It’s Hot…Like a Curry

India is hot…like a curry. It’s mouth-watering and delicious, but every bite burns a little. It’s by far the most exotic and foreign-feeling port of call on our SaS itinerary to date. The subcontinent is a never-ending assault on the senses, and for six days our mouths, noses, eyes, ears, and skin gathered information that our minds still have not completely digested. It’s so intense, so uplifting, so beautiful, so heartbreaking, so…India.

So what exactly do we mean? Examples are difficult to articulate, but we’ll try. There is a cute little old man who walks up and down the third class train car aisles selling tomato soup: “Ah tomahto shoup…TOmahto shoup…ah tomahto shoup.” Five minutes later he is selling chai tea: “chaitea, chai chai, chaitea.” Then it’s “Red omelette! Ah red omelette, omelette, omelette” or “chips, agwe, snackocola, chips, agwe.” You can’t resist him. He will eventually win you over. You must buy something from him. And you do.

Chai in hand, you’re smiling at the tomato soup man’s charming and determinedly successful salesmanship as you glance out the train window. You see malnourished and maimed children sorting through garbage, playing, and peeing in the village dump. You look away and realize they are also crawling under your train seat with barely any clothes on picking up trash in order to show you that they’re helpful and deserving of a few of those rupees in your pocket. Meanwhile, you feel someone trying to squeeze through the aisle and around the little child on the floor. As you shift to make room for this person, you see that it’s only the most beautifully dressed woman on the planet — no clothing we’ve seen even holds a candle to the exquisite beauty of the sari.

Then there are the smells. Delicious tumeric and curry spices coming from every street vendor’s pot. Exotic and enticing aftershaves and perfumes. The scent of chocolate pastries coming out of the oven mingled with the aroma of a freshly brewed frothy cappuccino. But not all the scents in the air smell divine. There is also spicy body odor and diesel fumes, not to mention the stench of raw sewage, industrial manufacturing pollutants, rotting garbage, and dead things. All of these scents are drifting in and out of your nasal passages all the time. You can’t predict what you’ll be smelling at any minute, and you wouldn’t be surprised if your nose just suddenly gave up its job in a fit of exhausted confusion.

Traveling in India is opulence and squalor, joy and heartache, hope and destitution, polished marble and grimy bus stations. But underlying it all, India is transformative. It’s all everywhere, and it’s all over you. Eventually, it’s inside you, first in your head, and then in your heart. And once it’s there, you just want to go back for more. Brett wasn’t talking about India, but he said it best: hot…like a curry.

This photo by Courtney Miller

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