The last 2 weeks have put me through extremes in a number of different ways.
Just take today for example, we reached the Bay of Bengal, and swam in the warm, rough water after 4 months of no ocean! It felt amazing to see the bay for the first time after an 8-hour bus ride and subsequent 2-hour tuk-tuk haggle session. Sweating in the boiling south Indian sun, walking across the Chennai beach and then finally putting a toe in the water was so soothing. It was partly a release from all the pressure and stress of the previous weeks and signalled that I was finally done work at IIT-D and was now on the longest travel adventure of my life!
I spent last week in Jammu & Kashmir, one of India’s most volatile and beautiful regions. What a difference! We stayed south of the dangerous areas on the Pakistan Line of Control zone, but it did not stop us from seeing lots and lots of military vehicles, personnel and various police checkpoints. Only one highway winds through the mountains from Jammu to Srinagar with a maximum elevation of about 2600m. With constant overtaking and narrow roads it is a wonder that we made it at all. But what a beautiful ride!
2 weeks ago you still could have seen me studying like a crazy person in an attempt to compete with India’s top engineering students. The thoughts of travel ahead were constantly pushed to the back of my mind with the thoughts “3 more exams, then you can explore, Alex; come on, you can do it!” Trying to get other IIT students to study with me proved hard in a few cases, and I’ve realized that I really miss the support that Fizz (Engineering Physics UBC) gives me back home – I miss you guys! The exams that I finally ended up writing were very different from what my fellow UBCers wrote: little application here in India, and too much emphasis is put on mugging up (memorizing) formulas, theorems and proofs just to regurgitate them on the final exam. This study term has definitely been a humbling and learning process for me.
Extreme sadness kicked in when I had to say goodbye to all my fellow exchange students and IIT friends who I grew to love. Even some off-campus friends I made over the months were included in these sad farewells. Dressing in Indian clothes to attend the final party was a memory that I will carry with me forever. The worst part of the whole affair was that I had to say goodbye to some people 3 or 4 times because not everyone’s final departure plans were perfectly set in stone and you never knew if you would run into them again.
I never, ever expected to see a car driver signal, check his shoulder and perfectly change lanes in India, until I was dumbfounded with this site yesterday. Actually following traffic rules on a major highway?! The stretch from the Bangalore airport to the centre of the city was like driving in the West: beautifully paved roads, no tuk-tuks, modern houses lining the streets, and little garbage anywhere. The only difference was the greenery: the palm trees and southern foliage which lined the road. Altogether, the entrance to the south was an amazing sight to behold and marked the beginning of a great day in Bangalore.
In contrast to this Mamapullaran southern lifestyle which I’m quickly settling into, Kashmir turned very cold when we climbed up into the mountains of Gulmarg. Unbelievably, there was about 50 cm of snow at a height of 2730m in this small town. Arriving in our light jackets, sweaters and running shoes, the first thing we did was buy mittens, scarfs and toques. And can’t forget the boots! It was a fun couple days playing in the snow and forgetting that this sight was so extremely different from what hundreds of millions of Indians have ever seen themselves!
There is a reason they call it Incredible India, and I cannot wait to explore more!
- My friend Jonathan Paradis has put up an amazing blog describing his incredible adventures in India as well at http://thenextmiles.wordpress.com/
- Tamil Nadu is very different from every other part of India in its culture, language, dress and even the way the tuk-tuk drivers bargain