BACK FROM INDIA
India: a word that summarizes a world of multiple sensations. I have been back home in Italy for a while now and I am still wondering how to describe it.
The impact is strong on all five senses, a whirl of excitement and emotions that isn’t easily described with words.
I can’t forget about the smells: from the waves of fragrances of spicy food to the scent of incenses in the markets, from the malodorous air in the cities to the smelly dirt and the stink of meat and fish left in the sun.
Sounds are overwhelming and make you feel on your guard at all times, so as not to get run over or bump into someone.
Your eyes have to get used to see contrasting things and learn not to care about details like garbage, which is part of the landscape, or beggars, because it is not possible to help all of them.
Rich flavors are a joy but at the same time a challenge for the palate.
The skin sweats and you feel suffocated when some mornings after the rain humidity rises from the ground and surrounds you, preventing you from breathing.
A mix of sensations that are intense but also tiring.
“Did you like India?”
I find it difficult to answer this question, on one hand I can’t say I did, but on the other hand I am still thinking about the vivid images and strong sensations that are impressed in my mind.
A German tourist told me that he noticed huge differences in the country compared to twenty years ago, for example there are almost no bicycles anymore and significantly less blackouts. I wonder what changes will be visible in the next twenty years and if they will be positive or negative.
However, a journey to India leaves its mark. On my return I saw everything from a different perspective, even small things that are usually taken for granted. My first thoughts when I landed back in Italy:
“Hey, I can’t hear anyone honking!”
“There is nobody around!”
“I definitely have to care about not throwing any garbage on the streets”
“And I feel like having a real shower!”
A MULTICULTURAL WEDDING
It all starts with a wedding invitation: my Indian friend Anusha is getting married to her Italian boyfriend Alberto. Before long, it’s the 28th December I am in Bangalore with my travel buddy Daniela and the two days of wedding celebrations have begun.
On the first morning we attend the pre-wedding mehndi ceremony with the bride’s friends and family members. Two skilled women apply henna skin decorations to her hands, arms, feet and legs. The symbolic designs are meant to be a good omen for the couple and the intricate motifs of the bridal henna also hide the husband’s name on one of the arms. Once the women have completed the bride’s decoration, it is our turn to get mehndi applied on our hands. The drawings are so tangled and detailed, but they are quickly done. After a few hours from the application, the brown paste dries and it can be removed, revealing a dark orange design beneath, which will last a couple of weeks.
The pre-marriage function takes place the same evening in the ballroom at Hyatt Hotel. A presenter gets on stage and ushers in the event in a very Bollywood style, introducing bride and groom and their relatives one by one. She praises their qualities, their studies and careers and their families. It all looks like a TV show where the participants have to stand out and walk on stage in rounds of applause. The public is made up of a great number of guests coming from all over the world, from Argentina to Singapore, from Italy to Korea.
Anusha’s father is emotional and proud, and in his speech he describes this day as one of the most beautiful days of his life. The marriage of a daughter is very important in Indian culture and parents and brothers have organized the events of these days with exceptional precision and attention to details. It’s amazing to see how Alberto’s Italian/Argentinian family mixes with Anusha’s Indian relatives and takes part in the celebrations in the most natural way despite the big cultural differences, and with a great open-mindedness that is not common to everyone.
The official presentations are alternated to singing and dance shows of a famous group that performs on stage with splendid costumes in rhythm with Bollywood hits. At the end of the evening everybody is encouraged to dance and of course Argentinians are the first in line!
The main wedding ceremony takes place the following day, and we arrive late at the Marriot Hotel because of considerable difficulties in putting on our sarees: if the girl at the reception of our hotel hadn’t helped us, we would never have managed!
When we finally get there the bride and groom are already on the wedding altar, which has been built and decorated with thousands of colorful flowers: red, orange, white and yellow. A white cloth is held between them so they don’t see each other. When this is taken away they finally stand in front of each other. She wears a shiny red saree decorated with gold and jewels and she has her hair in a long plait adorned with white flowers. He wears a white suit with golden embellishments and a red turban, like a maharaja. He has a serious and concentrated expression, maybe he is tired or simply intent on remembering the sequence of actions and rituals he has to do. There is a guy standing behind him who seems to be giving him instructions during the several phases of the ceremony.
