An Introduction to India

Incredible India: Falling in Love With a New Country

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Confession: I wasn’t particularly excited about visiting India. At the same time, I wasn’t unexcited to visit India. It was just…there. Another dot on the map (albeit a massive one), another stop on our Semester at Sea voyage. My feelings were lukewarm. I was more psyched to see countries like Vietnam and Japan for the first time, and to be frank, I was more terrified than anything of our pending travels through North India, not fearful for my safety but pretty certain at least one of us would come down with a case of the dreaded Delhi Belly.

(Spoiler alert: We didn’t. In fact, I didn’t have so much as a stomachache the entire time we were there. I attribute that to Dr. Diarrhea’s advice of taking two Pepto tablets before each meal, which enabled me to gorge myself on all the curry and paneer in the land and not pay for it later.)

My feelings changed drastically over the coming days; actually, it only took minutes of driving through the crowded streets of Chennai to realize I was really going to like India. I liked the electric energy of the city, the fast-paced way at which the people moved from place to place, the bazaars, the tuk-tuks, the naan. Oh God, do I love the naan. As our executive dean told us during the pre-port lecture, India is a shock to the senses. It’s an overload on all accounts: sights, smells, sounds, experiences.

We arrived at 8am on a Monday morning to a security lock down…already a shock to something (namely, our patience). Due to what I assume is lingering repercussions from the Mumbai bombings last year, port security was lid-tight; every time we sent a SAS trip out of the gates, each and every participant had to get off the bus at the entrance and go through an intense customs process that could take up to an hour. When you came back through, it was the same story, only not only did you have to go through clearance once more, but you also had to pass through a security line similar to that at an airport and have all of your belongings screened.

It was more than mildly frustrating. As a result, SVV spent the entire first day tackling logistics like money exchange on the ship—have you ever tried to stuff 5,000 rupees ($100) in your wallet? It’s so many bills, I felt like I’d won the lottery!—as I did my job dispatching said trips. We didn’t even attempt to venture out beyond security until the evening for Semester at Sea’s Welcome Reception at a local hotel.

The first day in the country corresponded with my field office co-worker Paula’s birthday, so all of our staff and faculty friends attended her unofficial “birthday party,” totaling more than 120 SAS participants who came out for the festivities. When we arrived, they put leis around our necks and smudges on our foreheads (meant as blessings), and we mingled with students from the local universities as we noshed on southern Indian nibbles. I also had my first brush with henna. While I wavered back and forth whether or not I wanted to get it done, despite it being free, I wasn’t sure I wanted a stained hand for the next month to come; some of the students were still painted from as far back as Morocco. But I took a chance, and it was completely gone within a week.

Then, two Indian dancers took the stage and dazzled us all with their colorful costumes and their even more colorful moves.

They clicked and blinked and sashayed their way around the stage for the next half hour as we all sat mesmerized by the enchantresses.

I was too excited by everything to take any footage, but I highly suggest you watch this amazing video that our ship photographer Spencer Weiner shot of the production. If nothing else, it will give you a dose of major India wanderlust.

After the party was over, we opted to return to the ship, primarily because we’re old and 11pm is late for an aging married couple to be out on the town, but also because we had a 3am wake-up just a few hours down the line. Our destination: the fortress and former hunting grounds of Ranthambore. I am not one who likes to rise before 8am, and even that is pushing it as I often don’t go to sleep until after 1am, so I felt about as bad as I looked when we arrived to the Chennai airport before the sun had even popped out to say hello.

But the coming days would be totally worth the bleary eyes and painful wake-up calls.

  • October 26, 2011

    I too came out of India on cloud 9. LOVED it and was surprised by how much I would love it. Can’t wait to go back.

    • October 26, 2011

      Ditto. Six days there is just plain mean.

  • October 26, 2011

    These pictures are making me want to go to India! I love places that are chaotic, so I think I’d enjoy a trip there. I love the dancers’ costumes – so gorgeous.

    • October 27, 2011

      It’s not unlike the frenetic pace and energy of Times Square–only with a whole lot less bright, tacky, blinking lights and a whole lot more safety yellow tuk-tuks =)

  • October 26, 2011

    Oh yea, you’re teasing us with India. Looks like a very intriguing place. Don’t think I’d like all the security though. Love your henna.

    • October 26, 2011

      Teasing? Perhaps…but more so it’s a lack of time and Internet to edit/upload my photos at the minute! More soon, I promise =)

      • October 26, 2011

        I’m surprised you have time to sleep, eat or …. let alone post. I’ll take what I can get and live vicariously until you do have time to process and post a whole lot more.

        • October 27, 2011

          The posting has become seriously challenging with the speed of the Internet and how it’s slowed to a grinding halt the past three weeks. Funny, right, as we’re now in Asia, which I’m pretty sure invented high-speed Internet! Hence the shorter posts with less pictures.

  • October 26, 2011

    Strange as it may sound, I’m kinda glad that your feelings towards India were lukewarm. I feel that India has a tendency to let down those who come with stars in their looking for that “Incredible India” experience. That said, it is nice knowing that you took to the country, warts and all. 🙂

    • October 26, 2011

      Sometimes, I think it’s better to go into an experience that way with lower expectations, then if it’s a positive one, you’re overjoyed, and if it sucks, well, you were expecting that anyway so it’s no big loss or surprise. Luckily, India was the former =)

  • October 26, 2011

    Wow – the video (link) was AMAZING, well done. Thank you for sharing, your experiences, photos (love the photos) and that of everyone participating in SAS – what lucky devils y’all are.

