India – part 1 (of 5)

The India of 2009 was somehow different from the one I’ve experience in 2004 (my first visit, which happened to be for business and was a whirlwind rushed affair). Our trip started and ended in Chennai (in the South), where smoking in public seems to be forbidden. Their definition and application of smoking in public (read: on street level) did not necessarily agree with my interpretation. Don’t get me wrong. I have absolutely no problem if your streets are neatly clean and there is ample provision for rubbish bins.

But alas, an elderly lady darts across an insanely busy street and tracks me down a side street, only to let me know that I am not allowed to smoke there. Was it just me, or did she not see the guy giving in to mother nature’s call (of the number two variety)? Is she oblivious to the constant spitting of the pedestrians (not necessarily exclusively reserved for males) and did she forget about the various steamingly fresh cow dung she had to navigate to get to me? To round it off, I got a health lesson in that my smoking is not just bad for my own health, but also for those around me. For real? Guess she gave up on the current generation and instead is placing her bets on the future of her children’s children then.

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Foreigners are not allowed to drive in India and for good reason. Chances are you do not want to in any case. In the run-up to obtain my own driver’s license years ago, I was taught that you need to use your vehicle’s horn primarily for emergencies. In India, however, it could mean any of the following:

  • I am here. Just take note. Don’t make any sudden moves. (Observed when drivers wriggle into impossible small spaces)
  • To whom it may concern: I am going to turn now. (Indicators seem by and large optional extra accessories only)
  • I am going to cross this industrious intersection now and will not be waiting for any traffic light (given there are any – we didn’t see too many)
  • I see you are in a hurry, but I reckon I am in more of a hurry. In your own time and when it suits you, please give way. Normally by the third horn “time” and “suits” line up and a fractional piece of the road becomes available
  • Hello. Long time no see.
  • Oh my, just realized I haven’t used my horn for a good few seconds. Best to quickly check if it is still in working order.

part 1 01

Any normal/Western three lane road can easily be equivalent to 5 or 6 Indian lanes. We hardly saw any accidents (or signs of it) as everything plays out at a maximum speed of 90km/h. We toured in a Toyota Innova 2.5 D-4D. One would be excused for assuming that overtaking should be swift and efficient, but fear not. At glacial pace, without any acceleration, we will overtake a vehicle in front of us … this now with a truck heading our way, whilst another truck is overtaking it and with an auto rickshaw overtaking the second truck. But the scene is not complete. Add goats, cows, pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles for definition and perspective. You and your adrenaline glands get use to this scenario after a while, as it plays out at a respectable 45km/h, or try to avoid it by continuing to read your guidebook or capture the otherwise beautiful photo opportunities – of which this country offers in abundance. How else do you think we took more than 3 000 photos?

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Working women mainly wearing salwar kameez (pants with a dress worn over it, accompanied with a matching scarf). The retina punishing traditional sarees (yards of brightly coloured fabric which is twirled around the body, yet always leaves a bit for bare stomach to showcase) are still worn, but for those who can afford Cosmopolitan or Vanity Fair, a plain denim and top suffice quite nicely. We only witnessed old men still wearing the iconic “Ghandi diaper” (for the lack of a better description). Dhoti’s (a short sarong) are worn by politicians, the wealthy, VIPs and the lower working class. Like the Scottish, one is not entirely sure if there any underwear (or “innerware” as they call it in India) involved. As a dress up, men can also be seen wearing a khurta (similar to kameez, but the fabric would be fancier). The rest of the male population – as it tends to go anywhere on the planet – care less about fashion or tradition and gets by with long pants and a buttoned long sleeve shirt.

Continue reading India – part 2 (of 5).