After spending a month and a half in Northeast Asia’s comfort and efficiency, many of us were certainly thrown out of our comfort zones in the transition to India. While it would be a mistake to overemphasize the extent of ‘Westernization’ or cultural similarities to the West in Japan and China, they both share an element of infrastructural development and cleanliness that lends an air of familiarity to me as a Westerner. Parts of India certainly diverged from this and we departed from a world of orderly traffic laws and convenient crosswalks and entered one where traffic lights and lanes were obligatory at best and vehicle horns seemingly have their own language.
Navigating transportation that seemed quite disorderly and chaotic to a Western traveler was different than anywhere I had previously been. Riding in taxis to school or using the famed tuk-tuks (motor rickshaws) was at first a terrifying experience (there were several occasions where I thought that a collision with a cow was imminent), but eventually the exoticness wore off, and I became more accustomed to the Indian version of traffic. Nonetheless, we certainly got the attention of Varanasi locals when we decided to pack three people into a traditional rickshaw powered by a peddler who must have had the most toned calves in Uttar Pradesh.
Another fascinating way to navigate India was simply by walking down the street. For me, India was an assault on all five of the senses, and this could be perhaps best found on the street with stimulations such as incense, car horns, music, colors, Goddesses, child beggars, and food stalls simultaneously striking my sense organs. It was a place with so much life that was certainly a lot to take in, absorb, and process, but was one of the reasons why India resonated deeply with me; I had found a place that ‘knocked me off my feet’ and threw me somewhere that, for the first time on Pac Rim, really felt like a foreign (in every meaning of the word) place.