Posted by: Anna | February 24, 2011

First Impressions of India

India was the destination on our trip that most intrigued me. I love Indian food, Bollywood, saris, and color. We have only been in India for a few days, but it has not disappointed me.  I even got to watch a Bollywood movie on the flight from Doha to India.

We flew into Trivanderum, in Kerala province in the south. We have been working our way North since then, to Varkala, to Alleppey, then to Fort Cochin, or Kochi. Everywhere in India seems to have at least two names, used seemingly interchangeably, and sometimes spelled differently. I believe the two names comes from using both the colonial name and the original name – both are recognized by most people here and used interchangeably on maps.

I would describe India using the following words: vibrant, friendly, dirty, cheap, intriguing, and exotic. It is the most exotic place I’ve ever been. The food is largely foreign to me – even though I eat Indian food at home fairly regularly. At restaurants, we are constantly having to ask about the food – and then often making a guess as to what we are getting. Fortunately, the food is almost universally delicious, so it doesn’t matter all that much what you get. The menu is only a vague idea of what is available; we regularly select items only to be told they don’t have that right now. Signs are the same thing – a sign that advertises juice may well be on a place that hasn’t had juice to sell in ten years.

The people have been incredibly friendly so far. On a train yesterday, the older gentleman sitting next to me started a conversation – where are we from? do we like India? He shared a little about his family; his daughter is a doctor in Sheffield, England. He enjoys going to visit her, but he also likes to come home to India. Most of the people who start talking with us seem to be genuinely friendly, not the overbearing hospitality we encountered in Egypt where they were friendly in order to sell you something. Strangers seem curious about us.

Children are completely adorable. Often dressed elaborately, either in school uniforms (frequently plaid tunic, solid pants, matching scarf for girls, button down shirts and slacks for boys) or sparkly, bright dresses (for girls not in school uniforms). The little girls usually have their hair carefully fixed into braids on the sides of their heads with matching ribbons. Walking down the street, random children wave at us and say hello, then laugh shyly to each other. It’s enchanting. We regularly see two girls or two boys walking down the street in their uniforms, holding hands or with their arms around each others’ shoulders, just as an expression of friendship. Also great – a school bus, as best we can tell, is a tuk-tuk (rickshaw) with fourteen children inside and a rack on the roof for 14 tiny backpacks.

The women are also dressed spectacularly, either in saris or in a tunic/pants/scarf combination. I love a place where such vivid expression with sequins, beading, and bright colors is the norm. Somehow the outfits are both eye-catching and modest at the same time. The variety is staggering.

Roads are a nightmare – cars, buses, cows, bicycles, trucks, motorbikes, rickshaws, and people all compete for space, with seemingly no order at all. Honking is constant. It is as if everyone operates on the assumption that all the other people are blind – so it is essential to honk so they will know you are there. Crazy.

The standard bathroom set up is a toilet or a squatter, a shower head, a sink, a bucket, and a small pitcher. The shower has no curtain – it just drains into a drain in the middle of the bathroom floor. The entire bathroom often gets wet when you shower – not ideal. All the hotels / homestays we have stayed at so far have had Western style toilets, not squatters. Restaurants are often a different story. I have learned to travel with my own toilet paper; although I understand that using the sprayer is just as clean, maybe cleaner, I just can’t get used to that.

Hostels are not really the norm here, so we are staying in homestays, which are like houses that have some rooms converted into hotel rooms, or hotels. The place we stayed in Kochi had A/C, paid for by the hour (slightly more than $1/hr). We paid to have ours on for two hours, which kept the room cool all night long. Our hotel now has a slot to insert the key chain inside the room, which turns on the power in the room. When you leave the room, you have to remove the key to lock the door, and the power in all the outlets and lights goes off. Very clever.

South India is very tropical, with palm trees and beaches galore. And hot, hot, hot. It is the hottest place we have been since Mozambique. The few moments of A/C we’ve had, we have treasured.

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Responses

  1. The descriptions of the children are delightful. That alone makes me want to visit.


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