A Travellerspoint blog

What is India like?

sunny 30 °C

When you travel a lot (as I do), almost inevitably, the 1st question people ask is "What is India like". And, usually, I struggle to reply.

So what IS india like?


Just astounding really.

I am sure other people's opinion would vary depending on whether they were male, female, western or eastern.

As a western woman I expected to find a few things different. And they are. You have a separate "ladies" security section at airports and, being light skinned, many of the kids and local ladies just want to touch you, talk to you or take your photo. Some of the men, yes it is true they can be a bit indelicate. But if you can put up with the urinating wheverer and whenever the urge takes them and the startling personal questions "why are you so fat?" you can have a great time. You just have to remember that when they ask something very personal, they do not mean to be rude it is just a different culture.

Some of the men do stare. But then again, I suppose I am staring at them a bit. Just remember ladies, don't make eye contact with male strangers and don't smile at them - it can be considered a come-on!

But if you take the time and make the effort to be friendly and open you will meet some of the warmest nicest people on the planet. Learn a bit of the language as well (even if it is just hello and thank you) it will make a huge difference.

I am also trying to learn a lot about the culture and religion so that I can better understand and not put my foot in it. I have been blessed in more temples than I can recall (and had the red dot on my forhead to prove it). I have the length of red string around my wrist from one of the priests and I would not dream of removing it. I have had henna designs up my arms (that took nearly 6 mths to fade) and have walked barefoot in places I would usually avoid. And it is all to the good. I have found that my open attitude has helped me learn even more and get answers to certain curiosities that I have had (the bindi - is there a "rule" for the size and shape? what is the meaning behind the different colours and shapes of the marks on forheads etc). My friends are all very willing to answer anything like this.

I also have my usual taxi driver. he is a young guy who works very hard as he has to provide for his 3 sisters until he gets them married off. So, he hasn't had a day off in over a year and openly admits to virtually living in his car. Yet he is happy. And it is a delight to see him waving and smiling at the airport. If we have a day trip out at the weekends I always request him as we can slip him a little extra cash and do himn some good. Once he actually said "if Madam has and problems, she calls Roshan and he comes immediately to help". Now what more can you ask?

It wasn't until i started doing this job and going to india, china, brazil, etc etc that I realised what differentiates all of these places more than anything else - the smell. Every country (with one exception - see later) has it's own specific smell. China smells of soy sauce and ginger, UK of chips and petrol fumes, brazil - roasting meat. India smells of dust and spice. The "curry" odours waft on every breeze and will assail your nostrils when you least expect them.

The only disappointing place was Dubai. I was quite excited to visit that city as I had only ever transitted the airport. So when I got the chance of a days guided tour I was really thrilled. Yeah, right. I just don't get why it is such a draw for people. It is sterile, false and uninspiring. A city of "conspicuous consumption". The buildings are put up by people with more money than the rest of us could even dream of and they just want to be seen to be doing it. The more money they spend on grass and flowers and keeping them alive the more important they seem to feel.

But the biggest disappointment was the smell - or lack of it. It is the only place I have visited so far that smells of absolutely nothing. As I said, it is sterile and featureless. yes, I know there are beautiful buildings but they seem to lack a soul. The Burj may be the tallest building in the world but it looks like what it is - a construction designed to be the tallest with no real aesthetic appeal. Now, if you see the petronas towers in KL (especially at night) they are magical and take your breath away. But the burj just didn't do it for me.

Also went to the end of Palm Jumeirrah where the Atlantis hotel is (it's multi million $$ launch heralded the start of the recesssion!). But it is like disney land. All pink and not impressive.

So I am now fiirmly of the belief that Dubai looks better from the air. I preferred Fujairah - much more normal.

Only question now is what to do with my many 000s of Emirates airmiles. Hmmm! I can see the airlines charity benefitting!

Posted by LellyM 20:59 Archived in India Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

Sleep - perchance to (sleep?)

Restless nights

rain 16 °C

Well, as anyone who has ever spent any amount of time in India will concur - the one big problem is sleep. The traffic never stops zooming around and pipping their damned horns.

AND my hotel room is next to some kind of power unit which hums and buzzes all night. It did stop from 3 - 5am but that was all so I am distinctly tired.

This morning was cool and damp. Foggy with a touch of rain - like being back in the UK but warmer.

But despite all of this I am glad to be here. I will change my room this weekend and will feel a lot happier.

My english colleagues despaired of me this am. I actually went down for breakfast and ordered my favourite - masala dosa. You should have seen their faces. You'd think i had asked for char grilled unicorn or something! They don't get the idea of eating something spicy for breakfast. Neither did I at first. Like them I would wrinkle up my nose and reach for the cornflakes. But after setting off at an early hour on a trip one time we stopped at a roadside "hotel" for breakfast and I had masala dosa and idli with sambal. Yum! The spice after an early morning (with a cup of the sickly sweet milky coffee - I usually drink espresso!) was like nectar. Since then I have been hooked.

Another foody fave is thali. Veggi thali usually comes with 7 or 8 small pots of different foods, some steamed rise, poppadoms and a few bits of pickle. It is a good way to taste a wide range of foods without the risk of getting a large portion of something you dislike.

Last night was bindhi do piaza (ocra / ladies fingers in a spicy tomato and onion sauce). Mmmm! Really good. A bit too spicy for some of my colleagues but I thought it was lovely.

Well, sorry if this is getting a bit boring atthe moment. We are going for a day out on Saturday so hopefully will have something funnier to report.