The intoxicating smell of the flowers and the delirious Indian music playing are making me a little dizzy and the show seems to come out of an old-time movie. The rituals are very complex and involve the couple, their parents and the priest. The father gives his daughter’s hand to the groom, who promises him that he shall never fail in any aspects of married life. The priest directs the bride and groom to the right path through blessings and offerings like coconuts to the gods. He invites them to exchange bracelets and garlands of fragrant flowers symbolizing their unification.
At the end of the ceremony the couple gets off the stage and walks along a path marked by seven heaps of rice and a flower-decorated coconut at the end. The rice and other decorations represent prosperity: to strengthen this symbolism, although I don’t know if I am seeing correctly, there seems to be a credit card next to each pile. After taking vows at each of the seven steps, the couple officially becomes husband and wife.
Now we are allowed to attack the huge buffet, where there are dozens of delicious Indian dishes. Everyone helps themselves to the buffet, and people typically stand next to it holding their plate with the left hand and using the right hand to eat.
When everything comes to an end we say goodbye to Anusha and Alberto, who are dead tired after an endless sequence of pictures and formalities. We head towards the exit, where everybody gets picked up by luxurious cars, but we walk past them and just around the corner we negotiate a ride with the first rickshaw passing by.
RICKSHAWS IN BANGALORE
Bangalore: the capital of the state of Karnataka, known as the Silicon Valley of India. It has a population of more than eight million people. Excluding Bangalore Palace and the Botanical Gardens, there is nothing significant to see, nothing interesting to do. Walking in the streets is not pleasant because of the air pollution and taking some other means of transport you most surely get blocked up in traffic, at traffic lights there are hundreds of cars, scooters and rickshaws.
Huge mice run happily around through the holes in the dirty sidewalks, and garbage is thrown everywhere to the side of the streets. Commercial Street is the most popular area for shopping; there is a large crowd, countless shops of clothes and jewelry, carts displaying tidy piles of fruit, men barefoot pulling their bikes loaded with coconuts. When a foreigner passes by, every vendor tries to catch his attention, with an insistent “Hello!” and “Welcome”. A few beggars beg for money. They are in poor condition but everybody seems to ignore them.
The first impact on me is heavy, I feel like leaving, everything looks so different. Instead, after a couple of days in Bangalore I get the feeling that walking down these same streets is now so normal. Eyes and mind get used to the sights and the initial fear has disappeared. However, at night it is still different: coming back from the Marriot Hotel it is now past midnight and the rickshaw passes through the commercial area, which is unrecognizable at this time. All shutters are closed, garbage has formed in mountains by now and stray dogs search it thoroughly. By the light of the street lamp they have a mangy, creepy look.
The rickshaw driver has got lost and minutes are passing by slowly while he looks around. It is a characteristic of theirs, rickshaw drivers always accept passengers, even if they have no idea where their destination is. Then, they start going and they ask directions on the way, most often pulling alongside another rickshaw and asking the driver on the run.
We have gained experience in negotiating prices of rickshaw rides by now, and in the city at least we always manage to make use of the meter. The good thing about such negotiations is that it doesn’t matter if a driver won’t give you a fair price or does not want to use the meter, there are many others who will. It is incredible: there is always someone around, anywhere and anytime by day or by night.
After one week in India we also start to understand the gestures. It was very confusing in the beginning when, in reply to some questions, we only got a weird and comical head wobble. Now we know that shaking your head side to side, and not up and down like we are used to, means yes!
We have learned that only the right hand is used to eat or pass objects to others, because the left hand is considered to be unclean as it is used for impure matters. I buy some coffee in a shop and the girl there is shocked when I hand her the money with my left hand: she tries to explain to me in tamil, her language, that I should not do that and teaches me to use my right hand. Then she calms down and wants to talk to us: “Which country are you from? Italy? Beautiful!”. And she asks if in Italy English is the official language and dollar the official currency.
CHIARA, TAKE ME TO THE HOSPITAL!
We are still in Bangalore, in MG Road (Mahatma Gandhi Road, it seems there is one in every city), a modern area with shops, offices, restaurants and banks. Today we want to go to Ebony, which has been nominated most romantic restaurant in town. The view from the thirteenth floor of Barton Centre is impressive indeed.
After lunch I have a walk by myself in the Commercial Street and I easily get lost in the labyrinth of alleys, which look all the same with no recognizable landmark. So I walk the same way back to the hotel and I find Daniela bent double with stomach pain.
