Takeoff!In the Bay Area, the word 'heat' means 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius). Contrastingly, in the cultural capital of India, it means 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (32-37 degrees Celsius). The heat does not mean 'stay at home with the fan turned on'. It means 'get out of the house and escape to an ultimate paradise—blasting air conditioning at department stores.' You may ask...why can't you just stay at home and turn the fan on in India? Well, if you turn the fan on during stifling days like these, the fan will only blow hot air and make you feel more miserable than you already are. Then, why can't you stay at home and turn the air conditioning on? Because if you turn on the air conditioning and even sit right next to the machine, you will get absolutely zero air. Thanks to India's high population, the neighborhoods often experience a voltage drop. This happens when everyone is trying to turn the air conditioning on. And this is why in Chennai, you have to rush to big departmental stores when the heat increases.
June and July are two of the hottest months of the year, both in California and Tamil Nadu. A couple days before I left to India, summer weather hit the Bay Area. During the last few days of school, some of my friends talked about how they were taking family trips to Minnesota and Oregon, France and Canada, to beat the summer heat. I knew that the summer heat they planned on beating was going to be nothing compared to the summer heat in India. And unfortunately, I was not going to escape any heat. In fact, I would be chasing the summer heat. 😢
I stayed in Tamil Nadu for one and a half months. Those months were filled with excitement, exaggeration, enjoyment, and exasperation.
I've been to India seven times, each trip lasting at least one month. You would think that I would be used to the lifestyle there. But, every time I go there, it's like the first time. Everything from the right-hand drive cars and the disorderly streets, to the roadside shacks and random cows surprise me. I sit in the taxi staring out the window in awe. A party going on inside my mind, celebrating that we landed in Chennai, celebrating the next six weeks with family, celebrating all the happiness that is yet to come.
When we booked our flight tickets in early 2017, we made a pact to keep our trip a secret. We would not tell anyone about our trip except for one set of my grandparents. Who knew this secret would last?
The morning after we touched down in Chennai International Airport, we took an Uber to surprise my other set of grandparents. They lived in a flat, or an apartment, which had a balcony that overlooked the road. If the surprise got spoiled, we thought, it would be because of that balcony. We had doubts that my grandparents were out on their balcony. So, we slowly peeked above us. There seemed to be no one. Quickly, we got our luggage out of the Uber and sneaked upstairs. We climbed to the first floor and my conscience said to ring the doorbell! But I wasn't sure if this was my grandparents' house. I was about to press the doorbell when my mom intervened and told me it was the next floor. Ahh, mom to the rescue! #saved
We were standing at the doorstep of my grandparents' house! It was crazy how they did not know about this trip, how they were inside the house going about their daily routine. This was the height of my excitement. My heart was beating fast with thrill, so fast I could hear it inside my ears. When we were ready, I rapidly pressed the doorbell about ten quick times and sprinted to the stairs, where my mom and sister were hiding. Within a minute, my unsuspecting grandmother opened the door. Before she looked around, we screamed to scare her. She saw us and squealed with joy. My grandfather came to see what was going on and he started laughing once he saw us. As we all went into the house, I felt so excited and glad to be here, in this all too familiar house.
My excitement didn't end there. We had a lot more surprises to give.
My excitement didn't end there. We had a lot more surprises to give.
Why does everyone in India like to exaggerate so much? Okay, I might be stereotyping when I say 'everyone'... but I definitely heard a lot of people exaggerating about their hair, the weather, prices of clothes, and usually about time. 'I've been waiting for one hour!' they say. But it actually only means 15 minutes. Even within my family, people are usually exaggerating about things. I can't blame them though because the majority of the India does it as well!
About one week into our trip, my grandparents suggested the idea of going to Tirupati, a city in Andhra Pradesh, another state in India. They said Tirupati is near a hill station so it would be much cooler in temperature. It would take three hours to get there and we would travel by a high-class air conditioned bus, they said. The main attraction we would see would be the world-famous Tirumala Temple, where everything is made out of gold, they said. In fact, it is the second richest temple in the world. That last sentence was the only thing that turned out to be true. The rest...only extreme exaggeration.
On the day of the supposed-to-be awesome trip to Tirupati, we all had to wake up at 3:45 a.m., shower, and wear uncomfortable Indian clothes. Apparently, this temple had a dress code. The start of the day was basically better than the rest of the day. My grandfather drove us all to the Chennai bus stop and we stepped into the tour bus. Although the bus was clean, it was definitely not high-class or fancy as my grandmother described it. It was just a regular bus. The tour package included a breakfast and lunch buffet for all the passengers. So, before stopping at the legendary temple, the bus stopped at the buffet. I expected it to have many varieties and cuisines of food. But, it was the opposite. Their buffet was nothing like I imagined; the food included dry idlis, floppy dosas, and some chunky chutneys. After I managed to stuff some food in my mouth, the bus drivers called us all back into our seats. Next stop: the renowned Tirumala Temple—second richest temple in the world.
The bus dropped us off at the Temple and told us all to take off our shoes and leave our shoes, bags, and cell phones inside the bus. This was the first disappointment. Everything after this was just more disappointment and unpleasant surprises. The temple was extremely crowded. People were breathing on my neck and if I even stuck my hand out half way, I would touch some random sweaty person. To make it even worse, everyone was yelling the God's name and shoving others so that they could see the God statue first. It was horrible! This whole temple had no shade so the glaring sun melted me into glue. I would stick to someone if they even touched me. The ground where we had to walk with bare feet was hot concrete dirtied with sticky food and yucky sweat-soaked rugs.
