A roller coaster ride on a bus honking in sync to the beat of Bollywood tunes blaring on a television dangling from the ceiling; a dash through endless strings of chaotic villages and heaps of people; a panorama of barreling trucks listing and careening their way through clouds of dust; an endless cacophony of ear-piercing, elephant-inspired air horns; roadside vendors stringing together flower garland temple offerings amidst clouds of pollution; food stalls serving up colorful bites in makeshift newspaper cups and banana leaves; cows and long-horned oxen browsing through sidewalk trash heaps; and Brahmin priest blessings by morning and elephant blessings by night.
Life in all its incarnations of filth and colorful glory. Just another typical day for us in southern India.
While two months may sound like ample time to visit a country, it barely scratches the surface in the miniature and overwhelming universe of India. Although we’re aware that we can always return here, our current itinerary is long: the backwaters of Kerala to French colonial Pondicherry in the south; dazzling Rajasthan to Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh in the northwest; the circle of life that is drawn by Varanasi and Calcutta across the north; and a breath of air between the tea plantations of Darjeeling and Buddhist, mountain-tucked Sikkim in the northeast.
Some destinations are solely to satisfy our curiosity while others are home to some interesting contacts and, we hope, some interesting stories.
To say that India is an endless barrage of sights, sounds and smells is an understatement. Women walk the streets in bright pink, green and orange saris – a fashion feat that couldn’t be pulled off anywhere else; cloying flowers and incense for temple offerings compete with foul wafts of rotting garbage and sewage; and Indian drivers honk incessantly, their horns unfortunately tuned for the hard-of-hearing. At the end of any given day, we find ourselves in a state somewhere between pleasantly tired and thoroughly exhausted as we attempt to absorb and process our ever-changing surroundings and their otherworldly complexities and contradictions.
And this is only in the “laid back” south of India.
Because of our schedule and the intensity of this type of travel, we’ll keep our updates short while we’re in India. We will update our readers as to where we are and what we’re doing through two mechanisms: Twitter and a newly added feature at the top right called Where Are We? whose contents we hope is self-explanatory. We will also post pieces along the way as time and internet cafés-cum-saunas permit.
We have a few more days in southern India before we embark on a 30-hour overnight train voyage from Chennai (Madras) to Mumbai (Bombay). We expect the craziness to only increase as we continue our journey northward.