1. Feeling wholly unfamiliar with my surroundings.
2. The colors.
India overwhelmed and overloaded all of my senses almost all the time. Be it the decorative Hindu temples, images of vibrant deities in every nook and cranny, the radiant fabrics and garb, rainbow public buses and mustard yellow Ambassador taxis that look like they just drove back from the sixties, the street markets selling every item in every hue under the sun, the architecture painted so vividly, the jungly flavor of Kolkata, India was an unceasingly visually arresting experience.
3. The tumult and commotion of Indian metropolitan areas.
Walking down any given urban street in India is to be completely exposed to the loud and muddled noise of human mass existence. My direct experience of metropolitan India was hectic disorder, confusion, and chaos. Yet I never once witnessed a collision of people or cars. Veiled in unrest, India moved with such a flow and grace that swept me up and made my heart soar.
4. Chaiwallas and street food vendors.
India’s miscellany and brightness is epitomized by its street food. Chaiwallas brew hot, milky, spiced tea on chimneys poking out of sidewalks, samosas and other spicy doughy treats or sweets are sold for pennies at street stands. Street food and chai bursts with flavor and warms the soul in an instant.
5. The informal economy.
India’s informal economy is almost as active, and definitely as important, as its formal one. Almost any service can be hired on the street, bringing to light the creativity and practicality of the Indian population.
PacRim arrived in India at the height of the festival season in October. People flock to the street to perform pujas in worship of their Hindu goddesses. Statues at least four meters high are paraded through the streets in the beds of pickup trucks, followed by people dancing and making noise and offerings behind them. Hindus make great effort to establish visual connections with their gods, wherein they see the deity and the deity sees them.
Talk about colors. India’s fashion seemed to exist only in rich tones and bright shades. This is true of both men and women, who wear kurtas or saris. Ironically, most Pacrimmers bought vivid new wardrobes to avoid standing out.
8. The Ganga.
Varanasi, the city of Shiva, is one of the holiest cities for Hindus in the world. Their beloved mother goddess Ganga is a river running through it. In Hinduism it is believed if one dies in Varanasi — where he or she will be cremated on one of its burning ghats — one can achieve liberation. Therefore many thousands flock to this ancient riverside city to die, sometimes spending their whole life savings to get there. The Ganga, one of the most scientifically contaminated and polluted bodies of water in the world, is considered to be spiritually purifying and so, despite that sewage empties, the ashes of the deceased are scattered, and the dead bodies of lepers, pregnant women, children, and those bitten by snakes are sunk to the bottom, thousands bathe themselves in the holy waters everyday. The Ganga to me symbolized the ironies and contrasts I encountered in India everyday, its physical impurity concealed by its magnitude and magnificence in many facets of Indian daily life.
9. Public transportation.
India’s public transportation is full of character and characters. You can choose from squeaky grubby buses that look like psychedelic coaches from Magical Mystery Tour, mustard yellow 1950s-style Ambassador taxis (definitely without power steering), auto-rickshaws, pedi-rickshaws, trolleys that screech noisily down the street and look more like rolling prisons, or the metro. Love it!
10. Livestock everywhere.
In the streets and roads, on the river banks, in the countryside, or in the train station, livestock are everywhere.