Impressions of a first-timer in India
Asia

‘Defying Logic’: Impressions Of A First-Timer In India

I am a terrible blogger, it has taken me hours to write this post. When it comes to writing my thoughts and feelings about being a first-timer in India I am at a loss for words.

India is a sensory overload. India is fascinating, enticing, charming, beautiful, shocking, repulsive, suffocating and smelly. All at once. All day long.

India defies logic

In Kerala we were charged a toll to use a road, and then immediately had to swerve around a crater the size of the moon. What exactly was that toll for? Certainly not road maintenance.

The roads contain lane markings, but why stick to your lane when you have a horn? Drivers stop for no man, woman or child; cyclists are screamed at to move out the way. Cities come to a standstill, however, if a cow fancies grazing in the middle of the carriageway.

India has humour

Goa airport, about to check in, power abruptly fails. Probably one of the last places you would want faulty electricity, especially if it is your aircraft’s turn on the runway.

“You look alarmed madam,” says the counter clerk to my terrified face, “Don’t worry, it happens all the time. This is what we call saving energy.” His face has a big grin and he wobbles his head enthusiastically.

India is kind

You can find true kindness in India though.

First time on Indian train, safely ensconced in an AC carriage, far from the poor passengers in the sleeper carriage who crane their heads through the window bars to catch a tickle of a breeze. It’s getting dark and none of the station names are being announced as we pull into them. We have no idea what time we need to get off or what stations are immediately prior to ours. The couple in the compartment with us overhear our confused conversation. The man picks up his mobile and phones a friend. He begins scribbling names and times and hands me a breakdown of the 3 stops before ours and the train’s estimated arrival time at each of these stations. On their departure from the train they ask the guard to come and find us when we reach our station – just to double check we get there safely. Never before has a stranger gone so far out of their way to help me.

India is uncomfortable

Still on the train. The most helpful couple in the world get up and leave. They have travelled from Bangalore where they work in a call centre for General Electric and have made the 10 hour journey down south for their cousin’s wedding. Swapping life stories, comparing cultures, for a rare few minutes we feel relaxed and comfortable in this strange country. Until they are gone and the man in the next compartment uses this opportunity to pull out a bed opposite me, lie on it, put one hand down his trousers and stare at me determinedly. I get up and close my curtains. He swings around so that his head is at the opposite end of the bed where there is a gap I cannot cover. My skin crawls for the remaining 2 hours of the journey.

India is smelly

From the slums to the beaches you cannot escape the litter and faeces. Cows defecate on the beach, men shit all over the train tracks, stray dogs piss wherever they like and the crows swoop down and eat it all. Delightful. Hundreds seem to be employed to clean this mess but with insufficient equipment it’s a hard toil, wouldn’t it be better not to make such a mess in the first place?

India is a disaster for the nose but a feast for the eyes. India has beauty – the food, the clothes, the backwaters, the temples. It’s also a place full of love – familial, religious, open and devotional.

I’m still reeling and recovering from my intense introduction to the beast that is India but I cannot wait to relive the highs, the lows, the sights and smells of my amazing trip through Mumbai, Goa and Kerala when I work out how to write about it.

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

15 Comments

  • Reply
    Vippie
    November 24, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Your Blog, What I Should Say, Gives A Realistic Picture Of India, From A Foreigner.. Which Esp The Negative Points, Indian Themselves Wish To Ignore.. But They Are Facts. But India Gives Shock To Anyone Even To Indians Itself. Sometimes Positively Or Negatively.Visitors Esp From Abroad Are Often Met With Curiosity. But Indians Are Generally Helpful And Will Definitely Try To Help You Even If They Are Not Getting Your Language.India Is Often Called "Unity In Diversity" Due To Diversified Nature, Which Are Mix Up Of So Many Factors And That's Why India Can't Be Known By One Random Factor..At Last, I'd Hope Those Who'll Get Enlighten By Your Fantastic Blog Regarding India Will Give India A Try And Will Let Themselves to Get "Shocked" By India.. I Enjoyed It Throughly And Felt Like I'm Having India Tour.. As You May Know, We Indians Even Are Not Fully "Aware" About Whole Country And That's Because As It says "India's Get Changed In Every 100Km, By Food, Culture And Language".I'd Again Suggest You To Have Another Indian Tour Esp Northern, Central And North-East Parts To Know About "Other" Different India..-Vipul Dwivedi

