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.”