Why India is the best country
If you talk to me for more than a few minutes I will probably bring up in conversation that India is my favourite place in the world.
I moved there when I was 28 to teach Science in an International School in Bangalore. I didn’t choose India because I was interested in it especially, I actually had job offers from Uganda, Dubai and Brazil which I was also interested in. I mainly thought it’s not TOO far from Australia if I am very homesick.
Then I got there.
I felt at home in India from day 1.
I think about this a lot, and it’s really hard for me to articulate what makes me feel this way.
The last time we were in India as a family, the morning I was leaving I walked down the street to go to the grocery store. Therewas a lady selling jasmine flowers, so I bought some to put in my daughter Scarlett's hair.
The smell of jasmine flowers makes me feel nostalgic. They were the first scent I associated with India, as the admin manager of the school I worked in (when i first moved to India) picked me up from the airport and put jasmine flowers around my neck when I arrived.
So I was walking down the street, I went to the store and got some yoghurt for my kids, and I just felt very sad that I was leaving. I chatted to the guy in the shop as I had kind of made friends in the few days I was there and had been to the shops a few times.
I was looking around I was standing on Kammanhalli Main Road and I could see a cow on the road. There was dirt and some rubbish around. There were some uneven parts of the road and the footpath and holes in the foot path.
But I was almost crying looking around, smelling the jasmine flowers and thinking that today is the last day I’ll be walking down this street, the last day I’ll see this man in the store and the last day I’ll smell the flowers for a long time.
Honestly I’d love it if someone else could articulate for me why I feel so at home in Bangalore. I ask Kayden every week when we can go back. I 100% plan to retire to India, and I really want my children to spend some of their childhood living in India.
the Amazing Aspects of India
First and foremost it’s the people and how friendly and welcoming they are.
I was walking through a village in the first week that I lived there and the people who lived in the village didn’t speak English. That I was clearly from another country didn’t bother them at all, in fact they invited me into their house and offered me food and soft drink. I was very much struck by how open-minded they were to welcome me into their house when I looked and sounded different to them. I tried to imagine how the reaction in Australia would be if someone who looked and sounded different was wandering around out the front of your home, and what my reaction would be. I don’t think many Australian’s would invite them inside.
In Australia we will be arguing over whether someone can bring their partner to a wedding depending on how long they been together or if they have met the couple. I heard a conversation in the tea room at work the other day (in Australia) about people not inviting the partner of their friend to their wedding if they didn’t know them well. In India, you can invite someone who has never met either the bride or the groom. Some of this does have to do with cost, the per head cost of a wedding in India versus Australia is a lot different, but basically, if you are invited to a wedding in India even if it’s expensive, your whole family is invited. That can extend to cousins etc as well, not just immediate family. In Australia, there have been family weddings that my mum is invited to, but I am not. In India that just wouldn’t happen.
When I moved into a new apartment in Richmond Town, my neighbour brought me food every day for the first week. She had not even met me, she just sent the food over with the security guard (watchman). That’s just not something that would happen in Australia. We became friends this way. I went to her place whenever there was a festival, she invited me to a family wedding, the first Muslim wedding I went to. (Ahh the biryani at Muslim weddings!) We also just used to sit on her couch and gossip :)
You can rock up to someone’s house in India with no notice with no problem at all. I know quite a few people in Australia who would find that quite rude and off-putting, and would much prefer you plan in advance before coming over. If you come to someone’s house in India and they are sitting down to dinner they will absolutely invite you to join them. There are usually multiple dishes, so there will be enough food for everyone, and to make it go further, a few extra chappati’s or rice can be made. People will invite you along to weddings, parties or any social gathering. There is no big deal about headcounts, if you have a friend who’s going to a function they are likely to invite you along.
When I visit India now for holidays I have at least 5 families and also single friends offering for me and my friends or family to stay with them. It’s not that it’s not inconvenient, but to them it’s more important to spend time with people and share stories, food, and love. The don’t focus on the inconvenience. In Australia, (being an individualistic culture) we put our own needs first and not many people would offer for a whole family with young kids to stay with them unless they are within their immediate family.
People will help you.
