Photo, Photo India

Our first full day in India. It’s amazing how quickly we are adapting to such a new and different place and culture – already things seem less hectic than yesterday when we first arrived. We wonder what it would’ve been like for us if we hadn’t had Sri Lanka to ‘warm us up’ to the hustle and bustle of India.

A rest stop

A rest stop

Incredible architecture

Incredible architecture

We spent today exploring and trying to adjust ourselves; trying to navigate our way around a tiny section of this massive city. We walked the streets to just look, people watch, and try and gain a little bit of insight into this extraordinary culture.

A quiet stretch of street

A quiet stretch of street

It was wonderful to have no specific sightseeing agenda – rather, we just walked. Within the first hour of exploring, we’d been asked by four locals to take a “photo, photo” of them, using our camera. At first we were suspicious – in Sri Lanka the locals had done this in order to get tourists to pay them money. However, it became clear quite quickly that the payment they wanted was simply the opportunity to see themselves on the digital screen. I’m not sure how it is in other parts of the country, but at least here, today, that’s how it was.

Workin' it

Workin’ it

This guy wanted a photo too...

This guy loved the camera

We found a local shopping mall – Spencer Plaza – which was an interesting experience; if you imagine a bazaar with sprawling shops and little alleyways, street food stalls and touters all contained within a building, that’s a better depiction. I ended up buying a few pieces of Indian style clothing with beautiful colours and patterns; our first full day here, and I’m already shopping.

A sugar cane juice vendor

A sugar cane juice vendor

We ate lunch at an Indian vegetarian restaurant that served up incredible meals. The place was full of locals, and Jake ordered “what they’re having” – a set lunch that came out on two enormous silver platters; one dish held four watery curries and poppadoms, the other dish held 10 beautiful varieties of curries, with a savory pancake and noodle-style pancakes (the best way I can describe them) in the centre of the dish. Staff walked around with a massive bowl of rice, and continually piled more fresh white rice into people’s dishes, and the curry is never ending if you wish so. We watched as locals rhythmically mixed their rice and curries between their fingers, pouring the watery curries onto the rice and then adding generous amounts of the other thicker curries to the mix. The locals eat A LOT, it seems:  we watched as they ‘re-filled’ their rice three or four times each, as well as their curry dishes when they ran out.

Just a small part of a very large meal...

Just a small part of a very large meal…

Funniest moment of the day: when taking photographs of a wild street scene, I turned around to see the face of an Indian man with a colourfully painted forehead, smiling a HUGE white toothed smile at me and my camera – he’d been fascinated by the screen and come in for a closer look. Literally an inch or two from my face, he scared the shit out of me! I squealed, and he was delighted.

Another day...

Another day…

Our evening was spent again wondering the area near-by to our guest house, taking in the sights, sounds and smells that are so foreign to us, yet strangely familiar.

Adjusting...

Adjusting…

Stepping over the bodies of sleeping people, around stray dogs and through the small gaps between parked motor bikes, we dodged the traffic as we madly tried to cross the roads. We passed the same sprawl of textile and homeware shops, street food vendors and chai makers, flower garland weavers and men busy working at their sewing machines, through scaffolding and busy streets, past smiling faces and staring eyes. We watched as food was tossed high into the air from boiling woks, and as our naan was prepared in a tandoori oven, before being wrapped up in butchers paper and tied with string. Children asked us to take their “photo, photo” and were overjoyed at the opportunity to see themselves on a digital screen.

Smiley

Smiley

Again, we had to watch our every step and movement to ensure we didn’t get hit by moving traffic, or step somewhere we shouldn’t, but it was easier – it’s getting easier – to manage.

We didn’t venture much further than yesterday this evening – but we didn’t have to – there’s no need. I think we could walk the same area night after night after night, and every time we’d see something new, meet someone new, or discover a laneway we hadn’t before noticed… The thing about this place, it seems, is that there is just always so much happening – so much to see and take in.

YUM!

YUM!

We found a “home ware shop” – a tiny space between two buildings – and bought a metal chai canister. We don’t like contributing to the already horrendous rubbish situation, and with the amount of chai we suspect we will be drinking in the next three months, the 48 rupee investment in a metal, re-useable tea canister is a much more environmentally friendly option than the hundreds of little white paper cups. (Well it will be once I’ve washed and scrubbed it to within an inch of its life.)

The food is all so tempting to eat; the Indian sweets are so bright and colourful, the smells are aromatic and we watch as people effortlessly add more and more spice to whatever they’re cooking. It all looks – and is – so new and foreign, we wouldn’t know what to choose! Jake had read that Chennai, and the South of India, is known for its fabulous ‘Kebabs’; he was keen to try one but… we’re just not sure yet what we can trust, and what our western stomachs can handle.

