International Development student shares her experiences in India

Monday, February 13, 2012

  • Photo Credit: Nathalie Gingras

    Photo Credit: Nathalie Gingras

  • Photo Credit: Nathalie Gingras

    Photo Credit: Nathalie Gingras

  • Photo Credit: Nathalie Gingras

    Photo Credit: Nathalie Gingras

  • Photo Credit: Nathalie Gingras

    Photo Credit: Nathalie Gingras

After collecting our bags and having a brief sleep in our hotel (with was minimalist to say the least, though only slightly less than what I expected), we awoke to a breakfast of bananas, toast and chai. I'm thinking, 'Okay, I can handle this. Time to test out my aqua-tabs.' Purified some tap water from the hotel (I'll get to that in a bit) and we hit the road. A small group of us wandered around for about 20 minutes, 10 of which were spent just trying to get across the street. Finally, we decided to brave the menacing streets and Chennai and hop into a rickshaw.

Our rickshaw driver was incredibly friendly (and proficient in English) and gave me a great first impression of people in India, which has not been diminished. He spent the next four hours showing us his city. I could spend quite some time telling you about the driving in India, but basically imagine this: no distinct lanes, vehicles of all sizes and shapes with all kinds of passengers driving at breakneck speeds nearly directly towards each other, all while refusing to slow down and laying on their horns (most of which are the squeezy bike-horn types), yet somehow always managing to just barely miss a collision. It's pushy, it's brave, it's insane, it's likely the most dangerous thing I've ever witnessed but it gets a LOT of people where they want to go and FAST.

Anyways, we stopped at a mall which was the freakishly similar to any mall in Canada (though built upwards not outwards) and we visited churches, a school, monuments and walked along the beach. The beach looked like something from a tourist brochure; blue water and skies, white sand and palm trees, but there was SO much litter, fishing nets and boats strewn left right and centre, and no locals to be seen except a small group of children splashing in the surf. Our driver took us to a small vegetarian restaurant for lunch, where we were immediately ushered to a private back room with A/C..not exactly sure why, but we often seem to segregated from locals at restaurants.

Later in the afternoon we met up at the hotel and took a bus 3 hours South to Pondicherry, which gave us phenomenal sights of rural India: rice paddies, the ocean, small rural villages, salt marshes and a breathtaking sunset. This is what I took in during the 10-20 minutes I managed to stay awake...by that point I was feeling pretty rotten overall (I'm guessing the hotel water did me in). I stumbled up to our hotel room at 7pm and slept until the next morning. No love lost, India!

Yesterday, a group of us took a rickshaw ride outside the city to a UNESCO world heritage site: Auroville, a commune dedicated to human unity, sustainable innovation, meditation and known for its international membership. I still don't fully understand what it's all about, but we walked around the area and took a small hike to see this giant gold globe, in which the biggest crystal on the planet is situated and around which the people of Auroville go for meditation and concentration. It looked like a giant gold suction cup bouncy ball that just landed smack in the middle of a golf course or a UFO, but it was pretty weird anyway. After some solar-cooled strawberry ice cream, we dragged our sweaty selves back to the hotel, stopping for fruit along the way. We cut up our fruit on the hotel floor with our swiss army knives and ate it all (I ate an entire pineapple and loved every bite!)

Last night, we ate at the hotel where we were served WAY more food than we could possibly eat. The hotel manager and several staff came out to watch us eat and directed us as to which sauces go with which carbohydrate-item (still working on the names). Under the spotlight and not wanting to be rude, I ate way more than I otherwise would have, but I guess to them we were really fascinating... the waiter found it absolutely HILARIOUS that I was spooning the masala sauce onto my naan...oops, guess I won't be using my handy dandy spork as much as I'd hoped.

Today, I ventured off with several other girls to the more touristy French quarters of Pondicherry. After feeling like the only group of tourists in India for the first couple days, it was nice to see other travelers wandering around like us. We walked along the water (this time a rocky beach), and made friends with a few young school boys who tagged along for half an hour. We saw statues of Gandhi and Nehru. The damages of the cyclone which hit South-East India about a week ago were a lot more obvious in Pondicherry than in Chennai: trees fallen everywhere, power lines down, sidewalk covered in rubble and lots of debris. Locals were picking up the pieces, but no one seemed surprised, devastated or angry with their misfortune; people just went about their work like they'd accepted the facts and were focused on getting the job done. Life carries on one way or the other, and I am amazed at the resiliency of these people. We stopped at a nice restaurant in the French quarters called Rose Cafe, and I had a near encounter with pretty raw chicken on my plate, at which point lunch was over for me. I REFUSE TO BE SICK!

Tonight, we take our first night train to Kanyakumari, the Southernmost tip of India. When we asked Chris Hall (our Professor) about the train and the washrooms on it, he just chuckled and said "You'll see."

Want to hear more about Nathalie's adventures? Visit http://nathalietakesonindia.blogspot.in/

Nathalie Gingras is a third year at the University of Guelph, studying International Development with a focus on environment and development and a minor in French.

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