Finally, after five hours, it was time to go back home! This was the best part of the day. I couldn't wait to get out of this place. Sure it may be the second richest temple in the world, but it doesn't matter to just have this title. I expected this place to look like the fancy Palace of Versailles, but the gold was minimal and I couldn't even take a good look at it because of all the pushy people. If they had more control of the visitors or cleaned the temple's floors, I would have had a better experience. If you ever travel to India, this is one attraction you should undeniably skip.
|Fruit market in Chennai|
|Two farm goats (jk one is my sister😜)|
|Cooling off at a pumpset|
Chennai is the city with the second highest number of movie theaters in India. This gave me an excuse to watch many movies in different theaters within the one and a half months. First, my grandfather took my cousins and me to see Despicable Me 3 at a theater called Palazzo. The theater looked lavish and spotless. We also watched a Tamil movie called Maragadha Naanayam at a less fancy theater called Udhayam. Finally, we watched another Tamil movie called Vikram Vedha at the Devi Theater. The theater was big but had nothing luxurious. All the theaters had effective air conditioning and sound systems which were definitely plus points.
Before leaving the Bay Area, I took an inventory check of all the items I had in my bathroom, desk, and closet. I wrote some things I needed to buy on my checklist and when I got to India, I was thrilled to go shopping. The major items I needed were soap, pens, pencils, and unique candies. Why would I want to buy soap from India? Indian soap companies have so many aromatic flavors. I bought two years worth of soap from an awesome store called Saravana Stores. The best soaps are Pears, which are transparent soap, Yardley Rose, and Mysore Sandal, which smells like a palace. I buy pens and pencils everywhere, so there isn't a specific reason why I wanted them from India. But I bought a couple of cool pens and mechanical pencils. Finally, there are so many yummy candies in India. Two of my favorites are hard coffee candy and chewy tamarind candy. So I bought a big pack of each to eat in California. I also love something that is illegal in the United States. Kinder Joy Surprise Eggs! They may be kiddish, but they taste delicious. If you split these plastic eggs in half, you find chocolate wafer balls on one side and a toy on the other side. The toys go to my cousins, and the wafer balls go to my mouth.
One evening, we went to a place called OMR Food Street in Perumbakkam. This place was different; I have never seen something like this in the Bay Area. There were two streets were filled with permanent restaurants and outdoor seating. It was similar to a downtown but it had different varieties of food. The street food ranged from pizza and cake to dosas and parottas. There was one unusual stall. It was called 'Fire Paan'. My grandfather's daredevil instincts kicked in and he decided to try this. The employee first took a paan leaf, threw some spices on top of it, used a matchstick to light the spices on fire, then shoved the fireball inside my grandfather's mouth. He just ate the fine paan and said it tasted good! I don't know about the 'Fire Paan', but OMR Food Street is definitely something to experience in Chennai.
|Weaver's House (Karnataka) in Dakshina Chitra|
During the last week of my trip, we went to a place called Dakshina Chitra. It was an Indian heritage museum. I wasn't expecting much when we entered but it turned out to be interesting. Although the heat was unbearable that day, we walked around from exhibit to exhibit looking at the displays and shops. The outdoor museum was split up into four parts, each named after an Indian state: Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala. Each part had models of homes that was unique to the state. My favorite was the Weaver's House in Karnataka. This house had a bungalow style and was three stories tall. The house had an indoor well next to the kitchen which also helped the villagers cool off back then. We took a break from walking and drank spiced buttermilk and ate coconut jelly. The jelly was all-natural and refreshing. While cooling off, we watched a classical dance where the dancer balanced two eggs and spun them around his audience. Talk about talent!
Every India trip, I learn that to be happy, you just have to adjust to your surroundings. Although it's tough to get used to a completely different lifestyle, it makes the trip more enjoyable in the end. But, adjusting also means getting tired and annoyed.
In early July, we went on a weekend trip to Puducherry, an Indian union territory. The concept is similar to how Washington D.C. is not in a state. Since Puducherry is by the beach, the weather was supposed to a little breezier than Chennai. Sadly, the weather was the same. We stayed in the capital city of Puducherry, Pondicherry. Pondicherry was a French territory until 1954, so many people continue to speak French in the city. Our hotel resort was by the beach, so in the morning, my family and I woke up at 5:30 a.m. in hopes of seeing the sunrise. It took less than five minutes to walk to the beach. We waited until 6:00 a.m., but it was very cloudy so we couldn't see the sunrise. Even worse, the beach was filled with hundreds of creepy sand crabs. So, even if you sit down on a beach sheet, the crabs won't stay away.
We went to visit a township called Auroville near Pondicherry. The weather was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit that day and the high humidity made everyone's skin sticky and hair frizzy. Auroville is famous for a big golden ball statue called the Matrimandir. However, to see the statue you have to walk half a mile. Half a mile isn't too bad, right? Wrong. Walking half a mile in the heat was punishing. After the torturous walk, we finally made it to the Matrimandir. It was so big and shiny. Inside the statue, they have exhibits and programs. However, it was closed for construction. So we couldn't go inside it. In the end, we just took the tiring trail back to the car.
My one and a half months in Tamil Nadu were unforgettable. Although it was a short trip, I made the most of it. I had plenty of fun with my cousins, grandparents, aunt, and uncle. Throughout the trip, I met most of my relatives and made lots of memories. I got to shop, eat out, and visit places that I will always remember...whether the experience was good or bad.
I can't wait to go back!
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