We ended the night with two cups of chai – each – a perfect way to finish off what has been an enthralling, entertaining and insightful day in India.

India India

Welcome to Chennai – our first destination in India – our first dot on the map.

It’s a sprawling, hot, hectic, buzz of people, non-stop chaotic traffic and horn honking, animals roaming the streets and rubbish strewn everywhere. It’s true what they say – our first impressions of India have been felt through an absolute assault on every sense.

There are too many things to look at when you step out onto the street; everything seems to move around us in all directions at any and every moment, and the colours and sights of life in this city are simply incredible.

Walking out of our guest house late evening on our first night here, we were in absolute awe of what we saw, heard and smelled around us; 8pm, and this city is just getting started.

The streets are alive and teaming; the people and traffic, sounds, smells, and foods overwhelmed us, but excited us more than we could’ve possibly imagined.
Shops, street foods, hole-in-the-wall eateries, countless chai vendors who pull chai from silver cups into tiny take away canisters, people buying and selling, working and sleeping, eating and socializing, and simply just being – it’s madness and it’s incredible.

Children play, bare footed, in and amongst construction sites, held together with bamboo poles and fraying rope. People sleep in old wooden carts, on side walks, on pieces of tarp on the dirty ground and on the road side. It’s sometimes confronting, and a lot for our western minds to comprehend.

Traffic whirls and whizzes around us in a constant stream; by now – thanks to Sri Lanka – we are used to crazy driving and non-stop horn honking – but this city takes chaotic traffic to a new level that we couldn’t have anticipated to this extent.

Samosas, fried rices, tandoori ovens cooking chicken and naan, and a myriad other fried goods are readily available; people are everywhere cooking and eating all these fascinating-looking (and no doubt tasting) foods that we’ve never seen or experienced. People cook with woks at the front of tiny eateries, sending rice and oil flying high into the air with every toss, and turning fried goods in bright red batter over and over in boiling oil.
Women braid tiny flowers into beautiful little flower garlands and a speed that makes it impossible to see how their fingers work.
Men sit at ancient-looking Singer sewing machines on the side walk in the open air; their feet moving up and down as they sew tailor made clothing items with precision and speed.
Textile shops are lit up with flashing lights, and the brightly coloured pashmina scarves hanging from hooks at the shop fronts are inviting.
A shop selling elaborately decorated and beautifully made traditional Indian hats is fascinating to look in.
Little shop fronts sell the most random of goods individually (not as a whole pack) and wrap them in newspaper for your convenience. It made buying a single mosquito coil for our room too easy.
Men gather for conversation in the middle of walk ways.
Cows stand lazily within the main stream of traffic.

It’s wonderful, fast-moving madness.

Shoes off at the door, we wandered in to the show room of a sitar and musical instrument shop where beautiful wooden traditional instruments and drums in all different shapes, colours and sizes lined the marble floors. For a few moments, it was quiet.

Back on the street, a tiny open space between two buildings is being well used as an ironing business – a frail elderly man maneuvers a massive antique iron – fuelled with hot coals – over layers of colourful cloths.

Restaurants and eateries are in full swing – people are everywhere eating and eating and eating! Chai vendors are everywhere and they all seem to have their own ways and recipies for the best cup of delicious, delicious chai.

People smile at us and it seems people are happy to help if they can; our first impression of Indian people has been really positive.

Upholsters are sewing with big needles out in the open streets, people are drilling and working on construction sites, bare footed locals walk over rubbish and rubble and cracked pavements and waste – and other foreign things I dare not think about – people are weaving and working and sleeping and driving and shopping; it’s non-stop and it’s a very new and different world.

Just a few minutes of walking along the streets was exciting and exhausting; the concentration levels required to focus on and remain uninjured are high. Avoiding being hit by the continuous stream of traffic that comes at you from every angle, often undercutting you on the frequently non-existent footpaths is the number one focus, and whilst doing so, you need to watch every step to ensure you dodge any cracks, holes, dips, rubble, waste, rubbish, gooey matter, foreign objects, dogs, sleeping bodies and many other hazards. The constant crowds of people and traffic mean limited space; moving through a sea of colourful saris and foreign faces with paint-smeared foreheads very quickly becomes normal.

This place is intoxicating, our senses are feeding off the new and the different. Everything is exciting right now, and we’re now a little more prepared for what the next three months here might offer us. We know it might not always be so wonderful and exciting, but for now, it’s safe to say that our short-lived experience of ‘every day life’ here left us excited, overwhelmed, a little shocked, entertained, hungry, disorientated, and above all, in love – already – with incredible India.

And, once all of this chaos, madness and utter exhilarating excitement was enough and our first evening in this country drew to a close, it was only when I saw a small, naked child pooing in the busy main street that I finally thought to myself “…yes, we’ve done it. We’re finally, actually, really, truly here. Welcome to India.”