SOUTH INDIA - TAMIL NADU, KERALA, AND GOA...

Trip Start Jan 12, 2003
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Trip End Dec 20, 2003


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Wednesday, September 10, 2003

SOUTH INDIA - TAMIL NADU, KERALA, AND GOA...

There is no doubt, we are now in India. The flight from Singapore to Chennai gave us just four hours to contemplate what it was that we were about to get ourselves into. We felt as though each step through the airport was taking us that much closer to the lion's den. Completing the immigration and customs formalities, we picked up our bags, and headed over to the pre-paid taxi stand to arrange for our ride to the hotel - a ride which can be best described as nothing short of chaos. 10pm and the city was alive with people roaming about, but it was quite dark. Streetlights were either non-existent, or didn't work in most places. A fog of dust was thrown up by the vehicle traffic and the use of blaring high beams and horns seemed to be the norm. There was no pattern to traffic flow. If another car, truck, person, or cow didn't already occupy a forward spot it was decidedly fair game. What appeared to us as near misses with head on traffic was apparently just driving skills that only an Indian could possess. They say they drive on the left here, but in reality it seems to be on the left, right, and center.

We allowed ourselves a few days to adjust to our new world. As we left our hotel on day one, Jon managed to get pooped on by a bird and then, within the next five minutes, get splashed by a taxi as it passed through a large, muddy puddle of water. Welcome to India. It takes awhile to get used to things here. The feeling of those first few days is really hard to describe in words. To the Western eye, it appears as complete and utter madness. We were now in a land with a population of over 1 billion people. A population that speaks over 18 primary languages, practices numerous religions (Hindu being the most dominant), and eats many different types of foods. It is truly many countries within a country, and is a culture that is so diverse and complex that to the Western systematic way of living, it is hard to imagine how all of the pieces fit together.

So what have we learned so far? Well, firstly, the term "Holy Cow" certainly comes from India. They are everywhere. Viewed as sacred to the Hindus, they share space with the people and play an important role in their lives. Roaming the streets with an air that indicates that they must be aware of their status, they are often an obstacle to traffic, sleep wherever they please, and drop sizable brown piles that act as a smelly landmine should you be so unfortunate to step in one. Interestingly enough, these too are important. 10% of the population uses dry cow dung as fuel to cook with. That's over 100 million people folks. No kidding.

Secondly, there is no concept of a line in India. Should you need to purchase anything that involves others wanting to do the same, you have to prepare for battle. This goes for train tickets, getting on a bus, and even paying museum entrance fees. So what used to be sometimes a hassle for Jon in Southeast Asia, his stature comes in handy in India. Step in to the mass and throw the weight around. Bump, nudge, step on toes - anything less than bloodshed appears to be ok. Be the first to shove your money into the little opening of the clerk's cage or block out those around you and hop on the bus, and you're lining up like an Indian.

Thirdly, you should know that the Indians eat with their hands. Yes, utensils are often given to the foreign tourist, but not always. You feel as if you have reverted back to your infant years, and probably look as silly, the first few times you try it. Eventually, you get the hang of it, but not before having food half way up your arm, a smudge or two on your shirt, and a crowd of Indian onlookers either amazed that you are trying or wondering why you ever would.

Fourthly, riding in the public bus system is better than any amusement park ride. It works like this: You hop on the bus and try to find a seat. At some point, very soon after, the conductor will make his way towards you to sell you the fare to the destination of your choice. Provided you have a seat and got on the right bus, all you have to do now is hold on. Don't mind the near miss passes with oncoming trucks. Worry not about the cows and goats herding across the highway. Pay no attention to the potholes as big as meteor craters. Just think what the folks back home are paying at Six Flags for this type of excitement!

Lastly, bargaining is the method of doing business here. Be it a hotel room, a meal, or store shelf product, there is always a fudge factor when it comes to price. It can become so frustrating that you want to pull your hair out. Naturally, as a tourist, your price can be absolutely ridiculous. Liz has become quite adept at the whole process. She has even managed to get money back for services not rendered - a real coup in the Indian tourist market!

So, at this point, we have made our way along a good portion of South India, a tropical climate, complete with coconut palms, rice fields, and plenty of water. Our adventures are many, and include a trek through a wildlife reserve and a relaxing, overnight journey on a houseboat, converted from an old rice barge. We have visited portions of the country where Christianity is as nearly as strong as Hinduism, brought by explorers and merchants who often called on the western ports of India over a thousand years ago. And, naturally, we have enjoyed all the foods along the way. And lots of it.

The south is supposedly more relaxed than the north, but there has never been a dull moment yet. We can only imagine what is in store for us as we continue, but that will have to wait...

Until Next Time,
Jon and Liz
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