  • October 26, 2011

    So happy you feel this way. india has been on and off our list so many times that I keep forgetting whether or not we actually want to go 🙂

    ***Also, loved Scott’s last e-mail / post.

    • October 26, 2011

      I think you SHOULD go. Obviously. I never thought I’d feel so strongly about India before this trip, but now I do and now you should go, too, ha =)

  • October 26, 2011

    Looks amazing. Great way to see India.

  • October 26, 2011

    Holy flashbacks, I was in an Indian dance piece my during my freshman year of college. The costumes, the red feet and fingers, the dot, the bells, the stomping, the crazy fingers, the whole shebang. It was unlike anything I’ve ever done in my dance career, but it was a blast!

    Also, I’m now DYING to visit India. It looks AMAZING!

    • October 26, 2011

      I might need to see that video footage, stat.

  • October 26, 2011

    I want to go almost everywhere, but India doesn’t hold a lot of appeal to me, much for the reasons you were indifferent to it. Maybe someday I’ll change my mind, but it’s hard to imagine.

    • October 26, 2011

      I don’t know, I changed my mind and have never had the slightest interest in India (other than the food)–just saying, stranger things have happened… =)

  • October 28, 2011

    So lucky not to have your short stay interupted by delhi belly! Loved india so much, at times frustrating and chaotic – but definitely alive.

    • October 30, 2011

      I envisioned a city so much dirtier than it was–I think possibly due to the media’s portrayal of India. I thought Delhi was beautiful, full of amazing people and a lot of green space. I’d definitely go back for longer!

  • October 29, 2011

    I can’t believe that you weren’t excited about visiting India eeeeeeeeeeeek! I think that’s the country I was MOST excited to visit!!! Glad you loved your time there. The henna is gorgeous.

    • October 30, 2011

      Ironically, the three places I’ve loved most this voyage are countries that were never high priorities on the travel list: India, Vietnam and Cambodia. You know me, I’m usually much more a beach-and-ocean kind of traveler!

  • October 31, 2011

    Amazing! I feel like you had to get the henna done, just so you could say that you could. And it looks gorgeous!

  • October 31, 2011

    You look thin. Are you eating enough?

  • October 31, 2011

    Haven’t been to India but so relate to what you’re saying with my experience in Pakistan. Isn’t the naan incredible? Seriously – we could use some naan stands around here…

  • November 7, 2011

    I love the dancers outfits and the way they paint themselves! It must take forever to get ready like that. And I wonder why the red feet? I can’t wait to hear about your Cambodia travels- it was one of my favorite places on earth. I loved the people most.

  • January 5, 2012

    Always time India is my favorite place. All Picture are two good. Its a great post. i love India culture. i really like it. Thanx for sharing your experience here.

  • April 20, 2012

    Reading a good blog to read the information on an amazing site and this blog to share with other people in the world.
    Great article!
    I thank you for sharing.

  • June 17, 2012

    I am extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your weblog.your article writing inspire me,thanks for share me..

  • August 6, 2015

    I like your way of blogging Very nice photograph. Thanks for sharing.

  • April 1, 2016

    amazing experience in india…

  • May 26, 2016

    You really make me jealous and now I am thinking to go to India. But there is a confusion, INR 5000 was enough or not and why they put the red color in their feet.

    • August 19, 2016

      It is considered as necessary part of the dancer’s make-up.
      Plan your next trip to India and explore beautiful hillstation in Kerala Wayanad

    • August 14, 2017

      Good day,

      If you will ask me, I will say 5000rs is more than enough in india if you can stay in shared dorm and can eat in local market. Positive point about eating in local market is that you will get to taste variety of delicious local food and curries.
      Also about the red color in feet is a tradition to put “alta” while you perform certain dance. its just a way of decorating or grooming oneself.

      Hoping that my reply helped.

  • April 6, 2017

    thanks for sharing nice informative blog about incredible india.

  • August 14, 2017

    Good day,

    Thank you so much for lovely post and sharing your experience with us.
    I hope you tried indian dishes. Please find some time to review them.
    Indian curries are must try.
    Hoping that you will visit India again.


  • September 28, 2017
    Roshni Raturi

    I felt very sad when u said that you were not excited to come here, but I m glad you finally feel good here. I love my India. Its has the uniqueness.No one can deny its beauty.

  • May 8, 2018

    Thanks for write about incredible india. i really enjoyed your blog.

  • June 25, 2018

    Thank you so much for nice blog about India. I hope you have enjoyed the trip and it will be inspirational to others. India is unique by its rich beauty and visit other parts too.

  • May 3, 2019

    Oh I hear you. India definitely gave me some serious travel anxiety before I visited for the first time. I loved it though, as soon as I first stepped foot off the plane and got hit by that mix of heat, body-odor, spices that engulfs you with every step you take in this country. I got to try the Pepto Tablets next time. I have been lucky so far with, but a little extra precaution is always good.

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