I used to do my shopping for vegetables in Johnson Market in Bangalore, so I knew the stall holders. One day I was driving past, and I somehow got my car stuck on a mound of dirt in front of the market. I really couldn’t move the car, so I ran inside the market, called the guy I knew the best and told him my car was stuck. He called a few friends, and they ran straight out the front, and literally picked up my car and lifted it off the mound so I could carry on driving!
Once I was getting on a train with my students for a trip to Agumbe, and myself and another teacher were standing outside the train when it started to move! The students were already on with another teacher, so we started running and just had to jump on anywhere. We got into a carriage that was not our assigned one, and people literally had to grab us and help us on, as the train was moving. They were happy to shuffle around and make space for us, even though that meant they were more squashed in than before.
“Swalpa adjust madi” is a saying in Karnataka which means “make a little adjustment” and seems to fit all manner of situations. I think the case on the train is a good one.
Everyone is ready to make a little adjustment themselves to make life easier from others around them.
The food! Wow, I can’t believe there are so many different kinds of food!
Even within the state of Karnataka, there is Coorg food which is so different to the food in Bangalore, Mangalore and Mysore food is different too. All of the foods I'm describing here are from only one state in India. So imagine the variety of foods available throughout the country!
This is dosa, a yummy lentil and rice "crepe" with sambar and tomato chutney on the side
Dosa, Sambar and Tomato Chutney
Mangalore Chicken Ghee Roast
South Indian Fish Fry
This is Rava Idli, which is famous in Bangalore.
It was created in one of the famous old breakfast places called MTR.
And my favourite dish of all, biryani. I decided my husband was the one when he brought me biryani home from a business trip to Vijaywada.
The Beauty and Diversity
India is diverse in just about every way imaginable. Weather, food, language, religion.
India is really like a bunch of different countries in one. Amazingly, even within one state there are different languages, food, culture and dress. Karnataka, where I lived for 6 years, has the region Coorg which is known for its pork curry (Pandhi curry), and the way they wear their sari’s with the pallu in front, as well as coffee plantations and many other things.
This is Snow in Ladakh, near the border of China in the far north of India. It didn't really occur to me that there's snow in Ladakh when you think of India and the associated heat! But of course the Himalayas are in India, so there's lots of snow if you look in the right places.
In the snow in Ladakh, I think I was cold!
Nubra Valley and Kardung La in Ladakh, on the highest motorable road in the world.
Mountains and Lakes from a houseboat that remind me of Switzerland in Srinagar.
Backwaters and Rice Boats in Alleppey.
This is a Kerala houseboat, a much different style to the ones in Srinagar. They will stop and buy freshwater prawns and cook them for you right there on the boat.
This is a wild lion tailed macaque in the Western Ghats near Agumbe in Karnataka.
The Western Ghats in Karnataka, this was taken close to the lion tailed macaque pic above.
This is taken from Wikipedia "The Western Ghats, also known as Sahyadri (Benevolent Mountains), are a mountain range that covers an area of 140,000 square kilometres (54,000 sq mi) in a stretch of 1,600 kilometres (990 mi) parallel to the western coast of the Indian peninsula, traversing the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the eight "hottest hot-spots" of biological diversity in the world."
Hampi a UNESCO world heritage site, This is a stone chariot in Hampi.
This is one of the ruins at Hampi, I LOVE this photo of the horse and foal, it's such a magical place to visit.
Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu
Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu is a former French Colony
The are touches of France including French cuisine, (including croissants as you can see in my hand), Mass spoken in French and cobblestone streets. To read more about where to stay, what to eat and experience in Pondicherry Click here
Goa - Portuguese history on the Coast
Goa is a former Portuguese colony with beautiful scenery, architecture, churches and amazing food (Vindaloo anyone?).
This is a little back road in Goa, it's full of this sort of scenery. You will see motorbikes and buffalo meandering along the roads as well as chickens and beautiful old homes, some of which you can stay in (keep reading...)
Seafood in Goa. Goa is particularly famous for its seafood, much to Kayden's delight. He ate 3KG of crab this day. You can find fresh seafood all over Goa, and you will see fishermen selling it on the beach. I recommend asking the restaurant you visit what they recommend. If you don't like too much spice or need a break from curry, butter garlic is a mild but tasty sauce you can try.
