India . [part 1]

And suddenly we were in India…
After a week of sweating in Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) to ship our car, we’re in India all of a sudden. Only 2,5 hours flying from Kuala Lumpur to Chennai (formerly Madras) in India, but what a different world. Everything here’s different… everything!

About Malaysia we can tell it’s quite western, modern and has a good infrastructure, high buildings, luxurious hotels and office buildings, and modern cars. Malaysia’s also more expensive compared to Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.

Chennai - Mamallapuram - Puducherry - Alundur - Kodaikanal - Munnar - KochiDe difference between Malaysia and India is therefore very large. At once you find yourself standing in a country where there’s chaos 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. And no one seems to bother. During the day it’s extremely busy and noisy on the streets, especially in cities, but also in small villages. And so many things happen… men walk on the streets pushing a chariot with food and spices, honking busses and trucks pass, oxcarts, chicken, goats, bicycle taxis, motor taxis, cows, and much more. All of this walks, rolls and drives just in the streets… Busses and trucks possess most of the power. They preferably drive in the middle of the road and claxon everything away. After the trucks larger cars follow, like ours, and after the cars you get the motorbikes, then the bicycles and pedestrians. Oh yeah, cows can always go first! So… driving in India isn’t always a peace of cake… very unpredictable and slow, but it’s an unforgettable experience for sure!

Except for being busy and chaotic, India is very colourful as well. As a male you ought to dress properly with a shirt and comb your hair to one side. And you don’t seem to be cool in India if you’re not having a moustache. Truly, nearly every man here has one! Above that, many men wear wide 70-ies pants and an Elvis-alike haircut that’s regularly being combed and polished with old-school Brillcream, haha! Women however wear colourful saris (or at least something with a lot of textile that flies in the wind) and many golden earrings, nose rings and other glittering stuff. Also many houses are nicely coloured… yellow, green, pink, blue, or purple. Everything’s possible and acceptable. Another thing that’s colourful in India is all the rubbish. There seems not to be such a thing like organised garbage collection. Most people just dump their garbage in front or their house until someone makes a pile of it and burns it. Just like that, in the middle of the city… who cares?

The food in India’s great until now, at least in the south. We were a bit scare in advance, and had the horrific imagination of spending days on the toilet right after having taken the first bite of a meal. But our experience so far is quite okay concerning Indian food. We keep ourselves alive with delicious chapattis. That’s a flat dough a bit similar to a pancake. You eat that pancake – as many other things here – with your bare hand, more precisely with one hand! You tear off a bit, role it, dip in one of your curries and put in your mouth. All this happens with your right hand, not the left one. You’re not meant to eat with your left hand in India. That’s because the no-toilet-paper-but-instead-of-that-water-using-Indians make use of it to wipe their butts. So it’s considered disgusting to do certain things with your left hand.

Beside chapattis (Wouter’s favourite) we also eat similar but of course totally different flat breads/pancakes: rava dosai (Alexandra’s favourite dish – especially the one with cashew nuts), porotta’s, rotti’s, naan bread, and so on. You don’t alway get your food on a plate, by the way. In some restaurants (often called hotel, by the way) you’ll get a half meter large banana leaf. That leaf is your plate on which you receive some rice and your curry. All is eaten by grabing it and pushing it into your mouth with your right hand of course. Like a monkey. We drink chai, coffee, and a lot of water. Beer and other alcoholic drinks are much more difficult to purchase than we’d expected. You really have to ask for the closest alcohol selling shop. Otherwise you will not be able to recocnise it amongst all the other huts and shops. Anyway, until now we didn’t get ill from the food and hope it stays like that!

So… Indi-yeah or Indi-no?
Let’s put it like that:

* walking on the street alone as a woman (very annoying to have constantly guys talking to you with flirts that are even less innovative than by 14-years old at home…)
* claxoning (the volume isn’t that bad like in China, but the frequency is just to get crazy)
* accommodation – “oh, you want CLEAN sheets?”
* peeing and shitting men in public
* the crows in Kochi – how can it be that a city next to the sea has no single white seagull but thousands of black crows?

* the cute head shaking (not the same like for yes or no) of Indians to be polite
* languages. I was quite astonished when the flight attendants in the plane to Chennai all would speak English. But later I heard that people in Chennai and the surrounding province speak Tamil (the same language as in Sri Lanka), and that there are 18 official languages and more than 1000 dialects in the rest of the country. So then I understood why many Indians have no other means than to speak English together (they could speak Hindi though, since they learn it at school. But people told us it’s easier for most Indians to communicate in English). We had to get used to the pronunciation though. Just after we managed to understand Asian English (anybody understand why they often exchange the L and the R?), we had to start learning decrypting the fast wanna-badda-coddi-alike sounds. 🙂
* overloaded tuk-tuks full of school children that are being brought home
* kiosks with old-school payphones for people who don’t have an own telephone or mobile
* men with skirts, ore actually they’re cloths they bind around their hip and let it hang until their knies or to the ground. And while they walk they keep on rearranging the lot every 200 meters.
* meaningful discussions with passengers on the streets: “Hello sir! Where are you from?”
Chavara, a magazine designated for young Christian Indians around Kochi who want go find a suitable marriage partner* magazines and websites for young Indians who would like to get an arranged marriage. In contrary to western dating websites, men ought to visit a nice girl at her home – together with his father. If they don’t seem to match, they continue the search. Sometimes up to 10 candidates are ‘tested’ until a suitable one is found. That is, one where both families can get along with each other.
* commercial advertisements. Sometimes it’s so incredibly funny to read the slogans that have been invented to promote a product or service. My favourite till now was for a restaurant: “Never trust a skinny chef”. I can recommend every advertising agency to hire an Indian. Creative and hilarious slogans guaranteed!

So, we’ll travel through India for another month. First we’ll stay at Kochi (Fort Cochin) in Kerala province for a few more days. Then we’ll cruise north to Goa and towards New Delhi (to obtain our visas for Pakistan and Iran). We’ve driven 50’000 km until now and we still have… let’s say 15’000 km to go. So we’re on our way home, haha… See ya!

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