first thoughts about things you will find only in India
India is a little hard to understand on the first visit. It's incredibly large, chaotic and everything is a hustle. We visited Jaipur, which was no different as a whole though I've been told it's a lot less taking in than if I had stepped foot first in Delhi or Mumbai first. There's a lot of poverty in India. It certainly felt more evident than when we travelled through cities like Yangon, Phnom Penh or Manila. Buildings are often dirty and rundown, large and small buildings seem haphazardly clumped together on streets without much planning. Large gated bungalows occasionally sit next to dwellings that seem put together as a single rectangular room with a large family living in them. Bricks from half demolished buildings were strewn out on the streets, which were filled with piles of garbage just pushed up against the road. It's a hot mess.
But I loved Jaipur, and there's an appeal to India that's unmistakable. Our short trip gave us a glimpse into Rajasthan if not a whole lot, and I'm certainly going back for the camel safari in Jaisalmer, or to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra. Jaipur was a great starting point for a few things I wasn't used to seeing anywhere else.
Cars drive in the wrong direction
This one is a bit mind-blowing. In any given lane, junction, intersection or highway you never know if you're the one getting into an accident or causing the accident. Cars frequently criss-cross each other, cut lanes, serve between trucks and very often you'll see cars driving in the wrong direction towards you. On the way to the airport our driver took a short cut that cut through the wrong side of oncoming traffic (imagine being in the darkness with a horde of bright lights charging towards you), breezing through the lane without batting an eyelid while cars with their headlights bore down on us. Lines on the road are merely suggestions more than actual rules, and you'll see no one keeping to their lane any time you see lines on the road, if at all.
Classified ads for brides in the daily papers
I didn't quite know how to react to this one since arranged marriages were such an ingrained part of the culture. A schoolmate of mine actually had an arranged marriage, and she's happily married with two kids now. It was fascinating just seeing the process begin with a short paragraph highlighting the potential grooms' most selling points (H'some Goel Boy 5'11 own b'ness seeking educated girl from affluent family) or priorities for a bride (fair, slim, wkg veg girl). You could write worse on your Tinder profile.
Memes printed in the daily papers
Bringing digital pop culture to the masses, memes exist in the daily papers wholesale, like someone downloaded the pictures from the web and set them into the layout.
Barbers shave men on the street
Forget having a store, walls, or chairs. Men were seated cross-legged on the road in a long row in the middle of a busy roundabout, getting a close shave from a row of barbers while cars inched behind their backs. You could conduct any kind of business by the street - we saw food carts, florists, and fruit stalls - but the row of outdoor barbers was fascinating.
I know drivers honk as a road language and it's considerate most times. In India, it's almost a challenge. Every time our driver honked it was to tell another car to get out of the way and we were coming through. Mostly our driver forced the car through slivers between other vehicles: cars, trucks, motorcycles, honking away as if that gave right of way. Other cars would honk back at you and cars from behind will honk repeatedly to let you know they're over-taking you as well. It's loud, noisy, incessant and shockingly, you get used to it after the first day.
Typists with typewriters
For someone wholly tuned in to the digital space (yet even falling a little behind those who code), it was a nostalgic reminder of the typewriter when I saw these people set up by the road. Come to think of it I actually owned one when I was a child and I remember typewriters moving into an electronic phase for a very short time before computers took over globally almost immediately. My first and last typewriter was an electronic one. What did I type back then? Without the internet you were at the mercy of your imagination whatever you put on paper. There's apparently a decent living to be made as these guys type up everything from deeds and wills to agreements. Typists outside public courts also type up documents for junior lawyers and advocates. It's a fascinating read about why there's still demand for these typists in India, but it doesn't seem like it will last another decade.
Cows roam everywhere
Cows are sacred in Hindu culture thus revered in India. They're publicly fed and left alone to roam all the time. They frequently stroll beside traffic or INTO it, forcing vehicles to just dance around them.
the locals feed all the animals
Every type of stray animal is fed: dogs, goats, cows, chickens, even pigeons. We found large plots of land in the city center just strewn with pigeon food so the birds can gather in one place. In some of the attractions our guide told us it was to keep all the pigeon activity in one place at the end of the day so they wouldn't poop all over the attractions. Dubious about whether this seems to work but the buildings are relatively unscathed.
People aren't shy about staring
Got this quite often. When we were in Pushcar people stared openly at Shawn and I, just looking at us back and forth with large eyes. He was obviously recognised as sort of Indian (they could tell he was half Sri Lankan), and my hair being dyed almost white was as strange a sight as me being Chinese. When we were in a temple chatting with our guide one guy hovered around us for a long time before he gathered the courage to ask, "selfie?" And we all did.
Not everybody speaks English, even though English is very common in India. Bollywood films often have actors speak in Hindi with a smattering of English words or sentences thrown in. Our driver couldn't converse in English at all but he'd developed a catchphrase which he'd use with us all the time - "No worries, no tension!" he'd proclaim shrilly with a large grin and a tilt of his head, we'd laugh and agree.
This culture is so rich and magnificent that there'll be a lot more to pick up when we do India at length.
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