

3a. What I am not sure about is if cities zone against large-scale malls and/or big box stores in suburbs. I do know these exist, and perhaps the CBD shopping “holds its own” against suburban shopping due to all the other factors mentioned here, i.e. that people are in the city center anyway for work, services, study, and leisure.

3b. I am also not sure if Australian governments zone against large employers establishing themselves in the suburbs. For example in Atlanta, downtown is for conventions, tourism, lawyers, government, utilities and a couple corporate HQs – Coke, the old BellSouth, and Georgia Pacific. But the large corporate HQs like UPS, NCR, Delta, and Home Depot are all in the ‘burbs. I wonder to what extent this is zones against in Australia.

4. In the case of Melbourne, there was a strong leader of the tram company who saved the tram system, one of the world’s largest. Sydney did however (sadly) go over to buses. But both Sydney and Melbourne have extensive commuter rail networks.

Food for thought. Lucky Melbourne and Sydney that they do not have to rebuild their city centers, and what dynamic, energetic, wonderful places they are. But also, I do enjoy watching the American city centers get better and better with time – intown Atlanta included.


Australia was never high on my list because it’s one of the least different places from the US culturally but wow! Sydney is truly awesome, what a quality of life. Seems to combine the best of San Diego (weather, beaches), Portland (coffee, coffee, and more coffee) and San Francisco (vibrant downtown and cozy late-Victorian neighborhoods) in one, with friendliness, health, social welfare and a great attitude to life. It seems very prosperous here right now. Plus they are getting all the good immigrants due to sensible immigration policies. Only downside so far: strong currency, so very expensive for us.

How much English do Hindi speakers use!

OK this post is for those interested in languages.

I recently spent a month in India, where Hindi and English “compete” as national languages alongside state and local languages, ten of which have 30 million speakers or more.

Zapping through the tv channels, I joked to myself that there were not really Hindi or English-language channels in India. Rather, there seemed to be 80% Hindi/20% English and 80% English/20% Hindi.

The Hindi channels had so much English that most of the time I could actually tell what they were talking about. And the English channels had not only many Hindi words. Even numbers were expressed not in millions but in “lakh” (100,000) and “crore” (10 million). Also entire constructions of English words, but which were alien to English as used in the US/UK/etc. – a classic example being “kindly do the needful”. All this is of course, completely valid English… Indian English and it’s wonderful. English is the world language partly because it’s flexible and free, not controlled by any academy trying to hold it back.

This reminded me of my time in the Netherlands (1993-2004), when it was sometimes remarkable how much English would pepper the Dutch language. This was particularly the case at my work at a large international bank where the language of emails and documents was English, but my Dutch colleagues and I would usually converse in Dutch. The result was often a nominally Dutch sentence, but with all nouns in English. And sometimes even verbs such as “delete-n”, “outsource-n”, and “change-n”. That may have exceeded the 80/20 of Hindi. But in everyday conversation, it was less than 20%.

I have never known such intense use of English otherwise, though I suspect it may happen in Scandinavia. But it wasn’t the case in France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, or Mexico. In fact in Spanish or French you can’t easily incorporate some English words, such as verbs, for grammar reasons. Unlike Dutch or German where you just add an “n”!

South Africans do something else. Rather than incorporate English into another language, they switch languages mid-sentence – English to Afrikaans and back again. However, Afrikaans has had to fight for its existence and so words are consciously created where they are needed. AS a result they are able to use “proper” Afrikaans words when speaking Afrikaans. And in the press the proper Afrikaans words are used.

I’ve heard New Yorkers switch from English to Spanish to English with lightning speed too. Presumably Puerto Rican or Dominican New Yorkers. In California you never heard the Mexicans or Mexican-Americans doing that. Spanish had a very low prestige there and people would use perfect English if they were able to.

So the award goes to… India!

Here is the Hindi and English text of my favorite Bollywood song. Look at how much English is in the Hindi (I’ve bolded the English in the text). Just about every word that is meant to be emphasized. You can watch the video at the bottom of the post.

Hindi English
Angdaaiyaan leti hoon main jabb zor-zor se
ufff! angdaaiyan leti hoon main jab zor-zor se
Uhh ahh ki avaaz hai aati har ore se
Main to chaloon is kadar
Ke mach jaae ye gadar
Hosh waale bhi madhosh aayein re nazar

Mere photo ko seene se yaar, chipkale saiyaan Fevicol se
Fevicol se.. Fevicol se..
Main to kab se hoon ready-taiyar
Pataale saiyan miss-call se
Merey photo ko seeney se yaar chipka le saiyyan Fevicol se

Jhhoom jhhoom jhum barabar.. jhoom jhoom jhoom..
Jhoom le jhum le.. maze mein jhom le..
Jhoom le jhum le.. Nashe mein jhom le..

