I really like India. I visited it for the first time 5 years ago and felt I would like to come back, to further explore this complex country and visit other regions. As any new place, it does take some time to get used to it. These days I am staying at my friend’s place in Thiruvananthapuram (also called Trivandrum), who are helping me getting used to Kerala – and India.
Step 1: the weather
It is hot, and humid, all day (even early morning!). Welcome to the tropics!
My best friends: sunglasses and sunscreen.
Step 2: decelerate
I spent the last month before the trip running to finish work, administrative stuff and preparations. When I arrived here I was still walking fast, and whenever I stopped to take a picture an invisible force pushed me to keep walking, as if I were late. I am slowly finding my own speed.
Step 3: food
It is well known: Indian food is spicy. I am not used to it so I am slowly being introduced. Fortunately, not all food is spicy: there are sweets, there are many kinds of bread, there is curd*, and there are many fresh good fruits – some of them I did not even know they existed.
Step 4: cross the street
There are some things that scare me… and crossing the streets in India is one of them. Traffic is chaotic, cars and rickshaws* and motocycles and buses moving non stop all at the same time, not respecting priorities nor zebra crossings (yes, there are some zebra crossings). It does take some practice to get used to it!
My technique: look for a local who wants to cross, stay close, and cross right behind.
Step 5: go around the city
Trivandrum is the capital of the state of Kerala, it is a relatively small city and quite clean. I went to the center for the first time last Friday, when I visited a palace museum and the streets around. My first impression was good: even though it is crowded and noisy, I liked the street life and felt comfortable.
Step 6: take a bus
The hardest part of that first day was to take a bus to go back to my friends’ place. I waited for an hour for a specific bus that never came. At the end, tired from the walk and specially from the heat, and hungry, I went to the information desk to ask. They immediately indicated me to follow a man, who pointed to a bus and came in after me. He was the one selling the tickets.
Lesson: do not be shy and ask, it is faster.
Step 7: change the schedule
I admit it: I do not like to wake up early. But there is no other option here, if I want to avoid the warmest hours, I need to wake up early (just as locals do!).
Step 8: learn and try the local customs
There is a lot to learn, but these are the few things I have tried so far:
- Eat curry with bread using only one hand
- Take a bath in Indian way (with the buckets – I really like this one, much less water is used)
- Remove your shoes (before entering a temple, a museum, a theatre… – this is actually compulsory)
- Drink hot water
- Wear salwar and leggings
Step 9: avoid the scams
It happens in a lot of places: tourists are an easy target for scams, and here they have become very good at it.
Last Sunday my friends and me went for a backwaters boat tour. We had booked in advance and were in the village looking for the tour company. We asked a guy on a motocycle, who signaled us to follow him. When we arrived, they started to explain us which tours/prices they offered, and we realized that it was not the company with whom we had booked… we complained and at the end the same guy took us to the right place.
Step 10: enjoy!
Kerala has many things to offer and I am looking forward to explore them: the backwaters, tea plantations, palm beaches, traditional theatre…
* curd = kind of yoghurt (it helps to eat spicy food), richshaw = three wheels taxi
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