I travelled to India for the holidays to meet my daughter. We are both living a nomadic life and had not seen in each since she packed up all her things with one months notice and moved to Bangkok to pursue startup gold. She needed to leave Thailand for visa purposes and we picked a place that had a Thai Embassy. I won’t elaborate on the reasons that landed us in Goa, but there we were on the southeastern coast of India for Christmas.
There were many lessons to learn about travel in India and this time I could be a more casual observer than my daughter because I had chosen to leave my electronics at home for the first time in two years; only brought the mobile phone.
My daughter on the other hand was living off consulting contracts, having abandoned her start-up for freedom and independence, and needed to work to meet her deadline. So, she would be the one working in hotel lobbies to get better Wi-Fi this time and not me.
We learned quite quickly why Mark Zuckerberg, wearing a suit I must note, had recently visited Prime Minister Modi to offer help on India’s Digital India initiative. Wasn’t the country’s economic explosion due largely to the internet? Well apparently that ability was limited to a few choice cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad. Outside the core using mobile data was an exercise in frustration. While Modi is focused on terrorists using social media, a tool he himself uses to affect social policy (he used it during his tenure as Chief Minister of Gujarat to track missing children with wonderful results) Zuckerberg wants to save humanity. He agree to start with building the Clean India Mobile App.
The Prime Minister appealed to Zuckerberg to promote India’s rich tourism potential through Facebook. Newsflash for Modi, the critical word is potential. Only the heartiest of travelers is ready to see the sights outside Mumbai and New Delhi.
India’s power problems are public knowledge. Nearly 300 million people in India have limited or no access to electricity, according to the World Bank. .President Pranab Mukherjee promised round-the-clock power for all by 2022.
The challenge is working with state-run electricity systems overseen by India’s national government and its 29 state governments. Largely confirmed over a beer in a beach café on Kovalam Beach by local explaining modern Indian politics, India is a fragmented country with powerful state governments and 20 officially recognized languages making getting things done impossible.
One also has to wonder if the sheer number of people national leaders must care for makes them less careful with their lives. What else could explain the news upon our arrival that India had just stuck a deal with Putin to have Russia build four nuclear power plants? This is the same Russian that is sweeping Chernobyl under a radiation blanket.
As we sunned ourselves on beach chairs and sipped fresh coconut milk from real coconuts we watched the locals struggle to serve the tourists needs during daily power outages. We frequented the Café Hard Rock in Goa (no official affiliation) because their generator keep the Wi-Fi humming and the drinks coming despite power outages. The generator was paying off; they were often full while others sat sad-faced under their umbrellas waiting for the power to come on again.
The transportation system is largely offline for foreigners, a term you will often hear from Indians. The outside world is tolerated in tourist ports, but foreigners seem to feel, well foreign to many Indians.
So, while Goa and Kerala provided us with digital nomad friendly prices and some of the most beautiful clean beaches of our world travels, they are best enjoyed without the need for mobile data or Wi-Fi signals. India will just have to be the place digital nomads go to unwind, not to work.