One of my colleagues in the US is originally from Chennai. When I asked him what to expect, he responded, “sensory overload.” Thank you for the tip, Sumith; you were spot on!
I was raised in a very small town. Well, it is a village really, with a current population around 4,200. That represents a good growth spurt from when I lived there. We had tons of space, and lots of peace and quiet. Sure we had the lovely manure odor coming from the fields during certain times of year, or my favorite smell of when they burn off the silos. Those are the only sensory memories I have from childhood.
India is the loudest, brightest, stickiest, most fragrant place I’ve ever visited. The cars, scooters, and rickshaws honk non-stop. I’ve been in my room for an hour tonight, and the longest span I’ve heard without horns is roughly 15 seconds. It is a complete assault on the ears that makes NYC sound like Montana. The thing is it isn’t angry honking. They tend to drive 5-6 autos wide on a 3-lane road, so the honking is more of a “hi, I am here, do you see me? can you let me by?” It is madness. Even crazier is the fact that both meals today were at spots down the road a ways, and required us to cross a road where the stoplight is for decoration only. Our guide just waves a hand and steps out into the road. We had the bright idea of sending our tallest guy out first each time, then the rest of us hurry behind him like ducklings. We must look hilarious. I even noticed a homeless person laughing at the sight of us. It is insane and fun.
The colors are amazing and stunning. I would like to pull the men here aside and tell them to try harder, because the women are a vision and the men are kind of blah. The saris and salwar kameez are every color under the rainbow, adorned with gold and white trim. The vast majority of women here are dressed this way. The men are mostly in jeans or mundus, with t-shirts or golf shirts. They need to up their game to match these gorgeous women. We stare in awe at all of the colors.
The humidity is overwhelming and unavoidable. If anyone wants to argue that dry heat is no better than humid heat, visit India. You will change your mind. The ladies laugh that our hair is uncontrollable and we all feel the need to shower after 5 minutes outdoors. The team has accepted that we are all in this together so no shame in sweating profusely or having hair that is 3 inches higher and wider than usual. Plus, who notices the sweat when we are all desperately trying to avoid becoming roadkill?
The smells vary from sweet to spicy to what can only be explained as a rest stop toilet. The flowers are beautiful and fragrant, and many women wear them in their hair. I was greeted at the airport with a jasmine lei that wilted too soon. It was lovely. Luckily I like Indian food very much, though my taste in cuisine is more in line with Northern India. Doesn’t matter. There are delicious smells coming out of every restaurant and street cart. I’m getting hungry just typing about it. The non-pleasant smells are as unavoidable as the humidity, but I find that very quickly you pass to somewhere that smells like cooking spices or flowers. One guidebook I read suggested carrying a handkerchief dipped in peppermint oil to avoid the smells. Since I am not from 1800’s Victorian England and am in danger of fainting from unpleasant odors, I’m focusing on the great smells instead. Wouldn’t want to miss those!
Time to go find some ear plugs as the honking continues. Good night!