Architecture in Goa. This is where I stayed on my most recent visit, a hotel called Casa Anjuna in North Goa. It was a beautiful serene place to relax; we enjoyed our breakfast by the pool here each morning and a cocktail in the afternoon.
Mysore - Maharaja's and Palaces
Mysore is just 130 kilometers from Bangalore, so we visited it and stopped off there many times on the way to see other places. It's famous for Mysore Palace which is a gorgeous place to visit, but even more exciting (In my opinion) is you can actually stay in a real palace (and pretty cheaply too!), Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel.
This is Mysore Palace where the Maharaja still lives to this day. My friends visited with me and they thought it was more impressive than the Taj Mahal which they visited a week earlier.
Nagarhole is a jungle a few hours drive from Bangalore where you can see leopards, tigers, elephants, lots of deer species, birds and tons of other wildlife.
Here is a spotted deer with a Langur monkey in the foreground.
This photo was taken a few years ago when my phone camera was not great, so I apologise for the quality, but even so you can see this is unmistakably a leopard in the tree. Tigers can also be seen in Nagarhole, although I have not been lucky enough to see one myself so far in Nagarhole.
This is an Asian elephant in the jungle in Nagarhole. There are lots of Elephants, you'll definitely see some from your jeep if you go on a safari in Nagarhole. You can organise a safari through Jungle Lodges which is the government run resort. http://www.junglelodges.com/kabini-river-lodge/
Stay in a Treehouse
Other areas where you can do Safari's are Bandipur and Munnar. There are several resorts where you can stay in a treehouse which are amazingly self contained with toilet and shower right there in the treehouse! I booked this treehouse in Munnar through Musafir Tours http://www.musafirtours.com/
Resorts right on the Beach in Kerala and Tamil Nadu
This is the beach outside Ideal Beach Resort in Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, a couple of hours drive from Chennai. https://www.idealresort.com/ You can also keep driving another hour or so and reach Pondicherry. Read more about, sleeping seeing and experiencing the flavours of Pondicherry here.
This is Marari Beach in Kerala. It's like a private beach, there's hardly anyone there apart from a few fishermen. This was taken from the verandah of the house I was staying in, so you are very close to the water, and you walk out onto the sand.
Ooty - Cool down in a Hillstation
This is a hill station called Ooty or Ootacamund. Ooty is famous for tea plantations. They used to come to various hill stations to escape the heat during the hottest months in India. Some other hill stations in the south are Kodaikanal and Munnar, where the photo of the treehouse was taken up above.
There are also several heritage hotels you can stay in like this one above that were built by the English.
Travel is easy (even with kids)
It's easy to travel in India because people are so friendly. If you catch a train, people will share their food and chat with you. You’ll feel like you’re on a family holiday. There are also MANY options like planes, trains, taxi's, buses and private cars. To book the train use the Indian Railways Website http://www.indianrail.gov.in/
Living in Melbourne, I often feel guilty that I have my kids with me. They are too noisy or move around too much on the train, in a cafe, basically anywhere in public.
In India I don't feel guilty at all when I have the kids in a public place; people really love kids. They love to interact with them, play with them and it's not only doing you a favour, they actually enjoy being with kids.
In India when Scarlett was a toddler, several people in the train took her and played with her (within our view). She had so much fun, so did they, and it made our life so much easier.
In a restaurant a waiter will take your child if they are crying and walk around a little, or take them for a walk to entertain them while you eat your food.
Indians are smart and very well educated
Of course this is a generalisation, there are Indian's who are not well educated. But in general, if I need to know something about business, science, research, literature, law or history I have Indian friends that I would ask about any of these things before any Australian I know. I know three people who have published books, and all of them are Indian. Here's my favourite, (and not only because I'm mentioned in the acknowledgements haha) Nautanki Diaries by Dominic Franks is travelogue of Dominic Franks where inspired by his mentor he decides to journey from Bengaluru to Delhi to attend 2010 Common Wealth Games by bicycle.
India is so much fun!
There are always events, parties and festivals going on and people share their cultures, Ramadan, Diwali, Onam, Holi are all fun to celebrate.