I don’t know what to do, after a couple of hours she is still crying out in pain. At some point she is so desperate that she begs me to take her to the hospital!
I feel my blood run cold: in the same moment I am reading Dominique Lapierre’s book “City of Joy”, the chapter where a rickshaw driver is being taken to a hospital in Kolkata. OK, the book is set in the ‘70s and tells about the poorest people in Kolkata. Nevertheless, the description of the hospital is so terrifying that I am sure of one thing, I want to avoid this experience! Fortunately the stomach pain gets better during the night, and we will never know how modern hospitals in Bangalore look like.
The morning after we read in the local newspaper that a bomb went off near MG Road few hours after we were there. A woman died in the explosion and others were wounded. They mention Islamic fundamentalism and they suppose the bomb was set because of the upcoming visit of Obama in India. Who knows why, I am not touched by this news. Right now I have the feeling time has slowed down and everything is out of place, as if I was never here, or I was here long time ago.
A CULINARY JOURNEY THROUGH THE DELICACIES OF INDIA
After the stomach flu episode, we have a craving for… McDonald’s! All joking aside, I find Indian food very tasty, and I love to experiment different things. However, such spicy food is not easy to eat for someone who is not used to it. In restaurants it is often the case that the only non-spicy dish is french fries.
In fact there are hundreds of dishes you can indulge in. You can choose between vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes – this is very important here – but most of the time the name of the dishes are unknown to us and it takes time to learn.
We start with idli, traditional to southern India: spongy cakes of rice and lentils that are most often eaten with coconut chutney.
Thali, whose name comes from the steel tray it is served on, is made up of a selection of various dishes in small bowls: rice, vegetables, yoghurt, lentils, small amounts of chutney or pickle.
The rice is usually long grained and you can try it with various seasonings, for instance lemon, coconut or butter rice. The spicy version, biryani, is served with vegetables, chicken or fish.
Bread as a side dish is not as common as in northern India, but you can still find many different kinds: naan (I love cheese naan!), but also chapati is very popular, and others like paratha, filled with potatoes and onions.
Fresh fish is clearly very easy to find on the coast. For example in Goa we try mackerel: it is fried with a mixture of turmeric and red chili powder, which gives the dish its bright red color, and the taste is delicious!
Kerala stands out for its fish curries and several dishes with coconut and banana, which grow everywhere.
Coconuts in Kerala are bigger than in Karnataka or Goa. Vendors slice the top of the coconut using a machete, so that you can drink the milk inside with a straw. After that, you can ask them to cut it open to eat the white coconut meat inside, which they call malai. Not all coconuts have it, but you can ask the vendor to choose one with malai.
Last but not least, you can find yummy fresh juice, like pineapple, mango, banana or papaya.
THE COLORS OF MYSORE
Local markets are a must-see in India. The hustle and bustle and the bargaining going on in a street market cannot be conveyed in words. I love strolling through the roads lined by little shops and carts displaying fruits, vegetables, incense, clothes, utensils and any kinds of household tools.
The most picturesque and vibrant market is the one in Mysore, it is a triumph of colors and smells. It is well-known for the colorful and scented flowers, with which women make garlands and various decorations for weddings and rituals and it is a delight to walk by these nuance-rich baskets full of flowers.
There are stands dedicated to colored powders for rituals, piled in pyramid shapes, just like the spices are. And fruit: bunches of bananas, red pomegranates, piles of oranges. Some vendors are immersed in violet onions, garlic and chili. Vegetables are so accurately arranged they attract the eyes, no need for the vendor to call out to customers.
Mysore is a peaceful and clean city – by Indian standards – known as a place to relax. “Let’s chill out in Mysore” seems to be the motto. Here we are hosted by three Indian guys who live out of town, in a big house in a forest of teak trees. Teak wood is very famous and expensive and it is mostly used for good quality furniture.
We are very close to Infosys, one of the biggest IT services company in India. It is a huge area with office buildings, campus and training center and thousands of people work and get trained here.
But not only is Mysore very advanced in software development, it is also a popular tourist destination. It is considered the cultural capital of Karnataka and Mysore Palace is one of the most visited attractions in India, although I had bigger expectations.
