Monday, March 29, 2010

Insane India

The Indian tourism board uses Incredible India, including a website, as a catch phrase to promote tourism. After a week here we think that Insane India would be more appropriate. Whether insane or incredible (or both), India so far has been pretty amazing, on many different levels.

First there are the people. With a population of over one billion, India is teeming with people. There are people everywhere, driving cars, riding motorcycles, riding buses, pedaling richshaws, herding goats, leading cows, drinking chai at little street side chai shops, peddling trinkets, selling flowers, or just hanging out with friends. Go out at night and the number of people in the streets doubles or triples. Whereas we noticed that more people came out at night in Southeast Asia, it is even more pronounced here (it's also a lot hotter, so the nocturnal behavior makes sense).

But unlike Southeast Asia where people seemed to be content to sit still (unless on a motorcycle), here people are on the move. I have no idea where everyone is going all the time, but it seems everyone is going somewhere, no matter what time of day.

Second, there are the sights. Everywhere we go there is something incredible to see. Today, I walked into a temple and after putting my shoes into the "chappel" rack I turned around and was face to face with an elephant being fed a bottle of orange fanta soda. Then, since it's supposed to be good luck, I let the elephant touch my head (sorry about the lady blocking me in the picture, but it's kind of hard to get a stranger-free picture around here):
After staying with the couchsurfer in Chennai we set out for Pondicherry (Puducherry). We stayed at a wonderful guest house that doubles as an ashram. We had a balcony room overlooking the ocean and it was far enough away from the street that we could even hear the waves crashing. The beach in Pondicherry wasn't really for swimming, it was all rocks, but there was a wonderful walking area where many locals strolled up and down enjoying the ocean breezes. The walkway is currently under construction, but I imagine when it's finished it will be even nicer:
We enjoyed Pondicherry quite a bit; for an Indian town it's really laid back, the French-influenced section of town was somewhat free of traffic so it was nice for strolling and we found a few nice restaurants. We even managed to catch a free outdoor music concert one of the nights. From Pondicherry we headed southwest and inland to the town of Trichy. We missed the direct bus that went there so we took two local buses connecting through a nearby town. Local buses in India are quite an experience. They are packed to standing room only and since we have our backpacks on one bus they charged us a ticket for our bags. (I'm not going to complain about this because buses are ridiculously cheap; the two local buses for the four hour journey from Pondy to Trichy was less than $4 for both of us, including paying extra for our bags.)

Accommodations in Trichy were pretty dumpy but we did pay extra for air conditioning which was nice considering it's averaging about 95 degrees with high humidity every day. We went out to the Rock Fort Temple (where Jaimee and I got blessed by the elephant) and climbed the 437 steps (barefoot, in the sun) to the top. The views were outstanding and we also chatted with a group of teenagers who were hanging out. Like most young men in India, they are studying computer science at the local university. Although sometimes the crowds of people can be seen as a liability for India, seeing the huge number of young people, many of them studying hard in schools, you can see the flip side of having a huge population. There is a very large (and growing) talent pool for new workers.
Now we are in Madurai (see previous post for a map), again staying at a not so nice place, this time without air conditioning, and no screens on the windows. We lathered up with bug spray before bed but considering how much I was sweating I had to reapply once in the middle of the night. The consolation is that it was very cheap (300 rupees, or about $6.50) and they have free filtered water. That's one thing that India does well - clean drinking water. All the restaurants, bus stations, many of the hotels, even the temples provide clean, filtered water free of charge. It's obvious that a lot of effort has gone into providing this on such a large scale. It's nice to fill up our water bottles; Jaimee and I both hated buying so much bottled water in SE Asia. Now if only India could do something about the mounds of garbage everywhere. Garbage really is a problem, and I've seen many people just toss things right in the street. On one bus, while sitting in a traffic jam caused by a ox-drawn cart with a broken wheel that was blocking one lane, a passenger got off the bus (easy since there are no doors), walked over to a street stall selling some sort of milky liquid, came back on the bus, drank his drink and then tossed the plastic cup into the street.

Anyway, take a look at our full set of pictures from our last few days on the road. Later today we're heading to the very southern tip of India at Kanyakumari. We're taking the train. I have no idea what it will be like as we booked an "open seat" which costs 32 rupees (about 75 cents) each for the five hour train ride. We stopped at a travel agency in town where they wanted to charge us 650 rupees (about $14.50) each for the same journey! We didn't know what it should cost, but that seemed high so we literally walked across the street to the train station and bought our 32 rupee tickets. We'll see how it goes.

Jaimee has already said that we need to treat ourselves to a nice place to stay pretty soon; we're not sure if that will be in Kanyakumari or later in Kerala or Goa. But no question, between the heat and crowds, we're already in need of a vacation from our vacation.

1 comment:

  1. Love your blog...keep up the good work!!


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