India: Scene Eight — Miscellaneous

5 11 2011

Mostly about miscellaneous things

  • Smells – I can’t speak for all of India, as we really only traveled in Northern India and really only a few places in this huge country, but I know before I left I had a few people talk to me about how it smelled. The most obnoxious smell, to be honest, and the thing that puzzled me the most was that British Airways sets off a spray in the plane as some sort of sanitization process before and after you leave India. I felt like I was in a gas chamber. The attendants walk up and down the aisle with hairspray-sized cans and spray the entire cabin as you are sitting there breathing it in. They say it has been approved by some health board and it isn’t bad for you, but seriously, how can it not be? I was not impressed with that. As for the places we visited, it isn’t what I thought it would be, like an assault on my senses; there is a just a unique combination of scents that I mostly noticed when I would reopen my suitcase; it had a sort of polluted smell. Varanasi smelled the worst as there were way more cows and way more smoke in the air from the Pujas and from the cremations, after that I really felt smelly and dirty.
  • Language – there was no problem communicating. Many people are at least bilingual with Hindi and English both being official languages, and you can almost always find someone who speaks English. That isn’t to say it wasn’t hard to understand at times; you might both be speaking English but depending on where you place your emphasis, or if you do or do not roll your “r’s” you might look at each other puzzled. And the Indian head nod is something to get used to, so when you think you are in agreement, you might want to ask three more times if you actually understand each other. Three is the magic number.
  • Food was a-m-a-z-i-n-g and overabundant. We stopped eating lunch just so we could enjoy dinner because Alecia was overfeeding us! I loved all the Chai breaks (yum), the garlic Naan, the rice and chick-pea dishes, the strangely fined-boned chicken (odd that there are no cats around, you make your own conclusions), the spices, the Lassi (thickened, sweetened Water Buffalo milk, tastes a bit like sweet yogurt), Fresh Sweet Lime Soda, Kheer (like rice pudding), the curries, the custard apples, the bananas straight off the tree, the Samosas, Aloo Paratha (stuffed naan eaten at breakfast), barfi (kind of a fudge), black bean dal, and the list goes on and on. It wasn’t overly spicy and everything was cooked fresh to perfection. Now, having said that, after a while a lot of things tasted the same to me. There is a combination of spices they use (masala) that is in everything, and to my palate, made things taste the same.
  • Two things you must carry with you: Toilet paper. If you travel to India, take at least 1 package of travel sized Kleenex for every two days you are there. Trust me, you will thank me. Water: always have bottled water; I was constantly thirsty, especially when I first arrived and you must only drink bottled water, unless you are like Alecia and think worms are your friends.
  • Indian Pit Toilets are a good thing. It is really funny how western women react when they go to use the toilet and realize it is a pit toilet: they all take a step back and go “oh” and ask if there are any western toilets nearby. I have to admit, I felt the same but knew that using one was inevitable and came to appreciate the little ceramic hole in the floor, mostly for cleanliness. The fact that you don’t have to touch anything is actually GREAT. Technique is everything and that’s all I am going to say about that. If you want to know more, email me 🙂
  • Does no mean no in India? There are too many people and too few jobs in India so you find 5 Indians doing what should only take one person to do. This means that there are a lot of eyes watching everything you do as well, so get used to a lot of random people telling you what to do or what not to do. The thing I found curious is that they will say, “no,” with no explanation. They will say, “Ma’am no” but not tell you why or if this is a special circumstance “no” or whether things will be changing shortly or if it was for your safety only or if it is an actual rule.  They just say “no” and mostly ignore you if you ask questions (perhaps that is the only English word they know?).  So “no” might only mean “no” to that person at that time at that place and “yes” if you just walk two feet ahead and try it again. Random.
  • Continuing on the random rule changes, we had flights purchased through a Canadian travel agent for some travel within India but when we got there the agent wanted to see the credit card that was used when the flight was purchased. This was impossible because we didn’t even purchase them, someone did it for us. But this was a new rule in India and they would not let us fly. So Paul had to re-purchase the flights on his credit card, and save all the info to hopefully get a refund of the other flights. You might want to keep that in mind when you travel if you prepurchase flights. Then again, the rules might randomly change again. One must be flexible in India.
  • Cinema’s in India are waaaaaaaaaaaaay better than Canadian Cinemas for these reasons: big reclining seats, waiters who come and serve you during the movie, and intermissions so you can go to the bathroom.
  • Henna-head – I thought it was so strange, all these people walking around with unnaturally reddish/orange hair (men and women). This is the Indian way of covering up grey hair, to dye it with henna. It has been used to dye many things in India for the past 6,000 years so it isn’t a habit likely to change soon.
  • Hotels – the hotels we stayed in were mostly modern (Indian modern) and mostly air conditioned (though some places only had the possibility of air conditioning) and hot water (which you sometimes had to call down for). They quite often had wifi and decently comfortable beds, and television (mostly Bollywood). There are some pretty sketchy places you could stay, but we were well taken care of. We did have some funny things happen, like one morning we were served chai and we noticed on the paper liner on the tray there were two distinct footprints of a cat (again, cat in the kitchen, fine boned chicken, is there a connection?) You just try not to think too much about that; cheers!
  • Seatbelts – none in rickshaws and seldom in taxis. Usually the front passenger seat in a taxi has a seatbelt which you will want to use…I know it saved us a lot of grief one particular day.
  • Markets – loved the Indian markets – Dilli Haat, Khan market, Sarojini Nagar, Vasant Kunj – I can’t remember where else we went but it is so much fun exploring the markets and bargaining. We also had henna designs done on our hands and had a fish pedicure (you put your feet in a fish tank and a swarm of fish eat away at your dead skin, followed by a pedicure/massage), and ate some extremely sweet treats made by street-side vendors (Jalabe, too sweet for me).

I will be adding to this list as I recall other miscellaneous things worth mentioning.

— Teresa Klassen

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