Out of all the places I have travelled to, India has been my favorite. I have lived there for a couple of years but I visit that place often as a tourist. Trying to explain the country to people that haven’t been is like explaining physics to a 5 year old or social skills to Sheldon Cooper. Just impossible.
India is organized chaos to the absolute extreme. Regardless of whether you go north, south or somewhere in the middle you’ll be surrounded by people, cows and maddening traffic. The holy mantra or noticeable quotes written on the back of each vehicle is what keeps the system going: HORN PLEASE. Everyone seems to drive with one hand on the horn and the other on their mobile. The roads of India make up most of it’s soundtrack. A chaotic symphony of deep blasts, staccato honks, high-pitched beeps, Bollywood and Kollywood music booming from radios and verbal abuse being yelled at anyone and everyone on the roads. It’s as though Indians drive by sound, but many are deaf.
There is also a strict pecking order on the roads: pedestrians are on the bottom and must dodge everything, bicycles give way to cycle-rickshaws, with make way for auto-rickshaws, which stop for small cars, which give way to big cars, who are subservient to trucks. Buses only stop for one thing (and no, it’s not customers – who jump on whilst they’re still moving). The only thing that will stop a bus is the king of the road and lord of all this maddness: a cow.
Cows know they are in charge and enjoy messing with the system. They’ll step off median strips just as cars are approaching, stand in the middle of busy intersections and turn up their noses as they pass elephants and camels.
All this goes on as people are curled up on the sidewalk asleep, slum dwellers find places to squat for their daily ‘ablutions’, whole families fight over who sits where as they all fit on a single motorcycle and food gets cooked in stalls along the footpath. There’s color everywhere, spices get sold by the kilo and stunning patchworks come together on the sidewalk. Women roam the streets in beautiful saris and wear as many plastic bangles as they can possibly fit onto their arms. They carry baskets of food on their heads and get followed by stray dogs and monkeys. Kids play on the streets, the Gods are worshipped but cricket stars are worshiped more. Stalls selling fruits I’d never even seen before pop up on every corner, the most basic of slum houses all have satellite TV’s, Bollywood soaps are watched religiously and most importantly, despite the incredible and widespread poverty, everyone always has a huge smile on their face.
After a while, you get used to the bizarre noises, smells and traffic vibrations and can’t help but join in on the madness. As a tourist, you soon learn to accept that you will never be able to understand how the organized chaos works so you just have to embrace it. You learn to enjoy the food, learn how to communicate with the people (ambiguous head-shake anyone?) and even learn to tolerate the diarrhea explosions. It’s all just part of the adventure. Not having a plan is the best plan.
The south is much more relaxed than the north. The ‘suits’ in the north (mainly in the bigger cities) are replaced by 70 year old hippies in the south. Nothing makes sense, but everything works. Staying in a hotel near temples is divine. Early morning chimes of temple bells and sound of noisy crowd awakens you. Men and young kids chanting their holy mantras. Carnatic music being played on radio or live. Smell of Bru coffee, milked from a cow in the backyard. I just can’t explain how wonderful of an experience it is. Every city is different and even if you spend a lifetime exploring every corner of the country you still won’t see it all.
Oh I just love India! Waiting to go back for another holiday 🙂