I am not going to lie. When I landed in Chennai, India at 4 am, after 23-hour flight, with my 3 big bags, as I had to leave US due to visa constraints, and with no one meeting me, my first ever thought was that I wanted to be home right now. Home for me, however, would have been only after 6 weeks and some other 19-hour flight.
My second thought was to explore the surroundings, which was a far better idea. Clearly Plan A, where everything goes smoothly and I am picked up failed, thus I had a Plan B – to stay overnight at the airport hotel and to contact my supervisor. Upon my quest for a place to stay I stumbled upon a number of interesting things. Such as you cannot enter the airport without the flight ticket, or in order to greet a person in the arrival zone you need to obtain the visitor’s ticket for 20 Rupees, or that you need to show passport for next to every transaction. Most importantly, however, the hotel was nowhere to be found.
Well, luckily, English alphabet had provided me with some other 24 letters to come up with plans. With some help and encouragement I took a cab (which I bet cost me three times the real price because I look foreign) and went downtown. God Bless best friends, T-mobile, and roaming charges! At 10 am, six hours after arrival, I was finally settled in a room in Chennai.
In the next couple days I was exploring the city. I was walking for as far as I can, or was taking tuk-tuks (funny three-wheeled motorcars) and all I can say so far is that India is immensely underestimated and stereotyped in the media. My very first impressions are the following:
– It is safe for a girl to walk around. Not everywhere, but generally it is safe
– It is, unfortunately, true though, that women are largely disregarded and discriminated
– There are no pedestrian walks (Well, that’s not particularly true, there are 20-inches wide sandy lines next to roads, but I refuse to regard them as proper and minimum convenience pedestrian lanes)
– India uses British driving side, however, it is very hard to notice, as most cars are driving hectically in all directions
– There are next to no traffic lights (I’ve seen just three so far)
– They have amazing roads, not worse than in US
– It is very hard to find a woman in a store, or for that matter, working anywhere. Even saris and jewelry are mainly sold by men
– Both men and women dress traditionally, which implies saris and kurtas for women, and sort of skirts for men (quite an unusual view I should say)
– The food is eaten from banana leaves (they serve a sort of a plate) using hands. No exceptions. Even at restaurants.
– You really have to bargain to buy anything
– Hindu temples are beautiful