I found the view of the town from the top of the Chamundi Hills to be more exciting. The temple on the hill is flooded with worshippers and everywhere you can buy garlands of flowers for votive offerings. A few meters further there is an even older temple where small monkeys run after each other over the walls.
While we climb down the thousand steps of the ancient stone stairway leading back to town, we stop next to the statue of the bull Nandi, five meters high and carved out of a single piece of black granite. We have a glass of fresh sugarcane juice, it is so popular in this region and it is made by crushing sugar canes in a special machine.
WATCH OUT FOR COWS IN GOA!
Our next destination was supposed to be Hampi, an archeological site in northern Karnataka. However, we are deviated by two Indian guys we met, who invited us on a motorbike trip to Goa to spend Christmas on the beach. It is only 300km and it takes approximately six hours, they guarantee. This is how our trip across Karnataka hinterland to the state of Goa begins.
Crossing the country and watching it flow from the saddle of a motorbike: simply extraordinary! Passing through villages off the beaten track we get a glimpse of daily life, religious processions, women in multi-colored clothes, kids running barefoot in the dust. And more: hills with unusual rock formations, followed by flat red soil, stalls along the road where to rest drinking a hot chay, spike fields swinging at dusk.
Driving in India: insane! Extremely dangerous! There are no rules and on the roads you find anything: carts, cows, cars, rickshaws, bikes carrying the weirdest objects, like meter-long pipes.
“What happens if you hit a cow by mistake?” That is a problem, you have to pay back the owner for the damage. Yes, the cows running roaming freely on the streets belong to someone!
“However, we have never seen anyone hitting a cow”, the guys say laughing, and in the meantime it is getting dark.
“How much longer is the way?” “Not too long, we are almost there”.
Two hours later we are getting closer to Goa, which is easily recognizable from the colorful colonial churches and from the Christmas lights and decorations everywhere.
“How long before we arrive?” “Not too long, we are getting there”.
Never trust the Indian concept of time: the six hours driving we expected become twelve and we arrived, dead tired, at the guesthouse in Anjuna.
If it wasn’t for cows and chaos on the streets, I could say the atmosphere in Goa doesn’t look Indian at all. Hippy tourists and many Indians come to Goa to enjoy the beaches and alcohol, which is much cheaper here. Bars and nightclubs are packed and people party all night and sleep on the beach the day after.
The food is eclectic and we take a seat at a restaurant on Vagator beach and have delicious momo for breakfast, a type of dumpling native to Nepal, spiced with a meat or fish filling and is served fried or steamed. It is Christmas day and this is how it is celebrated here, swimming in the sea while a holy cow looks at us peacefully from the beach.
In the late afternoon we get back on the motorbikes to go watch the sunset on another beach nearby. Unfortunately, we will never get there!
“Is everything all right?”, we try to call Daniela and the other guy, who were following us on the second bike and are not visible any more.
“Not really, we have a problem: we hit a cow!”
We could not miss this experience in India: hitting a cow! How scary, my heart is beating fast while we get back to them, and we find Daniela sitting on the side of the road: she is bright yellow! Fortunately she has only light scratches, but I guess you will be wondering what happened to the cow? Nobody knows, it ran away while people were assisting Daniela by covering her scratches with yellow turmeric powder, which is used as a natural antiseptic.
COCHIN CARNIVAL AND KERALA BACKWATERS
Considering that we celebrated Christmas with exhausting motorbike trips and accidents, we expect New Year’s to be quiet. However, when we arrive at Fort Cochin, in Kerala, it’s the peak time of the famous Cochin carnival. People await this festival eagerly and the roads are covered with written messages wishing a happy new year in all languages.
On 1st January nobody works and nobody would ever miss the massive procession scheduled in the afternoon. The parade seems about to arrive at any moment, and the crowd swells quickly. The sounds and confusion increase dramatically. People compete for the best spot: along the roads, on the walls of the church, on the balconies of the houses. They all carry a whistle, which emits an extremely annoying sound like the cry of a strangled animal, and they whistle all together. They’re crazy, these Indians!
After hours of waiting, the elephant leading the procession appears. It is well embellished and accompanied by drums. The crowd is so thick now, that we are overwhelmed and we can only see the head of the elephant passing by. The parade goes on until late in the evening with dances, music, fancy dresses and masks and the town is bursting with enthusiasm for the celebrations.