  • Reply
    Miss G
    November 24, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Thank you so much for your comment Vipul and your continued support. I also hope people are inspired to explore India as it is a fascinating country and so hard to put into a few words. I will definitely be writing more about the beautiful parts and moments of my trip over the next few weeks and hope that this post does not sound too negative – often it is the 'shocking' things which stick out most prominently in your mind rather than all that is good. I can't wait to see more of the North and Centre in light of some of the more touristy parts I have seen. I will look forward to your advice when I do 🙂

  • Reply
    Vippie
    November 24, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    @Miss G: I'd Suggest You To Try To Write Your Expereinces The Way You Had Them. Because It's Of No Use To Make "Rosy" Picture Of Them.. If Its Positive, Present It That Way Or Vice Versa.We Indians Esp The "Responsible" Ones Are Really Concerned About Our Country's Image Among Tourists Esp From Abroad.. Often We Ask Any Tourists We Met, That How They Found India.. And Try To Solve The Complexities Of India' Core Nature, If Any Of The Visitors Unable To Get Them..So Further If You Come Up With More Articles On India, Try To Keep Their Realistic Points Alive, Without Worrying About Sounding Too Negative Or Too Positive..Best Wishes

  • Reply
    Caroline in the City
    November 24, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Great post! India sounds amazing (despite the smells and creepy train man). Where are you headed next?

  • Reply
    Miss G
    November 24, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    haha thanks – it was an experience to say the least. I am London based for a few weeks now – got a back log of posts to write up – and then will be visiting San Diego for the first time at the end of Jan. When do you head to Oz?

  • Reply
    Caroline in the City
    November 24, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Jan 20! Very soon!

  • Reply
    Heather
    November 26, 2010 at 10:31 am

    India has topped my list of places to visit after Australia and this post has only helped it maintain its top position. I know it's going to be sensory overload but I can't wait to experience everything India has to offer. Thanks for keeping that spark alive!

  • Reply
    Miss G
    November 26, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Thank you for your comment Heather and I am so pleased to hear you are inspired to visit India. I had been obsessed with the place for ages and it certainly didn't disappoint. It's really great to know I have sparked someone else's interest too. All the best x

  • Reply
    seabass43
    April 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    "This is what we call saving energy.”Hahaha, that statement is so perfectly India. This post encapsulates all that is India, the highs, the lows, the smells. India is a crazy, crazy place, one that you can love and hate all at the same time. Great post!

  • Reply
    My 7 Links « 40 countries before I'm 30
    August 14, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    […] My Most Controversial Post – Sensory Overload: Impressions of a First Timer in India […]

  • Reply
    Best travel blogs – our 25 favourites « 101 Holidays blog
    August 25, 2011 at 10:51 am

    […] she’s visited, always with an honest undertone with which anyone can identify. Check out her first impressions of India and her story of sprinting for the last ticket for a Catamaran in […]

  • Reply
    » How to survive Indian train travel » 40 countries before I'm 30 40 countries before I'm 30
    January 26, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    […] a foreigner, especially a woman, will probably be point of interest for other passengers. I wrote previously about how I experienced both extreme kindness and discomfort whilst on an Indian train. I believe […]

  • Reply
    Susan Taylor
    February 19, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    I just got back from India myself, hence my interest in your post.
    I feel exactly the same, it’s sensory overload 24/7 …. And when you’re on a tour, changing hotels every two days with multiple pre-dawn excursions, it can be totally draining.
    As for trying to describe it to westerners, I too, am at a loss.

    So many thanks for your posting.

    • Reply
      Jayne
      February 19, 2014 at 7:58 pm

      It’s another world isn’t it? I felt like I needed another holiday just to get over it. But the longer I was away, and more I thought back about the trip, the more I want to return.

  • Reply
    Megan
    July 29, 2016 at 6:31 am

    I am in India now and it is my 3rd day here.You are not lying about the sensory overload. From the moment I stepped out of the airport I knew, firsthand, India would be a totally new and different experience of travel for me. Luckily, I am stay in Rao Bikaji Camel Safari in Bikaner, where the room is clean and comfortable and the staff is so helpful. The owner, Yogi, not only advises me on what to see, but he also accompanies me at times to show me around his hometown. Although I am still adjusting to the smells, heat, animals and rubbish in the streets, and their way of driving I know that all these things are a part of India’s magnetism to tourists like us. Love your article!!

Leave a Reply

shares