Holi is a festival where you throw coloured powder and water. I recommend women are a little careful and just go to private parties rather than playing Holi on the street as men can take advantage of the opportunity to get close to women if not in a safe environment. It is otherwise a very fun festival, we used to play it at school on the oval. It’s totally acceptable for the next few days to come to work with your hair or skin dyed bright pink from Holi colours.
Diwali is the biggest festival in India, it's a bit like Christmas in the West.
People buy new clothes, give gifts and celebrate with their families. Fireworks are available for anyone to purchase and set off, which has it's dangers and produces pollution, but I have to admit is a lot of fun for someone who's grown up in a country where fireworks are illegal (apart from organised shows at New Year and special occasions). Diwali goes for 4 or 5 days, and includes offering puja to Lakshmi, lighting lamps, decorating home and offices with lights, dressing in their best new clothes, parties with fireworks, food, sweets, dancing, and in some cases all night card games.
This is us and Scarlett at her first Diwali party, so loved the fireworks and the food. It's so much fun to dress up, dance and socialise.
Ramadan is one of my favourite festivals. Muslims fast during the day and eat Iftar meals after the sun goes down. For the month of Ramadan there is a Muslim area in Bangalore that has street food on the road and there are specialties that you can only get at this time of the year.
This is Patharka Gosht cooked on a stone, the image is from Mithun On the Net you can read more about Iftar markets in Bangalore on his website. It was Ramadan when Kayden and I met, as we had both been sampling the wares in the days before we met and he was quite surprised that I was excited to try the street food in Bangalore.
Malayali's (from Kerala) celebrate the harvest festival of Onam. They wear white traditional clothes and eat special meals on the day. Everyone is invited to celebrate.
Soon after I moved to Bangalore it was Ganesha festival. Ganesha became my favourite Hindu god as there are so many interesting stories about him. During the Ganesha festival there is a lot of singing as dancing on the streets as people take huge Ganesha statues to water bodies to immerse them. You can imagine how much fun it was walking down the street and coming across these guys.
India is very surprising
It’s surprising - you never know what will happen, or what you will see next. I’m not sure quite how to explain this one, but the unexpected happens all the time.
You can see here that this guy is wearing a bird cage on his back while riding a motorbike. Not only that but if you look closely you can see that there is actually a bird in the cage.
People are inventive with getting things done, most people don't have a car or the money to pay for a moving van, so many things are carried on a motorbike, like this car door.
Or even goats... I've also seen chickens on motorbikes and goats inside an autorickshaw which had their heads poking out the window, so it looked like they were riding on their own as passengers. There's never a dull moment in India, that's for sure!
In Australia we think we have mangoes.
In India there are endless varieties of mango. There is a mango season where you can buy mango’s off the side of the road and at mango market’s. The smell and taste of them is just magic.
They even have festivals just dedicated to mangoes like this in in Lal Bagh in Bangalore.
South Indian tea and coffee
South India is very famous for it's tea and coffee. You can read how to make it here. Whenever we go to Saravana Bhavan I find it hard to decide if I should order a chai or coffee. In India there is always tea or coffee nearby. I LOVE tea and coffee, especially if the weather is cold. Even at 3am you can find someone one the side of the road with a flask selling tea or coffee.
This is in Ooty on the roadside, it was very cold as you can see from my attire. This tea sure put a smile on my face!
This is on the road side near Mysore. I love stopping off and having a snack and a coffee and maybe a chat with someone from the local area.
Kayden and I LOVE south Indian coffee so much that we always bring a few kilograms back with us when we travel to Chennai. We love the coffee from Santhi coffee in Patel road in Perambur where they roast and grind the coffee in house. We always make a special trip to enjoy the taste of Indian coffee for a few weeks when we get back to Australia.
On the Shatabdi (the fast train) between Bangalore and Chennai you can choose between tea and coffee, of course it's a tough choice, because they are both great!
Enjoy India or at least taste the food!
If you are planning a trip to India, remember it will be VERY different from where you are from (wherever that is), and you will have some very new experiences that you'll never have anywhere else.
Try not to compare India, just embrace it. Go with the flow, then you can really enjoy yourself!
For much quicker gratification, you can have an authentic taste of the original India, by trying Kayden's food, Click the button below to see our latest menu.