There is a depth to the travellers I have so far met in India that was glaringly absent from the hapless hackers I rubbed shoulders with in Southeast Asia. I spent plenty of time moaning about the other travellers I met when I was in Malaysia and Thailand, but for the most part India seems to have avoided the impact of the lobotomised hordes, and it's a richer place because of it.
Take the clientele in Raju's Restaurant, who were an interesting cross-section of the travelling society in India (though perhaps the patrons are a little more esoteric, as Puri isn't as popular a destination as Varanasi, Agra or Goa). The general intellectual level was very good, and nobody struck me as more concerned with beer and 'the way they do it at home' than with slipping into the Indian way of life as smoothly as possible. All sorts of nationalities were present, and most people were old enough to be interesting, and with one delightful exception – the one which proved the rule – I found my faith in travellers fully restored. I sincerely hope this continues through my travels in the subcontinent; good travelling companions are better than good guidebooks any day.
The exception? An overweight and anaemic English girl with her Turkish boyfriend, whose relational interplay was hilarious and not a little sad. She overruled him at every turn, managing to phrase her decisions very politically in the way that only a possessive lover can get away with; 'Shall we go and sit outside then?' sounds innocent on paper, but when it's expressed in a tone that brooks no argument, it's more an order than a discussion. He acquiesced in a shameless display of weak will, and one can only assume that either she was very special in bed, or there was undercurrent in there to do with UK visas. It simply reinforced how lucky I am to have travelled unencumbered for so long.
Oh, and I nearly forgot the Blending Crowd. I'm not sure why India should breed more of these strange and faintly amusing characters than anywhere else – it's probably a residue from the heyday of the sixties counterculture and the Beatles' embracing of Indian religion – but there are quite a few westerners who go all out for the Indian look: sarees and bindis for the women (Indian dresses and forehead dots respectively), and kurta pyjamas and woven handbags for the men. I suppose that they think they're blending into the local scene, but there are two glaring problems: they've got the wrong skin colour, and they look faintly stupid. Besides, you can't become a Hindu, you have to be born a Hindu, so even those who go all out to follow Vishnu and Siva are kidding themselves and won't be allowed into the temples, no matter what weird and wonderful clothes they wear. It's a little bit sad, really, but luckily these are the minority in the travelling scene. Most people appear to be completely normal, though perhaps that's only because they're surrounded by madness...