‘Sensory Overload’: 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 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?! 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.

Cow relaxes on the beach in Goa

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 aircrafts 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.

You can find true kindness in India. First time on Indian train, safely ensconced in 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 stations names are being announced over tannoy 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. 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 trains estimated arrival time at 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 has a stranger gone so far out of their way to help me before.

India makes you 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 cousins 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.

Dhavari slum Mumbai – never smelt anything worse

India smells. 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 are employed with the purpose of cleaning this mess but with insufficient equipment it’s a hard toil, wouldn’t a better answer be for the mess not to be made in the first place?

Sunset at Palolem Beach Goa

So 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 get round to updating this blog. I hope you enjoy the ride too

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Posted on November 24, 2010 by Jayne in First Impressions

12 Responses to ‘Sensory Overload’: Impressions of a first timer in India

  1. Reply
    Vippie November 24, 2010

    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

  2. Reply
    Miss G November 24, 2010

    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

  3. Reply
    Vippie November 24, 2010

    @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

  4. Reply
    Caroline in the City November 24, 2010

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

  5. Reply
    Miss G November 24, 2010

    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?

  6. Reply
    Caroline in the City November 24, 2010

    Jan 20! Very soon!

  7. Reply
    Heather November 26, 2010

    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!

  8. Reply
    Miss G November 26, 2010

    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

  9. Reply
    seabass43 April 7, 2011

    "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!

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