India! A Sensory Extravaganza!

India! A Sensory Extravaganza!

The Taj Mahal, India
The Taj Mahal, India

India is a sensory extravaganza!

There’s no other reasonable way to describe it. The only caveat to that statement is that during my stay I only managed to spend time in two cities, Pune and New Delhi, and sadly never got to experience rural India. Would a change in my itinerary have changed my views? Probably not, but it’s worth mentioning.

The sensory experience didn’t begin in the airport. To some degree an airport is an airport. Yes, there were hints of India on the walls and in the decor. The food on sale had changed, and the stores were more colourful. The carpets also appeared to be from the 70s. But what lay ahead of me was primarily customs, immigration, and baggage claims – much like any other airport.

But once you stepped through the airport doors into the humid Indian air, that all changed…

The Smells

Standing outside the airport my nose was attacked by a range of new and confusing smells. I can describe them neither as good, nor bad – more unique, and unidentifiable. It wasn’t food, or pollution, or garbage. Nor was it the people, or the roadside stalls selling coffee or burning incense. Perhaps it was all of these, perhaps it was none? All I know is that these were the smells of India, and I smelled them every day for the next 2 weeks, no matter my location. They greeted me every morning as I stepped out of the hotel, and they “vanished” only when I stepped back into the hotel each evening. They’re smells I’ll never forget, and will never truly be able to describe.

The People

The people in India are incredible. They’re vibrant, energetic, and love to please. They treat you like royalty and are always equipped with a smile (and a head wobble). Well, they’re almost all like this. The exception to the rule seems to be a few of the people involved in the tourism industry, whether it be a taxi driver or a guide at the Taj Mahal. Suddenly the friendly, helpful faces turn and the hand is extended in expectation of a large tip from a tourist. And when the tip is not as expected, the smile is buried deeper.

But don’t let the few ruin it for the many. Enjoy the culture and the friendliness of this nation. Take it all in because the people are as unique as they are colourful.

The Traffic (and Roads)

The traffic in India can easily be described in one word – lawless. Road signs don’t matter, traffic lights are ignored by all, road markings are not so much as a guideline, and anything and everything goes. But despite it all, it works!

One of my colleagues said he follows only one rule when he drives – he with the most expensive car yields. And this certainly appeared to be true. The few dent-free, high-end cars on the road certainly drove far more cautiously than the pitted tuk-tuks and Suzukis navigating the swarm of cars, buses, bicycles, and cows.

But in spite of the chaos the drivers were calm and friendly, and there was no sign of road rage. Amazingly we also never really stopped. Traffic moved at a consistent pace of 20 – 40 kilometers per hour (unlike urban traffic in the west where you seem to come to a standstill every few meters at the next traffic light or piece of congestion). And where there was risk of stopping we simply continued driving on the sidewalk.

Also amazingly, I never once felt in danger. I guess that’s the pleasure of never going over 40kms/hr – any accident would merely be a bump.

The Noises

Whether from the chaotic streets, or the bustling markets, India is attacks the ears as much as the nose and eyes. It’s not everywhere, and it’s not as bad as some other cities I’ve visited, but it certainly adds to the sensory assault that is India.

The Sights

As I mentioned earlier, I sadly never really got to leave the cities, other than to visit the Taj Mahal. So the sights for me were predominantly religious and historic sites, such as the Lotus Temple, India Gate, parliament, Mahatma Gandhi’s burial sight, a Sikh Temple, and various Mosques and Hindi temples.

Each of these were massively impressive in their own rights and I’ll definitely talk about them in future blog posts. The history seeps through your veins and I’ve simple never seen more marble or gold in my life. You can’t help but be impressed.

But it wasn’t the incredible architecture that drew my attention, but rather the sights that appeared on the back roads – the washing hanging anywhere and everywhere, the mini temples (if that’s what they’re called) located randomly on street corners where people prayed on their way to work, the scooters and the tuk-tuks, the street side stalls selling strange concoctions, life that is India.

The Religions

India is a country of many religions, although it’s the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs that stand out. On the surface they appear to be at peace, yet you can still feel the tension when the history of the country is discussed.

Being walked through the various religious buildings was amazing, and the passion with which people spoke about their religion was captivating.

Religion is all around you in India. No matter where you are, you’ll be able to see a temple, mosque, or some other religious building, or alternatively someone will be praying or wearing a religious outfit.

The Colours

Despite the cities being relatively dry and dusty, India is extremely brightly coloured. Perhaps it’s the stark contrast of rich purples and reds against flat, brown backgrounds that make the colours pop. Whatever it is, the clothing and culture of India is as colourful as the people are vibrant. And it’s certainly a sight to behold.

The Food

The food in India is magical. It’s nothing (or very little) little Durban’s Indian food, nor is it anything like a good British curry. You don’t get bunny chows, and you certainly don’t find vindaloos.

During my nearly two weeks in India I never once got to order from a menu. My hosts always ordered multiple items so that I could taste a bit of everything. I ate spicy food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I loved it.

The food was not so much hot, as it was spicy. And the the vegetarian food was simply amazing. But then I guess it has to be in a country where most religions don’t allow for the eating of meat.

I’d go back to India for the food alone.

Perception vs Reality

We’ve all heard stories about India, it’s sights, and it’s people. We’ve all got a friend who’s been there. And we all have a perception as to whether we’d love it there, or hate it.

To some degree all the stories are true, and our preconceptions will be realised.

Having been there I still believe that India is a place you’ll either love or hate. However I think you can make this decision before you arrive by being at least slightly prepared for what awaits you. If you arrive with an open mind – and are ready for the vast contrast of rich and poor, bright and dull, and so many more – you will certainly make the most of the experience, and will love (almost) every minute of it.

India is an amazing country.