Why is India Incredible? Firstly, let’s talk about food, glorious food. We like food and we couldn’t wait to get stuck in! Curries like the spicy chettinad we had in Tamil Nadu, the tangy vindaloo in Goa, the crisp masala dosa, Keralan fish curry with its whole dried chillies, and the delightfully simple & tasty breakfasts we got in Kanyakumari and Udupi. Fresh fruit served at breakfast with thick creamy curd, the sweet chai delivered to your seat on the train and the crunchy samosas and other snacks that follow. If you must have western food then you can get very passable Italian, Chinese, healthy salads and chips, yes ‘chips’ not fries!! It’s not just the taste of food that get’s your buds going. Take in the scents from spice stalls at the market, the tantalising aromas of food emanating from every street corner and the sight of fresh fish as you walk past the restaurants.
Of course, India is more than just a food hit. Your sight is affected by stunning and clashing colours of the ladies in their saris and the amazing range and diversity of traditional and ethnic clothing. India loves colour, and bright clashing colours are everywhere - there’s no room for boring magnolia when you paint your house. We’ve seen some of the most stunning beaches to be found anywhere. From the balcony here in Kerala we can see the surf and hear the waves crashing against the shore. We can hear the fisherman chanting as they haul their nets. The sand on the beaches in Goa must be some of the whitest and scrunchiest on the planet. Nowhere have we been where the sand sounds like fresh snow when you walk on it.
We have met some lovely people. We arrived last November into Kolkata. Probably not the premier choice of people on their first long visit to India but we wanted to follow Cheryl’s roots so it made sense. The first people we met were our couch surfing hosts, Shaneel and her father Swaroop and later Avik and his family. Their hospitality and kindness was overwhelming. The people of Kolkata, despite all its inner city problems, were just getting on with their lives without any hassle to us. Even in the real touristy places we’ve had some hassle but we’ve had a lot worse in other countries. The people, and the fascinating conversations we’ve had with them, are definitely one of our highlights.
Whilst there are historic tensions between the two main religions, Hindus and Muslims, all we have seen is general tolerance and harmony. We have been blown away by the enormous number of temples, shrines, mosques and churches that we have seen. Religion and spirituality is very much part of everyday life. It seems to us that there’s a ‘festival a day’ going on somewhere, for some reason or another or just because it seemed like a good idea. Festivals are colourful, fun and noisy unlike going to church at home where services tend to be glum, gloomy events making you feel guilty for anything that you might have enjoyed. We’re woken by the Imam calling his people to prayer. Yes, it is at 5 a.m. but it’s gentle and lasts just a few minutes before you drift off back to sleep. Later in the day we hear a Hindu temple being more brash as it amplifies its religious messages.
India is packed with things to see and do. Historical sites like forts, palaces and a pink city. Natural beauties like the beaches and backwaters and we’ve seen some amazing wildlife, alas not a tiger. Visiting the Taj Mahal was so exciting and impressive, but meeting the people that lived in Taj Ganj was equally impressive. It was madness and it was dirty but the people made it very real and, strangely, intoxicating. How could it not be with cows, camels, pigs, goats and elephants walking the street and weddings that make more noise than Pink Floyd?
India wouldn’t be India without its quirks. Who remembers ‘Old Spice’ and ‘Brut’? They’re still available and Neil is currently using Old Spice shaving cream. There’s a thing called MRP or Maximum Retail Price. It’s fantastic, especially if you’re not very well off, as almost everything in the shops has an MRP printed on it. Then there’s the apparent lack of logic that used to drive us mad. Once you come to terms with it and realise that, hey, it’s India, and there is no logic, then it makes sense, or does it?? The national sport of India is cricket, isn’t it? No, the national sport is breaking rules! Yes, Indians love to break the rules which we sometimes find quite amusing, like queue jumping, and sometimes very scary, like jumping red lights when they’re driving. Finally, no quirk is bigger than the wobbly head gesture. It’s the answer to every question and we still trying to fully understand if it means ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘maybe’ or ‘all three’ it but it’s real, it’s charming and it’s fascinating.
This is why India is Incredible.