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Published: February 19th 2018
Stepping off the plane, I take a breath and think, “yes… we’re in India now.”
Behind me, there are echoes of agreement from Sidd and his parents. Ah, India. It has a distinctive aroma – a mixture of diesel fumes from the sea of green and yellow rickshaws, mounds of discarded garbage (often being burnt) and a poor sanitation system. Overlaying this is the heady smell of incense, curling its thick, fragrant tendrils of sandalwood around you.
I won’t lie. It was with much trepidation that I approached my 2nd
visit to India. I had memories of a losing battle with “Delhi Belly”, crushing crowds in sweltering heat and general chaos in the bazaars. It didn’t help that the trip included backpacking in very cheap hostels (250INR or $5/night) and traveling long distances in a 2nd
class chair car (“not even locals do that!”,
exclaimed Sidd’s family). All in all, it was an experience that left me wafer-thin and exhausted. But, they say that the reason you travel is to be pushed out of your comfort zone and thus gain a better appreciation for your “regular life”. It puts everything in perspective and forces you to assess your values and routines.
That trip certainly did! And it was time for Asha and Keira to experience part of their heritage.
India is an assault on all of your senses. Everything is in technicolour, with ladies in vibrant sarees mingling against a backdrop of rainbow-hued houses of turmeric orange, teal and the hottest of pinks. The noise is unbelievable, a discordant symphony of incessant honking from all sizes and shapes of vehicles, each playing a suicidal game of chicken on the narrow roads. The food clamours for your attention, building fires of chili in your stomach, and stretching your taste buds to their limit.
If you let it, India will swallow you up and make you want to hide in your hotel. But there are pockets of tranquility amidst the chaos. You just need to give in and go with the flow. There’s a vibrant pulse to India that surprises and rejuvenates.
A few thoughts on what makes India and its people distinct:
1. Indians love India. Everything begins and ends in India – forget Newton, some ancient Indian philosopher discovered gravity 1000 years earlier, noodles and ice cream were invented here (maybe even pizza?), Indians discovered flight and
the Pythagorean theorem was known to Indian scholars centuries before. The patriotism is palpable here.
2. Indians love Indian food. Rotli and shaak (curry) every day? Yes, please, sign me up! In the middle of a tiny island in Belize? It’s time to find the only Indian restaurant! However, despite this passion for Indian food, I can now say with authority that even Indians get sick of curry. Both Sidd and I had a good laugh when dad was adamant that we eat at McDonalds, although he tried to pin his craving on the girls. This, on only day 5 of our trip! The next day when we suggested a thali (all-you-can-eat curry), both mom and dad grimaced.
3. Indians love ghee. For those not familiar with ghee, it’s clarified butter: shimmering, golden fat in all its glory. After being served your curry, a server will come around with a silver bucket of ghee and if you’re not paying attention, liberally drizzle it over your already quite oily curry. I’m not sure if it’s the ghee or the probiotics we took to counter “Delhi belly”, but it only took 1 week to cure Asha of her 1.5 year
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
Healing waters in the Sikh Gurudwara
4. There is a duality to India. You step out of the uber modern airport to board a 50 year old plane (complete with ashtrays and flickering lights). You can start the day at a 5 star modern hotel, then end up In Old Delhi, where Keira couldn’t stop staring at the man having a shower on the side of the road (“I can’t get that out of my head!”
). You never know what to expect when you turn the next corner – a tiny temple in the middle of the road? or a massive colonial train station? There’s something here for everyone.
5. Indians are tolerant. Where else do they let cows roam freely in the streets, causing traffic jams and near collisions? It became a daily ritual for the girls to count the number of cows on the road. Also, with so much fighting elsewhere in the world, it’s amazing how 9+ religions can co-exist in harmony. In less than 24 hours, we went to a Hindu temple (with a laser and water show that rivaled Disney!), a Sikh gurdwara, a mosque and a Bahá'í temple shaped like a lotus flower. In southern India,
we visited Catholic churches and a Jewish synagogue (for all 5 of the Jews in Kochi). The rest of us can learn from this ability to accept each other’s differences.
6. Indians are punctual. This came as quite a surprise! Apart from our laundry delivery boy, who delivered our clothes pressed and packaged individually in plastic for 300INR/kg ($6/kg), everyone has been right on time. In fact, we are the ones who operate on IST (Indian Standard Time).
7. Indians love their head bobbles. It’s a universal response in India. Ask your driver how long to your destination and you get a head bobble. Ask a shop owner where an item is made and receive the same reaction. Not sure what it means? Me too. Especially when the head bobble is not accompanied by any verbal sounds. I think the bobble is a general acknowledgment of your question. But not necessarily an answer. They’re thinking; “I heard you say something, but I choose to not commit to anything.
” Asha has become particularly proficient with the head bobble. Especially when we tell her to stop doing something bad.
What was wonderful about this trip is that everything
been a delight for Asha and Keira. Nothing has fazed them, from the dirty toilets (“mummy, I’m so good at squatting now!”
) to bargaining in the bazaar to risking life and limb crossing the road (I was in awe of Sidd’s mom, who marched through dense traffic with such purpose that the cars dared not do anything but stop) to cramming 6 people into one tiny rickshaw (to save a mere 50INR/$1). The girls’ acceptance of everything is inspiring. As we get older, we get more set in our ways and less adaptable. This trip has taught us many things including the need to remember our humble roots and embrace differences.
India, you’ve been a wonderful adventure.
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