Tag Archives: Chennai

First Impressions

I’ve heard it said that India is an assault on the senses. After spending just four days here I have to agree with whoever said that. The streets are crowded with cars lined bumper to bumper, motorcycles and scooters weaving in and out, somehow nimble enough to avoid collisions; the bright colors of sarees and billboards, even the buildings are brightly colored. There is a continuous cacophony of horns and people speaking loudly with one another. The smells change with each block, from the savory smells of the street vendors and the beautiful floral notes of the flower shops, to the pervasive smell of rotting garbage that permeates the air in the city. I have heard tales from the past years and read books about India but nothing really prepared me for everything that hit me as soon as I stepped out of the airport four nights ago.

The first thing that hit me was the heat. I could feel that as soon as I stepped off the plane. It took us a while to get through the immigration services and exchange money. We gather our bags and finally found Latha at the gate waiting with a man I assumed to be Magesh. We found our way to them, the airport was almost empty now; we took longer than most getting through it. We exchanged warm greetings with Latha and she introduced us to Magesh. We found our car, loaded the bags into the car and set off to the hotel.

The second thing that I noticed was how busy the city was. Even though it was 2:30 am the city was remarkably crowded. There were people everywhere and more cars on the road than there had been in Rome at 4:00 am. As we drove through the city I saw a lot of people, even more cars and motorcycles, and more string lights than I’ve seen anywhere so far from Christmas time. I sat in the car with Julian, the car was pretty quiet since we were all exhausted from the previous day’s events (I figured out later that since 6:30 am in Rome on Friday to 4:00 am in India on Sunday I had about 3 hours of sleep, 2 of which were on the plane and not very restful, i.e. 3 hours of sleep in ~48 hours). I tried to stay awake on the plane since I knew we’d be getting in late at night on Saturday and thought it would be easier to adjust to the time change if we just went straight to bed that night (maybe it was, but I’ve been here for four days now and I’m still exhausted, though I attribute some of that to the heat).

The third thing to hit me was the smells. The smell of the city ranges from a general hot smell, that smells vaguely of garbage, the smell of sweets at nearby food stalls, the warm smell of spices at restaurants, to the wonderful floral smells of the jasmine flowers sold by street vendors. Our hotel smelled of jasmine flowers and we found a small satchel of buds that we kept by our beds.

The lights and bright colors were also a shock to my eyes. I don’t think I’ve seen so many string lights so far from Christmas time. They adorn restaurants, churches, stores, and shops. The glow of the neon signs add to the brightness and the whole effect is rather shocking. To accompany the bright lights India is full of bright colors and vivid patterns. The buildings are all painted different hues and no two adjacent buildings are the same. When Latha took us clothes shopping it was like I’d stepped into a child’s story book. The multitude of colors and patterns were a lot to take in, and it didn’t help that the women who worked there had a habit of finding more and more things for you to try on.

The sound of the city is similar to others, though India has a certain flavor to it as well. The most notably distinct sound you’ll here is the constant blaring of horns. The roads here are fluid and at first seemed chaotic, but after spending some time here I actually feel just as safe on the roads in the city as I do when Julian is driving us around Houghton. The traffic is more congested for sure, and there seems to be a lack of direction, but everyone is more aware of their surroundings, the constant beeping of the horns isn’t out of anger but rather a friendly “I’m here.” The sound of the horns itself is different than on American cars. While Americans rarely use their horn to show anything other than displeasure and anger at another person and are as such loud and long, the horns here are used more to announce your presence and are relatively short and quiet comparatively.

India truly is a shock to the body, but after you spend some time here you start to get used to it. I look forward to learning more about the country where I’ll be spending the next month and getting to know the people here as well.

Busy city
The view from our hotel room in Chennai, the last morning we were there. It was the only time that the city felt quiet to me. High above the bustle of the streets is a nice sense of calm.