Bombay By Way Of San Jose
Greetings from India. This is my fourth week here, about the halfway point of the trip, and all is well.
Well, sort of. The first week was taken up with recovering from jet lag. They say to expect a day of screwed-up circadian rhythm for each time zone you travel through, and I passed over fifteen getting here. Once you’re over it, however, you kind of miss it. Even though you’re crashing out at around nine every night, you’re also awake by four in the morning, which equates into a whole extra half-day if you act on it. But even when you recover from jet lag, homesickness can set in right afterward.
A little history: not only is this my first visit to a country outside the U.S., it’s also the first time I’ve traveled anywhere by plane in over a decade, since before 9/11. So between not getting sick on the flight over and not getting sick from questionable food or water sources, I think a little pining for my own bed is a natural reaction and the least that could happen. It could very easily have been worse.
And by “worse,” most people mean, of course the Indian equivalent of Montezuma’s revenge, a.k.a. “Delhi belly,” or less delicately, mudbutt.” Dysentery and its cousins can be caused by improper food handling, unsanitary conditions, or simply a tender tummy’s reaction to new foods. But the biggest culprit of intestinal illnesses in the developing world is, sadly, the water. The hard and fast rule is that if you’re traveling in a country where you don’t absolutely trust the source of your food, there are only two safe choices; eating something that’s had the shit boiled out of it, or eating something that you can peel, like a banana.
Of all the things you’ve heard about India, the one that turns out to be the most true is the people. I’m currently working in Hyderbad, which is one of the country’s Silicon Valley counterparts; it’s also the third largest outsourcing city in India. People are everywhere; crowding the roads with their insane driving, building mansions into the rocky hills, and selling everything in the marketplace. Find out what after the jump.
Last weekend I took a diversion to see Charminar, one of India’s oldest monuments in the Muslim quarter south of the Musi River:
“Charminar” is Urdu for “four minarets” and the structure used to sit in the dead center of the old city. Nowadays, it’s still the center, but now the roundabout road that surrounds it serves to funnel the crushing masses of people, cars, rickshaws, (both motorized and hand-powered) and the occasional sacred cow around the maddening marketplace:
Apples, sugar cane, and guavas. Fresh sugar cane juice is apparently healthier than refined sugar, but get it from one of those pointed sticks and it’s guaranteed diarrhea for gringos.
Bananas, lemons, and green coconuts. You see the split shells of the coconuts everywhere on the sides of the roads, they’re like Nature’s juice boxes. India is the world’s largest producer of bananas and also boasts a huge (but shrinking) variety of wild bananas, usually filled with rock-hard seeds.
You see street vendors everywhere in India, but these corn roasters are especially interesting. They have a little burner on the cart, sometimes nothing fancier than a pile of smoldering charcoal, that they use to roast fresh corn to order. I didn’t ask these guys to pose, it just happens around here; you point a camera at people and they put on their goofiest Sunday smile.
Truth be told, I wasn’t a big fan of Indian food before I left the U.S., and the occasional dinners out so far haven’t done much to change that opinion. What I have been enjoying, and what is apparently a regional specialty in these parts, is the Chinese food, of all things. It’s everywhere around here, from the top floors of malls to hole-in-the wall joints crammed in between shoe repair shops and textile merchants downtown. And while maintaining my veganism has been a challenge, it’s also been easier than I thought. Almost every restaurant is designated “veg/non-veg” and specifies what’s what in their menus. There’s no beef, obviously, but India is big on milk and paneer, which is what they call “cottage cheese” but more closely resembles feta or halloumi.
I’m updating on a more regular basis on my blog, and with more pictures.
A few more weeks and I’ll be back in the States, and I probably won’t really appreciate this visit outside the country until long after I’m home.
Oh, and one more thing? The baked goods in India are absolute crap.