Pyaar karle tu aaj angoor ki daughter se
Naseehat bhool jayega tu ek quarter se
Peene waale ko bhi jeene ka mazaa aayega
Yeh wo daaroo hai jo chadh jaae sirf water se

Aaja mere raaja, tujhe jannat dikhaun main
Barfeele paani mein fire lagaaun main

Saare India..
Saare India ko tune ghulam kiyaa re
Main to tandoori murgi hoon yaar
Gatkaa le saiyyan alcohol se.. Oh yeah!
Mere photo ko seene se yaar, chippka le saiyaan Fevicol se

Log kehte hain mujhe, main to hoon namkeen butter
Kaat doongi main dil ko, meri javaani hai cutter
Mera jalwaa jo dekh le, wo faint ho jaaye
Close karke too rakh le apne naino ka shutter

Public shehar ki kare hai teraa wait re..
Arrey thummke jo kamariyaa, hile jila kya state re..

Par kahani oh Raani puraani hai teri
Phir bhi photo ko
Tere photo ko seene mein yaar chipka loonga main Fevicol se

My Gypsy with siren taiyaar
Bhaga le ise petrol se..
Petrol se.. petrol se..
Mere photo ko seeney se yaar Chipka le saiyaan..
Chipka le saiyaan Fevicol se
Fevi.. Fevicol se.. Fevicol se..
Nayan ham ladaayenge baby-doll se
Londiyaa pataaenge miss-call se
Bat ball sey, Cinema-hall sey,
Arrey marriage-hall sey, Overall sey
Tere photo ko seeney mein yaar chipkaa loonga main
Fevicol sey

When I stretch mightily
When I stretch mightily
The sounds of ‘uhh’ and ‘ahh’ come from every side
The way I walk
That there is a hell of a noise
Conscious people also seem to be intoxicated

Oh my friend, stick my photo to your chest with Fevicol glue
With Fevicol, with Fevicol..
I’ve been ready for a long time
Persuade me by giving me a missed call.
Stick my photo to your chest using Fevicol

Swing swing swing continuously.. swing swing swing..
Swing swing.. Swing in fun..
Swing swing.. Swing in intoxication..

You, love the daughter of the grape
You will forget the lesson within a quarter-hour
The one drinking will also have fun of living
It is a drink, which intoxicates with water alone too..

Come my king, let me show you the heaven
I set fire to the cold water

All of India…
You have made all of India your slave
I am a barbecue hen
Swallow me with alcohol, oh my beloved
Stick my photo to your chest with fevicol

People tell me that I am salty butter
I will cut the heart, my youth is a cutter
The one who sees my talent, faints
Keep the shutter of your eyes closed

The public of the city awaits you
When your waist moves, not only the district, the whole state shivers..

But oh my queen, your story is old
But still your photo…
I will stick your photo to my chest with fevicol..

My gypsy is ready with siren
Make it run using petrol
Using petrol.. Using petrol..
Stick my photo with your chest, oh my friend
Stick it using fevicol, my beloved
Using fevicol.. Using fevicol..
We will meet our eyes with the baby-doll
We will persuade a girl by missed call
Using bat-ball, By going to cinema hall
Oh by taking her to marriage hall, overall..
I will stick your photo to my chest
using Fevicol.


Visiting India really makes you think.

The positive things from the visit:

– To see and experience the state of India today for myself – since it is such an important country and culture in the world, and something which I am drawn to a medium degree (fabrics, Bollywood, food, history/castles, Hindu religion, etc.). And Indians are one of the “great” immigrant groups in America today…
– food was very good
– hygiene has been surprisingly good inside the hotels and restaurants with a few exceptions
– colors and fabrics
– the historic forts and palaces
– the wide variety of people and daily life on the street every day
– some friendly people and in many cases “innocent” curiosity and friendliness

Video of our trip highlights:

It would have been nice to be in a situation where we really knew some middle class Indians, who travelled a lot or were interested in the same things, and seen a bit of their everyday life and some socializing, but alas…

I was surprised by the true state of things – the negatives

I have been reading too much about how quickly the Indian economy is progressing and how fast the middle class is being created. Although I have also read plenty about the negatives, I went into India expecting a country that was dynamically improving. My yardsticks to measure India against: Other developing countries such as Mexico, Brazil, China, Turkey, all of which have changed dramatically for the positive in the last 20 years before my eyes.

The reality of today’s India is, well, awful.

