A note on India:

Have I mentioned how much we love India? Although sometimes it can be challenging here, and some parts of this culture are shocking and saddening, or simply unbelievable, but more often than not its just simply, indescribably amazing. Every day we’re learning a bit more, observing a bit more, trying to make sense of this country, the people, their beliefs and their ways of life. It’s surprising how much we are willing to adjust; not even consciously – just naturally adjusting to our surroundings and relaxing our ‘Western Standards’ – simply by experiencing and being immersed in all of India’s everything. It seems as though you can either flounder or flourish here, in the sense that you can either hate or love India. We are flourishing.

Every day we observe and learn new things; new behaviours, new traditions, what is acceptable here and how things work in often nonsensical and unfathomable ways… Sometimes India is inspiring, sometimes its challenging, sometimes it’s crushingly despairing, but it’s always exciting, always enthralling, always fascinating, and always incredible.

India is testing us, pushing us, confronting us and questioning the way we think and behave. Simple tasks like queuing to buy a ticket or sitting on the bus take on a whole new meaning and procedure here, and it’s an experience to ‘learn’ these things again. Sometimes, we are forced to step out of our comfort zones, but so far that’s never ended in a negative way.

Everything feels intoxicating here in India; the sounds and smells and sights captivate and exhilarate us, and also sometimes repulse us – often at the same time. Either way, India is like an addiction; we just want more and more of what this country has to offer.

Street stalls, tiny shops, markets, bazaars and food vendors feel like the beating heart of India, with everything and everyone working and functioning around these buzzing activities. Everyone has a job to do; the shoe makers, the umbrella fixers, the chai vendors, the touting tuk tuks, the fishmongers, the tailors, the launderers, the hat sellers, the hundreds of fried-goods vendors, the people… somehow they all work around and with each other in invisible unison, amongst honking horns, hectic traffic and an ocean of human bodies on the move.

The sounds! Oh, the sounds of India… Noise is constant here, silence is a rarity. Honking horns, two-stroke engines and buses accelerating set a beating base for the rhythmic Indian tune that never ends. Food vendors can be heard selling their goods, bicycle bells ding, men hock and spit, scraping sounds of brushing and sweeping marble floors grate against the chit-chat of locals. Cats mew and dogs converse, while touters yell their “Hello madams, you come look?” and “Yes, hello Sir you want tuk tuk?” Inquisitive locals yelling “Hello where you go!?” is a chorus we’ve become accustomed to, and sometimes we add to the tune by responding “Just walking.” For some reason, people don’t seem to grasp that concept.

Indian people are lovely. We notice their smiles before anything else (even when they’re trying to scam us) and often, those big smiles with white (or red pan-stained) teeth are infectious, and we end up instantly smiling back. The children love to say hello, and it’s not uncommon for people to come up to us, shake our hands and simply ask us (with those huge smiles) “where from?”
They speak like they are singing, and their spoken English sounds as if each word is dancing on their tongue before it emerges with unique, only-in-India word structure. I never tire of hearing them speak; especially their ‘cute’ descriptions such as “you feel the freeness”, “you eat good taste” and “that is mostly not possible.”
The Indian people (if they’re not trying to get our money – and sometimes even when they are) are welcoming us into their country with the utmost respect and again – the biggest smiles.

Family units seem very strong here and children seem to be the beating, lively pulse of every family. The babies and children are gorgeous – as all babies and children are – but these little ones are stunning; decorated in brightly coloured clothing, materials, shiny beads, henna tattoos, jewelry and lacy dresses. It seems like parents dress their children for every day activities as though they’re participating in a festival or parade of some kind. Children are everywhere, playing, laughing, and sometimes shockingly, working.
Friendship seems just as strong as family; people are connected and work together in big communities. Neighbours are friends,  adult friends hold hands, teenage girls chatter while walking arm in arm, and young boys carry on with their arms around their each others shoulders.

We spend most of our time marveling, smiling and laughing at what we’re experiencing; everything is so new and exciting, and we’re loving every minute. Of course, there are things we find shocking and distressing too; but never the less, we are observing what is happening around us, and we’re learning what life is like in this part of the world. We sometimes have to remind ourselves that this is not our culture, so we must just accept that it is different from our own.

Traffic is so hectic and unstructured at times, we cannot comprehend how it can actually work – but it does, much to our thumping hearts and sweaty palms delight. Watching the chaotic order unfold mesmerizes us, and offers us a glimpse of how these drivers and stretches of road somehow operate. One of the general rules we’ve observed is the attitude of “Fuck you all, I’m a bus – get out of my way now!” in which any sort of traffic – human, bikes and vehicles – disperses madly in every direction to accommodate for buses that rule the roads.

Poverty here is confronting; every day we encounter so many struggling people asking for money and food. People with horrifying disfigurements, disabilities and illnesses and injuries lay begging on the streets, and it’s impossible to not feel extreme sympathy for these people. We sometimes buy food and give it to people in need, but we don’t give money; as heartless as it may seem, how do you choose who to give and not to give to? Furthermore, unfortunately we have to wonder if the money is really even going to these helpless people, or into the pockets of someone else.

The pollution in the air is terrible – I imagine this thick, black cloud clogging the breath of every person, clogging the clouds and the skies and the oceans with its ever-growing filth. Sadly, sometimes I don’t have to imagine – I can literally see that thick black cloud. I breathe it in whilst wincing and gasping, hoping that somehow I’ll be able to catch a breath of fresh air if only I hold my breath a little longer.

We watch as people, over and over, finish with whatever they’re using and then simply throw it to the ground – our Western morals flinch at this littering every time with despair. The streets are lined with filth and waste, plastic, bottles, paper, waste and polystyrene dishes are strewn everywhere; it seems people are comfortable walking through rubbish filled streets, swimming in the ocean along with floating debris, and walking along beaches where pieces of trash outnumber the grains of sand. Bins are hard to come by, but the ones we see are never full; I guess people don’t regard waste management as important.
The other day on a train we watched a group of very well educated people, who all dressed impeccably and spoke fluent English, physically move from their seat to open the window of the train to throw their rubbish out, and it took everything I had not to tell them how disgusting and disappointing that is to see.

Almost just as shocking as the littering problem, is the fact that some people seem treat India as one big open-air toilet. People find anywhere and everywhere to relieve themselves; people shitting and urinating in the streets, on piles of rubbish, in train and bus stations, in back alleys, in bodies of water and in open fields is not an uncommon sight. An Indian man recently told us that sanitation and toilet facilities in India are “so really bad,” and it’s obvious; trying to find a functional toilet outside of a guest house that is a) in existence and b) not terrifying is no easy feat. The other day I was forced to use a urinal: literally, it was called a “Lady urinal.” I don’t even know how to use the squat toilets properly, let alone a terrifying “Lady Urinal”!

Dangerous driving, poverty, pollution, littering and scary toilets aside; we are so excited and thrilled to be here. We’re learning, we’re observing, we’re [starting to] understand, we’re exploring, and we’re loving every minute.

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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.”