Cows, dirt, colour, danger: why you should travel India
But look both ways when crossing the road.
Not gonna lie – was scared of everything in India; I genuinely feared death because that’s the impact the Daily Mail has had on me. I thought I might become a victim of an acid attack or get brutally attacked on a bus. And if I wasn’t attacked on a bus then I’d probably be hit by one on the murderous roads. Death by Delhi belly was a serious consideration every single time I brushed my teeth with tap water and I certainly wouldn’t have been surprised if air pollution tried to choke me in my sleep.
Seriously – India. The place was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before… and I hung out with meth heads in high school. It was unhygienic, unsafe, unfriendly. It was depressing, exhausting, and really got quite heavily on my nerves. People constantly stared at me like I was about to perform some sort of trick, or glared at me as if I’d just punched their mum. They pushed and they shoved; they lingered around me and made absurd demands. I couldn’t trust a bloody word anyone said because they were constantly trying to bamboozle me and take my rupees.
I felt like they were suspicious of me for being the only strawberry blonde around for miles – and I was certainly suspicious of them for scavenging through piles of rubbish. The streets of Delhi and its tired and sad looking inhabitants made me feel more uncomfortable than I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
But then I was forced to woman up.
Bloody hell, who owns that cow? Oh, who owns that herd of cows? That guy’s just having a bath. Monkey on a leash! Wow, what a colourful mess. I smell curry. Now I smell shit. Gosh, she’s beautiful. That looks dangerous. Why are his pants down? Yum, papadums.Well that’s very unhygienic. Hmm more kids with garbage. How am I going to cross this flipping road? I’ll cross when this guy crosses. Bicycle, auto-rickshaw, motorbike, car, car, bicycle, rickshaw, auto-rickshaw, car, bus, cow, motorbike, car, rickshaw, bus…
WHAM! CRASH! BANG!
Okay, don’t panic, you just got hit by a motorbike carrying a family of four.
I had literally, literally, been on Delhi’s streets for less than ten minutes. And while the error of not looking was totally my fault, it was completely India’s fault for not taming the rickshaws, elephants, trucks, luxury SUVs, bicycles, camels, five-seater motorbikes, cows and buses that battle it out each day. Someone needs to write a strongly worded letter to the council.
I’m not sure if I’m a descendent of Chuck Norris or not, but my iron trunks saw me come out totally unscathed from the incident. In fact, I had forced two of the young family members off the back of the bike.
‘I’m SOOO sorry!’ I bleated at them like the biggest panicked loser in the world.
‘You stupid idiot! Look both ways….at least 27 times before you cross a road!’ I’m sure they thought.
As if my foreignness wasn’t drawing enough attention, now my idiocy had attracted the eyes of every man, woman and starving holy cow on the street. I put my scarf over my head and ran away with my friend Luke – who was in can’t-effing-breathe stitches – in tow.
There was a silver lining on the menacing wheel of that motorbike though. Because now that I had held my ground, not been killed and shown India who’s boss, I was able to open the doors into my mind and let the madness in.
Fear now churned with an abundance of other feelings. There was sadness about the fact that children wandered alone among the traffic gesturing for food. And there was anger about the mangey dehydrated dogs standing lifelessly in small corners of shade. But then there was happiness brought on by the colours and smells, and beautiful dynamics between people. And when a woman in a colourful sari stopped to scream at a man for spraying us both with a nasty smelling perfume, I felt a total sense of you-go-girl.
With my new found receptiveness, the mixture of people, languages, religions and sculptures of cow shit started to catch my attention and draw me deeper into the unique culture. It also helped a lot that I was with Luke, one of the funniest people I know. He was good at engaging in banter with locals – whether that was accusing them of trying to pull one over us with prices, or trying to haggle a good price to get a photo with me, his “wife”.
India is a colourful, over-populated mess. It’s home to every type of human you can imagine and in a backwards way, it’s also very welcoming to every type of human you can imagine. It’s safe to say that I love India with all of my heart – and with all of my pollution-riddled lungs and clogged respiratory system too.
Here are 5 reasons why:
1. I’m a big deal in India
I’m not exaggerating when I say that almost everywhere I went people stared at me – they often had to double take – as if I had a bowl of delicious masala for a head or something.
People wanted me in their photos; they wanted me to hold their babies and pose with their children, join them in selfies or hack an unannounced camera flash in the face.
