Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Sights, the Sounds, the Colors of India

India. This country contains nearly one-fifth of the world's population. Made up of over two-thousand different ethnic groups. The eighth largest country in the world. I recently traveled to this amazing country for work and I stayed for 5 weeks.

I was told by coworkers who had been there that it would blow my mind. I also got many warning before and after arriving to be careful traveling alone. Additionally, I was told many times how brave I was for doing so. In many ways, I just didn't get what the big deal was. How was India going to be so different than all the other places I've been? The fact of the matter was, it wasn't. At this point I've seen so many incredible places, India wasn't much different. That's kind of a good and bad thing.

It's bad in the sense that I've seen so much, that new places struggle to amaze me. This is nothing negative about India. It's just that I'm hard to impress these days. To me, India seemed much like Uganda, except wealthier. It had that same post-British colonial feel to it. Plus with the massive income gap in India, you saw much of the same poverty that you did in Uganda. The feeling of being somewhere so similar to Uganda was familiar. It made me feel at home.

There were some things that were different that I found quite interesting. First is the honking of car horns. You will have trouble feeling like you're in India unless you hear car horns. It's interesting to me how the honking is not always aggressive in India. There are different kinds of honks. Some make it seem like a language the cars use to talk to each other. A driver might honk as he passes to make the other driver aware of his movements or he might honk to ask another vehicle to move over. And then, of course, there are aggressive, get-out-of-the-way honks. All these honks are different. I imagine it taking years to learn the subtleties of each one.

Another thing I noticed here is the harassment, or should I say lack thereof. We've all heard the stories in recent years about the harassment and assaults of women, especially foreigners, in India. However, it seems as though the Indian government is doing what they can to curb that. I've seen signs on trains and at major tourist attractions outlining specific activities that are forbidden. Some of these signs specify that they are in regards to women and others seem more pointed at how foreigners should be treated. It is against the law in India to give women unwanted attention. This includes teasing, yelling at, and singing to them. Individuals are also not allowed to take photos of others without their consent. This might seem odd, but it is way more common than you may think for someone to approach a foreigner and ask for a selfie. White people are novelties and Indians want photos with them. But the law prohibits this unless the foreigner consents. All of this has led to me receive (at least what I consider) very little attention (outside of the occasional selfie requests). I think this is great; however, it may lead to a false sense of security. It could be that there are attacks and assaults here and you just don't see the actions that typically lead up to them. But then again, maybe not...

All in all, I enjoyed my time in India and I would like to share with you one particular side trip that I found particularly amazing.

The last weekend that I was in India happened to be Labor Day weekend.  In India, that doesn't really mean anything, but to me it meant that I got a three day weekend to travel to one last place before leaving the country.  So I decided to take that weekend and make a trip to Kerala in the South of India.  Kerala is a place known for houseboats, good food, and a relaxing way of life.

Instead of doing my usual figure-it-out-on-my-own thing, I decided to just splurge and book a tour.  I wanted to experience these houseboats I had been hearing so much about.  The tour I booked included one night at a "resort" and almost an entire 24 hours on a houseboat.

My houseboat for the day
So I flew into one of the largest towns in Kerala, Cochin.  From there I was picked up by a driver and taken to my hotel, which was about an hour and a half ride.  When I got there I realized that their idea of a resort was a mediocre hotel with a nice pool.  Considering I was still suffering from a cold I had caught the week before, I was mildly okay with that.  I spent most of my time in my room sleeping and watching TV or laying by the pool and swimming.  At first I thought no one else was staying there, because all day the place was deserted, but by dinner a few more people showed up.

MMMMMM Prawns!
The next morning my driver came back for me to take me to my houseboat.  By noon that day we were cruising away.  Turns out I had the whole boat to myself.  It was a one bedroom boat with a three man crew who were just waiting on me hand and foot.  When I originally booked this trip, I thought there was a chance that cruising around on a boat all day could get boring, so I brought a book.  Turns out, I didn't read it at all.  It couldn't have been more fascinating watching daily life on the canals and seeing all the other houseboats pass us by!  It seemed as though no two houseboats were the same.  At one point we stopped at a fish market, where I bought two of the biggest prawns I had ever seen and later that day my cook prepared them for me for dinner.  Let's just say that the food I had on that boat was probably the best I had in all of India.

By 9 AM the next morning it was time to leave, but I could've spent days on that boat.  In the moment, nothing could've made me happier than cruising around the backwaters of Kerala.  I may not have been the biggest fan of India in general, but I absolutely adored Kerala.

No comments:

Post a Comment