Posted by LellyM 20:23 Archived in India Tagged food Comments (0)

I'm Back!!

sunny 32 °C

Well, after a week back in the UK I am now back in India again.

Last night, while driving from the airport to the hotel I started to ask myself why I choose to leave my hubby and family in the UK and travel half way around the world to spend my time here in India. I don't have an answer. There is just something about this place that keeps bringing me back - I could say no but I don't.

I was delighted to see last night that nothing has changed. I got my usual warm greeting as I got off the plane - and this is just from my usual taxi driver.

As I said before, there are plenty of other blogs out there damming the Indian people for being sexist / unfriendly etc etc but this is not one of them. I am regularly amazed by the level of respect I get over here. Much more than I usually get in the UK. These guys are friends and they go out of their way to make me comfortable and happy.

So, I guess you would call me an Indiaphile. Just love it!


Posted by LellyM 22:30 Archived in India Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

The wonders of the Indian rail system

sunny 29 °C

Well, last week I experienced an overnight train journey in India for the 1st time ever.

Havign seen all the usual photos of clapped out locomotives with people hanging off in all directions I have to confess i was not looking forward to it. Worst was the thought of what the toilet facilities could be like (they aren't the best in the UK!). But I went for it. Sometimes it is good to even have a bad experience to look back on.

I was surprised by what I found.

it did help that I was boarding in a small town with an uncrowded platform (not like Bangalore or Mumbai). We found our carriage. There was no 1st class on the train so we were in 2nd class air con sleeper.

Initially thought there were 3 layers of bunk beds and decided it would be like being in a coffin. But as it turned out it was 2 layers so there was loads of space. As long as you have no sense or embarrasment about effectively sleeping with a load of strangers it is fine. You get a pile of bed linen (of dubious origin and cleanliness - smelled a bit funky) but as long as you remind yourself you are sleeping fully clothed it is ok. Then to all intents and purposes you kip down on a bench. It was a bit like a cross between a mobile youth hostel and a jail cell.

The 1st journey I think i slept about an hour in total (of a 10 hr journey) but most of that was due to the noise of the air con fan and the feeling I was going to fall on the floor every couple of mins. But on the way back I got quite a decent sleep and woke feeling refreshed.

The loos were a bit grim. I am used to Arabic squat toilets anyway but on a rocking train when you can see the track beneath you it is a bit odd. The western style one wasn't much better. Just had a metal loo over the hole in the floor.

But I have to confess, if I was asked to do a train journey again I would. BUT I would take a small towel to cover the pillow up (and maybe my own sheet).

Happy travelling.

L x

Posted by LellyM 01:06 Archived in India Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Blogging Virgin Here!

Well, I thought I'd join in.

sunny 30 °C

Well, as the title suggests, this is the first time I have even considered blogging about my manic travelling. I have been thinking about it for a while but always wondered if anyone would actually be interested. But decided today, why the heck not!

As the blog name suggests, I am not a travel professional but I am a professional who travels A LOT. A 40 something professional woman in a man's world (heavy engineering) who spends large amounts of time in Asia, South America, USA, Europe (so far, pretty much everywhere except Africa). I generally travel alone and to be honest I prefer it that way.

So, if I start this sorry tale in 2010. I was originally scheduled to spend 3 months in India. Then, over Christmas, I was asked to go to Brazil for a couple of days. Now this may sound insane but it isn't the shortest time I have spent there - that was 24 hrs. That week I went in to work all day Monday, flew Monday night, got to Brazil Tuesday lunchtime, left weds lunchtime, got home Thurs night and was back in work on Friday. THAT was manic. 24 hours in Stockholm was bad but Brazil - that was a 13 hr flight.

So, having tootled over to Brazil in January I was back with my family for 1 week before heading out to South India.

I am just finishing month 1 of being here and as always, I love it.

I know others have complained about the reaction they get being single women in India. I haven't really noticed anything like that. OK, I am over 6ft tall and built like a wrestler so maybe that puts people off a bit but?????

The oddest thing I have found is the reaction fo women and children. They want to touch your arm - just a quick "accidental" brush. I was visiting a temple recently and managed to silence all of the screaming babies just by smiling at them. The mothers were very pleased. The older kids (6 - 8 yr old) just stood open mouthed and stared. Then they wanted to shake hands. It was amazing. I think they are not used to a tall white woman, wearing a Ganesh pendant, barefoot, queueing up to visit a temple and be blessed.

The locals also are terrified incase you get anything too spicy. I try to tell them that spice is not a problem for me but still, I feel they are toning it down.

As the hotel i am using at the moment has a nice looking pool I decided to investigate what I should wear to swim as I have never seen any women in the water. It seems that basic normal clothing is the thing! So I will be buying a swimsuit and wearing it with a T shirt and long shorts. Suits me! I'm not a person to reveal acres of flesh anyway.

Tonight promises to be a whole new experience. I am taking a local train on an overnight 10hr trip south. I won't be alone. One of my (male) work colleagues is coming with me but having seen some documentaies about Indian train travel I am a little apprehensive.

One tip I would give any budding traveller. Even if you are not a polyglot like me (I love languages and get frustrated when I can't speak them), please learn to say Hello and Thank you in the relevant local language. I guarantee it will get you a surprised expression, a broad smile and better service (well it does in Tamil Nadu!).

Well, that's about it for now. If you want to know anything please let me know and I will do my best to answer.

Happy Travelling.

L x

Posted by LellyM 10:55 Archived in India Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

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