I felt like a giant albino Goddess in a headscarf. They were fascinated by me the same way I was with my adopted Chinese cousin as a kid; she would visit my rural hometown of white people and I’d think that was just great.
My ability to attract fans eventually made the staring and glaring make sense too; they didn’t want me to perform tricks at all, it’s just instinctive to look at something that stands out.
Unfortunately some stares just look like glares if you sport a natural resting bitch face.
2. Guru & Bollywood
Guru, darling! What.a.guy.
I was a bit nervous about meeting him because he was from the internet and I still haven’t gotten over the days where meeting someone from the internet was asking for a computer nerd stalker. But for the sake of the blog and cultural experience, I took my chances on the self-proclaimed fabulous gay make-up artist in Delhi.
And boy was I glad I did. He was just as fab as he promised. And fun. and FUNNY (my favourite).
Guru was quite clearly one of the coolest cats around with his pink and orange hair and ability to P-A-R-T-WHY? without a drop of alcohol in his bloodstream. He has a whole bunch of babe’n Bollywood hags he is the fag to; they go out on the regular and put everything they’ve got into having the best time ever.
He took us to a couple of clubs which played a selection of pop music, Bollywood music and pop-Bollywood-mash-ups. Luke and I completely let our hair down while Guru strapped his up in a turban; he showed us a side of India we probably would have otherwise missed.
Getting around as a tourist in India, with no local friends, is fine but you kind of make the assumption that what you see is what you get. A lot of clubs, restaurants and hotels not only have exteriors that camouflage with surrounding ramshackle buildings, but they’re few and far between too.
I had such a fun time that night, and despite me rejecting one of his friend’s advances and Luke turning into an absolute creature after one too many tequila shots, Guru’s only complaint was that I gave money to young boys who were only going to use it to buy cigarettes.
‘No, Jess! Give them food only, Jess.’
After we got home at 5am and slept until 2pm, Guru and his brother then got us up and took us to a Sikh temple where we were introduced to another interesting facet of someone’s Indian lifestyle.
Guru is easily the best Punjabi Sikh Make Up Artist around. Represent.
3. Chai and curries
Me & Luke: Oh, we would kill for a coffee right now.
Indians: Yes, no problem. Chai?
Me & Luke: Do you have coffee?
Indians: Yes, Sirs, we have chai.
Me & Luke: Okay, chai.
And off they went on their merry way to make chai tea from scratch for 20 minutes. We would overdose on it almost every morning because it was so sweet and delicious and milky. Now I’m addicted to it in London. And although Guru’s brother did teach me how to make it like an Indian, well, you know, Twinings does bags.
The overdose was also to do with the fact that it was our only source of breakfast. Convenience food is not something India does on scale. If we didn’t come across somewhere reasonably sanitary to eat during the day, we often went hungry until we did. And then the food we did trust not to poison us was usually tremendously spicy like those meatballs people rant about in Italian accents.
One night we actually found ourselves sitting cross-legged on the floor of our hostel, sizing up the food on our spoons and singing “Damn you’s a spicy bitch, a spicy bitch. Damn you’s a spicy bitch, a spicy bitch.”
The next day we had stomach cramps and regret.
4. Monkeys get their own temples
While Luke complained that I really needed to stop giving his food away to beggars, I complained that people needed to stop giving beggar’s food away to monkeys.
They were, as Luke put it, “human-like rats” living off delicious peanuts, while real people went hungry on the streets. I didn’t really feel right about that, I thought they seemed a bit arrogant.
We had to battle past them to get to the Sunset Temple to watch the sunset with Baba (priest). Too often a pink-bummed little idiot would try and attack us, Luke would use me as a shield while I looked on puzzled and our guide went all monkey magic; running at them, kicking and punching the air with loud shrieks.
My suspicions about the monkeys were confirmed when the little cunts stole my Havianas. I had to borrow the tour guide’s shoes to get back down the hill and I wanted to break monkey bones for the rest of the afternoon.
5. It makes your appreciate everything you have
I felt like a bit of a jerk for a lot of the trip; watching hungry people beg while I drank cold beer was one particular jerky moment. But when I brought this up with Luke he gave me a bit of advice:
“You don’t have to feel like a jerk, you just have to recognise and appreciate that you’re from a privileged background. And don’t sulk about little things like stolen shoes. From now on, everything must be thought of as spilt milk.”
And then we smoked more shisha and sipped more chai.
Just more photos as I don’t know what to do with them….