Thursday, December 28, 2006

Meals and Tiffin

One of the greatest joys of staying in India is the marvelous and unbelievably cheap food. Being most familiar with North Indian food from restaurants back home, I've had a chance to try new things at virtually every meal. Basically, South Indian food doesn't use wheat (such as in naan, chapati, roti, etc) but only rice. The rice is mashed, baked, and fried into quite a variety forms such as the spongy idly, popular at breakfast time of for a snack.

It comes down to this: I pretty much laze around various towns and cities sipping chai and coffee, snacking, chatting, and lounging about all day. From time to time I go to see a temple, pet a cow, ride a bike, etc, but my life here mostly revolves around chai and tiffin (a british-raj era term for snack). I'm not one of these travelers that likes to set a strict itinerary and see as many of Lonely Planet's recommended sights as possible. I prefer to just sort of drift about and see where the wind takes me. If one were to take a red pen and draw a line of the course I have taken since landing in Chennai a week ago, they would conclude that I was probably getting lit before every departure, going to the bus station, and picking the place that had the name I liked best. Tiravunamalaiaiaiaiaiai.... mmmmmm.

But no! I have maintained relative sobriety throughout the trip, and complete sobriety while in bus and train stations! And somehow I'm still only 3 hours from Chennai, making a sort of spiral outwards from Chennai. Screw you Lonely Planet, and screw your customized four-to-six-week itinerary. I'll go to the place you describe as a "dusty little bazaar town with little to detain tourists" if I please. And I'll love it, because I'm the only whitey here (because you've scared them all away).

And where am I going with all this? Nowhere, because I don't have to, and if you don't believe me than refer to the first post where I warned this blog would be completely raw, unedited, and probably unreadable. Go ahead, check it.

But getting back to the things I love about India:
1) The food.
2) The wonderful variety of animals roaming about the streets of the villages and cities (cows, water buffaloes, dogs, elephants, the list goes on).
3) The perpetual smell which drifts about in some mixture of incense, shit, coriander, and piss. But it's better than that sounds (the incense is really good).
4) The price (cheap).
5) The concise speaking habits of the locals.
6) The enthusiasm of Indians for having their picture taken - "excuse me sir, one picture please" is a phrase I'm likely to hear whenever I take the camera out.

From here I'll make tracks for Hampi, some place north and west of here, for New Year's. Thanks to all those that have written back and commented on the entries. It's nice to hear from you.


pj said...

Thank you, thank you for this wonderful blog entry. I had to drink a cup of Bengal Spice tea (since I can't handle the caffeinated chai) after reading it. It is so interesting to hear what you like about India and how your days are being spent. I take it you are not losing weight - but the loose clothing will hide a good deal, eh?

Jacob Thomas said...

I appreciate all your efforts thus far on the blog as well. Reading your last entry made me think quite a bit. Let me try to articulate. After reading your thoughts on Lonely Planet, etc, I went to the Humanities wing of the library and spent about an hour shelving Lonely Planet, Frommers, Fodors, Rough Guides, Insiders guides, all manner of travel books from Mountain Biking in Portland to Lonely Planet's guide to Antarctica. I remembered how as I traveled around southeast asia I had Lonely Planet's "Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" in my pocket, and I used it quite a bit, though certainly not religiously. I also remembered reading rants against Lonely Planet in the hostels and restaurants frequented by travelers such as myself. So, my questions are: if these books encourage people to travel to new places, if they give people the courage to go into remote places with the faith that they have SOMETHING to hold onto, are they really so bad? I know that to a seasoned traveller like yourself they seem silly, and their followers sheepish. But you are clearly unafraid to get off the beaten path- in fact the PATH is lonely planet, and you know how to get away from it- but would you really be better off if the path didn't exist? Which makes me wonder- what is the point of all this traveling? Well, different people have their reasons I suppose: but what is yours? This may seem silly, but I am curious to know. Despite the fact that you are not blitzing through india in a week, you are a "tourist", and I assume you have no plans to live there for months or years and really become one with the country. And you aren't following the flocks from tourist landmark to tourist landmark, camera in hand. So what do you seek?

Seth said...

Point taken. I don't think Lonely Planet (with which I have some experience using) is "bad" in the least. It's an extremely useful resource and very well written, and if other people want to regard it as the guiding light of their travels, so be it. Only when overused, when it becomes the sole source of information on a place, does it become a hinderance rather than a resource in experiencing the place.
To answer your question, I'm seeking a taste of what life is like here in India, and the most fulfilling way starts with talking to the locals and getting information from them, rather than from a book which is a minimum of a year out of date, even when it is first published.

pj said...

It seems that traveling vs. not traveling (staying home) is a depth vx breadth thing (by the way, I've used the word "breadth" so rarely in my life that I just looked it up for good measure.) Staying home is making a choice to explore the possibilities that one place, be it Nowheresville or the Big Apple, can offer you. It comes with a certain amount of predictability and limitation.
Traveling offers the chance to span a greater spectrum of creation and experience things that are both pleasing as well as challenging. The truth is, you never know which it is going to be - fun or a nightmare or a drag or life changing. By placing yourself in constantly changing environments you experience first-hand how the more things change, the more they stay the same, or the "we're all alike deep down" phenom. It's one thing to think it and another to know it.
As for travel guides, I will continue to use them in strange places. Take the info as someone's opinion and you have a fairly good perspective, I think. Also, try reading the travel guide to your own home town for an interesting and possibly humorous read.