Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Passage [Out of] India

We've said it before - India is a land of contradictions and extremes.  Over the course of a single day, we could vacillate between the highest elation and the depths of irritation.  As we reminisce about our six weeks in India, here are some the highlights and lowlights of one of the world's most fascinating, and difficult, countries to visit, illustrated by photos of some of our favorite Indian signs.

Indian birds, it seems, subscribe to the raw-food movement. 
Things we miss about India:

The head waggle.  We had heard about the mysterious Indian head waggle, the side-to-side movement that means not ambivalence but “yes,” but we’ll never forget the first time we noticed it.  We were at the Jaipur Fort and handed our camera off to a young woman to take a photo of us.  She snapped the picture, Dave asked if it came out well, and she waggled her head from side to side.  Thinking she meant, “meh, it was just ok,” Dave asked her to take another.  Again, she snapped the photo and waggled her head from side to side.  Dave started to ask her to take yet another when it hit me – “She means YES! It’s the head waggle Dave, the famous head waggle!”  After that, we saw the head waggle everywhere, and by the end of our six weeks in India we could head waggle with the best of them.  Luckily we would be heading back through Nepal a month later where we could keep our head waggling skills up to date.

Oh man, no pan, no pan masala, and no arms? 
What a boring monument.
The food.  Oh. My. God.  The food in India was spectacular.  From the fiery masalas of Rajasthan to the Portuguese flavors of Goa to the coconut based curries of Kerala, we never got tired of eating Indian.  Dave wrote in more detail about Indian food here.

I'm not sure that these specific clothes would make your boyfriend any less ugly.
The masala chai.  I am decidedly a coffee person, but I gave up lattes without a second thought for steaming cups of masala chai.   Masala chai simply means “spiced tea” (so when you order your chai tea lattes at Starbucks, you’re actually asking for tea tea lattes); each cup was a little bit different, depending on the masala blend, but always contained black tea, milk, sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and pepper.  It always tasted most delicious when served up from a roadside stall in a tiny, five rupee ($0.10) plastic cup.

The cows.  Seeing cows walking down the middle of the street (or the middle of the beach) never got old.  Cows are either adorable or are so ugly that they’re adorable.

This sign must be directed at all the feline tourists out there.
The people.  So many people were genuinely friendly and interested in us., and even the pushiest of salesmen showered us with hospitality – take a seat, please, have a chai - before giving us the hard sell.  From feeling like a celebrity to playing cricket with local kids to people going out of their way to show us to the bus station, we came away from our time in India with a positive view of its people.

This seemed like a clever way to maintain the Line of Control.
We certainly didn't try to cross.
The language.  Hindu is the first official language of India, and English the second official language, but there are almost thirty Indian languages that are spoken by more than a million people.  In Kerala, for example, the people speak Malayalam.  What we loved, however, was the unique mix of Hindi and English that we heard everywhere and particularly in TV and movies when characters would switch back and forth between the two languages with blazing speeds.  And we loved the way the newspapers seemed to create their own English words, like lathicharged (meaning, to charge with a lathi (a police club)).

Boobies crossing
Things we don’t miss about India.

The trash.  Remember those tiny five rupees plastic cups my roadside chai was served in?  For the first week or so, I would carry those cups around with me all day until I found a trash can.  But before long I succumbed to the Indian waste disposal system and simply tossed my plastic cup on top of a pile of similar plastic cups (but never on non-trash covered ground; I've got principles).

You mean, don't spit on this filthy, streaked, dirt encrusted plastic window?
Also, is spitting permissible on the other nearby windows?
Cows.  It’s hard enough to dodge cars, motorbikes, trucks and bicycles when navigating the streets of India, and cows (and cow shit) just add another layer of hazard.  Also, cows are best enjoyed rare, and on my plate.

Before this sign people presumably sought police assistance by spitting in their faces.
The touts.  Nowhere else in our travels have we encountered such persistent touts, pushy salesmen and so many scammers and cheaters.  One of the most difficult things for us about traveling in India was finding the right balance protecting ourselves from scams and not closing ourselves off from the genuine people. 

At least they're not claiming that they're definitely the best in town.
The laundry service.  Here's how laundry works in India:  Bring your dirty clothes to a man in a small room.  Count out what you're giving him, because he will charge you by the piece, and then throw your clothes into a haphazard pile in a corner of the room.   How he knows whose clothes are whose remains a mystery.  Randomly drive by later and see the man and his family/friends out in front, vigorously scrubbing your clothes on the cracked pavement where you had parked the car when you dropped off the laundry and rinsing it in buckets of brownish water.  (River water? Lake water? Dysentery water?)   Judging by the scent of the clothes when we pick them up the next day, the laundry man's next step is apparently drying the clothing by smoking them over an open fire.  Nice.

Basically, your laundry will be ready whenever it's ready.
Goodbye India.  We'll be back.  Maybe.  In five-star hotels.  Or to renew our vows in a classic Indian wedding.


  1. I can't believe I forgot to write about the most ubiquitous and infuriating phrase of all: "Not possible."

  2. What a great wrap up for a crazy country!

  3. my question is: why are Indians who come here so cheap, pushy, overly persistant in getting their way and every thing for free, and annoying? I work in a hospital and one man actually got expensive blood work for a $20 deposit! I couldn't believe management gave in to his whining! No other ethnic group would have gotten away with it. And at work dealing with tons of Indians we find the head waggle and saying "actually" constantly very annoying! So can someone please tell me why why when they come here they know how to get everything for free, play the system and haggle and fight over getting a dime off of something?! I was stuck in line in Rite Aid 2 days in a row over Indians arguing with the cashier about some discount they thought they should have. One was a carton of cigarettes and the other people I don't know. I just know we had to wait behind them while they annoyed everyone and the poor cashiers were rolling their eyes and scratching their head. Please don't come here if you are gonna act like that!

  4. Awsome piece of information, I had come to know about your website from my friend vinod, indore,i have read at least seven posts of yours by now, and let me tell you, your blog gives the best and the most interesting information. This is just the kind of information that i had been looking for, i'm already your rss reader now and i would regularly watch out for the new posts, once again hats off to you! Thanks a ton once again, Regards, plug and play office space for rent in Kukatpally


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.