Fortunately we manage to have a small break from this craziness, having a walk on the long Cherai beach, and strolling by the famous Chinese fishing nets of Fort Cochin. These huge structures of wooden poles hold out 20-meters-large nets, which are counterweighed by stones tied to ropes. It takes at least four men to operate each net, lower it into the water and raise it pulling the ropes. Catches are collected by fishermen and sold nearby, while they still jump in the boxes.
Once the celebrations are over and the excitement diminishes, we are finally able to leave town and enjoy some tranquility. This area between Cochin and Alleppey is well known for the backwaters, a network of lakes, canals and rivers, intersecting like a labyrinth and extending parallel to the sea coast. Hundreds of houseboats cut through water: renting one of these famous boats costs a fortune and tourism in Kerala is all about that.
Only here, sailing through the canals, we are far from the contaminated air and the crazy blare, and this is the main beauty of this place. The driver of our small boat paddles slowly and the only sound to hear is the water gurgling.
Life in the villages looks peaceful, and water is the heart of daily routine: women and girls wash their sarees in the canals, scrubbing and beating them on the rocks; other women wash pots and vegetables; kids splash around cheerfully; men lather and bathe themselves; all this in the same water.
All men wear mundu, the traditional Kerala garment, wrapped around the waist and folded up resembling a short skirt, and they wear a shirt on top.
The landscape around is hardly interrupted by the colorful clothes hanging out to dry: the dark green of the palms bending over the water and the light green of the rice fields moving slightly in the wind are predominant. The water sparkles in the sun and birds rest on trees and light poles, like the Kingfisher, with bright blue and orange plumage.
The flow of time has a different rhythm here, even for those only passing by. When it gets dark I have the feeling I have been sailing these waters since time immemorial.
ON THE BUS ACROSS KERALA
It is eight in the morning and we are at the bus station in Alleppey with our backpacks covered with dust and towards the end of our journey.
By now it seems normal to us, having to ask at least three different people to find the bus we are looking for – and still not being sure of the answers we get. Usually we ask policemen, or anyone who looks friendly. Only few of them ignore us, maybe because they don’t speak English, in general we always get a fast and determined answer and help from people. Incredibly, everybody knows everything – at least so it seems.
It seems that in India it is not common to answer “I don’t know” and any answer is better than that. So if you trust the first person you ask you can end up in a place that has nothing to do with what you want.
It is precisely this uncertainty, this trying, asking, trusting or doubting, smiling, interacting in different ways with people that gives me the feeling that in India everything is possible, as it is often said in books or blogs. It doesn’t matter how or when, there is always a way.
At the beginning it is puzzling. For example, we are not used to going to the railway station and not finding the track number written anywhere. Also in this case, asking someone at random, waiting on an alleged track where dozens of other trains stop, fearing to be in the wrong place, and finally hearing someone next to us saying “this is your train”, it is simply amazing!
It is the same today, we ask for the bus to Trivandrum at the Inquires desk. A very rude guy points his finger at one unclear direction, saying with excitement “it’s that one, go!”. We rush to catch that bus, and fortunately it is the right one because it is off like a shot, before we can even talk to the driver.
Travelling by bus in India is spectacular, an experience you won’t forget easily! The bus has a rickety and seasoned look, no windowpanes and full to bursting with passengers. The ticket collector forces his way through the crowd every time someone gets on the bus. And there is a rope hanging along the ceiling: when he pulls it a bell rings next to the driver, which signals that he can start.
The driver is insane, he drives at unthinkable speed on the streets packed with people, animals, cars and all kinds of vehicles. Next to the window my hair is blowing in the wind and I enjoy the view of countless palms while listening to the blare of countless horns!
Honking is normal, but this driver must have an automatic horn because it never stops. Everybody honks to signal their presence and I wonder: if everybody honks continuously don’t people get used to it and doesn’t it become useless? But I am probably still thinking the western way. People honk to other vehicles, to other people, to dogs and cows- do they understand? – and when an accident happens the first question is: “Didn’t you honk?”. Indian trucks are extremely picturesque: so colorful that they look like circus coaches and they always have “Please sound horn/Please honk” written on the rear, as a reminder!
The bus brakes abruptly: it looks like the traffic is slowed down because of an accident. I turn to the opposite window and what I see is an elephant passing by! I try to reach the camera but it is too late. The women sitting next to me laughs out loud, it must be weird for them that someone is so surprised to see an elephant crossing the street. This is India and there is nothing strange about it.
