I am a terrible blogger, it has taken me hours to write this post. When it comes to writing my thoughts and feelings about being a first-timer in India I am at a loss for words.
India is a sensory overload. India is fascinating, enticing, charming, beautiful, shocking, repulsive, suffocating and smelly. All at once. All day long.
India defies logic
In Kerala we were charged a toll to use a road, and then immediately had to swerve around a crater the size of the moon. What exactly was that toll for? Certainly not road maintenance.
The roads contain lane markings, but why stick to your lane when you have a horn? Drivers stop for no man, woman or child; cyclists are screamed at to move out the way. Cities come to a standstill, however, if a cow fancies grazing in the middle of the carriageway.
India has humour
Goa airport, about to check in, power abruptly fails. Probably one of the last places you would want faulty electricity, especially if it is your aircraft’s turn on the runway.
“You look alarmed madam,” says the counter clerk to my terrified face, “Don’t worry, it happens all the time. This is what we call saving energy.” His face has a big grin and he wobbles his head enthusiastically.
India is kind
You can find true kindness in India though.
First time on Indian train, safely ensconced in an AC carriage, far from the poor passengers in the sleeper carriage who crane their heads through the window bars to catch a tickle of a breeze. It’s getting dark and none of the station names are being announced as we pull into them. We have no idea what time we need to get off or what stations are immediately prior to ours. The couple in the compartment with us overhear our confused conversation. The man picks up his mobile and phones a friend. He begins scribbling names and times and hands me a breakdown of the 3 stops before ours and the train’s estimated arrival time at each of these stations. On their departure from the train they ask the guard to come and find us when we reach our station – just to double check we get there safely. Never before has a stranger gone so far out of their way to help me.
India is uncomfortable
Still on the train. The most helpful couple in the world get up and leave. They have travelled from Bangalore where they work in a call centre for General Electric and have made the 10 hour journey down south for their cousin’s wedding. Swapping life stories, comparing cultures, for a rare few minutes we feel relaxed and comfortable in this strange country. Until they are gone and the man in the next compartment uses this opportunity to pull out a bed opposite me, lie on it, put one hand down his trousers and stare at me determinedly. I get up and close my curtains. He swings around so that his head is at the opposite end of the bed where there is a gap I cannot cover. My skin crawls for the remaining 2 hours of the journey.
India is smelly
From the slums to the beaches you cannot escape the litter and faeces. Cows defecate on the beach, men shit all over the train tracks, stray dogs piss wherever they like and the crows swoop down and eat it all. Delightful. Hundreds seem to be employed to clean this mess but with insufficient equipment it’s a hard toil, wouldn’t it be better not to make such a mess in the first place?
India is a disaster for the nose but a feast for the eyes. India has beauty – the food, the clothes, the backwaters, the temples. It’s also a place full of love – familial, religious, open and devotional.
I’m still reeling and recovering from my intense introduction to the beast that is India but I cannot wait to relive the highs, the lows, the sights and smells of my amazing trip through Mumbai, Goa and Kerala when I work out how to write about it.