Garbage. Garbage is everywhere. In the towns in piles that cows disgustingly graze on; the piles are burned daily, plastic and all, creating noxious fumes. Garbage is strewn along virtually every foot of public road. It’s in every waterway. The exceptions: Udaipur (the city center and the clean lakes), and the upscale area of Bombay. But otherwise, garbage, garbage, garbage. The cows that wander in the towns leave their droppings. Sewers are open and clogged with plastic and other trash. Cities outside the city centers are strips along the road with wide patches of dirt between the road and buildings; these strips of dirt are covered with people, puddles of mud, piles of trash, cow droppings, etc.

“Indians… are oblivious to anything that is not of direct self-interest to them… filth… garbage… flies…the stench of sewage… stray dogs…” (Being Indian by Pavan Varma, p.101)

I find the dirtiness a big turnoff and I tend to immediately judge “the Indian people” for tolerating it. Of course nothing is that simple and one of our guides did discuss with us from his point of view the importance of educating people and the huge challenges in accomplishing that in India given its size and the fact that they don’t have a dictatorship in China which can ram through policies and changes.

Other negatives:

  • Мajority of the population still lacks electricity or running water
  • 626 million Indians do not even have TOILETS and must defecate in the open – 60% of the world’s open defecation is in India (See video below)
  • Many children still do not go to school
  • Some rural Indians still do not have enough nutritious food

It is noticeable when scanning the tv and from reading that, compared to America, Indians with money devote little attention to these problems. In fact, rich Indians seem quite spoiled with “disposable” servants whom they treat horribly and house in closets. Children and adolescents are especially egregious in their treatment of personnel and staff. This is compounded by the Indian tendency, when they first meet a person, to broadcast one’s position and connections, which comes off as arrogance and self-importance to Westerners.

“in the Indian tradition the powerful are not expected to be reticent or modest in the projection of their power” (Varma, p.18)

But it is easy to demonize. I have to say that I admire the American spirit of compassion more in this regard (and the Western European one even more!) – but, as individuals we all act individually. There are always a few true saints and everyone else just trying to get on with their own life in their own circumstances. Indians with money are no different.

The rich may not be very sympathetic with the plight of the poor, the government has been trying to improve the situation for the poor since independence, with some success. It has also greatly broken down the barriers of the caste system.

Other negatives:
– Even in our hotels, the electric went out several times a day until generators came on
– Lack of modern roads
– Polluted air everywhere
– No supermarkets only small stores
– Misogyny embedded in the traditional culture
– Racism i.e. elevation of light skin over dark skin. (There are two original races in India, light and dark and historically the light-skinned were the upper castes)

Dynamics of Indian society

So, compared to its fellow developing countries, what the hell is wrong with India?

Problem 1: Being passive. I have read books by local authors (e.g. Being Indian by Pavan Varma) and both refer to the Indian culture which is quite passive and doesn’t try to change things much. Again:

“Indians… are oblivious to anything that is not of direct self-interest to them” (Varma, p.101)

Bettering society is not really in the culture – they are more oriented to:
a) the thousands-year-old caste system where everyone has their place and
b) if you have a bad life it’s due to karma from a past life.

Problem 2: the government is not only slow but extremely corrupt. And, importantly, there is a sort of acceptance that that is how things are. Corruption is expected and there is not a huge push from the people to stamp it out.

“For all the condemnation that corruption publicly provokes, Indians are ambivalent about the practice… Their understanding of right and wrong is far more related to efficacy than to absolutist notions of morality” (Varma, p.76-7)

Problem 3: India after independence in the 1940s, quite understandably admired the Soviet model, which had created an industrial superpower out of a largely agricultural Russian Empire in a few short decades. India did very well at putting a stranglehold on the capitalist economy. But it did not manage to accomplish any of the good things from the Soviet model, such as building up industry, educating the poor, or bringing them electricity and running water. All the bad without the good. India slid backward from the 1940s all the way through the 1980s.

The shock at the garbage and pollution made me think – boy, it’s hard for even me to see anything positive in this place. It looks apocalyptic, and they’ve let their country go to hell. It was disappointing considering that for the past 10 years we’ve been hearing about all the positive changes – more jobs, more consumer goods, higher quality of life all round for Indians. And indeed, one night our driver was saying many of those positive things. He said 10 years ago, no jobs, nothing here in Rajasthan, wait 20 years for landline phone, wait 20 years for car. He said now life is very good.

So… it’s all relative.

Until the very end of the trip I thought I wouldn’t go back to India. But I think now maybe I would, to see Kashmir or the Himalayas. It is an interesting country and that’s a key criterion for me.

I think India will be food for thought as to how good we have it in the West with our clean sidewalks and functioning government, and lack of cows in the street eating plastic bags from heaps of garbage. It’s also a reminder of the past of our cities – I thought back to that great BBC show about the streets of London in medieval times.

Sanitation problems

Video of dead bodies in the Ganges (not for the faint-hearted)