Travelling by bus has been one of the most fascinating things of the Indian adventure. From the window I see the flood of people busy with their daily tasks. When we get close to the bus stops, identified only by a number of people waiting, they jump on the bus while it is still in motion. The landscape flows rapidly and it doesn’t matter if you see something you don’t want to see, images follow one another and they are quickly gone.
Passing through outskirts and suburbs at dawn I have had the most intense impressions, like passing by Toranagallu railway station a few days ago: so early in the morning dirt roads are already packed with people walking barefoot in worn-out clothes. It is difficult to describe the multitude moving around, the place is full of relentless life, which wakes up even before sunrise. The same impression I had arriving to Fort Cochin at 6am the other day: a large built up area next to the railway tracks was formed by small shacks and a mass of people waiting outside, but I don’t have a clue to what exactly they were doing or waiting for. “Poor people”, they told us while pointing at them.
Our eyes are not used to seeing such images and the first feeling is “I don’t want to see this, where did I end up?”, combined with a sort of embarrassment for being a stranger to this world and such living conditions, an instinctive and maybe unfounded fear.
However, on the way from Alleppey to Trivandrum our attention is directed to the stunning nature that characterizes the state of Kerala, a luxurious plantation of palms. We are getting closer to the southernmost point of India. We glance at a line of red flags that hangs on the side of the road and reminds us that Kerala is one of the Indian states where Left parties have the strongest presence.
Trivandrum is a big city that doesn’t look inspiring at all. The bus station is chaotic as usual and this time we are not able to find the bus to Kovalam we are looking for, not even asking around. We know it must stop there, so we ask at a counter and we are told we have to exit the station and turn left. At the next counter we are told there is no bus. A policeman tells us we have to exit the station, turn right and walk two kilometers. Another policeman says that the bus to Kovalam doesn’t stop there anymore. So it looks like they all have an agreement to lead us to catch one of the thousands rickshaws instead of the bus. Finally we give up and accept the first offer we get.
BEACHES AND ANTS
We are in Kovalam after two weeks of travelling in India and we want to treat ourselves to a couple of relaxing days on the most famous beach in Kerala.
Actually there are two adjacent beaches, Lighthouse Beach, the more touristic of the two, and Hawah Beach, preferred by locals. Restaurants, hotels and small shops line up along the touristic beach. Given the narrow space, hotels are arranged one behind the other in a maze of alleys that are not to be seen at first sight. As for everything else, this really looks like a typical seaside town, the only difference is the constant caw of the crows in the background. These birds are very common on the Kerala coast, but it looks like they are particularly numerous in Kovalam.
Bikinis are accepted on the beach, but they attract a lot of attention. Behind the sunglasses we can see how men stare at the female tourists relaxing in the sun. In particular, they seem to appreciate a lot Daniela’s white and very tight bikini and the requests for pictures become more frequent: not only men ask to take a picture with us, but even women! We are pretty sure that our pictures will be shared on all Indian social networks immediately after. In fact, we will probably be part of some collection, in which there are samples of tourists coming from different countries.
A very brave man, after the usual picture, tries an approach: he musters up the courage and asks Daniela with one gesture if he can sit next to her. After that, he dares paying her a great compliment with the few words he knows in English: “you are very white!”. As he doesn’t see the desired effect, he repeats the compliment: “you are very, very white… and I am black!”. Unfortunately, because of the linguistic barrier – neither I nor Daniela are fluent in Malayalam, the local language – he is not able to get her number and his friends drag him away.
The beach is lovely and, excluding the glances of men and stray dogs coming to sit on our towels, it is a good place to relax before the departure, but as in all touristic places the calm is disturbed by vendors, who insist the foreigners buy all sort of things. I don’t understand how they can think that a backpacker could be interested in buying drums or a peacock feather fan, among other things.
In Kovalam there are voracious ants. That night they are attracted by the smell of the tapioca chips we bought, and not only have they attacked and devoured one of the packages, in the morning I found my bikini all to pieces, eaten and full of holes! I made a massacre of all the ants, no matter what jainists here say about nonviolence!
However, this is the last day, we pack everything into our backpacks, filthy clothes, spices and the tapioca leftovers, and we get ready for the long journey back home, thinking of the places we have seen and the people we have met and this strange country, India.